While many people favor secular counseling over pastoral care, there are still those who seek to have God firmly rooted in their relationship discussions. Many pastors feel ill-equipped to provide pastoral care to couples, but chances are, you are equipped and should be meeting with folks who request your guidance. Be ready to recognize when a situation is beyond your capacity and refer to the proper professionals, but even if that is the end result, you now know your people better and can provide periphery support.
You might get a call (text, email, bat-signal) from someone asking if you support “leave and cleave” counseling. This phrase is based on Genesis 2:24 “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.”
People asking this question are asking if you will help them to differentiate from their family of origin and create a more solid bond with their spouse. Generally the situation involves one partner who is overly connected to a parent (not leaving) and it is hindering the marital relationship (not cleaving) or a couple who is trying to create healthy boundaries with an extended family member without success. The ultimate ending may be that the problematic family member is removed completely from the couples life.
Can you support that? Do you believe that some family members can be so toxic and dysfunctional that they no longer have the privilege of being in someones life? Or do you believe that we ought to sacrifice our own emotional, spiritual and physical well-being for the sake of extended family? (Not that I have an opinion.)
A couple in your congregation adopts a child of a different race, in addition to their biological children. Grandma doesn’t like it, clearly favors the biological children and makes vague (if not outright) racist comments in front of the children. Does grandma have a place in their lives? Should they just ‘suck it up’ and take all the kids to grandma’s for Thanksgiving? Should only the biological children be taken to grandma’s? Should they say that grandma is unsafe and not expose any of the children to her?
People seeking a ‘leave and cleave’ counselor are usually hurting, vulnerable, and need honesty and support. If you are unable to support the very difficult decisions they may have to make, please tell them so. It’s not your place to use your position to guilt them into doing something that feels wrong to them simply because it does not fit your perception of family.
Pray, think, and research your theology of the family so before you are placed in the situation you know where you stand. Then you will be able to provide honest care to your families, even if that means sending them to another colleague for the ‘leave and cleave’ care they are seeking.