In my seminary’s counseling class, professors challenged the pastoral training class to find a good counselor or psychologist and outsource the vast majority of their counseling once they became pastors. The professors explained that the risks, frustrations, and relational pitfalls of counseling people would far outweigh the benefits that a pastor devoted to counseling might see. For many in the class, this confirmed the fear they already had about counseling as part of their pastoral calling.
However, many of my classmates quickly grew quite concerned that this advice actually hindered their pastoral ministry. Many colleagues quickly learned that while pastoral counseling has some risk, the benefits actually outweigh the risk, and not all risk is bad. There are many disadvantages to outsourcing all of your counseling as a pastor and church. This article highlights four.
1. Outsourcing Counseling leads to a disconnect between religious struggles and “real world” struggles.
Is depression a spiritual struggle or a health concern? Once you have walked with enough Christians struggling with depression, you realize that this answer is complicated, clearly not the same for every person, and that the answer is both in the vast majority of cases. Churches should embrace a balanced plan that cares for the physical effects of depression, challenges the spiritual growth that leads to endurance and hope, and patiently agrees to walk alongside for as long as it takes.
What happens when a person sees no spiritual connection in the midst of their depression? They will typically ignore the resources that would be available within their faith to help with encouragement, hope, doubts and anxieties. They will typically seek symptom relief rather than dealing with issues like anger, anxiety, guilt, stress, and broken relationships that so often multiply feelings of depression.
When churches outsource counseling they unfortunately imply that marriage struggles, depression, anxiety, addictions, and other common struggles have better answers in the world than in the Word. We ought not be ashamed of the answers that the Word of God gives us.
2. Outsourcing Counseling often means that many opportunities to care for the hurting will be lost.
Where do your people turn when it feels like their world is falling apart? One of the most frustrating things for church leaders is when we find out that our people feel like they have to suffer alone. If you haven’t created an approachable culture, many people who are hurting will turn to sources of help outside the church. Rather than building a loyalty to Christ’s church, they build a loyalty to an organization, counselor, or philosophy that was there for them in their time of need.
Rather than using their story of victory or lessons from disappointment to be a tool that God uses to grow his church, the church doesn’t benefit from the experience that was learned as people go through trials. 2 Corinthians 1 reminds us that we go through trials so that we bring comfort to others who may experience that same trial in the time to come. When the only comfort and care to be found, is outside the church, it leads individuals away from the church body over and over. They may find some help, but this is not God’s plan. Our churches can and should do more.
3. Outsourcing Counseling overlooks a tremendous opportunity to serve and to be served.
The metaphor of the body reminds us that we all play a part in the growth of the whole into maturity. When a church body can care for its own, the whole body grows. During seasons of instability, the immature need the loving guidance of those whose compassion and wisdom would help them have the greatest change of success. If the struggling soul will connect with those with wisdom and compassion, they will often find rest for their weary souls from experienced saints who have a story of redemption and faithful lives that mark all those whom they touch.
4. Outsourcing Counseling often leads to conflict and disagreements over your churches position.
After doing ministry in the same community for nearly 20 years, it has been sad to observe the shift in churches and counseling centers to reflect more of the thinking of the world. Issues related to divorce, addictions, sexuality and pop-psychology theories too often reflect the trends of the world rather than being anchored in the unchanging word. If your church holds to clear convictions on significant issues, do those who counsel your people hold to the same positions?
In a recent training, we were talking with students about why they desire to get involved in biblical counseling training. Over and over, the students spoke of Christian counselors that gave them advice that didn’t match with biblical teaching. It was confusing and ultimately disheartening. It’s time that Christian counseling be more committed to helping people pursue faithfulness to Christ as a primary agenda, because this choice helps re-arrange so many other choices that they need to make. It makes the priorities more clear.
It may seem odd that a counselor who accepts referrals from churches might push back against more referrals, but I am convinced that a better balance is needed than I encounter in many churches. Rather than standing with their people in the greatest times of need, they disconnect from the process through outsourcing counseling. There is at times some middle ground with professional counselors who will engage with pastors and churches, but I have found this all too rare. Providing trained lay people to counsel those who are struggling may seem like an overwhelming task, but it has proven to be surprisingly effective. Download the resource below to learn more!