How Christian counseling is changing the church.

Last November, 2,300 Christian mental-health professionals gathered in Atlanta, the largest meeting yet of a vocation that barely existed 25 years ago. While psychotherapists tend to be a restrained and colorless lot, a touch of euphoria tinged the conference. Meeting rooms were jammed. Editors from evangelical publishers cruised the halls in search of the next Minirth and Meier. The lineup of speakers was dazzling: James Dobson, Chuck Swindoll, Charles Stanley, Larry Crabb, to name only the brightest luminaries. Atlanta ’92 gathered a movement that is transforming the church.

Without any central institution nor any single leader, and almost without anyone paying attention, Christian psychology has moved to the center of evangelicalism. Psychologists write best-selling Christian books. Psychologists are prominent on Christian television and radio shows; they are the ones we look to for guidance on family problems and personal growth. Today, if you want to become a successful conference speaker, the surest route is psychology graduate school, not seminary. A 1991 CHRISTIANITY TODAY reader survey suggests that evangelicals are far more likely to take problems to a counselor than to a pastor. (Thirty-three percent sought “professional” help, versus 10 percent who looked to a pastor.) Paul Meier of the Minirth-Meier clinics says, “When we started psychiatry 16 years ago, people came in the back door, because Christians weren’t supposed to need help. Now they come early so they can chat with all their friends.”

Pastors, too, have joined the surge, realizing that their congregations care more for homilies on “Healing the Hurts of the Inner Child” than on “The Missionary Mind of the ...

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