The Difference Between Spiritual Diagnosis & Spiritual Change

diagnosisFred collapses on the side-walk outside with his hand over his heart. His labored breathe becomes shorter and shorter. His fingers tingle.

As Fred’s neighbors rush to aid the large 55-year-old man, they correctly diagnosis Fred’s condition as a heart attack and promptly call 911. But none of Fred’s neighbors hop into the ambulance with him, scrub up, and proceed to do the open heart surgery needed to save his life. While plumbers, retired office managers, and CPAs maybe spot a heart attack, they lack the medical skill needed to help Fred overcome his crisis. The ability to diagnosis a sickness does not equal the expertise needed to heal that sickness.

Similarly, a person’s ability to diagnosis spiritual problems does not mean he or she has the power to save those whom he or she has diagnosed. In 1 Samuel 8:5, the elders of Israel rightfully diagnosis their nation’s problem. The elders notice that Samuel’s sons have ceased to walk in Samuel’s ways. But while the elders had the skills necessary for diagnosis, they lacked the skills needed to find a good solution to their problem. They turned to the culture for answers and wound up with a solution [a king like the nations] that caused great harm to themselves and future generations.

The errors of 1 Samuel 8 are repeatedly over and over again in Christendom. We believe secular physiologist, counselors, and therapists can help us overcome our spiritual battles because they can and do often accurately describe our actions and emotions. The secular counselor can tell the alcoholic about his alcoholism, the angry teenager about her anger, and the immoral wife about her sexual urges.

Dr. Heath Lambert, the former president of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, explains,

Biblical counselors have consistently stated that the observations of secular psychology can often fill in the gaps for – and provoke biblical counselors to more careful biblical reflection about – all manner of issues.

But the secular therapist cannot treat these causes effectively regardless of how many degrees that he or she has on her wall. The apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 4:17-18,

They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to their hardness of heart.

Those living in darkness and ignorance cannot help those overcome by darkness and ignorance find the light, hope, and power of God. The secular counselors simply turn the darkened eyes to the darkened culture and come up with ideas that are dark and quite naturally unhelpful.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer rightfully concluded,

The pastor can learn very little from the psychologist, basically only to observe, to evaluate, and to analyze.

In the last few years alone, physiologists have backed away from the ideas of the five stages of grief, the high-self-esteem, and of catharsis. Even the popular program Alcoholics Anonymous has only a 5% success rate.  The secular world can diagnosis spiritual problems but has no ability to save those suffering from their spiritual problems. The Christian who asks a secular therapist to help him or her overcome a spiritual problem is little different than Fred asking his neighborhood plumber to do open heart surgery. It will not go well.

The Way Forward:

Where does the power to change come from? The power to change comes Word of God through the Holy Spirit. 2 Peter 1:3 tells us,

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.

If we want to improve our marriages, fight greed, find liberation from worry, we need to turn to the Scriptures. We need to hear the preaching of the Word both publicly and privately.

A new discipleship movement is sweeping through the American evangelical church calling for the creation of small groups. Such groups are not inherently bad, but they are often predicated on the idea that the preaching of the Word is in sufficient to bring real change. There is only one problem with this idea. It is not biblical.

Sermons are not an afterthought. They are main element of discipleship and spiritual growth. Notice what Paul tells Timothy, “Keep as close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” Paul tells Titus to, “Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority (Ti 2:15).” The teaching of the Word brings life change. Mark Dever hit the nail on the head when he commented that the pastor’s, “teaching of the Word is the core of the church’s discipleship ministry.” The famed pastor Martin Lloyd-Jones remarked that he eliminated the need for many counseling sessions by faithful teaching the whole counsel of God as revealed in the text of the Scriptures. Friends if our church lacks spiritual depth, discipleship, and sanctifying change, we do not need a new small group program; we need a new pastor.

But preaching from the pulpit is not enough. As the famed reformer John Calvin noted,

It is not enough for a pastor in God’s church to preach and to cast his words into the air, he must practice private admonitions.

The faithful pastor is the pastor who shares the Word of God with his people in public and in private. He helps people wrestle with the Scriptures, showing them the need for change and the means for change. Pastors who boast about how they pass of their sheep to secular counselors are poor pastors who love the title shepherd but hate the work. If we want to see people helped, we must have pastors who are willing to apply the Word to people’s lives. The pastor who is inadequate to the task of private preaching is equally inadequate to the task of public preaching.

When can adopt all kinds of teaching structures ranging from academic style lectures to prayer groups with no agenda. But the power source for change does not lie in our church structure nor in the power of diagnosis.  The power that brings about lasting change is the Holy Spirit who communicates with us through his Word.

Are you ready for real lasting change? Are you ready to turn to the Word when you need help? What are our pastor’s doing? 

Are You Ready To Listen More and do Less in Church?

risk-all.gifAre you willing to listen?

Right before Jesus took off for the cross, he stopped and conversed with the rich young ruler (Mk 10:17). He delayed his march to Jerusalem, to his death, and to his victory over the grave to talk with the young man and to point him to Christ. As believers and followers of Christ, we must have the same disposition and mindset. We must be willing to stop and converse with others. We must care enough about our neighbors, our children, and our spouse to abandon our programs, our goals, and our ministries to care for them.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer rightly noted that “Our love for another consists first of all in listening.” The greatest success one can have is not found in creating a program that employees hundreds or thousands of people. Our greatest success, our most profound moments, our greatest times of influence often come when we stop and listen.

