If the counseling situation is as a pastor to a parishioner the level of involvement takes on a more robust attitude. The pastor should be very involved in the lives of his parishioners. He should pray for them, he should visit with them, he should marry their children to one another, he should go to their school plays, and he should be there when they die. A good pastor should weep with those who weep and laugh with those who laugh. He should be involved with his people and they with him. This should be the context of their lives. So, when things come up in the parishioner’s life, the pastor will have built up enough capital with the family so that they will love to allow him to help them. Involvement means fellowshipping with the people, being part of their lives, letting the church be a body and functioning as a body.
Empathy is feeling that accompanies involvement. When they hurt, he hurts. When they sin, the pastor feels responsible. When they have a baby, he is almost as excited about it as they are. Both involvement and empathy are good things. An effective counseling ministry needs to have both.
The difference between them can be significant if one is absent. If the pastor is not involved in the lives of his people, there will not be any empathy, the people will know it, and have a more difficult time trusting the pastor for his pastoral counsel. If the pastor is involved in the lives of the people, but does not have feelings of love and compassion for them, they will also feel that and it will affect the counseling process. It will be very difficult to come for counsel if the people do not believe the pastor cares deeply for them.
In the situation where the counselee is not a member of the pastor’s church, building empathy and involvement is very difficult. The counselor must be the kind of person who loves people in a way that they feel it immediately. It may take several sessions before a counselee will really tell the counselor what is on his heart. Until then he will only give glimpses into the real problem is. He doesn’t want to share his deepest feelings and the things that cause him guilt with someone he doesn’t trust and who he isn’t convinced loves him.
In this context, the counselor needs to work hard to hear the person’s story and diligently concentrate on really understanding what is going on in the counselee’s life. This is foundational to building this kind of trust. The counselor needs to work hard to feel what the counselee is feeling so that he can genuinely “weep with those who weep.” It is only when the counselee believes the counselor has heard him and knows him that he will freely to expose himself in a way that will allow godly healing to occur.