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Since becoming a certified counselor 4 years ago, it has become more evident to me, through the Word of God, that counseling should, if all possible, take place in the context of the local church. There are many good reasons for this. We are all called to watch over each with much love and care (Gal. 6:1-2, Hebrews 12:15-16, 1 John 3:16-18, Matthew 28:16-20)) and no better way to do that is in our own body. But, since becoming a counselor, I have also witnessed that a lot of people don’t believe this to be the case.   I am finding more frequently that Christians do not have a good, biblical understanding of why they should seek help and counseling from within their own local church.  Instead, they are trying to find outside sources from other congregations and secular counseling to help them. My husband and I encounter these issues quite often and have come to some observations as to why this may be happening:

1.  Many local churches are not equipped and/or the elder board is not on board with biblical counseling. They also may feel that counseling should be left to someone else other than them.  Their thinking may be that they are so busy with sermon preparation; they don’t have time for personal ministry.  While preaching and teaching are very important, pastors are also called to be shepherds. A shepherd is one that takes care of the needs of the sheep.  Peter exhorts the elders in 1 Peter 5:2 to “Shepard the flock that is among you.” Shepherding includes care, protection, discipline, and guidance, not just preaching a message Sunday morning.  Praise God for guys like Jay Adams who have recognized these problems decades ago and has written books admonishing pastors and lay people to take back their role as counselor. Also, men like Steve Viars (Faith Church, Lafayette, Indiana) and Deepak Reju (Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington DC) have written numerous articles and chapters in books on the importance of having a counseling ministry within the local church and how to train lay people to assist the elders.   So, what if you are counseling a person from another church?  I would highly recommend that you get in touch with their pastor and have him involved in the counseling process so that he can be an advocate and help in the process. Also, he will become trained in biblical counseling and learn how to help people using the Word of God. My husband and I have found that when we counsel people from other churches, it makes it very difficult to get involved in their lives/accountability for the one hour a week we meet. If they are in our church, it makes soul care much easier.  

2. Since the fall, sin has tainted all of us and we all struggle with the sin of pride. We have found that most of our counselee’s from outside the church come to us because they don’t want anyone from their church knowing they are having problems or do not feel confident that their pastors/counselors can help them. This is not always the case. From time to time, our counseling ministry is contacted because the counselee’s have tried their own church and they cannot seem to get the help they need due to  the church’s lack of training (I talked about this in point #1). The majority of the time, it’s due to their own pride.  Pride is within each and every one of us and we need to help people understand that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Just because someone may need counseling during a hard time in their life should not force them to look for outside sources. God has given the local church as a means of grace in the believer’s life to help us be transformed into the image of Christ. We are all in this battle of sin together, so why not use the resources the Lord has given us? This is why we need to emphasize to our congregations that the best place for you to grow and change in right in your very own church. The hour of counseling that you may receive from another church is fine, but it’s not clearly enough. “Counselees need the help of all church ministries: they need the pulpit ministry to teach and motivate growth, the love of the other members as they assist and encourage them, and the authority of the body for church discipline.”[1]  As Paul Tripp says, “change is a community project.”  The community he is talking about is your church, not the church down the street.

3.  The local church has become “psychologized”  through the culture we live in. They have been taken captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world and not according to Christ (Colossians 2:8). Many Christians feel that they need a “professional” counselor to help them, not a pastor, lay person trained in biblical counseling or another mature church member.   I think most biblical counselors can testify that by the time a counselee comes to us, they have tried secular or integrated Christian counseling first. Integrated (or sometimes called “Christian Counseling”) counseling is when the counselor takes psychology and mixes it with Scripture.    The integrationist would say that there are other means that can help a person outside of God’s Word and that God’s Word is not enough. This is far from the truth because the Bible says  the Scriptures are profitable for teaching, reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that that man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work ( 2 Tim 3:16-17).  My prayer is that Christians will stop being tossed to and fro by every wave of doctrine, and embrace the sufficiency of Scripture when it comes to seeking help. His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness which means the Bible is not just useful to help you be a godly wife or mom, but the Word of God is sufficient to help with the most complex issues you deal with. Both integrated/ Christian counseling and secular psychology result in spiritual nearsightedness and blindness with a return back to slavery with no lasting change.  Counselees that seek out this type of help will be in a worse state than when they started (2 Peter 2:20).

 Therefore, what can we as believers do to make sure that soul care happens in the context of our own local church? Christ helps answer that question when he gave a command in Matthew 28:19 charging every believer to go and make disciples (counsel) of every nation, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded….”  This command is for all of us that are followers of Jesus Christ to be instruments of change in the lives of our congregation. This will look different for each person because of the various gifts each one of us has received from the Holy Spirit; some will be like Barnabas, who was a constant source of encouragement to Paul. Some will be great source of comfort because they themselves were comforted by God in a recent affliction.  Some of us have been called to counsel more formally, meeting with a person each week for accountability and to help with more complex issues. No matter what the situation, we are to be obedient to the Lord and make disciples in a “member to member” context.  How can we do this practically? We are to love on another, confess our sins to one another, pray for one another, encourage one another, teach one another, admonish one another, restore one another , bear one another’s burdens, and so on.  I used to think that I could never counsel others because I did not have a specialized degree, Bible College, or seminary, but if you read what Luke says in Acts 4:13, the apostle Paul and John were uneducated and common men!  I am not saying we shouldn’t seek out training, because we should rightly learn how to handle the Word of Truth, but don’t think that you can’t help another person because you are not trained. If you love the Lord, love His Word and love others, you are a counselor! People will recognize that you have what they need to help their suffering soul and that is Jesus !

[1]  William W. Goode. Page 222 from the book Counseling: How to Counsel Biblically by John MacArthur.