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    Nov 02, 2014

    Class 4: Congregational Counseling

    Series: Biblical Counseling

    Category: Core Seminars, Biblical Counseling, Church Life, Church Membership, Discipling / Mentoring


    False Assumptions about Professional Help
    Let’s start with a common false assumption that Christians make about professional help: Many Christians think that discipleship (e.g., their spiritual growth) and the care of Christians is the responsibility of the professional pastors and counselors, and not the congregation.

    Story: There was a young lady was struggling in our congregation, and one of the wives in the church was starting to get deeply invested in this young ladies’ life. Mind you, it was costly for this wife and her family, but she was (with her husband’s guidance) modeling sacrificial living for the sake of the gospel—she was having this young lady over to their home for meals; when things were rough the wife would have her sleep over their house; etc. At one point, this young ladies’ struggles got pretty severe, so the wife called an evangelical psychiatrist who was involved in the whole situation and she asked a fairly basic but important question: “To what extent should I as a layperson be involved in this young ladies’ problems, especially since they are fairly severe?” The psychiatrist was quite direct in his response: “Stay out. Aside from praying for her, leave it to the professionals to take care of her.”

    Is this right? When someone is having a difficult time, should Christians leave the person alone and let the professionals handle it?

    I want to argue today that the congregation has a responsibility to disciple and care for one another with God’s Word. Members of the same local church have a fundamental responsibility to counsel the Word to one another.

    How do I get this from Scripture? We could go to a number of places, but the most basic place to start is the “one another” passages in Scripture.

    • "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:34-35).
    • “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10).
    • “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law” (Rom 13:18).
    • “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” (Romans 15:7).
    • “I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another” (Romans 15: 14).
    • “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love “ (Ephesians 4:2)
    • “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:23).
    • “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing”(1 Thessalonians 5:11).

    These passages are speaking to Christians, and the general direction of all of these texts is to oblige Christians to love one another—to be devoted to each other; to honor of each other; to accept of each other; to be patient with each other; to be kind, compassionate, and forgiving of one another; and even to instruct one another.

    Making disciples and counseling with God’s Word is supremely the work of the church; and not professional parachurch counselors. Mind you, I am very grateful for professional counselors. There are lots of good and faithful Christians doing great work in discipling and counseling believers who struggle with difficult problems. These parachurch workers are a great aid to the kingdom of God and the furtherance of the gospel. Yet, one of the downfalls is that Christians assume that the really bad stuff has be handled by professionals and that they should back away. Some Christians too quickly pass off difficult situations to professional counselors outside of the church; not really thinking how that makes a statement about power and effectiveness of gospel and God’s work in local congregations. / Most Christians want to save face and where a mask when they come to church. They are sacred of exposing themselves at church; probably out of fear of man or fear of rejection. They would rather be vulnerable with a counselor in private practice than open up their lives to those who they see every week at church.

    The church is the best context for discipling and counseling others. The church should be the normative place for Christian relationships and Christian discipleship/counseling. Consequently, I want to contend that the church is the normative place for Christians to work out their problems. We want you to face your difficulties in the context of a loving Christian community.

    Our church covenant speaks to this. Not all churches have a formal covenant. But whether or not they do, all churches have a sense of how they are going to live together, which is what a covenant articulates. At our church, there are several lines in the church covenant that articulate what we want to accomplish by discipling, counseling, and caring for each other:

    “We will work and pray for the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

    “We will walk together in brotherly love, as becomes the members of a Christian church; we will exercise affectionate care and watchfulness over each other and faithfully admonish and entreat one another as occasion may require.”

    “We will rejoice at each other’s happiness, and endeavor with tenderness and sympathy to bear each other’s burdens and sorrows.”

    “We will seek, by Divine aid, to live carefully in the world, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, and remembering that, as we have been voluntarily buried by baptism and raised again from the symbolic grave, so there is on us a special obligation now to lead a new and holy life.”

    A catch phrase that we often use around here is a culture of discipleship. By culture, we mean that the whole personality of the congregation is one of making and shepherding disciples. Our hope is that every member “catches” a vision for this type of care—that we each have a responsibility to care and counsel one another with the Word.

