Call is God’s invitation to use God-given gifts and talents to minister in the church and in the world. A pastoral counselor is called to serve people, particularly the poor, the sick, the troubled, and the oppressed, in ministries of compassion, justice, and service in the world. Help in determining God’s call is available at www.isgodcallingyou.org; specific information for youth is available at www.ExploreCalling.org.
Pastoral Counselors Care for Those with Deep Needs
United Methodist pastoral counselors are clergypersons called by God and ordained by a bishop to minister outside the walls of the church, caring for those with deep needs. Their ministry of witness and service extends God’s love and service in various settings and requires specialized training to qualify for endorsement by The United Methodist Church.
To ensure high standards of competence and uniform standards, the United Methodist Endorsing Agency of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry is responsible for enlisting, endorsing, and supporting ordained clergy serving in ministries of pastoral care in specialized settings. The primary difference between these appointments and traditional pastoral appointments to local churches involves the nature of the setting and the role of the chaplain or pastoral counselor in relationship to institutions with the primary purpose of education, international security, peacekeeping, incarceration, hospitalization, residential care, spiritual and psychological counseling, or for-profit settings such as healthcare companies.
What do pastoral counselors do?
A pastoral counselor may serve in civilian endorsement settings including children’s home, clinical pastoral education, general hospital, hospice, marriage and family therapy, mental health, nursing home, police, corrections, retirement community, substance abuse, Veterans Medical Center, and workplace.
A pastoral counselor may serve in military settings. Military appointments include U.S. Army, Navy, or Air Force,(active and reserve); National Guard; and Air National Guard units.
A pastoral counselor may also serve on a local church staff.
What are the duties of a pastoral counselor?
The duties of a United Methodist pastoral counselor would be dependent on needs of the institutions and individuals they serve. Pastoral counselors’ specialized training enables them to bring together resources of scripture, belief, and the traditions of the faith community with the insights of the behavioral sciences to address the needs of individuals, families, and groups in institutional or clinical settings
Pastoral Counselor Looks at the Whole Person
A desire to incorporate the spiritual aspects of life into her counseling efforts led the Rev. Nancy L. Long to a career in pastoral counseling.
“What makes pastoral counseling ‘pastoral’ is that we look at the whole person,” says Long, who worked in clinical practices in Virginia and Georgia before earning her D.Min. from Virginia Union Seminary in 1996. While other therapists might focus exclusively on a disease model of care, seeking to determine what is wrong with the patient and fix it, Long says pastoral counselors are encouraged to take a deeper look.
“As a pastoral counselor, I’m looking at that person’s community, his or her family of origin, current family, church life, spiritual life, and emotional health. It’s really a bird’s-eye view.
“If someone comes in as depressed, angry or having anxiety, I can treat them in a pastoral way, which allows me to sit with them in their craziness while they figure it out,” Long adds.
Sometimes that “sitting with” involves prayer, and sometimes not.
“I’m not uncomfortable with that, but I do want to know whether they are asking me to pray because they think it is a Band-Aid or because they need to feel the presence of God,” Long says.
Long, 51, grew up in Nashville, Tenn. By seventh grade, she knew she wanted to pursue a career in behavioral science. Long attended Tennessee State University, where she earned a bachelor’s, then a master’s degree in clinical psychology. Yet even while absorbing all the information required by her coursework, she felt something was missing. “I kept bugging my professors with questions like: What about the spirit? How does the spiritual side come into it?”
Long went on to her first real job without finding answers to those questions.
After working at a counseling agency in Virginia for seven years, she moved to a similar position in Columbus, Ga.
“A colleague of mine there, who was on the Southern Baptist Board, told me about a major at seminary called pastoral counseling,” she says. Long enrolled in graduate school and quickly found her niche.
“I went into [psychology] from a calling and then that calling evolved,” she says.
After divinity school, Long worked for several years at a pastoral counseling agency. In 2000, she signed on as staff chaplain at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, where she now works with individuals and groups. Her clients range from hospital administrators to the cleaning crew. She was ordained as an elder in The United Methodist Church in 2004.
