"Pastor, do you preach?" I can't recall ever being asked that question. However, over the years more than a few people have asked, "Pastor, do you counsel?" My guess is that they have asked you too. Yet, are these questions really that different?


We all know that preaching is primary. "It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe" (I Corinthians 1:21). Scripture commands God's man to "preach the word" (II Timothy 4:2), for "how shall they hear without a preacher?" (Romans 10:14).


But there is more to local church ministry than preaching. Paul commanded the early church elders to shepherd the church of God (Acts 20:28), tending to the needs of the congregation in the same way that a shepherd cares for the needs of the flock. A shepherd does more than corporately lead his entire flock to green pastures and still waters-as important as that is! He also individually cares for each sheep that has a need (Luke 15:4, 5). Paul not only commanded this type of personal shepherding ministry, he modeled it.


Paul ministered to men both "publicly, and from house to house" (Acts 20:20). He added, "that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears" (v. 31). Paul's ministry went beyond proclaiming the Word to an assembled congregation-as important as that was! It involved privately ministering the Word to individual needs. Some have referred to this as catechizing, or discipling. Still others use the more contemporary counseling.


Whatever term we use, this type of individual ministry is characterized by three distinctions, which involve its purpose, its resource, and its method.


The purpose of biblical counseling: conformity to Christ


People who seek counseling are seeking change. Yet the person they think is in greatest need of change is typically someone else! Wives are convinced that their real problem is an unloving husband. Husbands insist that the main fault is their wife's lack of submission. Parents maintain that their primary difficulty is disobedient children, while children believe that their real need is for their parents to quit provoking them to wrath.


Even the few who admit that they may need to change typically fail to realize what kind of change is necessary. Those who are depressed over academic struggles make getting better grades their primary objective. Those who are overweight define their life's goal as dropping a certain number of pounds. Those who are in debt become obsessed with paying off their credit cards. Those who are single consume themselves with finding a spouse.


Achieving academic success, maintaining a healthy weight, staying out of debt, and getting married can all be legitimate desires. But we should not allow any one of them to become our primary desire. We are quick to try to eliminate unpleasant circumstances, but God often uses these circumstances to work within us (II Corinthians 12:7-10). His goal is to make us more faithful to Him (Psalm 119:67, 71, 75). God is concerned with making us like Christ.