10 Reasons Your Church Might Not Want a Formal Counseling Ministry (Part One)

Do you know churches that have this reaction to a formal counseling ministry?

Do you know churches that have this reaction to having a formal counseling ministry?

Every ministry we add to a church’s offerings adds some burdens. There is no such thing as a ministry that is all perks and no challenges. Part of making an informed decision about (a) whether your church develops a formal counseling ministry, (b) what types of formal counseling are added to your church’s offerings, and (c) how these decisions are communicated with your membership requires identifying and understanding about what these challenges are.

The difficulties listed below are not things you can “fix” or “prevent” once you understand them. While there are ways to mitigate the prevalence of these challenges, they are realities which will exist if you have a formal counseling ministry, and, over which, you must deem the benefits of a formal counseling ministry to be “better” if you pursue this option.

Note: The tone of this post (and the workshop from which it is an excerpt) is counseling-toned; meaning it presents the available options with their corresponding advantages and disadvantages, and then invites you to make a decision based upon informed consent.

This is in contrast (not contradiction) to the predominant tone of Christian teaching; which is proclamational – determining what is “best” based upon the teaching of Scripture and persuading people to make that choice.

Behind this approach is the assumption there is no “one” model for counseling, pastoral care, or one another care that is best for all churches. It is not my intent to advocate for a formal counseling ministry in every church. However, the more formal your church’s counseling ministry, the more of this tone will be present.

1. A counseling ministry will not “do everything” so you will still make referrals and say “no” to some requests.

The pastoral leadership must be willing to support these referrals and “no’s.” Otherwise, the struggles a given individual faces will be forced into the categories or techniques of training the counselor has received (resulting in less effective care) and/or the church will incur liability for promising a type of care it is not equipped to provide.

This first point can also create a sense of partiality – helping some people directly and not others – which can result in hurt feelings within a congregation.

Advantage: If administrated and networked well with other resources in the community, a counseling ministry can serve as a connection point for those in need of care to ensure that those who seek help through the church are connected with the best-fit, available resource.

2. A counseling ministry becomes a lightning rod for hard cases and interpersonal conflicts.

Often those challenges that are not resolved in one’s natural relationships either have a level of complexity or non-compliance by key participants which prevent the ideal outcome. When a church has a counseling ministry the leadership can be drawn into more of these cases than they would be otherwise. The church’s authority (by way of membership and fellowship) can be sought as a leveraging point to coerce these changes for matters which do not necessarily warrant church discipline.

Advantage: These situations already exist. Having a counseling ministry does not create them. With a counseling ministry the church has more opportunity to guide its members through the process of determining who bears the personal responsibility for the changes necessary in difficult situations.

3. A counseling ministry will be misrepresented and caricatured by those who dislike the counsel they receive.

No counseling ministry bats 1.000 (for non-baseball readers, that means no counseling ministry helps everyone it sees). Those who do not benefit from counseling are prone to blame the counselor; sometimes rightly, but other times by presenting the counsel they received in a reductionistic way or by minimizing the context to which the counsel was given. Due to the constraints of confidentiality, the counselor and church are severely limited in their ability to defend themselves against these claims.

Advantage: With time, wise counsel is validated. If the church’s counsel was good, then those who hear the misrepresentation will have opportunity to see this. However, this can also be a time of refining for a counselor or a church’s leadership. If the perceived “misrepresentation” proves accurate, then the counselor or church will have gained an opportunity to identify a gap in their approach to pastoral care and counseling.

4. A counseling ministry will attract situations where liability is at the forefront of decision making.

Mandated reporting cases are not the only liability cases a church will face, but they are some of the most significant (because they involve the lives of children) and represent well many of the tensions that lead to other liabilities. So they will be the representative example used here.

When mandated reporting cases are in play, a church can feel like Matthew 18 (internal church discipline process) is in conflict with Romans 13 (honoring the requirements of the state). Also, church members may be tempted to refer mandated reporting cases to the church’s counseling ministry as a way to get around the uncomfortable step of reporting to the appropriate legal authority. This can result in a liability for the church member who did not fulfill their responsibility to report.

