Some thoughts from me on what I would tell myself if I could give some wisdom to myself upon my ordination in 1999:
Many people will come to you for counsel and advice. Remember these few simple rules:
1. You are a pastor, not a counselor. The one class you took in seminary does not qualify you as counselor. You have pastoral conversations with people. Get a list of area counselors and refer people often.
2. Shut up. Listen. Don’t be afraid of silence. Many people just need to be listened to for a moment. This will be hard on you because you are so filled with wisdom from your seminary education and that one class you took on counseling (in case you didn’t get it–that was sarcasm.)
3. Tell everyone: “What you say will remain confidential unless you are going to hurt yourself, hurt someone else, or say that you are attracted to me.” This will save you some trouble.
4. Never meet with the opposite sex alone at the church. Never meet with the opposite sex more than three times (identify females in the church who love Christ and assign them as mentors or refer). Never touch members of the opposite sex without others present and without asking. Better pastors than you have thought that they would never succumb to sexual temptation.
5. Be bold. No one is ever helped by denying, dismissing, or trivializing sin. Your job is not to help them feel better or justify their sin, but to help them confess their sin and claim the promise of 1 John 1:9. People often need to voice what they have done. They need to speak the very terrible, awful, bad thing they have done. “I messed up” is not an answer to “What is the problem?” Be as bold in proclaiming grace, love, and forgiveness as you are in rooting out the sin.
6. Ask often, “Is your problem that you don’t know what to do or that you don’t want to do what you know you ought to do?” This will bring great clarity to a number of conversations.
7. Prayer is not what you do to get them out of the office, it is the opportunity for divine healing to take place. This time of prayer ministry will be far more effective than the wise counsel you give from the one course you had in seminary on counseling. Expect and anticipate God to move and work through this time of prayer. When you are done, ask what they felt, heard, or experienced as you prayed together.