Marin Christian Counseling Center

 Chapter 26 

Educational Preparation 

My college degree was in psychology. When I started out as a freshman at Glendale Junior College in Glendale, California, I was going to be pharmacist. But then I got a D in Chemistry 1 and followed that up with an F in Chemistry 2. 

In a health class at Glendale I got my first exposure to psychology, and I was captivated. I had already figured out that I was a bit off. When I was sixteen, a school buddy, Bill Johnson, said I was a hypochondriac. What I found in Webster’s Dictionary rather shocked me, but after thinking if over for some time, I agreed that I had been using illnesses such as a headache or an upset stomach to get out of things and attract attention. There were a few other little things about me I began to notice, little superstitions and obsessive/compulsive behaviors, and I concluded I had learned these things from my mother. After reflection, now many years later, I think my evaluation was fairly right, both about my mother and myself. So, knowing I was no rocket scientist and a bit strange, I chose psychology as my college major. 

Since I was not able to stay in one school for long (due to the military), I ended up graduating with a BA in psychology, with minors in cultural anthropology and sociology. I entered a master’s program, had completed the course work, and was starting the unit involving observed counseling. Suddenly, I realized I would never be able to bring up the Gospel of Christ as a school psychologist, which had become my career goal. For a week or so I pondered this, talked to my Pastor Bob Lewis, and decided to quit college and go instead to seminary. My whole point here is that I appreciated psychological counseling and was actually prepared to do it but not with the strictures that would have been imposed in a school setting. 

Getting to the Work 

My office at the Christian General Store in San Rafael was spacious and quiet, perfect for a counseling office. Betty Kenner, the book store manager, kept my appointment book, and for ten years I accepted clients. I had no license and no insurance, and I did not charge any fee. My work was completely free, but sometimes people would slip me a twenty or so. For the most part, no one paid a dime. 

Most weeks I had appointments Tuesday through Friday, anywhere from four to six per day. Sometimes I saw couples, but most often single individuals; a few times I did small groups. Churches all over Marin County sent people to me, and after a while, people from other counties made appointments as well. During my college studies, I had learned and appreciated both directive and non-directive counseling theories, so I combined the two, which worked out well over the years. I could both listen and speak to a situation. 

In 1972 we began Church of the Open Door, and a great many of the folks who ended up there came through the Marin Christian Counseling Center. “Center” was a popular word then; if I had it to do over I would not use the word, as it seems rather arrogant. But I have already indicated that I was arrogant, buoyed with the notion, “We have the Spirit.” 

What I learned during my counseling period I could not have learned elsewhere. People, most of them Christians, were desperate to talk to someone who would not condemn them. They wanted to talk to someone who would not call their pastor on the phone and make a report about them. 

Pastors Came, Too 

Pastors from churches all over the Bay Area even made appointments for themselves. It was then I learned the plight in which many pastors found themselves. Churches, I discovered, were like battle grounds with buried mines dug in just below the surface; thus arose one of my favorite phrases, “Churches are mine fields.” I eventually found this out for myself at our Church of the Open Door. What I learned found its expression in what is commonly echoed by other pastors: “If you can do anything else at all, don’t go into the ministry.”

During that time of the mid ’70s, I wrote an unpublished book entitled, The Care and Feeding of Your Pastor. That manuscript formed the basis of a book jointly published by Evangelical Press and Earthen Vessel Publishing in 2008—How to Care for Your Pastor.

Pastors made appointments as did associate pastors, especially youth pastors. I began to wonder if there was something wrong with the whole institution. Sadly, professional ministers had then and continue to have a high rate of attrition, especially in a “one person, one vote” congregational form of government. If something went wrong— for instance, if a power person became offended at something that a paid ministerial staff member did or said, well, that staff person was gone fairly quickly. And these ministers were usually younger people with few or no assets to fall back on. 

What I realized (maybe rationalized), for me personally as well as for those I counseled, was that there was a price to pay for being in the professional ministry. And the reality was that the opportunity to preach and teach the Gospel almost always required pastoring a church. There was no alternative forum, for most anyway, although a few managed to acquire enough recognition to make it as travelling evangelists or guest speakers. It was during this period that I would announce, “I pastor in order to preach.” 

A final note based on long experience: there is, in my opinion, a problem with being both a pastor and a counselor. If the counselor is competent, people will open up their lives. But how can this be a comfortable arrangement, if they are then regularly around the one who knows the deep, dark, and sometimes terrible truths? My advice for pastors and other church leaders who need therapy for themselves for whatever reason is: be sure to see someone in another county, and use an alias if necessary. 

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