Counseling and Discipleship Training

God’s Model for Change and Growth

By Pastor Mark W. Mann

The local church ought to be the healing community for all hurting people whether they are unsaved people in the community or saints within the church. Since the local church is the “house of God…the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Tm. 3:15), counseling using the Word of God in the context of the local church accommodates this objective. In fact, the Scriptures are the only means effective enough to achieve this goal in a way that is God honoring, meaningful and long lasting (Ps. 19:7-11; Heb. 4:12). So the local church must give biblical counseling prayerful, thoughtful and careful consideration.

Where does counseling fit into the picture of your church? This question needs to be thought through theologically, methodologically, and philosophically. Are we an activity-oriented church or a mission-driven church? As someone has said, ‘Its easy to be busy; its hard to be effective.’

The primary question before us when considering our approach to counseling needs in the local church is this: Should the local church HAVE a counseling center or should the local church BE the center for counseling? The distinction between the two is worthy of our careful consideration. The difference is whether the church HAS a counseling ministry or whether the church IS a counseling ministry.

In other words, addressing the place of counseling in the church should come from more of a top down approach. That is, counseling should be naturally occurring or at least desired in the church as it flows out of the Word of God and the hearts of the pastoral staff and leadership and into the congregation. It is the wrong approach for the church to simply decide one day to tack on counseling as just another department led by “professionals.” Doing so makes counseling a foreign appendage brought in through the side door of the church.

As pastors and church members, we ought to be passionate about counseling because counseling provides the means for fulfilling our mission as a church. Upon His departure, Jesus said to the church, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore and make disciples….teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you…” (Mt. 28:18-20). This can only be accomplished through a full-orbed ministry of the Word featuring both corporate preaching and private ministry within the local church (Acts 5:42; 20:20).

This is a return to the early church model for addressing people’s problems–before the age of referring hurting people to “professionals” outside the church. The pastoral staff and community of believers within the local church offers the most effective, biblically appropriate environment for addressing problems in hurting people and helping them to change.

Some of the advantages to the local church being the center for counseling

    1. The pastoral staff already has a relationship with the people in the church and with the people in the community.
    2. Pastors are responsible for the spiritual condition of their flocks (Heb. 13:17; Acts 20:28; 1 Pe. 5:1-4). Counseling within the context of community life in the church and dependent upon pastoral oversight and involvement fulfills that mandate.
    3. The interaction within the collective church body under girds the counseling ministry through prayer, support, accountability, mutual admonition and encouragement and the exercise of individual gifts helping one another and relating with each other as family members within a single local assembly (1 Cor. 12).
    4. Counseling in the local church is a most effective means of evangelization; not only of unbelievers in the community, but those who attend the church and are not saved (Mt. 7:21-27; 2 Cor. 13:5).
    5. Counseling in the local church provides the most effective means for correcting aberrant theology with individual members (Jn. 17:17). Preaching may provide the most efficient means for correcting people because the preacher speaks to many at once. But counseling provides the most effective means for correction since it addresses individuals one-on-one in private with specificity. Even the most effective preacher cannot hope to correct the broad range of problems that exist within the hearts of each individual member simply through a weekly corporate address.
    6. Counseling in the local church is an effective means of fulfilling the progressive sanctification mandates set forth in Scripture: Mt. 18:15-17; Ro. 15:14; Gal. 6:1-2; 1 Thes. 5:14; Col. 1:28; Eph. 4:11-16. Every human problem is a theological problem.
    7. Counseling within the local church builds confidence among it’s members that the Bible is sufficient to meet all the counseling needs that arise within people (2 Pe. 1:3-5); and is useful or profitable for growth in the body of Christ (2 Tm. 3:16-17).

    Two areas of importance that should be given prominence in our local church mission statement:

    1. The Sufficiency of Scripture
    2. Biblical Progressive Sanctification

    Christian growth among members is not optional. While individual growth rates do vary, it is reasonable that church leaders should expect to see some appreciable spiritual growth within its membership. There should be a synergy—a working relationship—between the preventative ministries of the Word (growth: ‘putting up guardrails’) and the damage assessment ministries of the Word (crisis: sending the ambulance to the wreck at the bottom of the ravine to survey the damage).

    People grow rapidly when counseling occurs within the local church. Because people who seek help are exposed to far more ministry than just “the magic hour” once a week in counseling. All exposure to the Word works together to develop the overall spiritual well-being of the whole person making him or her more like Christ (Ro. 8:28-30).

    Finally, we don’t live just to counsel. Counseling is just one part of our overall ministry with people to the glory of God. Counseling is intensive discipleship focused on particular issues in an overarching ecclesiastical effort to produce mature Christians (Eph. 4:11-16).