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Biblical Counseling Coalition: Grace & Truth

Why We “Care” Instead of “Counsel” One Another

Biblical Counseling in the Local Church--Part 4

BCC Staff Note: You’re reading Part 4 of a multi-part BCC Grace & Truth blog series on Biblical Counseling in the Local Church. Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. We asked a number of experienced biblical counselors who provide biblical counseling leadership and equipping in local churches to write on “a topic you consider important to local church biblical counseling.” We’re confident that their varied perspectives and topics will add greatly to your insight into biblical counseling in the local church.

Introduction

In the fall of 2011, I (Robert Cheong) made a strategic decision to replace the word “counsel” with “care” within our church culture. I didn’t send out a memo or make campaign signs. Rather, I began using the terms “care/caring” everywhere I would have used the words “counsel/counseling” in my conversations with others and in training material developed to help ministry leaders shepherd those under their care at each of our campuses.

Real Term

Let me assure you, I know that “counsel” is a biblical term so I am not trying to ban it. The Scriptures are clear that God “counsels” us with his word (Psalm 16:7; 73:24) and Jesus is referred to as the Wonderful Counselor (Isaiah 9:6).

We have worked hard at Sojourn to “re-church” our members to help them see how God’s word addresses the mess of life. By God’s grace, our members are experiencing the power and beauty of the gospel through the ministry of the word (preached, sung, read and experienced through gospel relationships) as it changes and conforms them more and more to be like Jesus.

However, in spite of our best efforts to help our people see biblical counseling as the ministry of the word, we still faced a number of real issues.

Real Issues

These issues may seem more practical in nature but they reflect a misunderstanding of God’s design.

Expecting More and Less. Members and regular attenders seeking help with life struggles had to fill out a “Counseling Request.” One woman who filled out the request demanded to see a trained counselor since she filled out a “Counseling Request.” We explained to her we had women at Sojourn who could care for her with the gospel and journey with her but they were not formally trained counselors per se. Because she expected more (from trained counselors) and less (from older godly women), we had to explain why she would receive wonderful care through the church even without a “formally trained counselor.” As a result, we changed the name of the form to “Care Request.”

Reducing and Referring Ministry. Not only did those requesting help need to understand the breadth and depth of gospel ministry, so did our leaders. A prime example of this reality emerged in a discussion with a leader who was being sent out as a church planter. He asked when he should start training up counselors. Instead of answering, I rephrased his question, “When should you start training your people to care for one another with the gospel?” He sat back with a smile and replied, “Right away.” It’s easy for us to reduce gospel ministry into separate categories of function. Additionally, when I listen to ministry leaders and pastors, they often talk about counseling as something for which they are not gifted or something they refer out to the “counselors” in the church. However, I praise God as I listen to how these same leaders care for those in need.

Confusing Identity and Calling. When I ask couples if they have a desire to minister to other married couples, they will either say they never thought they could do such ministry or that they are not marriage counselors. When I take the time to explain that God has called each of us to be ministers of reconciliation and ambassadors for Christ as we love one another and bear one another’s burdens (2 Cor. 5:17-20; John 13:34-35; Gal. 6:2), they begin to see more clearly their God-given identity and calling.

Real Mission

Please know that my shift in language from “counseling” to “care” is not a knee-jerk reaction nor does it stem from an “axe to grind.” Rather, I saw the need to expand and clarify God’s vision for the church and sought to remove any stumbling blocks that might hinder us from stepping into our real mission—to glorify God by worshiping him with our whole life, as we love one another in the church and world so that we would trust and obey God by his grace. Knowing we still struggle with sin, God calls us to “encourage one another daily … so that none of [us] may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (Heb. 3:13).

By God’s grace, we are equipping our people to expect more, not less from Jesus our Redeemer. Our members are in the trenches doing difficult ministry as they lovingly and boldly step into one another’s lives with the gospel in the midst of suffering and sin.

By God’s grace, our leaders are not only learning how to care for one another with the gospel, but they are equipping others. Since the change in emphasis, God has raised up over 30 leaders from every ministry area and from each of our four campuses, a larger and more diverse team than ever. As a result, almost 150 leaders and members have experienced how to care for others with the gospel in less than a year.