Advantage: Having a counseling ministry forces a church to think through issues of liability and mandated reporting prior to a crisis event. This learning process allows church leaders to understand and navigate these incidences much better when they arise in the life of a church (and they will).

5. A counseling ministry will attract situations where your elders may not be the experts.

Decisions regarding the usage of psychotropic m

edications, the process of restoring a marriage after instances of domestic violence, or when in the process of overcoming a severe addiction it is wise to expect someone to begin engaging more with their child who is failing out of school. These are just a few examples of situations that are regular occurrences in counseling but likely not areas that most elders would speak to with confidence.

Advantage: This is a healthy recognition for church leaders, or any other type of leader. Being a student of life can make one a much better teacher-leader. Navigating these difficult situations can be an excellent way of bringing refinement and tender-humble tones to how difficult subjects are addressed in a church’s preaching-teaching.

COUNSELING IN YOUR LOCAL CHURCH:
Understanding the Liabilities & Possibilities of Lay Care Ministries
Date: Friday January 23, 2015
Time: 9am to 5pm
Location: The Summit Church, Brier Creek Campus
Address: 2335 Presidential Drive; Durham, NC 27703
Cost: $99 / person (lunch provided)
RSVP and Find More Information Here

JBC Article Preview: “Making Peace with Romans 8:28″

JBC Blank Cover

This post is the opening case study from the article “Making Peace with Romans 8:28,” an article I’ve contributed to the most recent edition of The Journal of Biblical Counseling. Order information can be found at the end of this post.

You’re about to read a difficult account of suffering. Imagine yourself hearing this unfolding story from a friend. For the moment, restrain from offering perspective, answers, or potential ways that God could possibly redeem this situation. Simply let yourself listen. Enter her world. Hurt with her. Cry with her. Question with her. Maybe even come to that place where a “good answer” that makes things “better” feels like it might dishonor her pain.

Natasha[1] and her husband longed for a child and finally conceive after five years of trying. They learn their child will be a girl and decide to name her after Natasha’s mother, who died when Natasha was an infant. Throughout the pregnancy they read every book on “what to expect” and prepared a dream nursery, complete with initials on the wall in large decorative letters. Everything was set.

But… their daughter is born dead, suffocated by the umbilical cord that got wrapped around her throat. The only visual memory they have is of her blue, still body. They are haunted that they didn’t know she was in trouble and couldn’t help her. Not knowing how to deal with the pain, their marriage quickly deteriorates. The questions that flood their minds either trigger conversations so upsetting that the volatility tears them apart or conversations so “safe” that their aloofness only adds to the emotional drift.

Their marriage silently suffocates, not unlike their child, with no one hearing the muted cries for help. The husband begins to have an affair at work. He finds “life” in conversations with a co-worker that have been so long absent from his marriage that he’s convinced himself they never existed. When Natasha finds some questionable emails, he lashes out, blames her, leaves, and promptly files for divorce.

Within a year he is remarried, and has a child—a little girl. Natasha’s dream life is being lived by another woman. Then, as she drives home from her part-time job as a waitress that supplements her full-time job as a teacher’s aide, Natasha is in a car accident. Not only was the car totaled—something she could not afford—but she also crushed two vertebrae in her lower back. This requires surgery—more money she doesn’t have—to fuse the vertebrae together. For the rest of her life, she’ll experience limited mobility, chronic pain, and be labeled “disabled.”

Now the cry of an infant, the sight of a child the age her daughter would be, the sound of squealing tires, or the possibility of running into her ex-husband in a store are all triggers of intense anxiety and despair. She lives with a hyper-vigilant sense that something catastrophic is about to happen. She never feels safe.

Peace and hope—words that once had beautiful, biblical meanings for her—have become the equivalent of words like unicorn and leprechaun. She knows what they mean and she knows they don’t exist. People who believe in peace and hope seem blissfully naïve. She no longer has that privilege.

“What could I have done to deserve all this?” she asks herself. She feels a heavy load of shame. She longs to figure out how she has sinned so she can repent. Perhaps then God would forgive her and remove this burden. At times she is relieved when she sins, hoping the sincerity of her repentance will “work” this time and help her life get better.

