Even in Crises, the Church Must be Involved

In the event that a person or couple needs more skilled help and intensive intervention from resources outside of the local church, they will still need the supporting and nurturing involvement of wise brothers and sisters in Christ to walk with them on a daily basis.

    Don’t Outsource By Default:

There is nothing unbiblical about seeking outside assistance. Just because you feel overwhelmed by a counseling opportunity, don’t immediately think you must outsource your care. When a church immediately out-sources counseling it misses the opportunity to grow both individually and as a community. When I was a pastor, I remember facing a very challenging counseling case. I immediately got on the phone and called a respected professional counselor who recognized and emphasized the importance of the local church. Why did I do this? Because he had more experience than I did. After describing the situation, he said that this would be a very challenging but rewarding person to counsel. He was right! I grew as a pastor, my family grew as we reached out to her and the church grew as this person was welcomed into meaningful, redemptive relationships with other Christians. Had we immediately outsourced the care of this individual to a professional, we would have missed the opportunity to grow in love for other people and she would have potentially missed receiving care from the body of Christ.

•    Recognize the Power of the Normal Means of Grace

Remember that even if you send someone for outside help, the person still spends very little time with a professional counselor; usually 1-2 hours a week. While those hours can be very helpful, they are hardly enough to give the person the complete help that they need for the other 166 hours of the week. I recently spoke to a pastor who frequently out-sources his counseling to a professional in his area. I asked him a few questions that revealed a typical pattern. He said that nearly half of the people he refers never follow through and of the half that do, very few go consistently. Why do we have a tendency to minimize the power of the normal means of grace in a person’s life? The Word of God, prayer, being in the company of other believers, corporate worship, the sacraments, and service to others? While I don’t want to minimize the need for more skilled help, a person will always need daily exposure to the means of grace. If you do refer someone, make sure they are following through and don’t assume that is all they need.

•    Seek Outside Help When You are Over Your Head

While you don’t want to out-source counseling by default, you do want to recognize your own limitations of time, wisdom, and experience. Thankfully, the body of Christ is not limited to you or your own local church. While you may be committed to counseling in your local church, it doesn’t mean that your counseling has to be limited to the resources in your particular church. There are resources within the broader body of Christ which include services like counseling, crisis pregnancy assistance, food and clothing assistance to name a few. Sometimes seeking outside help means picking up the phone and calling a skilled, wise counselor who has a lot of experience and case wisdom. You may want to tag-team with someone. You may seek the help and services of a good physician or psychiatrist. In order to do this well, you have to do your homework and ask some basic questions about the approach.

Here are some questions to ask as you determine with whom you will work:

  • Will they work with your church to provide the best help possible which will include the resources within your local church?
  • What model of counseling is foundational to the way this person provides care? Is it compatible with your church's view of how people grow and change? If not, to what degree?
  • Do they see the benefits and necessity of the normal means of grace in a person’s life?
  • How much, if any, does Scripture inform their view of the person, their problems and the change process?
  • Do they give proper emphasis to a person’s physiological, sociological and historical influences without overlooking the central importance of the spiritual/theological motivations?

As you seek to help people when the problems are more acute and challenge your own experience, it is a mark of wisdom and love to seek outside counsel from trusted people.

 

Copyright © 2014 Timothy S. Lane. All rights reserved.

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Tim Lane

Dr. Timothy S. Lane is the President of the Institute for Pastoral Care and has a counseling practice in Fayetteville, GA. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), having been ordained in 1991 and a member of Metro-Atlanta Presbytery. Tim has authored Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, and co-authored How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. He has written several mini-books including PTSD, Forgiving Others, Sex Before Marriage, Family Feuds, Conflict, and Freedom From Guilt.

He has experience in both campus ministry (University of Georgia, 1984-1987) and pastoral ministry where he served as a pastor in Clemson, SC from 1991 until 2001. Beginning in 2001 until 2013, he served as a counselor and faculty at CCEF in Philadelphia, PA (Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation). Beginning in 2007, he served as its Executive Director until 2013.

In 2014, Tim and his family re-located to his home state, Georgia, where he formed the non profit ministry the Institute for Pastoral Care. His primary desire and commitment is to help pastors and leaders create or improve their ability to care for the people who attend their churches.  For more information about this aspect of Tim's work, please visit the section of this site for the Institute for Pastoral Care. He continues to write, speak and travel both nationally and internationally. Tim is adjunct professor of practical theology at several seminaries where he teaches about pastoral care in the local church.