Dr. Ernie Baker assigned this case study in a class I took a couple years ago at The Master’s University. These type of excercises are helpful for the biblical counselor in thinking through and keeping sharp when dealing with complex counseling scenarios.
Tom and Nancy Gardner had been troubled for over two years about the poor landscaping in front of the church. Several bushes had died, leaving unsightly gaps, and the flower beds were trampled and disorganized. Then the deacons told the Gardner’s that Margaret, a member of the church, had donated $200 to help pay for new landscaping, and four other families donated another $350. Tom and Nancy planned a new landscaping layout, ordered all of the plants and materials, and recruited some high school students to help them with the work.
The night before they were to put in the new plants, one of the deacons called the Gardner’s to tell them that Margaret was very upset that she had been left out of their planning. She had her own ideas about what kind of plants to use, and she had told the deacons that she could get substantial discounts through a relative at a local greenhouse.
When Tom called Margaret to clear up the problem, she was rude and sarcastic. The more he tried to reason with her, the more irritated she became. Tom lost his temper and spoke sharply to her, at which point she hung up on him.
When Margaret met with her Bible study group the next morning, she asked, “Can we please pray for Tom Gardner? He really needs help with his temper and his desire to control other people.” Someone asked her what prompted her request, and she gave a lengthy description of the situation. A couple of friends sympathized with her and alluded to similar encounters with Tom. One of the women felt very uncomfortable about the discussion, but she hated to get involved in conflict, so she decided to keep quiet. “Besides,” she thought, “this will probably blow over.”
Another woman in the group told a friend about the problem, however, and he passed the news on to Tom. Tom and Nancy were so furious that they got on two phones and called the pastor, demanding that he confront Margaret for her malicious slander. When he seemed hesitant to come to their defense, some of their past frustrations toward him boiled over. They said, “You’ve never been willing to stand up to people like Margaret. I guess we’d better find a church where the pastor has some courage.” With that, they hung up on him.
What different attitudes, heart desires, affections, and sin do you see in this case study? How might you counsel?
Here are some thoughts to get you started – In the “Landscaping Disaster” it would be easy to lay much, if not most, of the “blame” on Margaret. Her actions and reactions take up the majority of the story. In fact, that is exactly what Tom and Nancy have done. And while Margaret is certainly culpable and has shown sinful character traits and poor relationship dynamics, Tom and Nancy need to see Tom’s heart in this matter because, it does take two to fight. Since Nancy is not publicly involved in this incident, we will focus on Tom.
Tom certainly did not glorify God in this situation and we see that right away in the phone call to Margaret. While we don’t know what Tom said to her, it is clear he probably was not thinking of how to honor her (Romans 12) or prefer her (Philippians 2:3-4). Tom should have realized what the landscaping looked like from Margaret’s point of view (even though her POV was sinful). Why was Margaret upset? She did donate money. Would it be reasonable for Margaret to assume she would have input? We can assume from the story that roles were not properly defined and there certainly was a lack of communication. Could Tom understand these issues? Could Tom have understood why Margaret was feeling this way? Couldn’t Tom have handled the phone call with kindness, gentleness, self-control, compassion, and tolerance? Yes, but he did not. Tom became angry because he too is self-centered rather than God-focused. Tom wanted his way as much as Margaret. Tom couldn’t see clearly because the log in his eye was blocking his view.
And this was another example of Tom’s anger over being denied something he desired. Margaret had refused to give Tom the respect he required, and by not jumping to his defense, so had the Pastor. And so again, Tom demonstrates a lack of humility, lack of communication and respect, (yell and then hang-up) resulting in an example of no conflict resolution being obtained. Now everyone is upset, and the landscaping is still a mess.
Take the time to work through this on your own. It can only make you a better counselor.