And we should not stop and listen simply to appreciate a violin solo or to notice the sunset. Those things are good and noble. They exist for our enjoyment and point to the beauty and majesty of our creator. We should stop and listen to hear people’s hearts, to learn of their sorrows and to point them to Christ. Many people wind up in crisis, depressed, hurt, and horribly broken because no one was willing to lay aside their schedules, programs, and ministries to care for them. As speaker, pastor, and counselor Paul David-Trip notes:

Perhaps the simplest reason for our lack of self-disclosing candor is that no one else asks.

Jesus took time to listen to the rich young ruler and to ask questions the drew out his heart. Jesus took the time to know what we all experience becoming human so that he could perfectly relate to us for the purpose of redeeming us. If Christ has so loved us, how can we not in turn love others?

If we Jesus and truly want to follow him, we too must be willing to stop, to listen, and to draw our the hearts of those around us. We must be willing to be thrown of task and schedule for the gospel. We must be willing to risk a large invest of time and be willing to receive a result that we deem less than desirable. We must be willing to follow Christ and love others not matter the cost.

Irrelevant: Pastors Don’t Matter?

irrelevantPastors do not matter. Seventy-five percent of Americans turn to resources other than their pastors when seeking to live out the Christian life. Only one in four Americans think their pastors have something relevant to offer when facing life’s problems. Commenting on these findings, David Kinnnamin and Gabe Lyons said,

You might say Christians leaders are viewed like a smiling greeter at Walmart: they might point you in the right direction, but after that you’re on your own.

I believe Christendom arrived at this troubling point by encouraging pastors to be professionals.

Pastors devote their time to preaching, developing programs, to sitting on committees and to a ton of other administrative duties. Because they are so busy with the ‘work’ of the church, they do not have time for the people of the church.

Well known, Baptists’ leadership groups encourage pastors to only briefly counsel with the people before passing those time consuming sheep off to the local psychologists. As Jared Wilson noted, “A sheep who wants to be feed is seen as someone in the way of the vision.” The pastor who goes beyond the occasional hospital visit and actually cares for his sheep is deemed by many church cultures to be a pastor out of focus. He is a pastor that has abandoned the growth of the church for people.

This sentiment is bizarre and yet very real. It is also grossly unbiblical. Christ was all about people. Paul was all about people. They were not all about programs and church growth models. Yet, most pastors today are all about creating programs and filling pews.

In their rush to grow the kingdom of God, many modern pastors have made the kingdom irrelevant to the very world they are trying to reach. These men have declared themselves too busy to deal with the messiness of people’s lives. As a result, they have communicated that the church and the gospel have no real solutions for divorces, embezzlement, abuse, pornography, and the many other sins that weigh down local church members.

Such an attitude of professionalism is deeply troubling because pastors have access to the most powerfully truth. They have access to the power of Christ which both saves and liberates men and women from their sin. When pastors bounce their church members out of their offices and into the sofa of the local, secular counselor, they are pointing their people away from truth to hopelessness.

As Dietrich Bonoffer wrote,

The most experienced psychologist or observer of human nature knows infinitely less of the human heart than the simplest Christian who lives beneath the Cross of Jesus. 

He goes on to say,

Worldly wisdom knows what distress and weakness and failure are, but it does not know the godlessness of men. And so it also does not know that man is destroyed only by his sin and can be healed only by forgiveness.

The world has no power to liberate the drug-addict from sin. The secular counselor has no power to restore a broken marriage. The psychologist has no power to heal the depressed. The power to change, to power to have abundant life and hope is found in Christ.  2 Timothy 3:16 makes this reality abundantly clear,

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

I think many people do not value pastoral insight into their lives because their pastors have boldly declared for years that they have nothing to offer. In so doing, they have done great harm to their churches, to the body of Christ, and to our nation.

irrelevant-2The American church needs revival. It needs pastors who are not hooked on pornography and enraptured by their own self-aggrandizement. The church needs pastors committed to holiness. But the need even more than that. It needs pastors who are willing to shepherd their people. As Jared Wilson says, “we are not managers of spiritual enterprises: we are shepherds. And shepherds feed their sheep.”

At the end of the day, the pastor who will not counsel does not have an education problem. He has a gospel problem. As Bonhoeffer rightfully noted, “It is not lack of psychological knowledge but lack of love for the crucified Jesus Christ that makes us so poor and inefficient in brotherly confession.” Pastors are poor counselors because they have a poor grasp of the gospel. If pastors believed the gospel was radically changing their lives, they would boldly offer that same power to their church members.

The solution is simple. Pastors need to get serious about the gospel.  They need to love God so much that they cannot help but daily seek to repent and change of their sins. They need to be men who regularly confess their sins to others and invite others to speak into their lives. “Every person should refrain from listening to confession who does not himself practice it.” As the power of Christ takes control of their hearts, they will have something to offer to their congregations. They will be able to put the power of Christ on display. They will become relevant again.

My dear friend, the test of the Christian is not his busyness and his activity, it is his knowledge of God, it is his knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. –Martin Lloyd-Jones. 

Pastors, how are you doing?