Other times she is angry because she feels condemned by God. A few people have reassured her with Romans 8:1, “There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” But while they can refute the words with which she articulates her emotions, this truth doesn’t seem to touch the place where God feels so painfully absent. Is she abandoned by God? Rejected? Cursed? Does it matter? Does she care anymore?

But Romans 8:1 is more bearable than Romans 8:28—“we know that for those who love God all things work together for good”—or its slightly kinder sequels. When friends try to comfort her with these passages, she knows that they simply do not understand. Sometimes she gets angry. Other times she pities their simplicity. Other times she envies their innocence.

Isolation becomes her form of self-protection. It works for a while because people can’t scrape her wounds with their truths. But the isolation from people becomes insulation for pain. The sense of being unknown, unloved, and confused is kept painfully hot in her soul. Now that she has drifted from church, her only contact with Christian teaching is the material her friends retweet or post on Facebook. Periodically, she sees some version of “We should be more bothered about our sin than our suffering” or “God won’t protect us from anything that will make us more like Jesus.” These statements only solidify her view of God as uncaring, even cruel.

In the midst of her pain—physical, emotional, and spiritual—the emptiness drives her to talk to you. She says she doesn’t expect you to fix anything. Honestly, she’d be happy if you just didn’t make things worse. She shares her story, looks you in the eyes for a brief moment, and sighs. Her gaze settles back to the floor.

What do you do next? What do you say? Which way is hope from here? Where does ministry start? What does sanctification look like? What needs to be healed? What facet of the gospel needs to be seen? How “practical” can you even be with struggles that appear to have no fixes? How do you serve as the ambassador of a God who isn’t trusted?

These are questions we will wrestle with in this article. I say wrestle with because to say I would answer them feels too bold. Whether formal counseling or informal friendship, ministering in a situation like this involves joining someone on a hard journey rather than simply giving directions.

Order Information

To order the entire edition of the Journal of Biblical Counseling (JBC) in which this article in included for $6 click here. I do not personally profit from the sale of this journal in anyway and am glad to see the proceeds support the ministry of CCEF. Other articles in this edition of the JBC include.

  • “Giving Reasoned Answers to Reasonable Questions” by David Powlison
  • “Five Ministry Priorities for Those Struggling with Same-Sex Attraction” by Mike Emlet
  • “Something Worth Meeting For—A Biblical Vision for Small Groups” by Steve Midgley
  • “How to Set Up Church-Based Accountability Groups”  by Alasdair Groves
  • “What Is Your Calling?” by David Powlison

[1] This case study is not the story of a particular person, but a fictional case study meant to illustrate how suffering can quickly cascade in someone’s life. The English name Natasha sounds like the Hebrew word נָטַשׁ (naw-tash’) which means “forsaken.”

Tweets of the Week 12.16.14

There is great value in saying something in a memorable, concise manner. Twitter has caused us to make this a near spiritual discipline. For my own growth (as a generally verbose individual… that’s a long way of saying “wordy”) and for the benefit of others, I highlight tweets each week that deliver a big message in a few words.

 

Video: Overcoming Depression-Anxiety, A Suffering Paradigm (Step 9)

Below is a video from the presentation of “Overcoming Depression-Anxiety: A Suffering Paradigm.” For the various counseling options available from this material visit www.summitrdu.com/counseling.

The complementing studies  Overcoming Depression-Anxiety: A Responsibility Paradigm and Towards a Christian Perspective of Mental Illness will also available in a video format after their presentation

NOTE: Many people have asked how they can get a copy of the seminar notebook referenced in this verbal presentation. Summit members can pick up a copy of the notebook in the church office. For those outside the Summit family, you can request a copy from Amy LaBarr (alabarr@summitrdu.com), office administrator over counseling.

“After Depression-Anxiety, Now What?”
STEWARD all of my life for God’s glory.

Depression-Anxiety Step 9 from The Sam James Institute on Vimeo.

