Pastors Need Personal Counselling Too
Seminar on counselling for Russia’s Baptist pastors
M o s c o w – Pastors versed in counselling are themselves also in need of counselling. They too can become mired in conflicts and be subjected to serious temptation. They too need to be built up and encouraged. Pastor Olaf Kormannshaus noted this at a seminar held by the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists’ (RUECB) Pastoral Department from 14 to 16 September at the Rucheyok children’s camp in the vicinity of Moscow. Ten pastors responsible for pastoral counselling participated in the seminar.
Kormannshaus, Lecturer for Counselling and Psychology at the Theological Seminary of Germany’s Federation of Evangelical-Free Churches in Elstal, added: „Our perceptions of a conflict are subjective – our own perceptions always need to be supplemented with the views of others.“ It can be sobering to admit that one’s own view may well be insufficient or warped. It is therefore vital for others to convey their perceptions to me. One good means for doing so is the „Heilsbronn Model for Collegial Counselling“, which was presented to the group by the German guest. It involves sessions with six to eight pastoral colleagues in which they discuss in 10 steps a problematic situation described by one of the participants. The listeners explain what has struck them most during the description of the situation and what they could see as the most positive solution. During these initial stages, the listeners do not address the presenter directly – he also does not have the right to interrupt his colleagues. This creates a healthy distance to the presenter and the presenter is confronted with the honest views of his colleagues. Only in the final phase do presenter and listeners engage one another in conversation. This model is strongly democratic in nature, for the person supervising is rotated throughout the entire group. All participants also serve as supervisor and all confront each other clearly as equals.
Kormannshaus also reported on his experiences in Germany. Such „supervision“ sessions involving only myself or a group of colleagues meeting with a “supervisor” or expert from elsewhere have become commonplace. Many other pastors meet regularly to discuss their problems even if a supervisor from elsewhere is not available. The main topic in these sessions must be one’s pastoral work. These sessions can help to expose a hidden conflict as well as the role which the pastor is taking within that conflict. This so-called „collegial counselling“ also helps to protect the pastor from being „infected“ by the counselling cases he is working with among laity. The topics he addresses in counselling – money, sexuality, alcohol, power, the drive for personal recognition – are themselves often enough strong temptations for the counsellor himself.
If concrete personal missteps are involved, Kormannshaus added that it can be advisable for a Baptist pastor to initially visit a pastor from another confession. This can help spare the congregation or one’s direct superior from incriminating information at an early stage. If on the other hand, one notices a questionable practice or incident on the part of a colleague, then it is necessary to confront him personally regarding the matter. But one should not thereby act as if one were a public prosecutor, judge or detective: “I have the responsibility to inform the colleague regarding my concern and describe to him the consequences of his behaviour. How he responds to that information is then his responsibility - not mine.”
It is sometimes also very difficult for pastors to admit their need for help and consultation. Sergey Babich, Director of the RUECB’s Pastoral Department, complained that many pastors regard a search for counsel – or for a period of recuperation – as proof of personal weakness. Kormannshaus added that not all of Germany’s Baptist pastors are involved in a programme of “supervision”, for this option is completely voluntary. “But precisely those people who need the counsel of a group of pastors the most tend to avoid such meetings.”
Pastor Babich is striving to install a national network of pastors capable of organising serious counsel between the pastors of their own region. Ten pastors are already a part of his counselling team – he calls them „co-ordinators“. That number will undoubtedly increase. Pastors already on this team stem from locations as diverse as Tomsk/Siberia, Astrakhan in the south, Voronesh and Kirov.
The RUECB consists of 72.550 members gathered in 1.783 congregations and groups. Its President since March 2010 is Alexey Smirnov.
Dr. phil. William Yoder and Pastor Olaf Kormannshaus
Moscow and Berlin, 30 September 2011
Note from June 2020: Olaf Kormannshaus is now retired; Sergey Babich is pastor of a Russian-speaking congregation in Strasbourg/France.
A release of the Department for External Church Relations of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists. It intends to inform and does not claim to represent the official position of RUECB-leadership. Release #11-19, 721 words, 4.544 keystrokes and spaces.