This post was originally posted the Biblical Counseling Coalition blog “Grace & Truth.” It is a part of their current two week series on how local churches interface their small group and counseling ministries.
Where do small groups and counseling intersect at The Summit Church (www.summitrdu.com)? We are exploring the possibilities of this question with great intentionality, creativity, and passion. At The Summit we divide our ministries into “teams” and counseling is on the small group team, so we want them to intersect frequently, dynamically, practically, and organically.
In fact, we consider one of the most important roles of the Pastor of Counseling to be equipping small group leaders and members to effectively care for one another in the body of Christ. We will unpack how we are striving to accomplish this objective below.
Structuring to Match the Strategy
Before going further on the interaction between small groups and counseling, it should be noted that small groups are the hub of ministry at The Summit Church. By that we mean we strategically organize our church so that people flow into one main place, a small group, where they are then mobilized to go out and do ministry. The small group becomes the hub where we care for one another and together minister to our surrounding community. This is the strategy we’ve chosen for creating a clear “next step” for the marginally connected to move into active participation in the life of the church.
Putting such an emphasis on small groups puts an equally significant weight on how we structure for the development, support, and equipping of these groups. Central to the competency of a small group leader is his or her ability to lovingly guide others through the ebbs and flows of life on the foundation of the Scriptures. In that sense, the bulk of our counseling happens in these groups (we call such care “one-anothering” care for reasons explained below). Thus small groups become care communities and so merging the small groups and counseling staff teams is nothing more than a reflection of what is happening in the congregation.
The blending of these ministries has mainstreamed the influence of our counseling team and brought their expertise into the living rooms of The Summit Church. We are grateful to God for this and believe the greatest results are yet to come.
The rest of this post will discuss the relationship between small groups and counseling with the acknowledgement that our small groups intersect with many other ministries of the church.
What Does It Look Like?
Our attempt to make this connection begins with defining four levels of one-on-one ministry of the Word within our church: counseling, shepherding, mentoring, and one-anothering. These progress from the most formal interaction with a highly trained individual to the most informal “doing life together relationships.”
Our desire is that all four levels of care contain the same gospel-centered, change-happens-in-community DNA with varying degrees of expertise, confidentiality, and availability. The counseling ministry seeks to reinforce and unpack this DNA at all four levels through our seminar ministry.
We offer seminars on various subjects. Each seminar is made available in brief video segments and comes with a manual for group study or personal mentoring. The last two have been “Overcoming Anger” and “Taking the Journey of Grief with Hope.” These seminars are designed for several purposes.
- One-Anothering – To train our small group leaders to care for their members.
- One-Anothering – To become a curriculum that small groups can study together.
- One Anothering – To provide tools for small groups to care for one another.
- Mentoring – To launch short-term, mentor-level, lay-led support groups (we call them Freedom Groups) that transition graduates into our small group ministry.
- Shepherding – To provide our pastors with quality, subject-based resources that allow them to shepherd individuals with greater confidence and naturally funnels the counseling case into the small group ministry of the church.
- Counseling – [This phase is currently in development.] To provide a structured material for our graduate counseling interns from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary to gain experience and provide additional face-to-face counseling hours for our church and community.
From that overview, it should be obvious that everything the counseling ministry does is designed to equip our small group leaders and create a path for counselees (even if they begin with a mentor, shepherd, or counselor) to become active members of a small group. Without small groups our counseling ministry would have to try to replace the church through a therapeutic relationship or release people back into the isolation that allowed their struggle to fester to a life-dominating level. With small groups our counseling ministry can help people through a given life crisis and direct them to a community that fosters healthy relationships and a godly purpose.
Equipping the saints
By embedding the counseling ministry on the small group’s team and channeling the resources we develop towards small group life, we are developing an atmosphere of equipped leaders who understand the resources within their church to help with someone’s struggle when it is more than they feel prepared to handle.
As usual, the overview is much neater than the reality. We are still learning a great deal about how to coordinate these various pieces. Our current collaborative effort between small groups and counseling has developed in the last year (more precisely 10 months). But we are excited about initial fruit we are seeing and the confidence we see growing in our people to care for one another and to use counseling to reach their community (which because of the design puts these unchurched friends on a direct course to small group involvement).