Summer 2012, Vol.9
Serving with Integrity and Compassion: A Psychospiritual Paradigm for Effective Soul Care
The word “inaugurate” means “to induct into an office with suitable ceremonies or to observe formally the beginning of” (Merriam-Webster, 1997). After twelve years of teaching at AGTS, the delivery of an inaugural lecture may seem ironic. Though an inaugural lecture typically marks a beginning, mine comes at the end of an era.
As most of you know, this past August the General Council of the Assemblies of God elected to consolidate Central Bible College (CBC), Evangel University (EU), and the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary (AGTS). As a result of that decision, we stand at the dawn of new era of higher education in Springfield, Missouri.
The choice of the word “consolidate” to describe the recent process with the Springfield schools was intentional. The word means to “make solid, to join together into a whole; unite” (Merriam-Webster, 1997). A consolidation is the act of uniting into a whole. Interestingly, consolidation also means “inaugural; marking a beginning” (Merriam-Webster). An inaugural lecture is, in many respects, a consolidation in which a professor assimilates his or her thoughts, ideas, worldviews, and experiences into a coherent narrative whole.
Both loss and new beginnings mark the past year. In May 2011, after 96 years of existence, Bethany University, my alma mater, closed its doors. Bethany, originally named Glad Tidings Bible Institute, was the first Assemblies of God school of higher education. My degree in education from Bethany allowed me to pursue a professional career as an educator for over twenty-five years. The closing of Bethany and a sense of loss has been felt deeply by many Bethany graduates in this room. While the consolidation of CBC, EU, and AGTS brings excitement, change, and unlimited potential, it also carries a sense of loss for some people. Change can be both exciting and painful.
Over the past forty years, since its inception in 1972, AGTS has experienced many changes. I recall the day in March of 1996, when we broke ground for this building. A new era was set in motion. As the Student Advisory Council (SAC) president at the time, I had the distinct honor of representing the student body at the ground breaking. Dr. Deborah Gill, a former AGTS SAC president and professor at North Central Bible College at the time, stood next to me to represent the AGTS Board of Directors at that ground breaking.
The Student Advisory Council theme that year was “Serving with Integrity and Compassion.” This was the title of the first message I ever delivered at AGTS as a student in the fall of 1995. At that time, I had no idea that God’s plan for the next fifteen years of my life was to teach at AGTS and Evangel, as well as to completely readjust my paradigm of what calling and ministry might mean. Today, I look back with a sense of awe at the journey. I am humbled to have been given the opportunity to invest in the lives of men and women who have come to AGTS to answer the call of God on their lives and to be part of this academic community. At this juncture in time, it seems appropriate and timely to revisit the theme of “Serving with Integrity and Compassion” as a paradigm for soul care.
From a young age, I knew God had a call on my life—or at least that I wanted to spend my life serving Him. I made a decision to be a follower of Jesus at five years of age. I was baptized in the Holy Spirit when I was ten years old, on a missions trip to an Indian reservation in Arizona. At the age of twelve, while attending a youth retreat in the Alps of Germany, I committed my life fully to the pursuit of Matthew 6:33: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added unto you” (English Standard Version). I cannot recall a time without God as a central focus and guiding presence in my life.
I came home from youth camp committed to a life of service to the Lord. I started a youth group and learned to play the guitar—the kind of things one pursued in early ‘70s ministry. Subsequently, I attended Bethany Bible College and joined the staff of an Assemblies of God church. On staff, I engaged in pulpit ministry, music ministry, visitation, door-to-door witnessing, nursery work, janitorial work, sound room support, women’s ministry, van driver, kids’ camp counselor, youth group counselor, Sunday school teacher, and Missionettes leader. I started a Christian preschool, went on a missions trip, mentored young people, and started a singles’ group ministry—all vital avenues to serve and engage in ministry.
Many people commented, “With the apparent call of God on your life, you are sure to become a missionary one day.” Multiple and similar comments motivated me to go on a missions trip and apply to Missions Abroad Placement (MAPS). In 1990, I went on a short-term missions trip to Sri Lanka to teach in a Bible school—eagerly anticipating “the call to the mission field.” I embarked on that trip with an agenda—my vision of what it meant to fulfill God’s call on my life.
