Should You Have a Biblical Counseling Strategy for Church?

This article is a response to my friend, who is working on his thesis requirement for his MA in Biblical Counseling. He asked my opinion on the necessity of a biblical counseling strategy for the church. Here are his questions:

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My primary project is to explain the benefits of highlighting biblical counseling in a church planting strategy. I hope to show that biblical counseling can impact a church culture, evangelism, and ministry agenda in a way that can be more effective in many contexts than the prevailing models that emphasize great music, “relevant” messages, or a multitude of demographic-based programs.

The four questions that I am interested in hearing from you are:

  1. Where does biblical counseling (intensive discipleship) make the most significant impact on a church planting strategy?
  2. How does an emphasis on biblical counseling open doors for evangelism, cultural engagement, and community service? Does it close any doors?
  3. Are there positive impacts on local church culture from a biblical counseling emphasis that extends beyond any formal counseling activity?
  4. How can an emphasis on biblical counseling help mitigate the problems common to pioneer plants, mother church plants, and revitalization church plants?

Regardless of what is happening with a person, there is an answer found in the Word of God. If biblical counseling is ministering the Word to the human condition, then biblical counseling is a modern term for soul care, which includes evangelism and progressive sanctification.

Ministry of the Word

The first thing you have to do is define your terms. Michael has provided me with a narrow definition of biblical counseling when he calls it intensive discipleship.

His descriptor is an accurate one, though only a partial definition of biblical counseling. Before any discussion on biblical counseling, you must have a solid working definition of biblical counseling.

The reason this is important is that your starting point will determine how you progress through the problem, as well as the goals you attain all along the way.

Therefore, I would not recommend any other definition of biblical counseling that does not encompass the full scope of the human experience, because it is the full scope of the human experience that biblical counseling speaks.

Therefore, a thorough and proper definition of biblical counseling involves a person’s (1) pre-salvation, (2) salvation, and (3) sanctification experience.

Here are the intuitive reasons for this definition:

  • Biblical counseling is ministering the Word of God to the souls of the human family.
  • The Word of God speaks to all of life, regardless of the state of the person’s soul—pre-saved or saved.
  • Thus, biblical counseling is comprehensive because it encompasses the full scope of the human condition.

Therefore, before you talk about how biblical counseling makes the most significant impact on church planting, it’s imperative you define the term correctly. Intensive discipleship is part of what biblical counseling can do for you, but it can do much more.

For example, you can biblically counsel the unregenerate person, minimally by providing counsel on how to be born again. Jesus did this for Nicodemus (John 3:7) and the woman at the well (John 4:13-14).

Counseling Is All of You

A sound methodology of counseling, in its most basic and comprehensive form, is anything that comes out of your mouth, plus your silence, as well as your body language. Counseling is a full-body experience, meaning everything about you is providing a message that conveys how Christ is working in and through you (2 Corinthians 3:2).

  • When I love my wife well, I am communicating to others how the message of the gospel is affecting me.
  • When I choose anger toward my wife, I am communicating to others how the message of the gospel is affecting me.

Personally, the primary reason I use the term biblical counseling is for marketing purposes. People understand the term, and they will typically receive that term more readily than the word discipleship. That is where we are in our culture today. People come to me for counseling, not for discipleship, though the words can be interchangeable.

Key Statement – Biblical counseling is nothing new. It is the modern repackaging of an old idea: the ministry of the Word of God into the lives of men and women. (See the Mind Map)

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Counseling and Church Planting

Where does biblical counseling (intensive discipleship) make the most significant impact on a church planting strategy?

Intensive discipleship is a more formalized counseling construct where a person with the gifting for high-end discipleship, like Michael, is counseling individuals or couples through relational and situational difficulties.

You may understand this term better by using a less clinical term like crisis counseling. This kind of discipleship is the acutest form of discipleship. It is the type of counseling that is more private, intense, and personalized.

Though every Christian has the gift for counseling, not every Christian has the gift for this type of counseling.

  • According to Romans 15:14 every Christian should be counseling.
  • According to 1 Corinthians 12:4 every Christian has different gifts.
  • Therefore, each Christian should be counseling according to how God has gifted him or her.

The obvious benefit to doing intensive counseling in a local church plant is that it will mature the infrastructure of the local church—the core people who make up the church plant will be more mature in their sanctification.

The strength of any church—humanly speaking—will be dependent on the disciple-making ability of the core group of individuals and families that make up the church.

It is similar to our physical bodies—the stronger the immune system, the more likely the body will be able to handle the things that could potentially weaken it. This infographic communicates that idea:

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Church Infrastructure – Small DNA

Counseling and Community Engagement

How does an emphasis on biblical counseling open doors for evangelism, cultural engagement, and community service? Does it close any doors?

