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I’m A Pastor, How Do I Counsel?

Truth in Love 19

Pastors should utilize their position of leadership to impact their flock with God’s Word in a personal way.

Oct 12, 2015

Heath Lambert: This week, we want to talk about how the local church is designed by God to be a counseling center. Our guest this week is Dr. Steve Viars, who is the pastor of Faith Church in Lafayette Indiana, which is a large and growing Church in that community. And Dr. Viars is not only the leader of that congregation who’s preaching and teaching but is also committed to member care and taking care of the individuals in his church, even at the level of counseling.

Dr. Viars, why don’t you tell us some of the things that Faith is doing to minister to the individuals in your church and in the community to meet their counseling needs?

Dr. Steve Viars: Well, over 35 years ago, a medical doctor and our former senior pastor along with a number of other godly men and women just decided that they were going to start a biblical counseling center to serve the needs of people in our church who were struggling and not able to find the answers they needed in soul care, in small groups, or other offerings that were already in place. Along with serving people in our community who might be having challenges and just looking for someone who would love them and sit down and talk with them about those issues from the word of God. So it’s been a marvelous, marvelous blessing. It’s been a great way for us, just to care for souls—for people in our church family. Our former pastor used to say it like this, there’s a difference between counting noses and counting disciples. We want to be sure that every person who’s in our church has access to compassionate care at whatever level they need it. I think biblically, as a pastor, someday I’m going to have to give an account for every member of our church. And sure we’re busy, we’ve got all sorts of things going on, but I want everybody who’s hurting to have a place where they can come and hear truth from someone who genuinely loves them. But they also had a concern for the community. They’ve made those resources available to folks in our town.

The way it works for us mechanically is that we have a community-based counseling center and so now there are 24 of us. Many of our pastoral staff members, several medical doctors, and a number of other godly laymen and women come together on Mondays, and we offer anywhere from 60 to 80 hours of counseling services, free of charge, to people in our town. Now, we don’t advertise. We wouldn’t advertise simply because we’ve always had a waiting list of men and women from our town who are hurting who are literally waiting in order to sit down with someone in the church house, who will love them and talk with them about their problems. It’s been a marvelous way for us just to be known as a place in our community that loves its neighbors and is prepared to sit down and talk from the Word of God about how they can know what the Word says, about the challenges that they’re facing. Over the years that’s developed into other ministries as well. God’s allowed us to build several community centers. Those are just other ways for us to show love, but many times as we’re just spending time with our neighbors, loving them in any way that we can, that’s what opens up the door for them to talk with us about some significant need in their life, depression that they might be facing, a marriage problem, struggles raising their children. So to be able to make the connection from our community ministries, into our counseling center, it’s a marvelous way for us to bring the Gospel into the conversations, naturally, comfortably—many times initiated not by us, but by them, they’re asking us for help.

God has also allowed us, by way of a very generous gift, to build a ministry called Vision of Hope. That’s a residential treatment program for at-risk girls ages 14 to 28 who are struggling with unplanned pregnancies, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, eating disorders, and self-harm. We’ve been able to collaborate with local judges, prosecutors, the mayor, and other persons in our community who are concerned about young girls in this situation but did not have a resource where they could be sent. In fact, one of the judges when they heard the announcement of that gift to our church sent me an email on her government-issued computer that said, “praise the Lord” with eight exclamation marks because they’re just looking for people who will love folks in town who were hurting. And so we’ve seen some marvelous, marvelous stories of young ladies from our town, from around the country, and even from foreign countries, where the Gospel is dramatically changing their lives in ways that just bring tears to your eyes as a pastor. And not only that they are receiving counseling and help but they become part of our church family where the body of Christ starts loving these young girls. And sure, that girl may be able to pull up her sleeve and show you marks where she’s been cutting or she could talk about all sorts of horrible, sexual abuse. Some of these young ladies are so broken but they walk into Vision of Hope and that place screams the message, “we love you and we’re ready to try to lock arms with you and take you to the throne of grace where we can receive mercy and find grace to help in your time of need.” They come and they’re part of our worship services and people in the body are just loving the fire out of them. It shows the power and the efficacy of the local church because that’s the entity for which Christ died. Right now we’re working with our prosecutor on building a ministry for victims of human trafficking. But that’s not something that our church is having to initiate. It’s something that the prosecutor and other key members of our community are initiating and they’re coming to the church and they’re asking, “would you design a ministry that would meet this important community need?” Our Japanese car plant came to us a couple of years ago and said, “Listen, we want to build a place at our expense for victims of domestic violence, fire, and flood. But we don’t want to run it. We don’t want the programming, we just want to pay for it. Would you be willing to allow that facility to be built on your property at our expense where we give you the keys and walk away?” And so now, when we have a victim of domestic violence, fire, flood—they come many times in the middle of the night referred by the police—it’s our young ladies at Vision of Hope who are there for another reason, they’re the ones who meet that victim at the door. They’re the ones who have the house ready in the middle of the night, they’re the ones who are running down to the store in order to get milk and bread and just love them in the name of Christ. And so you have people in the body who are being helped and helping simultaneously.

