When Should A Church Seek Outside Help?

Is it Ever Appropriate for a Church to Outsource Counseling?

You have been there. A person who is really struggling with something wants you to help. You meet with them and they begin to tell their story. At some point, you feel overwhelmed. You do what anyone would do. If you are not on staff at the church, you call one of the pastors who might be able to help. You meet with the pastor of care and he feels overwhelmed, too. What do you do? As important as it is for the local church to have a robust discipling and counseling ministry in place, there are times when you need to get help from someone who has much more experience and training. Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind as you reach out beyond your particular local church.

•    Seek Outside Help If Someone’s Life is in Danger

The most obvious time to refer is when someone is threatening their own life or the life of another person. Suicide, domestic violence, and situations like this require immediate intervention by professionals. Allowing the civil authorities to intervene in the midst of a crisis can be a very loving thing to do. Because of God’s common grace, these organizations are an appropriate place to turn for help in times of crisis. 

Even then, your care of the person is just beginning. Eventually they will be released from the hospital or care facility and your work with them begins anew. Depending on how long they have been under the oversight of the institution, the likelihood of them being persuaded by a diagnosis and cure that are not fully and robustly rooted in a Christian vision of change increases.

•    Seek Outside Help When it Involves Potential Criminal Activity

It should go without saying, but whenever you suspect that a law has been broken, you should involve the civil authorities. In the event that you have an alleged case of sexual abuse, the local civil authorities should be notified. If someone confesses to you that they have committed a crime, you should assist that person tp report themselves to the proper authorities.

Every church should have all of this contact information available in the event of a crisis. You may want to consider having a representative from the police, local hospital, domestic violence shelter, someone who is equipped to assess suicidal behavior and any other professional to train the staff and officers of a church. Whatever you do, have a plan in place to handle these intense opportunities for ministry.

When a church shows that they are prepared to handle these kinds of situations, it is communicating that they are willing and able to wisely engage human sin and suffering at every level. The church truly is for everyone. At least, it should be.

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.