As many churches wrestle with the post-pandemic restart of their church, many look forward with anticipation of the ministry opportunities ahead. We have experienced a resurgence of churches interested in pivoting from an emphasis on the platform-based ministry to a more balanced approach that preaches the word publicly but shepherds the word personally.
Someone asked me the other day if the past year created more problems or changed the types of problems we are seeing in counseling. While the divisive and anxious environment of the past year had its challenges, the types of problems we are seeing aren’t really new.
However, the trials of this past year did seem to grow the intensity of these common problems, and the isolation many felt didn’t help them find hope or help in a timely manner. Perhaps more than any other time in your church’s history, your people are convinced that personal care and discipleship are necessary for a healthy church culture.
What a difference it makes when people know they can find help when they need it. Your church can be that kind of church! We work with churches all over the world, helping them improve their ability to shepherd and care for their people through biblical counseling and personal discipleship.
There are five main benefits that come when you develop an intentional strategy to equip your existing leaders and develop new leaders to provide greater care.
Benefit #1: It improves the preaching in the church
One of the things we hear over and over from the pastors we work with is that learning how to counsel personally and training their people to counsel greatly improved their preaching.
In many churches, preaching is a spectator sport with passive fans who approve or dislike the delivery and content. Counseling helps you better understand what your people heard, how they applied it, and what future content might better answer the pressing questions that keep your people up at night.
It takes the theory of seminary and views the Bible as a practical guide that helps our people trust God and His word. If your people are involved in personal discipleship, they also listen to your sermon through a new lens, seeking to help others and looking for practical ways to teach and apply these truths to others.
When your congregation is more actively involved in the preaching process, it helps the preacher, church leaders, and the church congregation all grow more fully from the sermon. Ed Welch says it this way: “If you close your office door to people and define yourself only as a preacher/teacher, your church will follow your lead by dispensing only truth. But if you talk with individual people who are wrestling with the many troubles of life, walk with others who are taking two steps forward and one step back, your preaching will become warm, personal, and increasingly persuasive. Your church, too, will bear each other’s burdens in new ways.”
Benefit #2: It improves the quality of your shepherding
Most churches don’t have an effective plan to care for the hurting, and most have few if any leaders equipped to provide care. Smaller churches had an advantage during the pandemic because they were simple models, where people knew where to turn to for answers. Many larger churches that had shepherds in their ministry structures were well prepared for what we faced recently as well.
The churches that struggled were the ones who relied only on scheduled programs that could no longer gather to dispense care. The story of the Good Samaritan doesn’t describe providing care as a program or ministry structure, but rather the story details how Christ calls us to care for the needs wherever we are.
While training leaders on how to conduct Sunday School, Small Groups, or lead VBS programs is a good first step, these same leaders can be challenged to provide more personal care. Some leaders can be equipped to provide intensive care.
We’ve seen and helped many churches improve the quality of their shepherding from top to bottom. In times of crisis, the more shepherds that are ready and able to provide help and hope, the more cared for your church and community will feel.
Benefit #3: It improves your ministry training of your women
In many church traditions, leaders are wrestling with how to use the gifts of their women in the best way. Even in churches whose convictions don’t allow women to pursue the pastorate, women are eager to be equipped to make an impact and better fulfill the Great Commission, which was given to everyone in your church.
Sadly, much church training in the past was geared towards equipping men to lead but failed to equip women for the ministry roles they were called to as well. It’s no wonder that many women have expressed frustration and disappointment in feeling ill-prepared to live out ministry passions.
Well over half of our students training with us are women. We love this! In fact, last year our staff wrote a whole series geared towards encouraging women to pursue counseling training.
In training your women, you not only start to care for women better in your church body, but you also develop their leadership gifts and spiritual gifts.
- Some women will serve other women or meet with struggling children
- Some will serve alongside their husband’s counseling as a team which has proven to be a very effective model
- Some ministries will pair them with another pastor or lay counselor who works together to provide greater support than one person alone could give
- Some churches equip women’s ministry leaders to move beyond the curriculum into providing front-line counsel when needs arise
There are many ways that women are used by God to strengthen their church, family, and community. Embracing a lay ministry model encourages women to model the courageous leadership of so many women in the Bible who served God faithfully wherever God led them to be.
Our churches, communities and families need more courageous leadership and will be blessed by it.
Benefit #4: It improves the outreach of your church
As a young pastor, I remember hearing my pastor ask, “If our church closed down tomorrow, would anyone in our town really care?” Sure, some families would have to find new churches to go to, but what about the people who drive by and know nothing more of most churches than what they look like from the outside?
One of the main advantages that we have seen from churches that begin to seriously equip their leaders in biblical counseling is how they apply what we call the “Good Samaritan” principle. Rather than waiting for the hurting to come to church to help them, they began looking for opportunities in the communities where they live and participate in church life.
Lay Counselors learn to be listeners who are willing to share hope with those who are struggling. Our students have found themselves serving effectively in a variety of roles:
- Offer free counseling
- Serve as chaplains to Senior Homes
- Serve in Crisis Pregnancy Centers
- Volunteer as sponsors in AA
- Assist Law Enforcement in emergencies
- Mentor with Para-Church Youth Outreach
Benefit #5: It improves your options for care
When I was growing up, if you weren’t feeling well, you had either the doctor’s office or the emergency room. If it was serious, you went to the ER; if it could wait longer, then the doctor’s office was preferred. Now, you have pharmacy clinics, immediate care, urgent care, and many other options besides the expense and wait times of the ER.
Over the past year, I have talked with countless people who have had a frustrating time just getting onto a counselor’s schedule. Sadly, most never sought care from their church and many churches offered no help. I don’t think churches can’t help, but I think many churches don’t know how to help. It seems easier just to refer people to professionals and pray it goes well.
It is time to change that! Churches need to learn to walk with those in hurting marriages, struggling with depression, or destructive choices – 90% of your counseling will be the same top six issues. You can have a better strategy to engage with the most common problems, and trained lay counselors give you a team that can improve your options for care for your whole church.
While some may find a good Christian counselor who can help them affordably, sadly too many will flounder because they don’t seem to ever find the right kind of help offered in a means they can afford.
Lay Counseling may not be the best option for every case, but it is a great option for many cases since it is flexible, sustainable, affordable, and compassionate. Proverbs 27:10b reminds us of the importance of local help: “Better is a neighbor who is near than a brother who is far away.”
Your church can be that good neighbor if you are willing.
Every healthy church should wrestle with how to best meet the needs of and care for one another. Increasingly, churches are finding that the whole church benefits from an effort to equip individuals to care. Our Launch process can help your church make a plan to train, resource, and oversee your lay leaders. We would love to help.