Memorize: I Peter 4:19 (ESV), “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” As you memorize this passage reflect upon these key points:

 

    • “Those who suffer” – This passage will apply to every person many times in the course of their life.
    • “God’s will” – Hopefully, at this stage in your journey you can read this without hearing it as God’s punishment.
    • “Entrust their souls” – Life is a choice between entrusting our souls to God or seeking to protect ourselves.
    • “To a faithful Creator” – If you made it to this point in the study, you have many evidences of God’s faithfulness.
    • “While doing good” – Without a returning sense of mission, suffering would drain our vitality for engaging life.

Teaching Notes

To “steward” something means to use it for God’s intended purpose. It is important to remember that what is being stewarded is the life of the group member in general, not the sin specifically.

“The odd thing is that fear and anxiety are running away from something, but they don’t know what to run to. They know danger, but they don’t know where to find peace and rest (p. 63)… It’s as if fear needs to be replaced in our lives, and it is replaced with a simple question, ‘What does my Father, the King, want me to do now?’ (p. 241)… The goal is not the alleviation of anxiety so much as it is the pursuit of God’s purposes. If God’s ways meant an increase in fear and anxiety, so be it, but, of course, the opposite is true. As we apply the gospel of peace, we will know peace (p. 295-296).” Ed Welch in Running Scared

“We will never be transformed into a different person, but we can, with God’s help, become the best version of ourselves, which is the person he created us to be (p. 222).” Leslie Vernick in Lord, I Just Want to Be Happy

“If you are willing to be trained by it, expect depression to be a good teacher. That doesn’t mean you should seek it out, and it certainly doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to alleviate it. But most people who were willing to be taught by suffering look back and are grateful (p. 238).” Ed Welch in Depression, A Stubborn Darkness

Tweets of the Week 12.12.14

There is great value in saying something in a memorable, concise manner. Twitter has caused us to make this a near spiritual discipline. For my own growth (as a generally verbose individual… that’s a long way of saying “wordy”) and for the benefit of others, I highlight tweets each week that deliver a big message in a few words.

Video: Overcoming Depression-Anxiety, A Suffering Paradigm (Step 8)

Below is a video from the presentation of “Overcoming Depression-Anxiety: A Suffering Paradigm.” For the various counseling options available from this material visit www.summitrdu.com/counseling.

The complementing studies  Overcoming Depression-Anxiety: A Responsibility Paradigm and Towards a Christian Perspective of Mental Illness will also available in a video format after their presentation

NOTE: Many people have asked how they can get a copy of the seminar notebook referenced in this verbal presentation. Summit members can pick up a copy of the notebook in the church office. For those outside the Summit family, you can request a copy from Amy LaBarr (alabarr@summitrdu.com), office administrator over counseling.

“When the Road Becomes Long More Than Steep”
PERSEVERE in the new life and identity to which God has called me.

Depression-Anxiety Step 8 from The Sam James Institute on Vimeo.

Memorize: Romans 5:3-5 (ESV), “More than that, we rejoice in our suffering, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through this Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” As you memorize this passage reflect upon these key points:

    • “Rejoice” – If you read the passage carefully, you’ll see we rejoice in the fruit of suffering; not the pain.
    • “Endurance… character… hope” – Hopefully this captures well the journey you have been on in this study.
    • “Shame” – God is faithful not only to redeem the suffering but remove the shame associated with suffering.
    • “God’s love” – The perfect love of a perfect God enables us to live with painful emotions in an imperfect world.
    • “Holy Spirit” – This seal (2 Cor. 1:22) of God’s permanent covenant provides us of assurance of his presence.

 Teaching Notes

“One of the greatest catalyst to our pain was the sense that we were alone. Because we suffered mostly silently, we didn’t find other people who were suffering in the same way. And because those other suffering people were silent to, we all thought we were the only ones (p. 33).” Amy Simpson in Troubled Minds

“I think that people who have not dealt with such grief, either first or secondhand, simply do not know what happiness is, what joy is, because they do not know what the depths of pain can be. It is like this: you cannot know the import of the cross and resurrection unless you have grasped the weight of sin… That is, sometimes depression can be a blessing, because one can learn about God through his hiding (p. 28).” Kathryn Greene-McCreight in Darkness Is My Only Companion

“You are secure not because you have control or understanding. You are secure even though you are weak, imperfect, and shortsighted. You are secure for one reason and one reason alone: God exists and he is your Father (p. 31)… The temptation, in times of waiting, is to focus on the things we are waiting for, all the obstacles that are in the way, our inability to make it happen, and all of the other people who haven’t seemed to have had to wait… All of this increases our feeling of helplessness, our tendency to think our situation is hopeless, and our judgment that waiting is futile (p. 48).” Paul Tripp in A Shelter in the Time of Storm.

