Counseling is a bit like mechanic work. On occasion, drivers fail to care for their cars. Whether it be an oil leak that causes engine failure or low tire pressure that leads to a flat, when a driver is not properly caring for their vehicle, they end up paying to have it towed to a mechanic. Once the car’s issues have been addressed, a good mechanic will take the opportunity to share how the driver can avoid being in the same place again. In short, routine care and maintenance will keep the car in safe and optimal driving condition.
In many ways, biblical counselors are like mechanics who help people address the bumps, bruises, and pitfalls of life, but like any good mechanic our goal is to help people understand how to keep their “cars” working in good order. A biblical counselor helps the counselee through significant issues or struggles (the overhaul), but this form of counseling is not intended to last forever. The counselee needs the local church for the “routine maintenance” of their soul.
As counselors, our job is not to care for people and then hope that they make it a few months before they are back in our office again. No, we want to counsel them for a season and then see them thriving in the local church. That is our hope.
At the heart of this is the understanding that the local church is important in our sanctification process. If we do not believe this, then the way we counsel others will reflect it. While I value the counseling room, I value the church far more. I would like to suggest a few reasons why your counselee needs the church and some practical ways we can implement this.
Your Counselee’s Growth is Connected to the Growth of the Local Church
In Ephesians 4:11-16 we see importance placed on individual and corporate growth. As individuals grow, the body grows. As the body grows, the individual grows. These are inseparable parts that we can inadvertently separate by not connecting counselees to the local church. We need to see individuals less like a flower growing by itself, and more like a branch on the vine that is linked together with other believers.
Your Counselee has a Role to Play in the Church
In 1 Corinthians 12:13 Paul reminds us that all Christians are “baptized into one body.” As members of this body, your counselees have a vital component to play, even when they are going through counseling. Yes, at times they may be caught up in sin (Galatians 6:1), but this has not separated them from the body. Though we may need wisdom as we consider allowing those living in sin to serve in the local church, the fact remains that as they fulfill their role within the church, it will accelerate their growth.
You are Temporary, the Church is Not
The truth is that your time with the counselee will come to an end. Your schedule will fill up, they will move away, or some other event will bring your temporary relationship to an end. As counselors, one of the essential parts of our task is to get them plugged into a healthy church so that they can thrive long past our temporary relationship comes to an end.
Your Counselee Needs a Family, not Just a Weekly Meeting
We need spiritual mothers. We need spiritual fathers. We need spiritual sisters and brothers. We need a spiritual family. Titus 2 is just one example of this. Your counselee needs a family that embraces them, loves them, walks with them, is available for them, and can disciple them when you can’t.
Your Counselee Needs More Than You Can Offer
God created the Church to be composed of a variety of people with a variety of gifts for a purpose. One of those purposes was so that the members could care for one another. Without this variety we would be lopsided, deficient, and weak. But with this variety, we can grow into “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).
Your Church Needs to Disciple
It is not the leaders of the church that are called to do the work of the ministry, but the people. The leaders equip the people to do the ministry so that the body can grow (Ephesians 4:11). Your church members’ spiritual growth depends on them doing the work of the ministry. Whenever we overemphasize our importance and our “expertise” we keep the church from the opportunity to grow.
Your counselee needs the church. It is vital for their sanctification.
So how do we do this?
Here are just a few practical ideas to connect your counselee to the church. These assume that your counselee is attending your church.
How to Connect Your Counselee to the Church
As you prepare for a new counseling case, prayerfully consider inviting another member of your church into the counseling session. This will allow you to teach this member how to counsel by example, help them build a relationship with the counselee, and potentially be the person to walk with them further after the official counseling is over.
Encourage the counselee to choose someone to invite into their life for further accountability. Your counselee may have friends in their small group, Sunday school class, or the church at large that they are willing to invite into their lives. Encourage them to prayerfully consider who that might be and then have them reach out to that person as part of their homework. If they are willing to share with that person their struggles or the hardships they are going through, then they are getting connected into the body for ongoing discipleship.
Encourage the counselee to lean deeper into the church body. This could mean joining a small group, joining a Bible study, or finding a way to serve with others. As they lean more into the body, there will be more opportunities for them to share their struggles and hardships, and they will likely find that they are not the only ones with struggles and hardships. In fact, they may realize that God is also calling them to bear the burdens of others (Galatians 6:2). Make this part of the homework you give them, and have this as a necessary requirement before you finish counseling with them.
My plea to all of us is to see that the church is vital for our counselee’s growth. Let us be counselors who care for our counselees by pointing them to the local church for the ongoing maintenance of their souls.