Integrating counseling and discipleship in the local church
If crisis does not lead to greater investment in community it will simply lead to deeper crisis. Often our inclination is to let crisis drive us towards isolation, but it is only within community that we can find real hope and help. So, crisis can become the entry point for many people into discipleship. Pastors,…
If crisis does not lead to greater investment in community it will simply lead to deeper crisis. Often our inclination is to let crisis drive us towards isolation, but it is only within community that we can find real hope and help.
So, crisis can become the entry point for many people into discipleship. Pastors, then, need to do more to integrate the counseling and discipleship ministries of their church.
One another ministry
Discipleship and counseling run along a continuum. We tend to draw a hard line between the two, but in reality counseling is just an intensive form of discipleship. The various “one another” commands of Scripture direct us to see the relationship between counseling and discipleship.
We are to love one another (1 John 3:11), bear one another’s burdens (Gal 6:2), teach and admonish one another (Col 3:16), encourage and build one another up (1 Thess 5:11), and confess our sins to one another (Jas 5:16). Such responsibilities fit in both a general discipling relationship and a focused counseling one. There is benefit then in seeing counseling under the larger umbrella of discipleship in the church.
Three benefits of wedding the two
Three specific benefits can help motivate this integration.
1. It helps to spread out the responsibility of soul care in the congregation.
The temptation in many churches is to equate all soul care and counseling with the pastoral staff. They are, after all, the “paid professionals.”
Congregations never learn how to fulfill the one another commands because they have surrendered this work to the paid staff, and far too many pastors have let them. Ephesians 4, however, tells us that God has given the church teachers in order to equip the saints for the work of ministry (Eph 4:12-16). It is not the pastor’s job to do the work of the ministry, it is the responsibility of the whole church.
A sure temptation to burn out pastors and exhaust staff is to make all ministry their responsibility. I recall my own experience as a young pastor seeking to serve all the needs of our struggling congregation. I worked long days, often into the night, was frustrated, tired, and discouraged. There weren’t enough hours in the day to meet all the demands. One researcher found that “Broadly speaking. . . over 70% of pastors were stressed out and burned out enough to leave the ministry, and 35% to 40% left after only 5 years.” These are startling statistics and ought to unsettle those of us in ministry. We need help.
Furthermore, failing to equip the congregation for soul care also cultivates immaturity in a congregation. Paul explains in Ephesians 4 that the need to equip the saints for the work of ministry is “so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (v. 14). Teach your congregation to do the work of the ministry and you will help them to grow spiritually. Equipping others for soul care is not just about how they can serve the church, it’s also how they can “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (v. 15b).
2. Integrating discipleship and counseling can help to mitigate some of the stigma associated with counseling.
People are often reluctant to go for counseling because they assume such help is reserved for the really “messy” situations. Most of us believe that we can handle our own problems on our own, we don’t need counseling. We might appreciate the input of friends, the prayer support of our small group, the guidance of a mentor, but we don’t need “counseling.”
Formal counseling comes with a layer of cultural baggage that many are ashamed of or reluctant to apply to themselves. Therefore, integrating counseling into our normative discipleship affords us more opportunities to help one another and can prevent many situations from becoming full-blown crises that require more formal help.
3. Integration helps to broaden the level of support.
Counseling is difficult and no one person can bear the full weight of even one case. We use support groups and team approaches to counseling at our church. It has meant, for us, that there were more hands involved in a single case and that a counselee had more resources at their disposal.
Bill, for example, began to attend our support group for substance abuse. He found there, not only a group of people who could relate to his problem, but several stable leaders who could help care for him. Over time, his small group was made aware of his problems too, and Bill’s small group leader began to walk alongside him in his recovery as well. At one point there were as many as four different counselors, all saying the same thing and on the same page, involved in helping Bill work to change his life. This kept any one counselor from becoming exhausted, and also helped to broaden Bill’s support network. By blending counseling and discipleship you can give more diversified help to a single struggling individual.
There are lots of ways to do this. At our church we seek to equip as many people in biblical counseling as we can. We do both our own in-house training as well as sending people to Biblical Counseling Training at Faith Church in Lafayette, Indiana. There’s great literature, as well, on how to equip counselors, and integrate counseling and discipleship. The Biblical Counseling Coalition’s fantastic volume Biblical Counseling and the Church is just one example.
In addition, considering equipping your small group leaders in the basics of Biblical counseling. Garrett Higbee’s Uncommon Community training curriculum does an excellent job of helping local churches to do this well.
However you choose to do this, I encourage pastors to see the real value in integrating counseling and discipleship in your church. It’s better for you and better for your people.
David Dunham serves as associate pastor of discipleship and counseling at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Roseville, MI. He received a Master of Divinity from SBTS. Dave and his wife, Krista, have two children.