The need for professional pastoral counseling through the local church is greater today than ever before. Christians struggle through very real spiritual and emotional struggles that interfere with living the life that God has designed for them - the abundant life promised by Jesus (Jn. 10:10). Research in the field of Christian counseling has consistently shown over the years that individuals who hold to a conservative, Christian worldview seek out counselors who will either support or share in their worldview; and who will incorporate Christian constructs, such as prayer, bible readings, and meditation into the counseling sessions. It would make sense then that the local church would be positioned best to meet the desires of its congregants who find themselves in need of more than pastoral care or discipleship based counseling from their pastor. This however raises the prospect of the challenges faced by the local church in establishing a counseling ministry. These challenges need answers so the local church can be a spiritual and emotional place of healing through the transformative power of the Holy Spirit.
4 Challenges to the Church’s Provision of Biblical Worldview Counseling
#1. The challenge of training received by a pastoral staff in counseling skills
Many pastors report being ill equipped to provide deeper levels of counseling to individuals who come to them for issues of anxiety, depression, anger, addictions and more. Seminaries today provide incredible educational curriculum for preparing pastors for the preaching, pastoral care, and administrative ministries of the church. However counseling skills are not taught comparative to the preaching ministry. Therefore, many pastors limit their counseling to set curriculum used in pre-marital and or discipleship counseling, but feel inadequate to go beyond these topics.
#2. The challenge of time constraints on the pastor’s schedule to provide ongoing counseling
The pastor is asked to do many tasks as part of their responsibilities. Pastors have limited time and energy to give attention to their ministry responsibilities. Counseling individuals over an extended time period is not realistic for pastors. Pastor Bill Blackburn, writing an article for InterVarsity Press, acknowledges this reality, writing, “I do not believe that a pastor can do more than three to four hours a week of counseling and get the rest of his job done.” But how does a pastor deal with counseling needs in his church and have a confidence the counselor will provide congregants and community clients with bible centered and professionally trained competence.
#3. The challenge of overcoming the liability fears of having a counseling ministry
One great fear expressed is with regard to liability issues. Churches have questions such as: 1. Does the staff have a clear understanding of the liability laws; 2. Does the church have a clear understanding of the mandated code of ethics governing counseling in their state; 3. What are the laws governing confidentiality, reporting, and protections for clergy and professionals; 4. How will emergencies be handled when disclosed during a counseling setting; 5. What are the requirements for reporting disclosed knowledge or commission of sexual, emotional, or physical abuses?
#4. The challenge of handling financial concerns including employment status, fees paid, and no cost counseling sessions
Costs to the church need to be considered and questions answered when considering how the work status of the counselor will be viewed and finances processed so as to be in keeping with state and federal laws regarding non-profit status. While the need for counseling is present, it is equally important to ensure that the church is wise in how they establish the ministry. It is important to have a plan to equal the vision of counseling as a ministry to the church and the community.
4 Answers to the 4 Challenges of the Church’s Provision of Biblical Worldview Counseling
Challenges to bringing emotional healing through biblical worldview counseling, in the local church, must have answers in order to take the vision of counseling and make it a reality. Knowledge is necessary for understanding; and understanding is necessary for insight; and insight, with the presence of the Holy Spirit, provides wisdom. It is this wisdom that is the foundation of addressing each of the challenges to church based, professionally trained counseling.
#1 The pastoral staff of any church need to have professionals trained in the ministry and work of counseling
Each pastoral calling is unique. Churches seek to add to their staff as they grow by hiring senior pastors, music pastors, youth pastors, education pastors, executive pastors, children’s pastors, and administrative pastors in part because these ministry positions are filled by specifically trained individuals. Each person brings a level of education, training, experience to help share their calling to bring to the church a ministry designed to help grow the congregation spiritually and numerically. Counseling, as a ministry position, helps to accomplish the same goal as hiring a specifically trained individual minister in another domain. Just as a church has trust in a pastor or pastoral staff to fulfill the duties of their calling, in part because of their training, trust is conveyed when a professionally trained counselor is brought into the local church to fulfill their calling. It allows each pastor to have less of a burden for counseling while not entirely eliminating this ministry from their responsibilities. While there should be a sharing of ministries among the pastoral staff, it is a blessing to any staff to have a professionally trained, biblical worldview counselor providing pastoral counseling to members and community.
