It concerns me when I see the draw of celebrity pastors/worship leaders and the professionalization of the church. While the preaching/teaching, music, production, and facilities are polished and great, I often feel my soul grow cold in these settings. In contrast, my heart is warmed when I hear people share testimonies of how they experience God’s grace and salvation in Christ through the love of the church.
Here are characteristics of a church that counsels one another well, and a list of obstacles churches face when they try to counsel one another.
When people are in trouble, they are looking for someone that they can meet with to help them. Churches that counsel well provide a specific person at a specific place at a specific time to meet with you.
Next step: Set office hours. Offer Coffee dates. Schedule prayer partners. Make house visits. Provide contact information.
As much as people need guidance, direction, instruction, correction, challenging and advice, churches that counsel well, listen well first. Being listened to well opens up the opportunity for words of wisdom to be more effective at a deeper heart level. A church that counsel well, lets people talk and listens to them, validates people, understands people, and affirms people for who they are and what they are going through.
Next step: Ask questions. Don’t give answers right away. Reflective listening. Mirror the speaker.
3. Provides hope.
One of the most effective keys to positive change is hope: the belief that things will get better. Churches that counsel well provide hope for healing, reconciliation, second chances, salvation, and redemption. Develop a thicker skin. We can get through the tough times because we have hope in Christ.
Next step: Don’t get caught up in the story. In the midst of pain and confusion, be a sign post that points to the love demonstrated in the cross. We can always hope because of the depth of God’s love for you. Point to the resurrection and the promise of eternal life with God.
Some say that “all truth is God’s truth”, which may be true for general revelation and common grace. But the particular grace and special revelation we have in Scripture, in Christ, and through the Holy Spirit, provide us Gospel truth. Churches that counsel well are able to share biblical wisdom as it applies to life. Biblical teaching and a redemptive worldview is a powerful framework to navigate life.
Next step: Read and study the bible. Obey and live according to the bible. Teach the bible to one another. Learn and teach biblical and systematic theology and continue to grow your Christian worldview.
In a culture that is hyper-stimulated, the church is able to provide much needed depth that our souls are craving. A focus on the heart, on what/who we love, and what we are living for is more helpful in the long run than trying to simply change external behaviors (or worse, manage sin). This is not to say, we do not give practical advice as well, but we don’t stop there, we keep going to heal a broken soul.
Next step: Silence. Simply sit together, not having to fill the time with talking. Don’t be reactive simply because its uncomfortable. Strive to be a non-anxious presence so we can go deeper which is possible in Christ.
Delayed gratification is a lost and rare virtue in our instant gratification society. Churches that counsel well, value kingdom investments. They understand that God is sovereign and eternal and that just because what we want isn’t happening now, God is still good.
Next step: Go slow. Go even slower when there is hurt, pain, anger. “Let’s stay here for a little longer.”
Turn the other cheek. Go the extra mile. Give them your jacket too. Love your enemies. “…that he gave his one and only Son…”. The core tenets of Christianity is its most powerful asset in counseling. Churches that counsel well, are beloved by God and are committed to loving people.
Next step: Allocate your time, money, physical space, and resources to counsel people. One tangible way to practice love is do life with those who are different from you. We naturally self-select with those who are like us. But a church that counsels well, intentionally cross-pollinates across social-economic, generational, race/ethnic, and life stage differences to grow in love for another.
Obstacles people face when they receive counseling from the church.
“I’m going to share this with my pastor (small group, spouse, friend), so we can pray for you.” is one of the most abused lines that enables gossip in the church. When someone confides vulnerably with you, it should be considered a sacred trust. Keep it between the two of you. If you want others to know about what is going on, empower the person to take that initiative to share with others. When gossip is active in a community, it creates a toxic environment that inhibits the effective counseling of one another. We need to establish trust, and build trust by keeping confidence.
Everyone is different. Different personalities, different life experiences, different preferences, thoughts, perspectives, opinions, attitudes, ways of doing things and living. Selfishness prevents the church from changing because they are unable to see beyond their own interests. “We have to do it this way.” It comes off as inconsiderate, rude, and off putting. At the very least, we need to practice looking to the interests of others, consider what the person is going through and how it is different from you. Practice self-control, self-denial, filter your thoughts and words, bite your tongue, sacrifice, and offer compassion in a way that is helpful to those in need.
When pragmatism and efficiency are the highest values, you cultivate a “fix it”, “put out the fire”, “let’s sweep it under the rug so we can move on” mentality. But people and life are complicated. In fact, there is a lot of repetition in counseling. So settle in, “I’m in this with you for the long haul.”
Although the church has good intentions, as they do not mean to hurt those seeking counsel, but their lack of (awareness, insight, understanding, learning, knowledge, training), can often do more harm than good. You don't know what you don't know. It would be helpful for churches to research and dialogue about mental health and counseling resources.
“Just pray about it.” “You need to trust God more”. “This is happening for a reason.” Over-spiritualizing used to be the main obstacle pre-2000s, but the church is improving on this. It is helpful to acknowledge that situations are multi-faceted and have relational, physical/medical, emotional, psychological, social/systemic dimensions. We can prioritize the spiritual solutions, but let’s not invalidate the others.
We need to address our “us vs them” mentality. Denominationalism and race have been obvious tribes historically, but it’s as if we’re inventing ways to divide ourselves at this point. Keep the main thing the main thing. Get back to the basics: God loves you, people need God’s love, and God wants to use you to love people.
Arrogance and power are destructive. There is now the category of “Spiritual Abuse” to help those who have been hurt by the church. The ground is level at the foot of the cross. We need to repent of our pride, not belittle people, not look down, not judge one another, as we seek to counsel God’s people.