What Is Christian Marriage Counseling?

Christian marriage counseling means different things to the many different people who supply the service. Some look on it as just regular marriage counseling with some of the interventions being religiously oriented. (A simple example would be using religious language, such as “ministering to each other’s needs” when discussing an intimacy issue. A list of common religious interventions appears in part two of this article.

Others see it strictly as spiritual formation and discipleship, from which love, intimacy, and harmony in marriage flow.

Most seek some kind of middle ground between these extremes. Those who do Christian marriage counseling – pastors, professional Christian counselors, and lay Christian counselors – label it as such, regardless of what form it takes.

Christian Marriage Counseling can vary in style.

The basic reason for the differences is that some believe if you have a correct understanding of God and you conform yourself to how He wants you to relate to Him and everyone else, your problems will be manageable and solvable. While acknowledging this as foundational, others say it’s not enough; there are other, non-religious or non-spiritual beliefs that are equally foundational and must be considered.

Who Practices What?

Probably the first person you think of for Christian marriage counseling is a church pastor. That is who my wife and I turned to. 84% of pastors surveyed rank marital problems among the top five problems they address in pastoral counseling.[1]

A pastor represents the church. His/her overall job is to help people establish and improve their personal relationships with God, whether publicly from the pulpit, in committee meetings and church events, or privately in counseling. These pastoral goals are even a part of his/her marriage counseling, where they extend to helping you to understand yourself and your spouse and improve your relationship.

“[S]piritual concerns emerge most clearly within the context of daily life experiences and struggles…” says psychologist and spiritual director David Benner. “All problems have spiritual components…”[2]

Pastors may or may not have much, if any, formal training in psychological counseling, including marriage and family counseling. Many American seminaries don’t require or provide instruction in counseling for those seeking a general Masters of Divinity (M.Div.) degree in order to become ordained ministers. Of 25 major seminaries surveyed, 32% did not require counseling classes. Courses offered by the others were only introductory in nature.[3]

Please note that these numbers refer only to general M.Div. degrees and those with an emphasis on pastoral ministries. Those emphasizing counseling or chaplaincy do require a significant amount of counseling coursework. So, your pastor may or may not be trained to help with your marital problems.

(Mine did not have the training and referred us to a professional. That brings up an issue I write about in Choosing a Marriage Counselor. The referral we got was, unfortunately, not good at marriage counseling. But the pastor was unaware of that, and we hadn’t asked him the questions I cover in that article to see what he really knew about the counselor. We simply trusted that the counselor was capable based on who gave us the referral. Big mistake.)

With different types of education and an overall goal of bringing people to God, what forms of Christian marriage counseling can you expect to get from a pastor? Please move on to part two.


Part 2: Biblical Counseling & Christian Psychology for Marital Problems

Part 3: Christian Marriage Counseling and Your Choices

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[1] ^ Everett Worthington Jr. and Jennifer Ripley, “Christian Marriage and Marital Counseling,” Ch. 20 in Timothy Clinton and George Ohlschlager, eds., Competent Christian Counseling, Volume One: Foundations and Practice of Compassionate Soul Care. WaterBrook Press, 2002. P. 459.
[2] ^ David Benner, Ph.D., Strategic Pastoral Counseling: A Short-Term Structured Model, Baker Academic, 2003. P. 36.
[3] ^ Craig Younce, The Significance of Developing Core Counseling Competencies in Pastoral Care Ministry. 2011. Retrieved from digitalcommons.liberty.edu on April 26, 2012. P. 5.
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