#2 Time management of a pastor is important enough to consider the benefits of a counseling professional serving in the local church
A pastor’s time is valuable and often the requirements of counseling with congregants and community can infringe on his other responsibilities. Senior and staff pastors need to take great care in being able to prepare sermons; make hospital visits and visit the homebound; administrate their ministry staff; meet with guests and prospects to the church; evangelize; and provide vision casting. Counseling can be one aspect that a pastor may elect to engage in, in part because church members want to have access to their pastor, his wisdom, and his biblical insights into the struggles they are enduring. However when it becomes evident and necessary counseling requires extended sessions it is important for the pastor to have a confidence in making the necessary referral to a professionally trained, biblical worldview counselor. Having a professionally trained counselor available in their church can bring confidence to the pastor that the individual seeking help will receive Christ-centered help.
#3 Gaining understanding through a thorough consideration of the laws and literature related to counseling helps alleviate fears of liability in establishing a counseling ministry
In my book, Creating a Church Counseling Ministry, I address questions pertaining to liability concerns churches need to address in order to have confidence in establishing a counseling ministry. Reading literature that is available can also provide knowledge to address fears of liability. For example an excellent article in the Akron Law Review by Frisby Fain, “Minimizing Liability for Church-Related Counseling Services: Clergy Malpractice and First Amendment Religion Clauses,” provides several items every church should consider in order to minimize liability and exposure. Fear should be addressed by gaining knowledge through a thorough understanding of state and federal laws and by having a plan to adhere to those laws. Knowledge leads to understanding and understanding can lead to wisdom, and it is wisdom that guides the decisions used to establish confidence in a counseling ministry.
#4 Implementing the model of the Association of Christian Counselor Plants the local church will realize the affordability of creating a counseling ministry
A counseling ministry, staffed by trained professionals, providing biblical worldview counseling, through work by contracted or part time staff will deliver the hope and healing of Jesus Christ to those dealing with emotional and relational struggles. Affordability is a key to people receiving help. The local church is positioned to provide low cost and no cost counseling by having licensed, licensed eligible, and student interns from Christian universities and seminaries serve in the church to contain the costs while realizing minimal expenditures to the church’s budget. The infrastructure costs can be discussed on a church by church basis, but adding a counseling ministry within the existing financial structure of the church has been shown to be minimal with regard to costs.
An important point needs to be highlighted here. Each church needs to understand the laws regarding financial reporting of those working for and in the church so as to not endanger non-profit status. For example the IRS has ruled that any for profit organization operating within a non-profit organization is deemed to have an unfair advantage to the for profit organization and endangers the 501(c)(3) status. (see https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p1828.pdf and read Private Benefit under the heading Jeopardizing Tax-Exempt Status: Inurement and Private Benefit ). When established correctly, the church avoids this liability with the IRS.
Conclusion: A Church Counseling Ministry can be an Impactful Service to Church and Community
The need for quality, biblically sound counseling is as great today as ever before. Provided by trained professionals and student interns, through the ministry of the local church, creates a partnership between the Church, licensed and license eligible Christian counselors, and colleges, universities and seminaries. This partnership helps to provide low cost and no cost counseling to individuals, couples, and families who are seeking help, but prohibited because of legitimate cost factors. While private practices are necessary and can provide counseling to those who have the ability to pay, all people need to have access to Christian counseling services. Such services help the church be relevant to the emotional needs of their congregation and community.
Further, a counseling ministry benefits a church’s pastoral staff by freeing them to give more attention to their ministry areas. It creates a trust relationship between the pastoral staff and the counselor. The local church has an opportunity to share the healing power of Christ to those who are in great need. Answering the challenges to establishing a counseling ministry will aid in seeing more professionally trained counselors serving within the local church, benefiting both pastoral staff, church members, and community.
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