Ironically, I was asked to teach a basic psychology class at the Bible school. At the time, I was an elementary school teacher and had never taught psychology, but like any good missionary, I bought myself a text book and taught myself what I needed to know. The students at that Bible college kept asking me if I was a psychologist. I reminded them I was an elementary school teacher, not a psychologist. Almost prophetically, today, twenty years later, I am following God’s calling as a psychologist.
After a month in Sri Lanka, I returned home without particular direction or concrete answers, but enjoyed a renewed commitment to be more conformed to God’s image and to continually seek His direction for my life. I applied to MAPS as the next logical step in pursuit of my missionary calling. I was hopeful, yet confident, that my application would be approved. After all, I had a degree from an AG Bible school, a teaching credential, and was willing to raise my own support.
Ironically, during this time of waiting and being intentional in my desire to know the Lord more deeply, I began to sense a gradual change in myself. Always a fairly kind and caring person, I now found myself moved to tears by the pain and brokenness I saw around me on a daily basis. My deepening sensitivity to hurting people extended beyond the crowded streets of Sri Lanka and the Indian reservation in Arizona. Now, I began to be mindful of the woman standing at the bus stop—face lined with wrinkles and eyes filled with haunting emptiness. I wanted to hear her story—her personal journey of dreams and losses. I began to understand more clearly the Scripture that speaks of how Jesus was “moved with compassion.” I began to experience God’s people with a supernatural awareness.
Everyday occasions gave me countless opportunities to relate to others with a heightened sense of care. As I handed my money to the cashier tending the fast food drive-through window, I read the name tag, took the time to call him or her by name while connecting eye-to-eye. I actually stopped to listen to the reply when I casually asked, “How’s it going?” My growing awareness of the power of empathy challenged me to ‘wear another’s shoes,’ to ‘climb into another’s skin,’ to see the world from another’s perspective. Though I did not recognize it at the time, God continued to conform me to His image. As I got to know Him more intimately, I began to suspend my egocentric perspective and view life from the other’s vantage point.
I suspected that God was at work in my life to prepare me for something different from what I had experienced before this new season of awareness. Days turned into weeks, weeks into months, and after more than a year of waiting for a return call from MAPS, I began to wonder if the Lord had closed that door. I clearly recall the evening the Lord began to unveil the path I was to take. It was the final night of the 1993 General Council in Minneapolis, Minnesota. As I explored the exhibit hall, I stumbled upon the AGTS booth and, to my surprise, discovered the direction I had been seeking for the past three years. The next spring, I requested a leave of absence from my teaching position and moved to Springfield, Missouri. I only planned to stay for two years—the time required to complete a Master’s degree in counseling.
Interestingly, the week my acceptance letter from AGTS arrived, I received a phone call from MAPS. A woman apologized profusely stating that she did not know how this had happened, but she had found my application under a pile of papers on her desk. It had apparently been misplaced during the relocation of their office to Texas. She said I qualified for four or five open positions and that she could place me immediately if I was still interested. I graciously thanked her, and told her I was moving to Springfield, Missouri to pursue graduate studies at AGTS. I added that I would certainly consider these possibilities when I graduated in two years.
Two years later, in May 1996, I graduated from AGTS. Dr. Ben Aker hooded me, patted me on the back, and I walked down the aisle at Central Assembly waiting to see what God had in store for me next. What an amazing two years it had been. I earned my degree and was eager to return to California and do ministry. Once again, I had a preconceived idea of what ministry would look like and how God would use me. Again, I was surprised to learn that He had another plan, which included more focused academic preparation.
As most recent graduates do, I strained to hear the Lord’s voice and fervently sought His direction. Following graduation, God spoke specific words of knowledge to me: (1) to stay in Springfield, and that (2) what He planned to do in my ministry was radically different. I had a difficult time aligning those two concepts. First, an extended stay in Springfield, Missouri was not part of my two-year plan. Second, “radical ministry” and living in the heart of the Midwest were challenging realities to join together. But Scripture says obedience is better than sacrifice, so I stayed. Little could I have conceived the path, the plan, the paradigm, and the preparation He had in mind, for my ministry was very different than I could have ever imagined.