By God’s grace, we are hearing testimonies from men and women who are learning how to care for one another with the gospel. They are sharing how their marriages are growing more intimate as a result of listening to and exploring each other’s hearts while bringing their issues back to Jesus and his finished work on the cross. Accountability groups are engaging in deeper ways. Parents are sharing how they are shepherding their children’s hearts. Men and women are telling us how they have been able to engage their co-workers as they listen and ask questions that lead to gospel conversations.

Conclusion

Thankfully, God’s redemptive work in our midst is not dependent upon our semantics. The take away lesson we learned is that once God’s people understand their calling to love and care for one another with the gospel, they step out by faith and obedience. May God continue to build up his church in love and advance his kingdom in this world as we join him in his mission.

Join the Conversation

What do you think about the name change from counseling to care? What do you call your one-another ministry in your church?

This entry was posted in Biblical Counseling, Discipleship, Gospel-Centered Ministry, Local Church Ministry, Pastoral Resources, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.
 
  • Gabriel Rodriguez

    First, great article. I see the wisdom with making the change to use the word “care” over “counseling”. Too many Christians today, when they hear the word counseling think “professional”. In Christianity there are no “professionals”, we are all  broken people being mended by the grace of God, some are just further along in the process.

    I was wondering, what does your “care” form look like? What is the reasoning behind having those who need care fill a form out?

    • Rcheong

       Hey Gabriel! You can see Sojourn’s care form at the following link, along with our Informed Consent: http://counseling.sojournchurch.com/receive-care-counseling/marriage-counseling/

      We ask those who request care to fill out a form for several reasons: (1) offers a pathway to request care from any member or attender, especially if they are not in one of our community groups (small groups), (2) offers detailed information helpful in assigning the care request to the appropriate ministry leader, and (3) gives us permission to coordinate with appropriate ministry leaders so we can provide the best care and also has meeting availability slots.

      2010 stats showed that we were able to turn ~ 1/3 of the care requests back over to our community group leadership.

      • Gabriel Rodriguez

        Thank you.

    • Chris Dalton

      Hi, if in Christianity there are no ‘professionals’ what are church leaders who are paid? Unprofessional? Are church finances looked after by people with no accountancy or financial training?
      I wholeheartedly believe in every church member caring for other church members and being cared for themselves but sometimes we have to ask about monitoring/supervision and safeguarding of those in our care. We can have professionals & be professional and care well at various levels.

  • george cochran

    Great clarification! It obviously reflects genuine experience in living out the gospel, not just talking about it.

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  • Jbartz

    Insightful.  I’ll be passing this article along to our counselors and include it in our training.  Thank you for this! 

    I have the same question as Mr. Rodriguez.  What does “care” look like?  Sounds like it is simply a another designation for biblical counseling?  Perhaps it is a more “pastoral” or “holistic” approach to ministering to people as opposed to weekly one hour counseling sessions?

    • Robert Cheong

       Thanks for your question.
      The term “care” as we use does imply biblical counseling. Caring and loving one another with the gospel also includes all of the one another commands that God has given us so that the body of Christ is built up in love (cf. Eph. 4:12-16).

      We have found that our members immediate grasp the concept of caring for one another in community much quicker and more holistically than the concept of counseling one another.

  • Carlystaley

    Hi, Robert, I’m currently a biblical counseling student at Westminster and also part of the Acts29 network. My church is considering starting a counseling ministry, so this article has been very helpful as we begin brainstorming soon. I understand the reason for the change and see its merit. However, I had a question and wanted to get your thoughts: The word “care” seems like it would help clarify things inside the church, but what does the word do for those outside of the church? I guess my thoughts are that the word “counseling” can have its advantages from an evangelistic/missional standpoint (People are familiar with the term and have a general sense of what its purpose is). Do you have any thoughts?

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The BCC exists to strengthen churches, para-church organizations, and educational institutions by promoting excellence and unity in biblical counseling as a means to accomplish compassionate outreach and effective discipleship.