“Lasting change doesn’t occur in leaps, but in tiny and faithful steps. Small changes can make a big difference (p. 15)… Sometimes the pain of change makes us forget our former misery, and we revert to previous habits to feel better (p. 156).” Leslie Vernick in Lord, I Just Want to Be Happy

Advantages of BCO 6551 “Counseling Individuals with Problematic Emotions” Intensive

What are the advantages of taking this course? There are some obvious benefits:

  • We all have emotions. A large part of loving God and loving others well involves managing our emotions well when they go awry.
  • The one-week format allows you see parallels in different emotional experiences and approaches to managing them well that would be easy to miss in a traditional 3-month semester.
  • The intensive format allows you to complete 3 credits hours in a short period of time.

There are other benefits which may not be so obvious.

  • Each emotion addressed (see schedule below) will be taught in a step-work format that provides you with a ministry tool to utilize instead of just concepts to master.
  • You will gain a robust picture of what it means to apply the gospel to sin, suffering, and identity components of our emotional experience.
  • College students in secular schools will be able to receive elective credits for something that is intensely nourishing to their faith and practical for their lives.

A CHRISTIAN APPROACH TO DIFFICULT EMOTIONS INTENSIVE
Monday, March 2 – Depression
Tuesday, March 3 – Anxiety
Wednesday, March 4 – Grief
Thursday, March 5 – Anger
Friday, March 6 – Identity in Christ

Time: 6:30 to 9:00 pm
Location: The Summit Church, North Raleigh Campus
Address: 5808 Departure Drive; Raleigh, NC 27616
Cost: Free
Credit Available (learn more here)

Please remember everyone is welcome to attend all of our seminars for free. These credit are merely additional ways that you can benefit from these trainings. If you are only interested in one topic, it if fine to just attend one of the evening seminars.

For those interested in academic credit, several options are available through our collaboration with Southeastern Seminary (SEBTS).

  • Sample Syllabus for Certificate Credit – 2015_spr_bco0655_hambrick_syllabus
  • For questions about certificate credit please contact Eli Byrd at SEBTS at 919.761.2281.
  • Sample Graduate or Undergraduate Credit – 2015_spr_bco6551_hambrick_syllabus
  • For questions about graduate or undergraduate credit please contact Shannon Battles at SEBTS at 919.761.2280.
  • Note: Either syllabus is subject to revision, but gives a representation of the workload and expectations associated with each option.

Students from schools other than SEBTS can check with their school’s registrar office about how to transfer these credits. For those seeking to take this course for undergraduate credit, this form is needed to take a masters level course for undergraduate credits.

For those seeking certificate credit it is required that that you:

  • Attend  seminars on all 5 evenings from 6:30 to 9:00 pm
  • Complete the reading and writing assignments in the syllabus above
  • Note: The certificate is offered by SEBTS, not Summit, so their Registrar’s office would be the contact point for questions regarding the other courses necessary for this certificate.

For those seeking graduate or undergraduate credit it is required that you

  • Attend  seminars on all 5 evenings from 6:30 to 9:00 pm
  • Attend supplemental lectures each day from 1:00 to 5:00 pm
  • Listen to the supplemental lectures listed in the syllabus above
  • Complete the reading and writing assignments in the syllabus above

If you want certificate, undergraduate, or graduate credit there is a cost of $236 for each credit and a one-time application fee of $30. These fees are paid to SEBTS for enrollment and course credit. You would begin the process earning a certificate by applying for admission at SEBTS.

Please pass along this post to anyone you believe would be interested in these learning experiences.