God called me to pursue a doctorate in Clinical Psychology. Not a doctorate in Ministry, Marriage and Family Counseling, or even Counseling Education—all more acceptable vocations in the eyes of the church than the study of psychology—let alone Clinical Psychology. I had to shift my ministry paradigm—radically. Clinical Psychology is a Behavioral Science. Behavioral studies are not spiritual—they are behavioral, and they focus on the study of people, not God. The penchant towards bifurcation—that tendency to separate the social sciences from theology, was unconsciously ingrained in my beliefs concerning ministry. Nevertheless, I completed a Doctorate of Clinical Psychology, and in the fall of 2001, I began teaching full-time at AGTS as an Assistant Professor of Counseling Psychology. Now a decade later, at the cusp of a new beginning of education in Springfield, I am blessed with the highest honor of being recognized as a full Professor of Counseling Psychology.
In this lecture, I will advocate that the crux of ministry to the body of Christ is soul care, and effective ministry for the twenty-first century must be anchored to an integrated psychospiritual paradigm of serving with integrity and compassion. This model necessitates the intentional partnership of theology and the social sciences and may require paradigm shifts for everyone involved in the education of people called to minister.
As a child, my favorite Bible story was about the Good Samaritan. I can remember how nervous I felt as I read those verses. A man minding his own business, walking from Jerusalem to Jericho was beaten, robbed, and left to die on the side of the road.
When I read the story as a child, I could relate to the anxiety of the man experiencing this violence and the physical pain he must have experienced because he was left for dead. I could even imagine how embarrassed he could have felt being stripped of his clothes. Due to repeated readings and Sunday school flannel board demonstrations, I knew eventually the story would end well—someone would come along and take him to the nearest place of refuge. As an adult I read the story differently and began to experience the man’s plight with new insight.
In 2010 I had the wonderful opportunity of spending time in the Holy Land and actually walking the barren, desolate road the man in the Good Samaritan story would have traveled. I sat on the side of the road and imagined what he might have felt. I could sense the utter helplessness he must have experienced. I could feel the searing Judean heat, dust, and unrelenting thirst that those conditions would have given him. I began to realize the intensity of his situation at another level as well. I could grasp the isolation, shame, and vulnerability of this traveler. I imagined his sheer desperation for someone, anyone, to come along and help him—to address not only his physical wounds, but to tend to his emotional, psychological, and spiritual wounds as well. This man experienced trauma, and, as a result, every aspect of his sense of self was negatively affected. The crime was not just an act of violence against his body but against his psyche and the totality of his being.
Luke 10:31-36, states,
As a child, I lacked the ability to fully comprehend the scope or magnitude of the ministry of the Good Samaritan. I knew he gave money and attended to the man’s physical needs, but I had never grasped the deeper psychological or spiritual implications to the story. This parable serves as an excellent example of serving with integrity and compassion. In this parable, Jesus elucidates the fact that pain, suffering, and damage are inflicted by humanity, and yet, it is the very act of one human being serving another which facilitates healing and restoration.
“Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then, he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back" (ESV).
Serving is “the act of one that serves.” The word “serve” means “to subordinate to; to minister to” (Merriam-Webster, 1997). The word “minister” can function as both a noun and a verb. As a verb, “minister” is defined, “to give aid or service to the sick” (Merriam-Webster). It would be possible for one to hold the title of minister (noun), and yet not minister (verb), just as one can minister without needing to hold the title of minister. The Good Samaritan depicts the latter; He did not hold the title of minister, yet he ministered.
The word “integrity” is often associated with a person’s character or sexual purity. Integrity means holistic, “the quality or state of being complete or undivided” (Merriam-Webster, 1997). God is a God of integrity, and effectively ministering to people in His name must, therefore, necessarily address spiritual, physical, and psychological needs. These aspects of human needs cannot be separated from one another. Unresolved psychological issues profoundly affect one’s ability to grow—physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Toxic theology leads to a distorted view of God resulting in an inability to experience and internalize God’s grace. This understanding directly impacts an individual’s relationship with God, self, and others. A holistic approach to humankind and ministry enables us to appreciate the different, yet complementary, contributions of both psychology and theology, and to act holistically—in one accord.
