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control vs sin or the strip club

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At the seminar, I took the scenic route (long route code). The students came back to get a second master’s degree. Surprisingly, I was not the only one.

I remember taking lessons with Mr Div. students and then be in other classes with some of the same students. They were now advising the students.

I. I always wondered why they came back

More than once I have heard that they were in ministry positions after their M.Div., But no one came to the altar with deep concerns about how to analyze Greek.

So in the spirit of applying a little bit of counseling, healing balm, I’m going to share a brief model that I have applied in many contexts (counseling and ministry). There are two examples and a brief theoretical discussion. You can certainly find more information online.

ii. the monk, sin, and Jesus in the room

I have had the honor of having conversations with a well-known psychologist, spiritual director, speaker and author. At the time, it addressed the greatest number mainly of Christian practices.

We shared other talking points, one of them being the Council of Ministers. He said he was working with a monk who was caught in some sort of sinful habit. He did not reveal what the particular sin was and I did not ask.

At first he worked with the monk, asking the monk to turn to the Lord immediately after sinning, or as soon as possible. For those who do not know what it is like to be a monk, pastor, seminarian, etc., it is often very difficult to sin. The Minister is often too familiar with the activity to profit from it as someone else might.

After working with the monk for a while, the spiritual director asked him to picture Jesus in the room with him as he sinned. It was at this point that there was a breakthrough for the monk to regain some mastery, having apparently lost control of this sin for a period of time.

iii. the seminarian and the strip club

At another time, in an educational setting, we were discussing sins that seem to be extremely difficult to overcome. The dialogue host said she was working with someone who went to the strip club every night, and who was a seminarian! You could almost hear the breath being sucked out of the room as the silence settled down.

She said she knew her approach was not popular, maybe even controversial. Instead of telling the seminarian to stop, she asked the seminarian to go to the strip club just once less this week, before their next session next week. Again, there was absolute silence as we wondered if it was even Biblical, Ministerial, or Christian.

Once the deal was done, the facilitator waited until their next session in a week. When the seminarian returned, there was a marked change. The seminarian had not visited a strip club once during the whole week.

We were all flabbergasted until the host explained the principle to us. The seminarian’s perception was that there was no control. By regaining the ability to stay away from the strip club for just one night, the seminarian regained a sense of control.

For the record, I’m not sure I can approve of either method. However, the results are fascinating.

iv. place of control

What I am talking about could be claimed by a number of psychological camps. Personally, I like Julian Rotter’s little contribution to personality theory called the Place of control.

Locus is a type of line or curve between points. Indeed, the person is on one side and the issue out of control is on the other. Control is a point that oscillates between the person and the perceived problem (or another person, a system, etc.).

Some say that people are born with more or less locus of control. Others say they are learning it (innate vs learned). This question goes beyond this brief article.

v. in our examples, let’s apply the locus of control

The monk had to turn away from his sin, find Jesus and repent. He continued to struggle. However, when he allowed Jesus to enter the room while he was sinning, the place of control changed. He was closer to Jesus and perhaps saw himself as stronger. There has been a breakthrough and real change has taken place.

The seminarian thought that there was nothing else to do than go to the strip club every night. There seemed to be no end to the madness. When a deal was made, a simple deal with someone the seminarian trusted – to attend the strip club once less – something unexpected happened. The seminarian regained control and stopped going.