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Korean Pastors Discuss Emotions and Counseling

May 15, 2024
Prof. Jong Chun Lee shared with CRC pastors about being emotionally healthy Christians and provided tips for pastoral counseling.
Prof. Jong Chun Lee shared with CRC pastors about being emotionally healthy Christians and provided tips for pastoral counseling.
Photo: Catheryn Jo

At the recent gathering of the Korean Ministers’ Association, pastors spent much of the second day of the event discussing what it means to be emotionally healthy Christians, with an emphasis on pastoral counseling. 

For pastors, counseling is a familiar but challenging part of ministry that requires knowledge and skills to deal with people of different backgrounds, experiences, and personalities. Prof. Jong Chun Lee, who trains professional counselors at California Baptist University and is an ordained pastor serving at Good Steward Church in West Covina, Calif., shared his expertise.

“As a pastor, I've noticed that many of the problems people face within the church are emotional in nature,” said Lee, whose combination of expertise, theological background, and real-life examples from his work in ministry made the lectures concrete and practical for participants. “It's clear that addressing emotional issues is crucial.”

“We do a lot of discipleship training and Bible study in the church, but we often don't know how to deal with emotional issues,” he added, noting the impact of emotional health on our faith. He also shared how his own ministry as a pastor has been affected by how well or poorly he handled his personal emotions. 

As people made in God's image, he said, we belong to God, whether our emotions are positive or negative. But in this fallen world, “sin makes human emotions self-centered,” he explained. “When I'm hurt and angry, I lose sight of how others feel.” 

He added that these lessons also apply to our families. When it comes to raising children, parents who don't know how to deal with feelings of anger or sadness are more likely to influence their children to suppress their emotions rather than acknowledge them, and the children are more likely to develop a personality that is poorly controlled, overly controlling, or prone to shame, he said. 

In addition, Lee shared several cases from his personal ministry experience and as a counseling pastor. He emphasized that “because our emotions have fallen, they need to be redeemed by Jesus.” 

Drawing examples from the prophet Jeremiah’s book of Lamentations, Lee noted, “In the context of southern Judah's destruction, should the captives remain thankful and happy, or should they not? The losses and difficulties we are experiencing in our lives are expressed in the emotion of grief, and we need to express this grief before God first.”

Just as the psalmist poured out many emotions to God and experienced new emotions that were redeemed through the process, Lee added, we need to bring our emotions to the cross to be redeemed. He concluded the discussion by saying, “Let's remember that this is a process that takes time, not something that happens instantly.” 

Later, as he led a workshop titled “Practices and Principles of Counseling -- Pastoral Counseling, What Should We Do?” Lee said that when pastors are providing counseling, there are two things to remember. 

First, we must recognize the setting, he said. Counseling can take place anywhere, anytime, not just in a pastoral office. For example, counseling can happen in the midst of a casual conversation, in a study room, or at a small group meeting. The approach will vary, depending on whether the counseling is scheduled or unplanned and casual. 

Second, when a member speaks, pastors must know what their expectations are: Does the person want a solution or just a listening ear? This will shape the direction and depth of the counseling. The best thing to do, he recommended, is to ask people directly how they want you to help. 

Lee also emphasized the need to look at four categories of human problems: biological, psychological, social, and spiritual. When we consider all of these, we can get a holistic view of the problem, he explained. This can also help pastors understand their limits.

To demonstrate, Lee provided a case study about a church member he knows. The person seemed to be suffering from depression that went beyond the spiritual counseling that Lee could provide. Lee advised that in such cases, people should be referred to a specialist. 

Pastor Hyunjung Lim from All Nations Community Church in Toledo, Ohio, said he found the workshops very beneficial, adding that they helped him “objectively reevaluate [his] pastoral care.” 

Pastor Sea Ho, who has served as a hospital chaplain for eight years, remarked, “Although I brought some counseling knowledge from my ministry and academic background to the lecture, the professor's sharing of real-life cases from his own ministry made it particularly practical and applicable.”

After the lecture, Lee extended his stay to engage personally with participants, offering advice on pastoral counseling and sharing in fellowship.

“Life and ministry are not easy,” said Zachary King, general secretary of the CRCNA, who listened to the lecture through an AI interpreter and shared his thoughts on the lecture. “The reflections shared will help Korean leaders to better care for their congregations. I also hope they will help Korean leaders care for themselves and their colleagues. One of the key characteristics of sustainable and God-honoring leaders is developing relationships of mutual support among their peers.”