Compassion is defined as a “sympathetic consciousness of others; distress together with a desire to alleviate it” (Merriam-Webster, 1997). In Scripture, whenever Christ was moved with compassion, He was compelled to act. As Christians, disciples of Christ, we are mandated beyond sympathetic consciousness or a desire to alleviate distress, to act—to care for souls. A theology that fails to move us to compassion merely serves as an intellectual pursuit—hollow and self-serving—similar to the lawyer who looked for a loop hole around love when he asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” (American Standard Version). Such theology lacks integrity—the very nature of God.
The parable of the Good Samaritan serves as a prototype of soul care ministry. Thomas Oden defines soul as “referring to the whole person, including the body, but with particular focus on the inner world of thinking, feeling, and willing. Care of souls can thus be understood as the care of persons in their totality, with particular attention to their inner lives” (Oden, 1983, p. 187). The heart of soul care speaks to the ability to navigate the inner workings of people; to understand their behaviors, thoughts, and feelings; and to help them negotiate the interplay between their internal and external worlds. In essence, soul care engages those who embrace the gifts of exploration and articulation of inner experiences.
The goal of soul care is the fostering of the psychospiritual health of the inner person and refers to “the fact that the inner world has no separate spiritual and psychological compartments. Humans are, in their inner persons, psychospiritual beings. No problem of the inner person is either spiritual or psychological: all problems are psychospiritual. Psychological and spiritual aspects of human functioning are identical. Any segregation of spirituality and psychology is, therefore, both artificial and destructive to the true understanding of persons” (Benner, 1998, p. 110).
Historically, both classic philosophy and Christianity tend to dissect the whole into parts. Nowhere is this more evident than with the attempt to divide the human person into the material and immaterial. Whether an individual is theologically a dicotomist or a tricotomist is extraneous to psychospiritual care.
The dichotomist and the trichotomist assume a material and immaterial component to humankind. Stanley Grenz (2000) defines these two entities: material self is the body, the vehicle through which persons relate to the physical world. The immaterial self, functions in two directions. It acts both as “spirit”—the capacity of the self to relate to God—and as “soul”—the capacity to relate to self and others selves (p. 158). According to Grenz, these two views do not contradict each other, but rather show the human person as a “substantial dichotomy and a functional trichotomy” (p. 158). God intended humans to express themselves in physical, psychological, and spiritual ways. What makes human beings so unique is the existence of the soul, the central part of the human’s being. According to Benner (2011), “Humans are organic whole, not a collection of parts. We do not possess a soul, but we are [a] soul” (p. 42).
Hebrew and Greek notions regarding the soul had similarities but were quite different. Hebrew philosophy embraced a more unified concept of the body and soul while Greek thinking tended to embrace the view that the soul was separate from the body. Christian theology and modern paradigms for ministry have been deeply influenced by Greek thought.
Attempts to divide what God has created as a whole has serious implications for the care of souls. David Benner (1998) maintains,
Efforts to separate the spiritual, psychological, and physical aspects of persons inevitably result in a trivialization of each. When spirituality is equated with ‘that part of us that relates to God,’ suddenly we are in a position of relating to God with only a part of our being. It is then only a short step from there to God being seen as more interested in certain parts of us than others. The dividing line between the sacred and the secular then cuts right through the fabric of personality (Benner, pp. 62-63).
In my doctoral dissertation (Palm, 2000), I opposed the inclination to separate and isolate aspects of self to the sacred or secular. I advocated for a more holistic understanding of persons and of the contributions the behavioral sciences can make to better preparing students for effective ministry, in preparing them for soul care. I proposed the creation of an objective, structured framework to assess basic personality functioning and interpersonal abilities of incoming seminarians. I emphasized that “although psychology may have many problems and limitations, its value to the ongoing study of human behavior must be not be overlooked” (Palm, 17).
According to Don Browning (1992), psychology can serve the Church in ways that are both intellectually honest and consistent with the classic witness of the Christian faith. Psychology can enhance the Church’s understanding of the variety of human pathology by challenging its understanding of human development and by furthering its effectiveness in promoting healing and growth. Each of the predominant forces, in the expanding study of human behavior, contributed to our understanding of those in need of care and to effective ways of helping them.
