Should Pastors Be Against Marriage Encounter Weekends, Parenting Seminars, And Financial Planning Retreats?

Question #1: 

Are you against marriage encounter weekends, parenting seminars, financial planning retreats, and and so forth?

Answer #1:

While many workshops can be valuable for practical advice, as a pastor my job is to go deeper than mere practical advice. Let me give you a brief example. 

I used to be a financial investment representative for a company of AIG. This background has proved to be very valuable when I do marriage counseling for parishioners, especially those who are struggling with finances. Thus, there are many times that I work on budgets and debt reduction with couples. With that said though, financial planning is not my main calling or my primary vocation as a pastor. I have a good friend at Edward Jones that does a much better job than I do and it is actually a part of her vocation. So, why do I take time to dabble a little with financial budgets in marriage counseling situations? The reason being, I have yet to come across a couple where issues of sin and guilt are 'not' beneath the surface of their financial struggles and generally speaking are the cause of all their financial problems.  As a pastor my hope is to get beyond the budgets and financial planning to the issues of sin and guilt that lie beneath the visible financial struggles.  

What this means is that couples who are struggling with finances probably could learn a lot from a weekend financial seminary taught by my friend at Edward Jones. However, what they ‘really’ need from me as their pastor is something that they will most likely not get at Edward Jones, and that is Law & Gospel. Specifically, they need the delivery of the Law to reveal their sin and show them where they have been deceived by the false financial idols of the world. They need God’s Word of Law to show them how they have wounded each other in their struggles over their finances. They also need God’s Word of Forgiveness declared to them so that they might hear that they are forgiven; that they are declared righteous for Christ’s sake; that their guilt has been removed; that there is no condemnation in Christ; etc…

Though it has been awhile since I have read it, H. Curtis Lyon’s book titled,  "Counseling At The Cross," was most helpful to me in understanding and emphasizing Law and Gospel beyond the pulpit (i.e., in counseling situations). 

Question #2:

Where would you then prefer that people find support?

Answer #2:

I encourage people to come on Sunday mornings to hear the Word. I encourage them to make appointments with me if they are struggling and want to talk more thoroughly. And then if needed, I make referrals (e.g., a referral with a financial investment representative). But guess what? I would estimate that after hearing the Law and the absolving Gospel, that 90% of all my counseling visits rarely ask for the next referral or anything else beyond the Gospel. On the other hand, it has been my experience that people who come to me desperately demanding and wanting to accumulate good advice, good techniques and good ideas to make them better parents, better spouses and better friends are those that are most opposed to being confronted by the Law and hearing the absolution of the Gospel. It has been my experience in counseling that such demands are usually the result of individuals wanting to reform, tame, and master the old Adam.

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Anonymous said…
The nondenom church I came out of was packed with handy seminars and a preacher who thought these were a great tool. I also heard lots of law sermons but very seldom, if ever, any gospel. Gospel was for new people in the church who were usually snared in with a private gospel/sinners prayer presentation. I struggled trying to figure out how to fulfill the law, often finding myself wishing I wasn't a Christian because the only good part, was over. After I found the LCMS I realized the good part was the gospel and now I could hear it every Sunday.
Anonymous said…
I really enjoyed this article. It put to words thoughts that I've had regarding these things in the church. In addition, I wish there was a Lutheran version of a ministry called 'CCEF' which does a really good job of biblical counseling through a lense of L & G (albeit as Calvinists along the likes of the guys on White Horse Inn).
Steve Martin said…
Nothing wrong with that stuff. Nothing wrong at all.

Only when it is tied to the gospel is it wrong. Very wrong. Or when it is presented instead of the gospel. Or when it is presented as a sermon, or Bible study.

As someone already said, all that stuff is just law. We ought be concerned with the law...but never to make us better Christians. That, is an impossibility.