Ep. 184 Vital Tips for Developing a Counseling Worldview in Your Church

Shows Main Idea – Developing a discipleship/counseling culture in your church will not happen without intentionality. In this podcast, I’m going to share a few things that will help you move in that direction. This list is not exhaustive but will serve you immensely in the process of creating a soul-care community.

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I’ve talked to two pastors over the last three weeks about implementing a counseling worldview in their local churches. Here are some of the things I shared with them.

In 1997 I started a counseling ministry in a 1200 attendee local church. There was no pre-existing counseling ministry or worldview; we had no template for what we were doing. There was a lot of trials and errors. I hope that I will be able to come alongside you to help mitigate those mistakes in your church. Here is my “non-exhaustive list of vital things” that made our counseling ministry a success.

  1. The counselor is not the first call when it comes to finding help. You don’t want to create a worldview that says, “If you need help, go down the hall and turn left. That is where you will find our counselor.”
  2. Counseling is a subset of discipleship. It is not the main thing, but a supplemental ministry for those who have problems that need a season of intensive soul care.
  3. It’s vital that every individual in the church not only knows that they should be doing the work of a counselor (discipler), but they must learn how to care for others well.
  4. Every member has a unique gift-mix, which means all of them cannot counsel at a high-level. They can disciple others but not expertly necessarily. There will be times when the “counseling need” will transcend the person’s ability to bring care.
  5. The lead church counselor counsels as a secondary matter. His primary job is to equip the church body to care for others. If his main task is counseling, he will hinder the church from fully realizing their discipleship abilities.
  6. The lead counselor should be a man, which will release him to teach and train in all contexts and all genders. Ideally, it would be wonderful if he had a “female doppelganger,” who could take on the females who come for help.
  7. The lead counselor should not counsel any woman for an ongoing season, but prepare her to receive care from a competent lady in the church. Also, he should never disciple a woman alone. He needs a window in his office door and someone sitting near when he is counseling the opposite sex.
  8. As often as you can, have a small group leader or other leader sitting in on all the counseling so that the leader can provide ongoing care during the week, plus you are positioning the person to take the counselee away from you. (Always remember: counseling second and training first.)
  9. Once you wave “the counseling flag” at your church, people will come, which will create issues that you must navigate. Here are three of them: (1) Your church folks will want your help. (2) Non-church people will come. (3) People from other churches will come.

Your Church People

God has called you to your church, which makes your folks the priority as far as receiving your attention and care. You don’t want to be that pastor who is paid by the church but devotes too much time to his “side ministry.” That kind of person lacks understanding, wisdom, and integrity. Your folks “pay you” to care for them, and nothing should hinder that responsibility.

Non-church People

A local church counseling ministry can become a wide door for the community. Meaning, folks will come running to you. You must have best practices in place to care for them.

For example, the community is not more important than those who have joined your church and are expecting your care. If they do not attend a church, you want to insist that they attend yours during the counseling season because “singular counseling events” are not enough. They need all the means of grace that the church provides. And if they are not willing to commit to what you ask, you don’t want to counsel them anyway.

Other Church People

Each pastor will give an account of how he cares for his sheep (Hebrews 13:17). So you want to be careful when it comes to “tinkering with another man’s sheep.” Typically, if a person is coming to you for help, there is something wrong with their church. (There can be other reasons, but you want to tread carefully here.)

We would not counsel a person from another church unless they brought a leader with them. And if they did not want their church to know about their problems, we would ask them to consider why they were attending that church because if the sheep does not want the shepherd knowing about their problems, they probably need to be somewhere else.

Your goal by having a leader sitting in on these sessions is similar to having a small group leader doing the same for your people. You must carefully balance the care of the individual and the responsibility of their church. And you don’t want to gain a reputation in your community as a sheep stealer.

Get Skin in the Game

When counseling non-church or other church people, you have no leverage on them to motivate them to change. Thus, you want them to put “skin in the game.” Some of the ways they can do this are:

  • Non-church people need to demonstrate a commitment for the process, e.g., homework, church attendance.
  • Other church members need to understand your tension about “shepherding other pastor’s sheep” and the need for receiving care from their church by bringing a leader from that church.

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Envisioning Your Church

You want to communicate your vision to your church. The best way to do this is to have a week-long, mega, training event where someone leads an “Introduction to Biblical Counseling” conference. You want as many families from your church in attendance.

After that conference, pass out sign-up cards, asking those who want more in-depth training to come to additional equipping, which could last 12 weeks. Part of this training is to identify a core group of leaders who appear to have the “gift mix” to do formalized counseling at your church.

After you identify this group, you may have a counseling team for you to equip. When I did this in our church, we had 200+ folks attend the larger conference. There were 50+ who asked for additional training. And then approximately ten people wanted biblical counseling equipping.

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