Overview: History of Psychology
Since the founding of modern psychology a century ago, four predominant paradigms have evolved. Each new school of thought is often a reactionary response to the previous movement, yet each with a significant contribution to the understanding of human behavior. “The long history of theories and models of psychology slowly evolved, mostly within philosophy, until the nineteenth century, when the methodological spirit of science was applied to the study of psychology and the formal discipline of psychology appeared” (Brennan, 1991, p. 1).
The first and usually most recognized is psychoanalysis popularized by Sigmund Freud (1856-1939). “It is not unusual for laypersons to consider psychology and psychoanalysis synonymous terms” (Henry, 1991, p. 954). Psychoanalysis represents only one model of psychology, but according to Siang-Yang Tan (2011), many still consider psychoanalysis “to be the most comprehensive view of personality, psychopathology, and psychotherapy” (p. 51). Many mental health professionals “have found the psychoanalytic approach to be the richest and deepest in theory and practice among the psychotherapies available today” (Tan, p. 52).
The key contributions of the psychoanalytic movement include the importance of the unconscious; the significance of early childhood experiences, particularly of traumatic experiences; and the therapeutic significance of dreams and defense mechanisms. The psychoanalytic model promotes a subjective, deterministic, and introspective approach. It was deemed incomplete and flawed by many groups, but its contributions to the understanding of behavior are immeasurable.
Behaviorism, the second school of thought, moved psychology to a more objective science of behavior that was observable and measurable. Behaviorism, in its efforts to be scientific and verifiable, endeavored to remove speculative concepts such as the spirit, soul, or will from consideration and focus on behaviors that were observable and quantifiable. According to John Broadus Watson (1930), founder of behavioral psychology, “The raw fact is that you, as a psychologist, if you are to remain scientific, must describe the behavior of man in no other terms than those you would use in describing the behavior of an ox” (p. v.). For obvious reasons, this perspective of human beings was found to be incomplete, reductionistic, and objectionable to many people. However, behaviorism’s contributions to scientific research, education, parenting skills, behavior modification, and treatment of depression and classically conditioning disorders such as fears and anxieties are enormous.
The third major wave of psychology was the humanistic approach that began in earnest in the 1950s. Humanistic psychology was a reaction to the strict behaviorist’s attempts to remove the subjective components such as the soul/spirit and free will of individuals. Humanism attempted to insert the human component back into the equation of psychology. This was more palatable and aspects of humanism, such as its emphasis on the dignity and worth of the individual, as well as the emphasis on a person’s potential, began to be embraced in mainline denominations as they began to pursue pastoral care. High importance was placed on an individual’s perception and experiences with others.
Carl Rogers (1902-1987), a well-known psychologist in the 1950s who was commonly associated with the humanistic movement of psychology, took a positive approach to humanity and focused on treating each human being with dignity and respect. At the crux of his theory was the concept of unconditional positive regard. The concept of unconditional positive regard was rooted in the “Judeo-Christian concepts of the dignity of human persons as image bearers of God and of the unconditional quality of God’s unmerited grace toward unworthy humans” (Ellens, 1991, p. 1235). It was not unique to Rogers, but he used it more profoundly, consistently, and exhaustively than others in the field of psychology.
Rogers believed deeply in the immense worth of the person. He had a profound understanding of humanity’s innate need for human contact and of the healing presence of another person. His contributions to the field of pastoral counseling and psychotherapy are immeasurable. His concept of “unconditional positive regard was interpreted as a correlate of, if not a substitute expression for, divine grace” (Ellens, 1991, p. 1235).
Unconditional positive regard means that the therapist is to accept the client unconditionally. The therapist is “to prize and hold in valued esteem the other person as a unique and significant human being, above and beyond any external evaluations which one might place on his/her specific experiences” (Aden and Ellens, 1991, p. 517). This embodies how God loves us, His creations. However, with our finite capacity, sometimes we cannot comprehend how infinitely God values us—apart from our behavior. The internalized experience of shame, believing that one is inherently flawed and unlovable, is mediated by experiencing unconditional positive regard with another human being—a powerful therapeutic encounter by which God’s grace and acceptance of our humanity is transmitted from the divine to the finite through the human relationship. We need an encounter with Christ and we need an encounter with Christ-like persons to provide a concrete example of being accepted apart from our performance. For some people, this encounter transpires with a pastor, spouse, parent, friend, counselor, or with a “Samaritan.”
