Why should a local church and its leaders seek to incorporate counseling within the context of the local church? After all, won’t that distract the church from being truly missional and instead become insular and self-focused? Shouldn’t counseling be left to the professionals who are highly trained to deal with people’s problems? These are all good questions that deserve an answer. In this first post I will argue for why the church should counsel. I the next post, I will give guidance for how a church should think about accessing outside help. Here are four reasons a church should counsel:
- Consistency: the word “counseling” is a very distracting word because for the past 100 years, it is a word that has been associated with secular therapy. But the word “counsel” is a word that is found all throughout the Bible. Just take Psalm 1 for instance. Notice that there are two forms of counsel; godly and ungodly. Godly counsel has its foundations in Scripture and ungodly counsel is at odds with Scripture. Godly counsel is rooted in the truths of Scripture that ultimately point to Christ. That is why we would never consider any text other than the Bible forming the foundation of the preaching ministry of the church. Yet, we often evidence inconsistency when we are unwisely willing to let anything other than the Scriptures form the foundation of interpersonal or counseling ministry in the church. A church should counsel if it wants consistency from pulpit to pew.
- Compassion: 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 like us in every way” (Hebrews 2:17) though without sin. When a church commits to counsel people, they 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 end. Ministry of the Word that does not track at the level of people’s sins and sufferings in a rich and meaningful way is not sufficient and does not display the amazing compassion of the God of Scripture. A church should counsel if it wants to display the compassion of Father, Son and Spirit.
- Convincing: how has the church historically persuaded the surrounding culture of the truth of the Scriptures? If you know your church history, it has largely happened when people’s lives were changed so much by the grace of God that others could not simply dismiss those who were transformed nor the truth claims that transformed them. There has been so much discussion about modernity and post-modernity and the apologetic challenge to the church in a post-modern context where modern, rational categories of truth and error, right and wrong, good and bad have been abandoned. While Christianity is neither anti nor a rational, it is so much more. Truth claims are uttered by a personal God who redeems sinners to have a relationship with Him. Scriptures truth claims and propositions are not impersonal, logical systems for living a well adjusted meaningful life. When a church counsels, they are saying so much more than simply the Bible is true; they are saying that the personal God of the Bible comes to change lives, families, communities, cultures and the entire cosmos and that you can actually see those changes! Paul, in Ephesians 5 calls the church to “live as children of light and to expose the darkness.” The exposing that the church does is not simply speaking up for the truth but exhibiting the truth in the way we live our lives. When a church counsels, it is engaging in one of the most important apologetic tasks it can engage in. It is saying, “we will not simply proclaim the truth, we will demonstrate it in the way we live and in changed lives.”
- Community: we don’t often think of the word community when we hear the word “counseling”. We naturally think of conversations between two people in secret where no one else can listen in. We think “confidentiality”. While we would not want to diminish the need to handle personal information and conversations with great care and wisdom, a church that counsels is actually a vibrant community. Paul, in Colossians 3:16 says, “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another will all wisdom.” This passage is speaking of a vibrant congregation where brothers and sisters in Christ are counseling one another in the context of daily life as they grow as a community. This does not preclude more personal, confidential contexts for counsel. When a church counsels, it becomes the first place, not the last place that people think about when they need help. How Biblical and yet how radical for people to think of the church in that way!
I hope these four reasons will help stimulate your thinking about why the local church should include counseling as part of its ministry. But that does not cover the whole subject. Next week I will talk about how a church should think about accessing outside counseling help for their members when needed.
This blog was originally posted at www.Resurgence.com in May 2009.