Should the Church do Counseling?

In my travels over the past 12 years (and 15 years of campus and pastoral ministry before that), I have had the privilege of talking with countless pastors. Given my obvious interest in pastoral care, I regularly get asked a simple but basic question from people in ministry. It is then followed by an interesting statement. “Should I really try to “counsel” people or should I find someone who is an expert to whom I might send people for help?” “After all, I wasn’t trained in counseling in seminary.”

Why should a local church and its leaders seek to incorporate counseling within the context of the local church? It seems like a major distraction from the more important matters of church life and mission. Won’t counseling distract the church from being truly missional? Might it move the church to become insular and self-focused? Shouldn’t counseling be left to professionals who are highly trained to deal with people’s problems?

These are all good questions that deserve an answer. Here are some reasons a church should counsel:

  • Before we begin, we need to define our terms. The word “counseling” is a very distracting word. For the past 100 years, it is a word that has been associated with secular therapy and highly trained/skilled experts with degrees. They are also governed by state and national agencies that insure “best practices” in the helping professions. Unfortunately, the church has not engaged the "soft sciences" as it should have. Still, the word “counsel” is a word that is found all throughout the Bible. Just take Psalm 1:1-2 for instance. Notice the usage of the word “counsel”;

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked…But his delight is in the law of the Lord…

Other translations use the word “advice” for the word “counsel”. In other words, the concept of counseling or giving advice is as old as the human race. We are meaning makers and meaning seekers. We need advice and we offer advice. If this is an aspect of being made in God’s image, it would follow that God is very concerned about what we refer to as “counseling” or giving advice. In Psalm 1, the distinction is drawn quite starkly. One is often giving or receiving good or bad advice. In light of this Psalm alone, it is imperative that the church be in the business of “counseling.”

  • As Christians, we are on a mission. In John 17:18, Jesus says, ‘As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” Jesus came on a courageous mission of compassion to rescue us from ourselves and to restore all things. He did this as the incarnate Son of God. He did not preach a message from heaven but instead “became like us in every way” (Hebrews 2:17) though without sin. When a church commits to counsel people, they are saying that they are willing to get down in the trenches of daily life and love people with the redemptive compassion of the Incarnate One. They are saying that good preaching, as important as it is, is just the beginning of ministry of the Word not the beginning and end. Ministry of the Word that does not connect at the level of people’s sins and sufferings in a rich and meaningful way is insufficient. It fails to fully display the amazing compassion of the God of Scripture. A church should counsel if it wants to demonstrate the compassion of Father, Son and Spirit.

While different messages for change and human flourishing abound, the church must speak and demonstrate the power of the Gospel as it addresses issues endemic to the human condition.



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 a counseling organization  in Philadelphia, PA. 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.