Recently, Gospel Times, a Chinese Christian newspaper, interviewed Pastor Wu Bing from a church in northeastern China on how to best deliver pastoral care in the post-pandemic era.
Issues were discussed such as "the relation between pastoral care and counselling," "how to carry out therapy for believers during the CPVID-19 outbreak," and "how to view depression."
Pastor Wu Bing is the holder of a master’s degree in theology issued by Nanjing Union Theological Seminary where he worked on the teaching staff after he graduated. Currently, he’s the senior pastor of Dalian Xishan Church. He has more than 20 years of experience in pastoral care, certified for Grade Two in the Examination of National Psychological Consultation. Meanwhile, he’s a registered expert of the Dalian Municipal Psychological Consultants Association.
Gospel Times: Many Christians think that psychological problems can be solved by praying – no need to see a psychiatrist. Among them are the believers who have encountered unprofessional counsellors and received no benefit. That encounter causes a negative attitude towards counseling. What do you think of the connection between Christian faith and psychology?
Pastor Wu Bing: Will Christians suffer from mental illness? Can they turn to counselors for help? Or is it just by reading the Bible, praying, and depending on God to solve all problems? The word psychology is derived from Greek. It is a study of the soul. Paul once said, may your spirit, soul, and body be well protected and guarded.
The Church used to believe that when a person was physically ill the patient didn’t need to take medicine. However, it is well known that Paul once told Timothy that his appetite problems could be solved by having a little wine, and Timothy might have been suffering from diarrhea. The wine was used as a medicine for his stomach problem. Neither did the Lord Jesus Christ reject the medication. The Bible mentions how the Good Samaritan rescued a severely wounded man by pouring wine and oil on his wounds. The wine was sterilizer and the oil was used to nourish the body. The Samaritan didn’t say ‘get up in the name of Jesus’ but he used medicine to help. That means that the gift of God to a doctor's healing work is parallel to the gift of prayer in faith.
Christians need to see a doctor when ill but remember to pray too. I was sick once and the doctor told me that for a month I couldn't get out of the hospital, but I sang hymns and prayed in the hospital. In a week and a half, I was released and the doctor was surprised. There was the supernatural power of God at work.
The same is true of our souls. When we believe in the Lord, is there no time when our souls are hurt? Yes, there is. When you believe in Jesus and go to church, your family complains because they don't understand your faith. They keep complaining and your suffering is not dealt with. Bit by bit, you may have psychological problems accumulating. By the way, have you come across such cases? People have locked the door and they go downstairs but are worried that the door wasn’t locked, so they go back to check. Then they go down again but come back again to check. They repeat it a few times. This is actually a mild obsessive-compulsive disorder. Can this bad habit be changed on your own or by praying?
A mature Christian who relies on God is certainly able to prevail, but most believers are far from full maturity and need counseling to get out of some spiritual damage. It is also one of the ways in which God works.
Some Christians are badly influenced by the past, some grow up in an unfortunate family or some live in an immoral family later in their lives. When you’re psychologically ill you need to see a psychiatrist just as you need to see a physician when you’re physically ill. There are a lot of biblical teachings that are related to psychology, but it’s just that they aren’t termed as counseling and psychology. Many of them are analogies to psychology. For instance, Paul once said, rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. This instruction is called "empathy" in psychology. A book of pastoral counseling suggests that good theology is a prerequisite of good psychology. If faith and psychology can be well combined and practiced, many people can benefit.
Many Christians wonder whether they should accept the ideas of the many psychologists who aren’t Christians and are sometimes even hostile to the Christian faith. Calvin pointed out long ago that many atheists, pagan scientists, artists, and philosophers were inspired by the Holy Spirit so we have no reason to refuse them.
Augustine said that as long as what was said was right it was the truth, no matter who the speaker was. The Bible says: Don't be deceived, all gifts of goodness and kindness are from the Father. We should learn to use the gifts that God has given us to serve those in need.
Gospel Times: Now dealing with the pandemic has become the new normal. Under this circumstance, how do we carry out pastoral care for fellow believers?
Pastor Wu Bing: First of all, this outbreak has had a big impact because the church has not been able to meet as normal, but it's a reminder that the Church is going to be transformed. Some time ago, a sister said: "In the past, I could go to church once a month, but thank God now I can listen to sermons on a smartphone every day." From this point of view, how can a church deliver better care for brothers and sisters in modern society? Attention should be paid to online communications because a lot of people can be helped online.
Secondly, we used to pay much attention to collective gatherings but neglected the individuals. After a service, the pastor was too busy dealing with church affairs to give enough care to individuals. They could at best pray a short prayer with you. And now a better and personalized care is possible. A lot of believers are phoning me. Some phone calls last for 40 minutes, and I can better listen, comfort, and help them.
Thirdly, God lets us pause to reflect on the past services. A lot of times there is no time for reflection. When we resume, re-evaluate and re-start, we’ll re-adjust our ministry.
Gospel Times: For now, depression is a big problem. Pastor Wu, have you encountered fellow believers who suffer from depression? How do you counsel them?
Pastor Wu Bing: Depression is a serious mental illness and the treatment of depression requires professional counseling and treatment.
The more serious problem for patients of depression is that on the surface they seem to be all right but there is darkness inside. They don’t seek help while they’re mentally ill. Medicine can help solve the problem of depression. More profoundly, every patient who suffers from depression has a past that needs to be dealt with. There are issues in their family or in their family history which counselors need to analyze when they provide treatment.
A family once brought their child to me for counseling after the child was was diagnosed with depression in a hospital. Later I found out that the information provided by the family was problematic. The child resented the parents and needed help. In fact, the patient needed to learn to face and deal with the long-term damage caused by her parents. She had to admit the problem and learn tolerance for her parents. When the child did so, the child was relieved and healed. The relationship with the parents was restored and they lived well together.
Usually, it’s the problematic parents who are the root of their child’s problems. So when I rebuke a lot of parents who bring their children to me, they don't understand why they should be blamed for their children’s problems. Many parents' education methods are too rigid and harsh, which bring harm to their children.
Everyone will have negative emotions and hurts which will become depressed when they are accumulated for a long time. Then, that’s a problem. To Christians, if your negative emotions are going on for more than three months and seriously interfere with your normal life, be sure to see a professional psychiatrist if reading the Bible and prayer don’t help you improve.
I’d like to recommend a book Conquer Your Depression, of which the author has many years of counseling experience. Hopefully that can be helpful to someone.
- Translated by Charlie Li