One of a dozen reasons I love church-based counseling is that it lets us maximize the ministry role of Christ’s body can have for those we counsel. God has provided our counselees with Christian brothers and sisters—fellow church members—as vital means of God’s grace to help them know Jesus initially and grow in Jesus continually.
As a pastor leading a Christ-centered local church counseling ministry, I seek as much as possible to link my counselees to mature believers. Here are three ways I often involve others (beyond any counseling assistants or trainees), both in and alongside of my formal counseling sessions:
- Encouraging my counselee to invite a mature, trusted Christian friend to join him in the sessions. (Or a mature couple if I am counseling a couple). During the session, that friend can help my counselee voice his concerns and can hear firsthand my counsel. After the session that friend can provide follow-up care and accountability for implementing the counsel).
- Connecting my counselee to a vibrant small group committed to genuine, transformational fellowship, care, and accountability. (Visiting and connecting with a small group can be a counseling assignment.)
- Inviting my counselee’s small group leader (or spouse) to attend the counseling sessions or to assist in other follow-up ways.
I have found that counselees who bond with others in these ways show faster and more sustained growth than those who remain isolated in their struggles or who only have a weekly one-on-one appointment with an outside counselor.
How do God’s people minister God’s grace to each other? Let me suggest five categories (along with Bible passages for your further study):
1. By Our Words: Proverbs 12:18; Malachi 3:16; Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 4:15; Hebrews 3:12-14
This would include, of course, formal preaching and teaching by church leaders. But it also includes the songs we sing to God and one another in worship gatherings, various forms of small group instruction and discussion, and the many informal, member-to-member Christ-centered conversations that happen in church hallways, in homes, and by phone, email, and texting throughout the week. There are many ways we offer biblical counsel apart from formal counsel-ing.
2. By Our Example: Proverbs 13:20; 1 Corinthians 11:1; Philippians 3:17; Hebrews 13:7
It is one thing to tell a counselee how to deal with his anger or fear; it is another thing to connect him in-person to someone who is successfully growing in Christ and making progress in these specific areas of anger and fear. Both—not either/or—seem prudent. As we sensitively point our counselees to our fellow church members who are walking by faith through illness, disabilities, unemployment, pregnancy losses, or marital mistreatment, their own confidence in God and his Word can grow stronger.
3. By Our Deeds: Acts 9:36; Acts 10:37–38; Titus 3:8b, 13-14
The people we counsel often need various forms of practical hands-on help—childcare for counseling or doctor’s appointments, benevolence funds for utility bills, budget counseling, legal advice, meals when they are sick, automobile repair, food pantry items, vocational counseling, job resume and interviewing coaching, transportation, short-term housing, baby care advice, etc. They may not be able even to afford the biblical counseling book(s) you wish to assign. Here the body of Christ can individually and corporately help in tangible ways to complement the counseling ministry.
4. By Our Prayers: 2 Corinthians 1:10–11; Philippians 1:18b–19; James 5:14-16
We can encourage those we counsel, within their comfort range, to enlist other believers to pray for them. “Joe, I’ve been getting some biblical counsel from one of our pastors. While I’d rather not share the details, would you pray for me that God will help me to hear and apply his Word to my life?”
5. By Our Presence: Roman 12:15; 2 Corinthians 2:12-13; 2 Corinthians 7:6; 2 Timothy 4:9a
What some of our counselees need at times are not merely wise words, consistent modeling, kind actions, or persistent prayers—as important as all these are. Sometimes they simply need other believers to be there with them—to sit with them, listen to them, hug them, and be onsite during their trial. This is true especially those who are grieving, experiencing depression, or are tempted to resume addictive patterns. Knowing that a friend is there—one who personally embodies the stabilizing presence, care, and hope of Jesus—can encourage a counselee in immeasurable ways.
How will you more meaningfully link your counselees to their church? One critique occasionally launched against (at least) earlier forms of biblical counseling that came not from the professional psychological community but from concerned pastors and church leaders was this:
Biblical counselors can sometimes give the impression that all a counselee needs is the Holy Spirit and his Bible to change and grow.
That critique is understandable in light of our movement’s earlier underdeveloped application—in theory and practice—of the role of the body of Christ in biblical counseling. I am grateful for the growing interest in this connection that I see in our day. May God help us to mobilize the body of Christ so that our biblical counseling may be increasingly biblical!
Join the Conversation
How have you experienced God’s grace mediated through one of the above five ways in your own life, especially in conjunction with any counseling or discipling you have received? And how are you trying to implement these complementary ministries along with your counseling or discipling of others?