This accepting, non-judgmental experience with another human being is fundamental and critical to the healing process. “In the practice of therapy, a reality like grace can be experienced by the client. In fact, any genuine acceptance of the client is an instance of grace” (Aden and Ellens, 1991, p. 517). “Rogers in adopting this perspective on personality formation and therapy, reflects the unconditional grace model of redemption as biblically expressed.” (Ellens, 1991, p. 1236). In so doing, Rogers validates the case for Christian therapists as conduits of God’s grace. As representatives of Jesus Christ, that is our highest calling, to be a channel by which another human being experiences the grace of God in a tangible manner.
Today, nearly all psychologists subscribe to a more holistic view of the human person, which incorporates body, soul, spirit, and free-will to some degree. The vast contribution of humanistic psychology encourages people to be authentic, congruent, and non-judgmental, and to listen without a preconceived agenda. Yet, humanistic psychology failed to fully appreciate the role of cognitions/thoughts to mediate feelings and interpret experiences. This observation, and the concomitant arrival of the computer, helped usher in the next major wave of psychological thought, cognitivism.
This fourth psychological paradigm, cognitivism, focuses on the power of thoughts and a person’s ability to mediate his or her reaction to an event. Between the late 1980s and the early 1990s, cognitivism or the cognitive behavioral approach has been the dominant force in psychology as it attempts to explain the capacity of human beings to intake, process, store, and retrieve information. It has become a powerful and driving force in psychology and often serves as the foundation of evidence-based interventions. It is certainly a helpful, yet incomplete, perspective on the human mind. Taken to the extreme, it has the potential to reduce people to processing mechanisms and to miss the experiential, subjective, ethereal components that make us human. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has added exponentially to the study of human behavior and has advanced treatment of emotional and psychological disorders to levels of success unparalleled by past theoretical orientations.
Currently in the field of postmodern psychology, we are witnessing a move to reintegrate the spiritual, mystical, immaterial aspects of humanity—the soul, back into the study of human behavior. We may be on the verge of the fifth major wave in psychology. Opponents, as well as proponents, acknowledge the intrinsic limitations of the behavioral sciences; yet Christian psychologists committed to a holistic approach to soul care, understand we must not miss this critical opportunity to influence the study of understanding humanity.
According to Collins (2007), “This popularization of spirituality gives counselors new opportunities to talk about spiritual issues with their counselees. The emergence of spirituality, including that which is anti-Christian, opens new doors of opportunity for Christian counseling” (p. 856).
Coinciding with the consolidation of the three AG educational institutions in Springfield, Missouri, greater acceptance of spirituality and soul care is emerging within the psychological and medical communities. Hospice care, which has long been rooted in a bio-medical model of care, has gradually shifted toward a psychospiritual matrix for the care of the dying. If a psychospiritual model is worthy of professional consideration at the end of a person’s life, it deserves consideration for the living of a person’s life as well.
The need for presentation of soul care from an integrated, biblical, and psychological perspective has never been greater. Again, we dare not miss the opportunity to embrace a psychospiritual paradigm of soul care that is anchored to the dictum of serving with integrity and compassion as we strive to demonstrate God’s amazing grace to humanity.
Grace: God’s Compassion toward Humankind
God’s divine grace is exemplified by the Good Samaritan. Grace can be thought of as unmerited divine assistance given humanity. In Scripture, “grace is a theological term that refers to the disposition of God toward humankind. According to the [O]ld and [N]ew [T]estaments, this disposition is one of unconditional goodwill, despite human failure, radical acceptance, despite human alienation, and universal reconciliation despite human indifference” (Aden and Ellens, 1991, p. 517).
