How to Empower Lay Counselors to Reach the Broken

Pastoral counseling
Does your church provide a safe atmosphere for counseling for life's trials and tribulations? (iStock photo)

Some of the spiritually healthiest people I know are in counseling. There seems to be some stigma around it, but getting help with our mental and emotional issues is really a matter of choosing to grow with the help of others. And the New Testament reveals a pretty neat idea in the mind of God ... the church can be a growing body of compassionate counselors. If you're a Christian, you need counseling from other Christians, and you need to offer counseling to others too.

I believe there is a huge need for professional counseling in the culture in which we live, and there are times for all of us when the the healthiest thing we can do is pay to see a clinician trained in the art of coaching us toward healthier thinking and relationships. But there is also a vast army of counselors within the membership of the church.

Paul challenged Christians to "teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives" (Col. 3:16 NLT). He challenged us to admonish and to encourage, to hold others accountable, to help apply biblical truth and to make each other healthier, mutually.

When I was a pastor at Saddleback Church, I was amazed at the number of people who had gone through extensive training under Pastor Bob Baker to become lay counselors. One of those trainees even wound up living in northwest Arkansas and joined my church. Saddleback's website describes the approach this way:

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We produce trained counselors who facilitate a free service for individuals seeking guidance for a variety of issues including marital and family relationships, communication and intimacy, parenting, grief and loss, anger and bitterness, inner personal struggles and spiritual discouragement. Our volunteers receive extensive training, ongoing supervision and continuing education. The ministry helps fulfill Pastor Rick's vision for Saddleback Church: "It is the dream of a place where the hurting, the depressed, the frustrated and the confused can find love, acceptance, help, hope, forgiveness, guidance and encouragement."

It's an incredible approach that meets real needs for thousands. My wife, Angie, leads our church's counseling efforts. She's a trained clinician (LCSW) with a background in offering professional therapy. But she also believes strongly in the power of releasing non-professional lay counselors to walk alongside the broken.

And I would get even more ground level in my assessment of the church's need to counsel and to be counseled. We also need an informal atmosphere where people connect with others in small groups, and in one-on-one or two-or-three-sized groups to talk about life, to heal from brokenness and to deepen one another's walk.

God has certainly equipped us for this.

  • He's given us His Word, the Bible, which is His verbally inspired truth for life, infallible and unable to fail as it works its way through our lives.
  • He's given us His Spirit, to lead us in the moment, to feed us life-giving words to share with others, on the spot.
  • He's allowed us to walk our own broken roads while learning to draw closer to Him so that we can speak out of our own pain into the lives of others.

So, you need counseling. Professionally? During certain seasons of life, yes! But even more, you need friends. You need a church body, a small group of fellow believers, who can link arms with you to help you heal.

And you need to be counseling others. This doesn't mean offering unsolicited criticism in the name of prophetic insight. It means that regardless of your level of training, if you know Jesus and you read His Word regularly, you are equipped to encourage, to exhort and even to correct in gentle ways those who are hurting around you.

Church leaders, if you don't already, it's time now to encourage people to counsel and to seek counseling. Yes, preaching is primary to your responsibility to shepherd the flock, but a half hour on Sunday of speaking as one to the masses will never afford you enough opportunity to dive into the specific issues and problems that individuals face on a daily basis. You need to empower and release people to go be the church for one another.

Brandon Cox is lead pastor of Grace Hills Church, a new church plant in northwest Arkansas. He also serves as Editor and Community Facilitator for pastors.com and Rick Warren's Pastor's Toolbox and was formerly a pastor at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California.

For the original article, visit churchleaders.com.

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