“My day is very sporadic,” she says. “I may do a Bible study at 5:30 in the morning, then go see a staff member who had a bad day – perhaps a patient died who they were close to – to support them. I might hold a memorial service for an employee who died. I’ve been asked to bless a hospital room where the staff felt that too many patients had died.”
Long enjoys her career as pastoral counselor “because it gives me the freedom to have a diverse ministry.
“It gives a person who has been called to the ministry an outlet to express that ministry, even if they find the church too confining. You can be in the church but not of the church, if you will,” Long said.
Long says her counseling career is now more fulfilling than ever.
“It just feels more whole when you are dealing with people and their issues, to be trained theologically and psychologically. To talk in both worlds is exciting.
Pastoral Counselors Help Extend the Church
Whether working in institutions, clinical offices, or other settings, pastoral counselors help the church extend its ministry outside traditional boundaries, says the Rev. Patricia Barrett, assistant general secretary in the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry’s Division of Ordained Ministry.
“By making a decision to appoint pastoral counselors, the church is choosing to be in the highways and byways of life,” Barrett says. “It’s an intentional decision to go beyond the boundaries of the institution.”
Pastoral counselors, chaplains, and other types of extension ministers may be viewed as “the fingers of Christ” at work in the world, Barrett says.
While traditional psychotherapy has been a recognized profession since the late 1800s, the concept of integrating spiritual and mental health is a relatively new field. The position of pastoral counselor has been part of The United Methodist Church only since the 1960s. “It’s a model that sees your faith not as a problem, but as a resource,” Barrett explains.
Still, some pastoral counselors struggle to overcome resistance to their work because of the misperception that the role of the church – and by extension, any minister of the church – is to judge others. Other challenges facing pastoral counselors include the fact that they live and work in a contemporary society that places an emphasis on self-reliance, yet their job is to help individuals to admit their problems and, by extension, their vulnerability.
Determining the best way to pay for pastoral care is also a concern for many counselors and the church. There is still some debate over the ethics of charging for ministerial care, and, in general, secular counselors in private practice are able to charge more for similar services than their pastoral counterparts.
Pastoral counselors who choose to go into private practice also may find it difficult to establish a healthy caseload of patients, says the Rev. Nancy L. Long, pastoral counselor at Emory University Hospital, who has also worked in a clinical setting. Marketing and networking skills do not always coincide with the skills and interests that may lead someone into the pastoral counseling field and must to be developed independently.
The pastoral counselor’s role may not be as clearly understood as either that of a pastor or a counselor, although it requires the training of both professions. “It is not counseling done by a pastor,” Barrett points out. “It’s a thing of itself. When I’m going for pastoral counseling, I’m going to someone who has had supervision, who has proven they have been able to integrate their clinical work with their theological work.
Endorsement for Ministries of Pastoral Care in Specialized Settings
If you believe God is calling you to service in a specialized ministry beyond the walls of the local church and wish to be endorsed, you must meet certain requirements before applying:
- be an associate member, commissioned on probationary track for deacon or elder, or full member of an annual conference.
- have graduated from an accredited college and seminary.
- meet any additional requirements required by the setting.
When you are ready to apply:
- Contact the United Methodist Endorsing Agency for an application by sending an email to email@example.com.
- You will be asked to provide a life history and statement of your understanding of ministry in the setting for which you are seeking endorsement.
- You will be asked for references from your bishop, district superintendent, and two others.
When all requirements have been supplied to UMEA, an interview will be scheduled at UMEA’s expense.
- An interview committee of endorsed chaplains and pastoral counselors will conduct a peer review.
- Areas examined will include your moral and emotional stability and ability to face crises and adversity, your ability to evaluate your present ministry, to clearly express your theory of Christian ministry, your motivation, continuing education, sense of humor, cooperativeness, your understanding of the difference in institutional and congregational ministry, and your gifts and abilities in ministry.
- The interview committee will make a recommendation to the endorsing committee.
- The endorsing committee, composed of members of the Division of Ordained Ministry and a bishop, will make a recommendation pertaining to your endorsement.