Grace is God’s gracious disposition toward humankind made manifest in a relationship between the one who cares and the one who receives care (Aden and Ellens, 1991, p. 518). The Samaritan was the one who cared and was moved to compassion by the man’s brokenness. He was the one who stopped, took pity, and addressed the man’s physical, emotional, and psychological wounds. In this parable, grace is delivered and experienced through a human being. An anonymous author wrote, “I do not understand the mystery of grace—only that it meets us were we are, but does not leave us where it found us.” The parable of the Good Samaritan is a story of grace—of being found where one is—naked, bruised, scared, alone, vulnerable—and not being left where one is found; it represents the ministry of a helping relationship which transpires every day in the offices of Christian therapists, counselors, and other mental health care providers. In the refuge of a safe office, a person in pain and distress encounters a trained mental health professional who facilitates his or her journey to a place of emotional, psychological, and spiritual health.
Servant leadership serves as the model of ministry advocated and fashioned at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary. We are passionate and committed to the preparation of leaders. In the classic book, The Wounded Healer, Henri Nouwen identifies three roles expected of the person who aspires to be a Christian Leader in the world of tomorrow: (1) the leader as the articulator of inner events; (2) the leader as a person of compassion; and (3) the leader as contemplative critic. Just as counseling and psychotherapy are appropriate avenues of soul care, the Christian mental health professional is strategically positioned to fill these functions.
According to Benner (1998), “Christian Soul care is normally provided through the medium of dialogue within the context of a relationship” and “Christian soul care is much too important to be restricted to the clergy or any other single group of people” (p. 33-34). Counseling and psychotherapy are rooted in the potency of dialogue. In a world inundated with information, sound bites, sermons, lectures, pod casts, and argumentative political debate—dialogue is a powerful tool—too often overlooked and undervalued. It is at the heart of effective psychotherapy and soul care.
Jesus is the ultimate model for soul care. His primary method of soul care was dialogue that conveyed compassion and could correct a person’s perspective of self, others, and God. He engaged people, listened, reflected back, and led others to discovery through conversation; comparable to the paradigm of interpersonal helping skills utilized in therapy. Dialogue allows people to hear their own thoughts and often people do not know what they think until they hear themselves say it aloud. The opportunity one affords another by listening instead of talking is profound and life-changing; it is serving one another with our ears.
The Good Samaritan probably engaged the injured man in dialogue. He may have asked him about his life, his reason for traveling to Jericho, or his family. Did he have a wife and children? Conceivably, the beaten man could have been a despicable man, unfaithful to his wife, a corrupt criminal, or a tax collector who was more aware of his own moral bankruptcy than anyone else. Perhaps he even believed he was getting what he deserved. After all, he had failed to attend synagogue regularly, had not read his scrolls enough—even worse, he had lusted over his neighbor’s wife as she washed her clothes on the roof top below. Perhaps he believed he was unworthy of assistance, a distorted belief, only confirmed by the religious leaders he hoped would help him. Fortunately, someone came along—a Samaritan, of all people—and challenged his perceived wretchedness. Altering his beliefs—cognitive therapy without a spoken word—wrapping him in dignity and respect, clothing his psychological exposure and vulnerability. The mere fact that the Samaritan stopped validated the man’s worth as a person and may have changed his perspective toward himself, others, and God.
An encounter with another human being changed the story’s outcome. The Good Samaritan provided safety and strength when the man was depleted; tenderness and touch after his body was violated; words of assurance when he was discouraged; and love in action—a Jesus with skin on. He calmed the victim’s anxious heart, restored his belief in the goodness of others, and conceivably spoke words of truth and encouragement to him.
Research consistently indicates, “The time following a traumatic event is critical. The quality of contact and help the victim receives can greatly influence the outcome” (Rothschild, 2000, p. 156). In those moments on the road, he may have been forced to face his existential fear of dying by himself, abandoned, no one knowing. Perhaps he had a wife and children, and he laid there wondering if they would ever know what happened to him. Maybe he could not see and was surrounded not only by psychological and spiritual darkness, but literal darkness as well. His eyes may have been swollen shut from being beaten or covered with cloth.
Into the darkness of his thoughts and despondent emotions of fear, abandonment, and self-abasement, grace exploded onto the scene—but not like he expected. Not from a priest, a rabbi, or another recognized religious leader, but from a marginalized Samaritan, one who was familiar with pain and prejudice, yet acted with compassion. This helper embodied grace—that unmerited divine assistance given to humanity; an act of kindness, a courtesy, a virtue coming from a merciful God. The failure of the religious figures of the day, the priest and Levite, to address the many needs of the man on the road, created an opportunity for a different character in God’s redemptive story to step in and fill the unmet role.
