In my travels over the past twelve years (and fifteen years of campus and pastoral ministry before that), I have had the privilege of talking with countless pastors. Given my obvious interest in pastoral care, I regularly get asked a simple but basic question from people in ministry. It is then followed by an interesting statement: “Should I really try to ‘counsel’ people, or should I find someone who is an expert to whom I might send people for help? After all, I wasn’t trained in counseling in seminary.”
Why should a local church and its leaders seek to incorporate counseling within the context of the local church? It seems like a major distraction from the more important matters of church life and mission. Won’t counseling distract the church from being truly missional? Might it move the church to become insular and self-focused? Shouldn’t counseling be left to professionals who are highly trained to deal with people’s problems?
These are all good questions that deserve an answer. Here are some reasons a church should counsel:
- Before we begin, we need to define our terms. The word counseling is a very distracting word. For the past 100 years, it is a word that has been associated with secular therapy and highly trained/skilled experts with degrees. They are also governed by state and national agencies that insure “best practices” in the helping professions. Unfortunately, the church has not engaged the “soft sciences” as it should have. Still, the word “counsel” is a word that is found all throughout the Bible. Just take Psalm 1:1-2 for instance. Notice the usage of the word “counsel”;
Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked.… But his delight is in the law of the LORD.…
Other translations use the word advice for the word counsel. In other words, the concept of counseling or giving advice is as old as the human race. We are meaning makers and meaning seekers. We need advice and we offer advice. If this is an aspect of being made in God’s image, it would follow that God is very concerned about what we refer to as “counseling” or giving advice. In Psalm 1, the distinction is drawn quite starkly. One is often giving or receiving good or bad advice. In light of this psalm alone, it is imperative that the church be in the business of “counseling.”
- As Christians, we are on a mission. In John 17:18, Jesus says, “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” Jesus came on a courageous mission of compassion to rescue us from ourselves and to restore all things. He did this as the incarnate Son of God. He did not preach a message from heaven but instead “became fully human in every way” (Heb. 2:17), though without sin. When a church commits to counsel people, its leaders are saying that they are willing to get down in the trenches of daily life and love people with the redemptive compassion of the incarnate One. They are saying that good preaching, as important as it is, is just the beginning of ministry of the Word, not the beginning and end. Ministry of the Word that does not connect at the level of people’s sins and sufferings in a rich and meaningful way is insufficient. It fails to fully display the amazing compassion of the God of Scripture. A church should counsel if it wants to demonstrate the compassion of Father, Son, and Spirit.
Ministry of the Word that does not connect at the level of people’s sins and sufferings in a rich and meaningful way is insufficient.
While different messages for change and human flourishing abound, the church must speak and demonstrate the power of the gospel as it addresses issues endemic to the human condition.
Copyright © 2016 Timothy S. Lane.