It is imperative to understand that if you can do intensive discipleship well, you will be doing more than intensive discipleship. If you are good at it, you will not be able to contain your biblical counseling activities to just that one discipline.

In 1997 I began leading our church in developing a biblical counseling center. That church continues to have a strong biblical counseling emphasis today–nearly 20 years later. Before 1997, there was no biblical counseling emphasis in that church.

One of the most surprising things that happened during this development process was how the word began to spread throughout the community. Though our church was known as a compassionate discipleship community, by adding a pointed, specific, and directed biblical counseling emphasis, the community took notice.

The result of developing that biblical counseling culture within the church created a door that the community was willing to enter. The biblical counseling message spread and the community responded favorably to what we were doing.

This result only highlighted the need for a robust local church infrastructure. This reality means the entire church body must be envisioned and equipped with a biblical counseling worldview. If this does not happen, people will overrun the church with needy people who you cannot accommodate competently.

In time, your church body will experience dysfunction: if you cannot take care of people beyond introducing them to Jesus, they will either stagnate or find a church that can competently help them with their problems.

Just like our physical bodies, if we are not strong enough, mature enough, or healthy enough to withstand what is coming at us, whatever enters through our gates (eye, ear, nose, mouth gates) can kill us.

This problem is one of the most significant failures of today’s modern church. They have created systems and strategies to motivate people to come and see, but they are not able to disciple them to maturity. A church with a strong discipleship emphasis that knows how to envision and equip their regular folks will be able to withstand the masses who will come.

Counseling and Church Culture

Are there positive impacts on the local church culture from a biblical counseling emphasis that extends beyond any formal counseling activity?

As mentioned, if you are a competent biblical counselor, it will be impossible to contain the positive effects that will flow out of your efforts. The community will come because the world is hurting and they have found no satisfying answers at the culture’s table.

As for your church culture, by waving the biblical counseling banner, you will communicate a positive message that will motivate them to enter into the real messes of people’s lives. The other benefit is that they will want to sample what you’re offering because they are hurting too.

It’s a win-win for the local church.

The church and the community are no different in that way; they both are hurting, and they both are looking for answers. By having a strong biblical counseling (or discipleship) emphasis, you will be speaking words that resonate with their deepest desires for transformation into something better.

Because of this sound effect of promoting biblically sound discipleship care in the local body, you will want to establish some early ground rules to sustain the positive sanctification momentum that will most certainly ensue. Here are two of the concepts we implemented right from the beginning.

Everybody participates in providing biblical counseling according to each person’s gifting. There are no haves and have-nots. Everybody must play.

Our primary emphasis is on replication of biblical counselors (disciplers) rather than primarily providing biblical counseling.

If you are not replicating more than you are counseling, you will burn out the few who are doing the work, while hitting a ceiling of how many you can bring care. But if you are spending more time replicating than counseling, your cap is virtually unlimited.

Counseling and Church Autonomy

How can an emphasis on biblical counseling help mitigate the problems common to pioneer plants, mother church plants, and revitalization church plants?

My best answer to this question is a healthy body is a happy body, whether you’re talking about your physical body or a local church body. The gospel is about transformation, which has to go beyond salvation. To be born again is to be introduced to Jesus, but not transformed by Him.

Transformation happens in our sanctification, and a church that does not do this well will either not survive or be mediocre in fulfilling the great commission.

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. – Matthew 28:19-20

A healthy church that is operating in the ongoing healthy effect of the great commission will be:

  1. Going – Penetrating their culture with the transformative message of Christ.
  2. Converting – Baptizing converts that are born again.
  3. Discipling – Equipping these new converts by teaching them all that Jesus taught.
  4. Sending – Motivating these maturing disciples to go and do what was done to them: penetrate the culture.

I think the benefits of this approach to building a church is evident.

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Cyclic Effect of The Great Commission 

The pioneer church plant should be building a robust infrastructure while communicating a soul care message to the culture. If they are doing this well, they will be maturing in Christlikeness.

The mother church plant will be able to cut the ties to their sending church quicker while being positioned to plant their church because they are replicating leaders through the concepts presented here.

If you hone soul care practices, there can be a modern-day revitalization church plant can experience to the point of compassionate competence that positions individuals for transformation.

Wrapping It Up

If you want to call what you are doing biblical counseling, that is fine with me as long as you define it broadly, not narrowly. If you envision the whole church to participate, you have done well. Just remember that what I have described here is how Paul talked to us through his letters.

He called the entire body of Christ to participate in the salvation and sanctification of souls by reaching out to the community while doing competent one another soul care to the church body. You can accomplish this through a biblical counseling worldview.

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