Mailbag

The Mailbag: You need to set up an appointment with your pastor for counsel…

A family member and I had a falling out…

I’m unequally yoked in my marriage

We’ve got this situation with my husband’s ex-wife…

My adult child lives with us and has broken the law…

…what do I do? How do I handle all of this?

I hurt for so many of y’all facing difficult situations out there. Detailed situations. Complicated situations. Situations you desperately need some help with.

Situations I get emails and comments about that I deeply want to help you with, but I can’t, because it would be unbiblical and irresponsible of me to try to do so.

It would be irresponsible, because I don’t know you. I don’t know the situation or the other people involved. I don’t know the laws in your area. And, although I’m sure you’re all truthful when you write to me, I’m only getting your side of the story, so I’m not getting a complete picture of what’s going on. I could give you advice that might inadvertently prove wrong or harmful.

It would also be irresponsible to my family, because my primary duty is to serve them. If I tried to spend as much time as it would take to properly counsel everyone who asks me to, I would be neglecting my family.

It would be unbiblical because there’s no “stranger thousands of miles away on the internet” role for me in the framework God has set up for Christianity. God’s framework for Christianity is the local church, and in that framework, if you need counsel, the person God has designated to be your first point of contact in most situations is your pastor, an elder, or a spiritually mature brother or sister in Christ.

Not only would it be wrong for me to try to usurp one of those positions, it would be robbing your church of the opportunity to shepherd and disciple you one on one, face to face, for the long haul. And it would be robbing you of the joy and blessings of being ministered to by your church family. When you and your church walk through a situation like this together, it strengthens your bond, grows all of you, and increases your joy in one another.

But I don’t have a church. I promise I’m not trying to pile on here, but I need to take this opportunity to drive home to everybody who’s reading this who has been lackadaisical or defiant about finding a church: this is one of the reasons you need to find, join, and get plugged in to a good church. This is one of the reasons Scripture tells us that, for Christians, church is not optional and non-negotiable. That we’re to meet together more as the Day draws near, not less.

Furthermore, being faithful to a local body can sometimes help prevent certain situations from happening in the first place because you’re getting good, biblical instruction, “training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age”. (Titus 2:12)

If you’re not currently a member of a church (or you are and you’ve stopped attending), you need to make that right immediately. Disobeying God’s command for us to gather isn’t going to help your situation, and obeying it can do nothing but help.

If you’re not sure where to look for a solid church, start praying fervently for God to lead you to one. Then go to the blue menu bar at the top of this page, click on Searching for a new church?, and start by reading the materials in the “What to look for in a church” section.

But I’m hanging in there, trying to effect / waiting for change at a church that’s operating unbiblically and I don’t trust my pastor to give me biblical counsel. Believe me, I know from first hand experience exactly what that’s like.

(I also know that many readers’ knee jerk reaction will be, “Well, you need to get out of there and find a different church.” I get that, and in many cases that’s the right answer. But in other cases it’s not. There are lots of different reasons why someone might choose to weather a temporary storm at her church, and immediately bailing out isn’t always the godly answer.)

What about your Sunday School or Bible study teacher? A spiritually mature friend who’s also hanging in there? An older lady in the church? Think about it and pray for God to lead you to the right person who can help.

If you can’t find someone in your own church, what about a godly friend who goes to another (doctrinally sound) church? Talk things over with her. If she feels like your situation is outside her wheelhouse, perhaps she would be willing to introduce you to her pastor and he would be willing to counsel you. You could even “cold call” a pastor at a doctrinally sound church in your area and see if he counsels “walk-ins” who are members of other churches. It never hurts to ask.

If all else fails, see if there’s a church in your area that has an ACBC certified Biblical Counselor (this is not the same thing as a “Christian counselor/therapist”) available for counseling, or explore my Biblical Counseling resource in the blue menu bar at the top of this page.

But there isn’t a doctrinally sound church in my area. I know that for a few of you, this is true. You live in a remote area where there are no churches. Or, everything close by is Catholic, or NAR, or progressive, and the nearest semblance of a doctrinally sound church is five hours away. You’re willing to make sacrifices to attend church, but there just isn’t one to attend.

But I also know that for some, what this means is, “My ideal church isn’t located within a 15 minute drive of me.”

I’ve addressed these scenarios in detail in some of the links above, so, long story short: check every single church search engine at the Searching for a new church? tab to make sure you haven’t overlooked a good church within achievable driving distance, move, or look into church planting. And, above all, pray that God would provide you with a good church.

But for the purposes of this article, if there isn’t a doctrinally sound church in your area, many of the same suggestions above will apply: talk to a godly friend, Zoom with a solid pastor friend in another area, or visit my Biblical Counseling tab (linked above).

But couldn’t you just recommend a book for me to read that addresses what I’m going through? No, I probably can’t, primarily for the very simple reason that there are thousands of books out there on zillions of topics, and I haven’t read them all. And if I haven’t read a particular book, I don’t know if it’s doctrinally sound, and I don’t know if it adequately addresses your issue.

Additionally, while good books can be somewhat helpful in a general, “one size fits all” sort of way, no book is going to address all the specifics of your particular situation. But a one on one, ongoing counseling or discipleship relationship with your pastor or a godly older sister at church can.

Let’s (I’ve been guilty of this too) be careful not to fall into the subtle mindset of, “If I could just find the right book, it’ll be the magic bullet to solve my problem.” I can practically guarantee you, it won’t.

All of that being said, if your pastor recommends a certain (doctrinally sound) book while he’s counseling you, by all means, read it. If the friend you’re talking things over with says, “This book really helped me a lot in when I was in your situation,” go for it. As you’re pursuing one on one, face to face counsel in the context of your local church, go ahead and read up (I’d recommend anything from Grace to You, Ligonier, or anything written by the folks at the Recommended Bible Teachers tab in the blue menu bar at the top of this page.)

I’m not saying good books aren’t helpful. I’m just saying books alone aren’t a substitute for godly counsel from real, flesh and blood brothers and sisters in Christ.

Life can be hard and painful sometimes. God knew it would be, and He knows the best way to help us. That’s why He gave us the church.


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

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