The Right Thing Is Not Always the Effective Thing.

Tuesday is for Teaching

Pastoring a multi-staff church and multi-site churches and consulting with similar churches and other pastors, I am periodically drawn into the forest of a church’s counseling load. And in many instances, you see the people of God falling into the same traps and unproductive paths of thinking that sabotage real progress toward godly character and resolution of long established unbiblical behavior and coping measures. 

Here’s one of those problems that I have seen over the years and some counsel on how to build upon better foundations.

Counseling Insight

The right thing is not always the effective thing.[1]

Problem:       The brother or sister is angry because what you told them to do, believe, or say, on the basis of sound reasoning from the Scripture, “didn’t work.”

Analysis:       Sometimes there is correspondence between what is right
.                         and what is effective. Sometimes there isn’t.

Not understanding this distinction is a fundamental problem in much pastoral counseling that goes on today. Pastors often talk about what is the right thing to do in a particular situation.  Meaning: what is the “moral” thing to do, or the “Christ-honoring” thing to do, or the “wisest” thing to do, or the God-glorifying thing to do.  Counselee’s will often say that is what they want to know.  Often it is.

But often, counselees attach to the “right thing to do” other values or expectations that may be unfounded or mistaken. Often, a counselee is interested in, or assumes, that a decision that is “right or moral, or Christ honoring” is a decision that will be the least painful, …

that will give them the most peace,
that will cause this person to see how they are hurting others,
that will bring this person to faith,
that will get my husband to grow spiritually or my wife to quit nagging me
that will take the pressure and stress out of my life, etc.

These are two radically different ways of viewing the “counseling conversation.”  When we as pastors fail to comprehend or surface this for our people we are doing them a tremendous disservice.


  1. Make this distinction for your people.
  2. Remind them to live for the glory of God, no matter the effect of decisions.
  3. Make sure that they understand that the first goal of counseling is to learn how to live life in a way that pleases God.
  4. Remember, to not get stuck in the forest of a brother or sister’s problem.  Keep things moving in the direction of training them to Live for an Audience of One.
  5. Remind them that it may be too early to evaluate “if it worked.”
  6. Copy this and read at the end of your first or second counseling appointment to whoever you are seeking to help. Explain it to them. Give them a copy and ask them to pray for a pure heart to do the will of God no matter the result as you move forward.

[1] Stimulated by a telephone counseling appointmentat the office.

© Marty Schoenleber

Marty Schoenleber, Jr. is the founding pastor of one church-planting church, Teaching pastor of another church and the church planting trainer/mentor of over 200 other church planting pastors. He has served as adjunct professor of Church Planting at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and has taught Preaching at the International School of Theology, and Evangelism at Moody Graduate School of Theology.
Marty is also the Director of the Saint John’s Pastoral Center, a pastoral care and retreat center located in a growing number of Bed and Breakfast houses across the mid-west. His latest book is Settlers or Sojourners: A Meditation on Christian Identity  (The Sojourning Press and Create Space, [April 2015]). To enjoy a free subscription to his blog, log-on to, where you can post your comments, view past blogs in our archive and read the latest reflections on church planting, Biblical Expositions and musings about church, culture and spiritual formation.
Follow Pastor Marty on twitter @1Chosenrebel4JC.

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