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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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.