Today, psychotherapy and counseling execute many of the social, spiritual, and personal functions once served by religion and the church. Both psychotherapy and religion can be thought of as serving the function of establishing a deep structure for understanding life (Kilbourne and Richardson, 1984). Psychology has moved from “being a descriptive science to a prescriptive social institution” (Benner, 1998, p. 45). As such, it plays an influential role in today’s culture. It is also “becoming increasingly clear that the needs psychotherapy is called upon to meet transcend the naturalistic frame of reference to which it has been confined” (Ehrenwald, 1966, p.10). The truth is that “despite its packaging as a social science, psychotherapy is much more similar to religion than science” (Benner, 1998, p. 42); it has “filled the space left by the decline of institutional religion and operates as a functional religion” (Benner, 1998, p. 44).
It is unlikely we will return to a time when organized, institutional religion is the only formative vehicle. We can wish for the days when pastors were the only, or most respected moral voice of authority, or when psychology was relegated to the observing and recording of behavior. Yet, when old ways die or fail to effectively speak to the breadth or depth of the problem, new models arise in their place. Mental health providers and the behavior sciences are part of the fabric of our society and can play a critical part in the soul care of today’s weary travelers.
I often think back and wonder what the Lord meant in 1996, when He gave me the phrase, “radically different.” As I have reflected, I have realized once again that I had my idea of what radical meant, and then there was His idea. I assumed it was the definition of being “revolutionary—disposed to make extreme changes in existing views, habits, conditions or institutions” (Merriam-Webster, 1997). I did not consider that what He might have had in mind was an alternative definition. In Matthew 9, the Pharisees wanted to know why Jesus was spending time with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus replied, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick” (New Living Translation). Looking back now, I think what God meant by radical was the alternative definition: “To remove the root of a disease or all diseased tissue” (Merriam-Webster, 1997).
Now, in retrospect, I can see it clearly, and it makes sense to me. God prepared me. During the mission trip to Sri Lanka, He increased my compassion and taught me to see through His eyes. All interconnecting pieces of His plan, His paradigm, His preparation for the ministry to which He had called me—a Christian psychologist, a soul care provider— fell into place. My calling, gifts, passion, and vocation integrated into a “radical” ministry: the removal of diseased thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of the soul. He had equipped me to help hurting people move forward in healing—emotionally, psychologically, physically, and spiritually. In essence, to provide a safe place for people to dialogue; to hear their own thoughts; to provide a model of attentive listening, unconditional positive regard, and God’s grace; to be a “Jesus with skin on” to the brokenhearted; to serve with integrity and compassion, a different path, an altered paradigm—but ministry none the less.
Soul care is too critical to leave to any one group of people. Theologians and psychologists must be educated, prepared, and willing to engage in the psychospiritual care of people. The need to prepare Spirit-filled, clinically-trained, competent, mental health providers is great. Higher education in the Assemblies of God has a wonderful opportunity to lead the way. For years, AGTS, CBC, and Evangel have been preparing men and women for the ministry of counseling in the church and in professional settings—students who are willing to commit to the academic rigor required to minister in a world of increasing professionalism, legal requirements, proven methodologies backed by comprehensive research, and state licensure. According to Clinton and Ohlschlager (2002), “Because more and more counselors are willing to be therapeutic ambassadors of the Great Physician, our healing ministry is beginning to yield wonderful fruit. This fruit is evidenced not only by client’s improved emotional and relational health but also by their spiritual transformation and maturity in Christ (p. 15). Peter Scazzero (2006) asserts, “It is not possible to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature” (p. 17).
As we move forward in our new educational identity as a consolidated university, may we continue to expand our understanding of ministry. May we be thoughtful and diligent in seeking the truth and the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. May we serve with integrity and compassion as we fulfill the words of the prophet Isaiah,
The spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Isa. 61:1-2, NIV).
May our gracious Lord shine His face upon us and grant us favor in our pursuit of a psychospiritual paradigm anchored to serving others with integrity and compassion.
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Monday, October 29, 2012 10:55 AM