In a World of Pain and Suffering, Our Churches Must Be Counseling Churches

All ministry is counseling ministry.

In a recent, informal poll that I conducted all by myself, 2 out of three pastors that I spoke with disagreed with the preceding statement. I offered no explanation as to what the statement meant, nor did I receive feedback as to why the pastors disagreed with me. All I know is that they apparently saw some percentage of Christian ministry as not related to counseling.

Respectfully, I disagree with their assessment, and I want to persuade them, and all believers, pastors and non-pastors alike, that all of Christian ministry is in fact some form of counsel, and that all of our churches, particularly here in America, must become congregations that counsel.

To be a church that has a counseling ministry is one thing. To be a church that counsels is something quite different.

The field of mental health is receiving much needed attention in the land of Evangelical Christianity these days, and rightfully so. Although the attention isn't always marked by educated, and informed dialogue, the days of mental and emotional health issues being relegated to quiet meetings in the pastor's office are slowly giving way to openness and transparency.

As I build Baylight Counseling here in the Tampa Bay area, a para-church resource for clinically-informed, biblical counseling, I am slowly piecing together a number of loose observations that speak to a number of issues. Some of my thoughts are critical of what I'm seeing in churches generally, but I'm reminded that we stand at what may be a tipping point in changing a church culture that has been sold variously on two lies: 
  1. There are no organic diseases of the brain that affect cognition and behavior, therefore good Christians do not take medication, but read their Bibles and pray, or
  2. The Bible has little to say about obvious mental health issues, therefore only secular trained "experts" can help those in need.
I wrote about these two issues in my last post, which you can access HERE.

These two chronically advanced, malignant thoughts are kept alive through misinformation, false assumptions, and a general lack of education. These conditions permeate the church at large. But, it's OK. We don't need to rage against the machine, as much as we need to begin the process of reclaiming this most important piece of disciple-making that in truth, has always belonged to and in the church: counseling.

Long ago, at least by the early 20th century, as liberal theology and modern science gained an ear in the culture, the church was bullied (and it acquiesced) into believing that human thought processes and behavior were biologically rooted. The Bible, which was said to be a mere collection of man-made stories that weren't meant to be taken "literally," was therefore a poor source of information for providing counseling and therapy to those plagued by problematic behavior and emotions.

Slowly, but surely, the church cow-toed to these allegations, hung her head in shame, and bowed out of one of the most important pieces of work she was originally called to perform: to dispense the full counsel of God to a world of pain and suffering.

The tragedy in this fact is that suffering is a universal, human language. All humans suffer in a myriad of ways. We suffer from our own sin, and we suffer from bodies that break down and die. Furthermore, we all suffer to varying degrees from the effects of sin committed by the people around us. Sometimes we're the intended victim, and other times we're just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

No matter what truths the details bear witness to, suffering is a universal human language on this side of glory. 

If this is true, and I believe it is, then what are the implications for our churches? What are the opportunities given to the church by God in the midst of suffering that provide incredible opportunities to introduce (or reintroduce) people to their Creator, who alone holds the keys to a transformed life?

This discussion is much bigger than any one blog post can bear, but I do want to submit one idea that I'm certain must be of interest to pastors and believers who desire to see the lost come to know Christ, and that's this: In our post-Christian culture, learning how to listen to, understand, and subsequently minister to the emotional, mental, and spiritual suffering of the people around us, regardless of the cause, is vital, if we're going to fulfill the Great Commission.

Rob Green and Steve Viars, in their chapter from the newly released book, Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling, wrote the following:

Churches may talk about evangelism, but counseling offers a tremendous opportunity for folks to do evangelism rather than talk about doing evangelism. When an unbeliever seeks biblical counseling, it's an opportunity to present Christ as the answer to their needs. Instead of us going to them and giving them a message they don't want, our non-Christian counselees come wanting an explanation for the challenges they are facing in their lives. They are coming on our turf and wanting our answers because no one else has been able to provide satisfactory answers to their deepest questions. (p.231)

As social justice issues have gained traction in recent years, even or especially within the Evangelical church, I'm proposing that the work of building credible, trust-worhty, clinically-informed, biblical counseling ministries into the fabric of our churches become a front-burner topic.

According to the US Government, the field of counseling is expected to grow by a whopping 20-30% over the next decade, and with millions upon millions of Americans now taking psychotropic medications for a host of issues, why would the church not seize this God-given opportunity to minister to the hurting and broken people among us?

If I were pastoring a church today, I wouldn't wait one more second to begin a dialogue about this issue with my leadership team. The need within the culture is glaring, and its presence and effect within our churches is undeniable. To our glorious benefit, we live in a time when, by God's grace, the resources to efficiently and effectively train teams of lay counselors is in place.

The only questions that remain to be answered are whether or not we'll continue to be satisfied by the status quo, exchanging potentially nuclear-powered disciple-making resources for more concerts and short-term, feel-good programming, or will the church get serious about infiltrating the culture with the hope of Jesus Christ, at the point of the culture's pain?

If we don't actually believe that the Bible is sufficient for all of life, which by the way is not to deny the proper place of good medical science, then we'll do nothing. We'll keep sending Christ's sheep to the disciples of Freud and Darwin, who are perfectly willing to shield their eyes from a view of the cross, while we do whatever it is we've been doing.

Counseling is the business of the church, and in a world of mental and emotional pain and suffering, our churches must become places of refuge and hope for the hurting.

Note: If you or your church would like to investigate this opportunity further, please contact me at Baylight Counseling for an appointment (727-433-0682). It would be my pleasure to serve you, and to help craft a way forward for you or your church to build its own counseling ministry, and in so doing, make disciples of Christ by fulfilling the Great Commission.