NY Times Runs Article on Pastors’ Role in Helping Mental Illness

nytimesThis past Friday the NY Time ran an article “More Pastors Embrace Talk of Mental Ills.” It starts with a case study from the care offered by a rural North Carolina pastor to those in his community and then references the thoughts of many Christian leaders on the subject of mental illness.

The article references the Mental Health Advisory Group of the Southern Baptist Convention led by Dr. Frank Page, of which I am grateful for the opportunity to be a part.

For those seeking additional resources in this area, here are several we have produced at Summit in the last year.

Tweets of the Week 12.2.14

There is great value in saying something in a memorable, concise manner. Twitter has caused us to make this a near spiritual discipline. For my own growth (as a generally verbose individual… that’s a long way of saying “wordy”) and for the benefit of others, I highlight tweets each week that deliver a big message in a few words.

Video: Overcoming Depression-Anxiety, A Suffering Paradigm (Step 7)

Below is a video from the presentation of “Overcoming Depression-Anxiety: A Suffering Paradigm.” For the various counseling options available from this material visit www.summitrdu.com/counseling.

The complementing studies  Overcoming Depression-Anxiety: A Responsibility Paradigm and Towards a Christian Perspective of Mental Illness will also available in a video format after their presentation

NOTE: Many people have asked how they can get a copy of the seminar notebook referenced in this verbal presentation. Summit members can pick up a copy of the notebook in the church office. For those outside the Summit family, you can request a copy from Amy LaBarr (alabarr@summitrdu.com), office administrator over counseling.

“Reclaiming My Life from Depression-Anxiety”
IDENTIFY GOALS that allow me to combat the impact of my suffering.

Depression-Anxiety Step 7 from The Sam James Institute on Vimeo.

Memorize: I Peter 3:14-15 (ESV), “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” As you memorize this passage reflect upon these key points:

  • “Suffer” – This passage is about responding to suffering in a way that puts our righteousness in Christ on display.
  • “Have no fear” – This is not stoicism, but a caution not to let the experience of suffering unsettle us.
  • “Honor Christ” – Our ultimate objective in life is still available to us in every situation. We are not powerless.
  • “Hope that is in you” – The presence of fear-despair does not mean the absence of hope. Faith is best revealed within the context of fear-despair; just as light is most clearly revealed in the context of darkness.
  • “With gentleness and respect” – Often when battling powerful emotions our tone can get away from us. 

Teaching Notes

“At times the medicine feels less like weapons against depression and mania and more like Saul’s heavy armor on the young David (p. 69)… Hope. When we are in a state of severe mental illness, hope is far from us. This is why we need the scriptures and the community of faith. They contribute faith and hope to us as from a well we cannot now reach (p. 124).” Kathryn Greene-McCreight in Darkness Is My Only Companion

“True inner happiness doesn’t involve the absence of pain (p. 10)… We can’t control what happens to us… We must decide what we do with what happens to us. This is the most important part of our story. How we choose to respond to our adversity not only reveals our character, it shapes it (p. 200)… Unhappy people are often living in yesterday or wishing for tomorrow (p. 191).” Leslie Vernick in Lord, I Just Want to Be Happy

“We’re not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; were wondering how painful the best will turn out to be (p. 91).” C.S. Lewis in a letter as quoted by Charles Hodges, M.D. in Good Mood Bad Mood

“The rule of thumb is that when we find ourselves stuck, we enlarge the circle and include others who can help. This is a way of relying on God and following his means of growth and change (p. 227)… Beauty is just what worrying needs. Worry’s magnetic attraction can only be broken by a stronger attraction (p. 154).” Ed Welch in Running Scared

“Hope is both a gift from God and a skill he enables us to attain (p. 79).” Ed Welch in Depression, A Stubborn Darkness

“You cannot read Matthew 26:36-39 and come away saying, ‘Despondency’s not so bad, because Jesus had it in Gethsemane and he’s sinless.’ Instead, what you come away with is an impression of how earnestly he fought off the unbelief of despondency. How much more should we (p. 306)!” John Piper in Future Grace

 

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