Pastoral Care of the Gifted
In my personal journal from a number of years ago I discovered an entry on the pastoral care that I should have received. During my mid to late twenties and early thirties, there was a pastor or two who attempted to mentor me and some who may even have thought or said to others that they were ‘counseling’ me. Though I did not at the time regard these sessions as genuine ‘counseling’ sessions, I believe that they may have been represented as such to some third parties.
Much of what I heard during these times I have found in later years to be inadequate. Some probably did have genuinely good intentions, but the best that can be said of several others is that they showed pretty mixed emotions towards me as a person. The entry in my journal was taken from the perspective of how I would have dealt with someone like myself after I had put several years in the pastorate. It is not intended to be critical or judgmental, but as a guide to those who deal as pastor with others. I do plan on revising this section as time goes by, but here is what I have for the present.
- It must be Biblical in content and manner. I received some ‘counsel’ based on some claims of God’s leading, but these were repetitions of things I had once said with ‘God says’ attached, or ‘God says’ attached to what they might have heard from others. Other ‘counsel’ appears to have been to try to fit me into the expectations of absent third parties. Still other ‘counsel’ appears to have come from the perception that the I was simply an inferior copy of the pastor, and needed him to make me over into his image. The first qualifies as false prophecy, the second as being a party to rumor and gossip and the third as domineering egomania. None of these were Biblical in manner or content. The Bible itself is the standard by which everyone is equipped for ‘every good work’ (II Timothy 3:16-17).
- It must be private and confidential. This means no divulging of information to third parties nor acceptance of information from third parties without hearing the side from the GT adult also. This is a normal standard for pastoral care and counseling but it does bear repeating, since someone in the church may either feel threatened by the GT adult, or be envious and develop a vendetta against the GT adult. Protection of the unity of the church through refusal of gossip applies where a GT adult is concerned also.
- It must be loving and honest. ‘Speaking the truth in love is the Biblical standard. Some of those who attempted to ‘counsel’ me had deep envy and malicious feelings toward me by their own admission. The content and manner of their dealing with me was in accord with what was in their hearts. Rather, offer no counsel if it cannot be in accord with I Corinthians 13. No claims of loving intentions do not excuse any harsh and angry actions.
- It must be respectful of their adulthood. GT adults often show an exuberance, playfulness and even physical youthfulness beyond their years. Sometimes pastors in their forties and beyond begin to take on an overly parental manner with younger adults, especially if they are near the same age range as the pastor’s children. Any apparent immaturity of the GT adult and an overly parental manner on the part of a pastor can result in a series of directions to the adult which are simply inappropriate to give to another adult. The standard of pastoral care and counseling is that it is not to be domineering or patronizing (I Peter 5:3). The pastor is to be a spiritual leader using the Word of God to direct, not a self appointed surrogate parent. Remember that God has put the pastor into the place of parental authority only over his own children, not the children of anyone else.
- It must be respectful of God’s purpose in the life of the GT adult. As part of the purpose of salvation, God has prepared beforehand that the GT adult should live out his or her faith in good deeds (Ephesians 2:10). The role of the pastor is to be a partner with the GT adult in finding out and following how this should work out in his or her life. That will not be a one-sided declaration of pastoral authority pressed beyond scriptural boundaries but a mutual, scripturally sound leading of the Holy Spirit.
- Any correction must be done in gentleness and humility (Galatians 6:1). This goes with what scripture already says about the standard of communication being ‘speaking the truth in love.’ Rather, it is a reinforcement of this command.
In short, there is nothing about the GT adult that permits a deviation from Biblically centered counsel and Christlike conduct toward the GT adult. For any pastor dealing with a GT adult, if there are feelings of envy, anger, or any other such motivations welling up, I encourage you to deal with your own heart first. A serious red flag would be any desire to use this relationship to crush or humiliate the GT adult. Please remember that pastoral position and authority is given not to tear anyone down (II Corinthians 13:10) but to build up fellow believers, including any GT adults, into the image of Christ. Pray and deal with your own heart according to the scriptures as long as it takes.
Here is also a short notification as to what does notwork with the gifted.
- What does not work is the amateur diagnosis of gifted characteristics as any kind of mental illness or neurological problems in themselves. Several articles on the SENG(Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted) site explain this kind of misdiagnosis. The gifted person is different in the way that he or she thinks, feels and processes information.
Many times the gifted person is more sensitive than the average person and may react to hurts and difficulties that may seem to be overreactions to others (and it is in those times that they need may need our love and patience a little more — but someone who is in genuine fellowship with Christ has access to a more than sufficient source — Ephesians 3:16-19). It is easy, though, for someone else to take an exaggeration of a misunderstanding to extreme levels.
Case in point: when I was in my mid twenties, I had simply one difficult day. I came home, rested, prayed and things were back in perspective on that evening. One person, though, simply saw me feeling down, and told some others that I was on the verge of a psychological breakdown. I worked it out with that person later that evening, but unfortunately some others who heard that seemed to have persisted in that misunderstanding. The upshot is that the gifted, as much as any other believer, must receive understanding when he or she comes into problems in this world, such as the bad days and misfortunes that happen to us all. Each person in this world will then suffer and hurt according to the way that God has made that person, not according to someone else’s idea of how that person ‘should’ feel at that time.
Nevertheless, sometimes giftedness does come intertwined with some kinds of mental illness or neurological problems. This is not the same, though, as someone being different, or diverging from a simplistic image of what it is to be ‘normal.’ If you suspect that this might be the case, it is best to work with trained medical and psychological experts who are experienced in distinguishing the characteristics of giftedness, mental illness and neurological problems. Nevertheless, avoid giving the gifted person the impression that their abilities and differences mean that anything is ‘wrong’ with that person. It is simply the way that that person was born, or rather, the characteristics which God has given to him or her. It is sheer presumption to confuse our ideas of what is ‘normal’ for God’s will and purposes in the life of another individual. In fact, God himself takes responsibility for the ways in which many people are not ‘normal’: “Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the LORD?” (Exodus 4:11).
- What does not work is the attempt to impose blue collar class survival rules or social norms on a gifted person. (This generally is out of place with anyone, since these are not really Biblical in themselves.) It is at best insensitive and at worst abusive to tell a gifted person that he or she must become ‘tough’ instead of sensitive, ‘show no weakness’ instead of live with the awareness of his or her human imperfections, or ‘hard work and discipline’ is what counts instead of inspiration and artistry.
Pastors Who Qualify as Gifted
The description here is not applied to a spiritual gift as a pastor or to the position, but to those who are pastors who are GT by the definitions provided.
- Understand that your real power and sufficiency in ministry comes from Christ and not your giftedness (II Corinthians 3:4-6).
- Understand that your leadership is to be with the servanthood attitude of Christ (Luke 22:24-25, Philippians 2:1-11).
- Understand that any scorn or ridicule that you have experienced because of your giftedness can be a source of compassionate ministry to others (II Corinthians 1:3-5).
- Understand that your glorying is to be in the Lord above all (Jeremiah 9:23-24), and not in your intelligence or accomplishments.
All scripture references taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.