Care of Souls: Revisioning Christian Nurture and Counsel by David G. Benner

In “Care of Souls,” Benner proposes to explain “soul care” in its totality. He does so by examining the ideal characteristics of soul care providers, presenting his own definition of “dialogue,” and explaining in detail the distinctiveness of “Christian spirituality.” Unlike typical counseling techniques, Benner suggests that “providers of soul care” ought to offer “judicious advice, suggestions or offerings of direction” (155). He reasons that if dialogue is based on an “authentic relationship of care” then offering “ideas” and “suggestions” are expected (155).

I found the “seven characteristics of Christian soul care” helpful because I used the list to measure my own “qualifications” (207). Benner states that soul care providers should be “spiritually mature,” which includes descriptors such as “personal holiness” and “well-developed habits of prayer” (209). The term “personal holiness” seems vague because it might be misconstrued as “holier than thou.” The “demands of Christian soul care” are realistic and should be expected from all “soul care” providers (212). I think counselees expect (and deserve to get) truthfulness from the counselor; and counselors should “continue to grow” through continuing education, but more importantly they should continue to grow in their relationship with Christ in order to remain effective in their Christian counseling practices (213).

I found Benner’s presentation of the future dilemma of “soul care” to be very troubling. According to Benner, soul care is not clinical or therapeutic (in the secular sense). Even though it is not clinical, soul care that is provided by a lay counselor will be seen as “substandard” and if it is promoted as “distinctly Christian,” it will not be taken seriously (215). Based on Benner’s suppositions, a soul care ministry would never work. His statement bothers me since this is the type of ministry I would like to start at church.

Although Benner’s section “Preparing for Soul Care” is meant for people who will receive care, I think there were helpful suggestions that care providers should do for themselves. For instance, Benner recommends the practice of self-reflection (or “contemplative prayer”). This is where a person can “sit in God’s presence” by allowing Him to “fill” one’s consciousness thus enabling “psychospiritual growth” to happen (231). This seems like a fancy way of saying that persons ought to have personal devotions and meditate on God’s Word-something soul care providers should be doing. Benner also suggests writing a “soul care autobiography” whereby a person can assess how “internal reality” matches with “external behavior” (232).

Providing soul care should be taken very seriously, in fact Benner lists seven “challenges” for those who wish to provide this type of care. Two challenges resonated with me: “Guard against the erosion of the personal in such care” and “avoid sacrificing being on the alter of doing” (216). Sometimes I forget that soul care is different from “traditional counseling.” In a traditional counseling situation, friendship is not encouraged or developed-there is a “professional attitude” that keeps the relationship very business-like (216). From my understanding of Benner’s stance, “professionalism” (one-sided approach to counseling) is discouraged because he believes the caregiver and receiver are “mutually” caring for each other (217). I tend to think that if someone seeks care, then the person is probably not very capable of giving care, so “mutual care” is not realistic.

Doing ministry due to an obligation, or forgetting the reason why one does ministry (to serve God) is probably a common problem for soul care providers, who are concerned about providing good care and meeting the needs of others. Ministry may start to feel like a chore. If the other “challenges” are met, then the focus of ministry will always be evident and soul care providers will never be drained of their “inner psychospiritual resources” nor neglect the “formative and transforming power” of the gospel (216). These challenges are good reminders for all counselors and soul care providers.

Copyright © 2007 M. Teresa Trascritti


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