    How does this culture come? It is not a program, but something we hope is ingrained in the church’s DNA. We (as pastors) work to set this expectation—that members are supposed to care for one another with the Word—and we do so by:
    • teaching the expectation as new people join the church;
    • by helping others to “catch” this idea as they themselves experience the fruit of someone pouring into their own life;
    • by teaching members how to handle the Word thoughtfully and carefully;
    • by teaching members how to apply the Word to each others’ lives.

    A centerpiece of this discipleship culture are the members teaching one another from God’s Word with the goal of growing in personal holiness. You, as a member, are called to counsel the Word to one another. And whether you realize it or not, you are a soldier who sits on the front lines of the battle in this discipleship culture. Let me give you a war analogy to help you understand what I mean when I say you sit at the front lines of this discipleship culture.

    The front line of the battle is the conversations that take place every day in your home, over your lunch meetings, in the daily conversations with your children / your spouse/ and with fellow members, in your Bible study, in your conversations after church, over the phone, and even in your emails! All of life involves counseling and each of these opportunities gives us a chance to counsel the Word to one another. If people have at least one or two people in their lives who are willing to share in the ugly details of life, to be open and honest about their struggles, to hold one another accountable, to admonish, encourage, and exhort one another, then God can use these experiences to shed light on the darkness and confusion that sometimes invade our lives.

    One step back from the front line are wise and godly older men and women in the faith who take time to pour themselves into the lives of younger Christians. These are the ‘captains’ and ‘generals’ of the faith, who by their wisdom and experience direct the soldiers in battle. Any culture of discipleship that encourages younger members of the faith to seek out the wise older ones will honor Christ by making good use of the rich relational resources that God has built into his church.

    To carry the war analogy one last step, let’s think of the counseling room as the MASH unit that sits far behind the front line. It is only when people are beaten up, bleeding, or maimed so badly that they are no longer useful in the battle that they must be sent to get medical help. Most people only retreat to the counseling room when their problems get too far out of hand, they are at a complete loss for wisdom, or can no longer tolerate their own struggles. As biblical counselors, we do our best to patch them up and help them heal. Then, in a Christian War, we send them back into battle.

    The congregation might choose to set aside some folks who have a pronounced gift in counseling to care for members in the congregation. But this war analogy helpfully shows us that those “gifted” counselors sit in the back, in the MASH unit. Every member has a responsibility to counsel one another with the word, and therefore those who sit at the front lines of the battle are the regular members of the church.


    I Can’t Do This! I’m Not Equipped, Skilled or Ready!
    The natural reaction that most people have are to see the list of problems that counselors typically deal with—depression, marital conflict, guidance questions (Who do I marry? What do I do with my life?), sexual temptation, eating disorders, etc. and say, “I don’t know how to help. I don’t know what to do. I can’t do this. I have no skills in this area.”

    If you are a Christian who seeks to live faithfully and to live according to God’s Word, you can help in most every situation. You can’t necessarily fix the problem, but you can find ways to help them in their struggle.

    Let’s take the example of one problem, marital conflict, and think a little about it together. Suppose you had a fellow church member who meet up with your for lunch and he/she confessed that he/she was struggling in his/her marriage, and wanted some counsel on how to deal with marital conflict.

    Let’s take a moment right now and brainstorm together (Ask the class): What could you ask? Where would you go in Scripture? What godly counsel could you give them?

    Ask: How long has the conflict been going on? When does it typically happen? Describe your last fight (good to get your hands around specifics; it is easier to speak into someone’s life rather than staying at the level of generalities)? Do you enter discussions with a with a mentality that you are “right” and the goal is to convince your spouse that you are right and he/she is wrong? Ask a question that goes after heart motives – In your last fight, what were you desiring, coveting, hoping for? How did your desire lead to conflict or ruin the conversation?

    Scripture: Start with James 4:1-2. James starts with the question: What causes fights and quarrels among us? And he answers: Is it not the desires that battle within you? When we fight we tend to see our spouse (or if you are not married, your friend/co-worker) as the opponent and the goal of the fight is to convince them that you are right and they are wrong. You are directed outwards - They are the enemy and the focus of your attention on getting them to change. When we fight, we often see the other person as the problem. And yet, James points out to us that it is not the other person, but our own desires and motives that are the source of the problem.

    Right there, with that one simple step, you have used Scripture to take the focus off of place where you are usually incorrectly focused—on our enemy—and puts the focus in the proper place—on our own hearts. “What causes fights and quarrels among us? Is it not the desires that battle within you?”