Heath Lambert: So I think everybody is going to hear that and they are going to be incredibly excited about what is happening in your ministry and at your church. But I could imagine a pastor saying, “wow, that is really something that is the ministry that God gave to Steve Viars and that is really something that God is doing at Faith. That’s not my ministry. That’s not something that’s going to happen at my church.” What would you say to pastors to encourage them that this kind of counseling ministry is something that all of us need to be working toward?

Dr. Steve Viars: Well, you know, pastors are busy people. But one of the things that Randy Patton, one of my dear friends, taught me years ago was; it’s easy to be busy, it’s hard to be effective. And so, I believe in thinking very carefully from a perspective of mission—what is it biblically speaking that God has called us to do? And so the two categories that I’m thinking about every day are outreach and discipleship. Leading our church family to win as many people to Jesus Christ as we possibly can. And honestly, I’m a Calvinist, I’m a graduate of Westminster. But I will tell you this, my Calvinism motivates me to be aggressive evangelistically. We live in Tippecanoe County, Indiana and we say it this way, “we want Tippecanoe County to be a really hard place to get the hell from.” And so we want to be sure that every person in our town has had an interaction with a follower of Jesus Christ who really loves them and an opportunity to hear a clear presentation of the Gospel at the right time and in the right way. So I want to care a lot about outreach and I want every person in our church to be passionate about winning people to Christ. We have to ask the question, “how does it happen? How do we make those connections?” And at Faith, the number one answer to that question, year after year after year, is through the doors of our community-based counseling center. We just had several people join our church this past Sunday night, several were baptized, and others were giving their testimonies of professions of faith. It was amazing how many of them said they came to Christ through the door of the counseling center. In other words, they were having some sort of a life crisis and there were people who were prepared and ready to meet them, to weep with them, to suffer with them, and then take them to the cross. And that’s what God used to draw them to Jesus. There’s no question about the fact that if God took me to another church—I hope he doesn’t, but if he does—one of the first things I would do is start a biblical counseling center for the community, if for no other reason than the evangelistic opportunities that it affords. When it’s all said and done, we want to be sure that we’re winning people to Christ. But how do we do it? Counseling centers help us do that.

The second category is discipleship. How do we get to know the kind of questions people have and the kind of struggles that they’re having? Well, frankly, as a pastor, when I do our five worship services on a typical weekend, nobody talks back, they just listen. It’s a lot different on Monday when I’m spending time in our counseling ministry because counselees have a way of talking back. In other words, they interrupt you, they say, “now, wait, how’s that verse going to apply to my situation? What about this? What about this? What about this?” I need that as a pastor. I need to be getting my hands dirty in the lives of people so I understand their questions, I understand their struggles, and then, for me, the very next day on Tuesday, I’m preparing for the following Sunday, and my counselees are still there. My counselees are in the room. So as I’m doing my prep—yes, I’m listening to the Lord, yes, I’m listening to the Word—but I’m looking at my counselees and trying to make those real-life applications. It has helped my preaching tremendously by being involved in counseling.

Heath Lambert: That’s good. So, a pastor hears this and says, “I’ve got it, I want to do it but I don’t know what to do.” What are some of the early things a pastor needs to begin to do to get this thing started?

Dr. Steve Viars: Well, a big part of it is to receive training. And there are some great ways to receive training in biblical counseling and I realize every pastor is busy, but my advice would be for the pastor to get training himself if at all possible. Yes, you want to get some key lay-people or other staff members who can receive training as well, but this is best done from the top down. Now, it can be done in other ways. I’m not saying it’s one size fits all. But I’ve watched a number of churches over the years, and when the pastor gets fired up about this kind of training and gets fired up about at least investing a couple of hours a week in this kind of work—for one thing, God’s going to bless it with fruit so many times and others in the church are going to realize, “if it’s important to the pastor, it ought to be important to me.” So receiving the kind of training that is available. I also think going through a certification process where you can have somebody coach you and help you get better at these skills. And so, sure, it takes work. I don’t know anything that accomplishes much for God that doesn’t take work. However, being committed to having the training for yourself and your key lay people along with going through a certification process, is key to being able to do this well.