    Notice something: To ask the questions we just asked, and to explain the passages we just studied does not require you to have a professional counseling degree. With a little common sense, with a little practice and lot of deliberateness in being involved in other people’s lives, you can do everything we just covered. You can ask questions and as you continue to ask questions, you can grow in your skills and giftedness in asking. And as you study Scripture and attempt to apply it to your own life and the lives of others, you can grow in your abilities to understand the text and see its relevance for daily living.

    You might feel like you are just not able to do this type of thing, yet I want to argue that if you are a Christians and you are willing to try, God will grow you in your ability to do these things.

    What is usually lacking is not the ability to do these things—to ask questions you need common sense; to apply Scripture you need time in the Word and a desire to be faithful as you apply the biblical text to people’s lives. What is usually lacking is the confidence to be involved in the lives of others because we are fearful of what that might lead to.

    God has given you everything you need through his Word and his Spirit to help others. Don’t be scared. As you pastor, let me encourage you—as you sit at the front lines, be courageous and invest yourself in others. And I think you will be delightfully surprised at the fruit that will come as you are willing to take risks.

    When Do We Seek Out Others?
    I’m putting a lot of emphasis on the importance of you as a member being invested in the lives of others and counseling the Word to one another.

    Just for the sake of clarity, let me clarify a few things. What I am NOT saying is:
    • that you have to sort through other people’s problems on your own;
    • that you, as a member, have to deal with this without any help;
    • that the pastors don’t really care about counseling the members;
    • that the pastors expect you, the members, to fix others peoples’ problems.

    God has given us rich blessings by providing under-Shepherds/pastors/elders for our churches. These are godly men who seek to provide counseling and encouragement through the public and private proclamation of God’s Word to God’s people. They are charged with the responsibility to feed and guide the sheep, much like a real life Shepherd is with his own sheep. We are fools if we don’t take advantage of the fact that God has provide these men for us, for our spiritual good, and to assist us as we grow to be more faithful disciples of Christ.

    On behalf of the elders, I want to make extremely clear: WE WANT TO HELP. So don’t scared to come to us in times of difficulty. More often than not, elders will usually say we wish we were involved in things sooner. Too often members wait until problems get too far along before they ask for help.

    When do you turn to a pastor in the midst of helping someone else with their problems?
    There is no exact formula here, but let me give you some general guidelines.
    • If you know the person’s problem is significant and that no one (or really very few folks) knows about it, you can either encourage them to come speak with a pastor or get permission to talk with a pastor on their behalf.
    • If you are feeling overwhelmed with the problem and don’t know how to handle it.
    • If you don’t know where to go in Scripture or how to apply Scripture to this particular problem.
    • If you scared that this person is going to do physical or spiritual harm to themselves or others and you feel you need help slowing them down.
    • If you feel like someone is out of control with their sin.
    • If you the other person’s sin is public and scandalous.
    • If you want guidance on how to help someone else.

    Keep in mind that in order to talk with one of the elders, you can’t promise confidentiality. A person might start the conversation with you, “I’m going to tell you something, and you must promise not to tell anyone else…” If they do that, you can graciously respond, “Sorry, but I never promised absolute confidentiality. I just ask that you trust me that I will seek to do whatever is wise with the information given.”

    If you talk with one of the elders, you are not trying to pass the problem off to your pastor. No matter what the situations is, my plea with you is to stay involved.

    BRIEF Story: The young lady I spoke about at the beginning of the hour; you’d be encouraged to know that she is doing much better know. I have been very involved in her life, and yet, it has been the members of this church, who have poured themselves into her life, that has made the biggest difference. Fellow members who have counseled her with the Word for several years have started to bear significant fruit in her life.

    In Conclusion—
    • We have seen how biblical counseling is a fundamental responsibility of Christians. Fellow members in a local congregation are called upon to disciple and counseling one another with God’s Word.
    • We don’t take this responsibility lightly, but want to take seriously the opportunity to provide godly counsel for others. As we continue to take advantage of opportunities, we will grow in our understanding and skill in asking good questions and ministering/applying Scripture to one another.
    • We want to turn to our pastors at the appropriate time for help, but we also want to stay involved and not pass the problem off to elders.