A Compelling Mission
One of the great aspects of Christianity is that Jesus Christ has given His church clear marching orders. While we all articulate our mission statements in slightly different ways, the thrust is to glorify God by winning people to Jesus Christ and equipping them to be more faithful disciples.
Jesus said it like this in the Sermon on the Mount; “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
The apostle Paul told the Philippians; “…prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain” (Philippians 2:15-16).
God has called us to identify bridges where we connect what we believe with men and women in need of the gospel.
A Challenging Task
Most church leaders that I know spend significant amounts of time contemplating the best ways to accomplish our God-given mission in the culture in which we live. Pastors literally around the world have asked me the same question; How can we reach our communities for Christ?
It is one thing to know the verses quoted above and the many others we could add to the list. But knowing what this looks like it practical terms in the average church today is an entirely different issue. How many of us are really satisfied that we are being the bright lights in our community that the Scripture envisions?
A Compassionate Option
There are many ways to answer the question I’m posing. High on the list would be the importance of churches equipping our members to spiritual growth in the practical areas of everyday life. One of the strongest tools in the witnessing bag is a changed and changing life. This kind of emphasis on progressive sanctification within the walls of the church will lead to all sorts of redemptive conversations throughout the week (1 Peter 3:15).
Another strong answer is churches choosing to make biblical counseling services available to people in your community. At Faith, we have been doing so now for over thirty years and have found it to be a marvelous source of evangelistic contacts. Each Monday, twenty-five of our staff members and key lay-persons come together and provide 60-100 hours of biblical counseling services free of charge to people in our community. We have never advertised our services and we still always have a waiting list. In a real sense people in our town are standing in line in order to sit down with someone who will talk with them about their problems with the Word of God.
Here are five reasons why we believe building this kind of bridge to your community is valuable and important.
1. It provides numerous evangelistic contacts.
A significant percentage of the people who come to our community based counseling center do not know the Lord. They are more than happy to hear how the gospel impacts the problems they are facing.
2. It allows you to present the gospel thoroughly.
Most of us believe that significant harm has been done by ministries that present shallow versions of the gospel and call people to make quick and often uninformed decisions to trust Christ. Such persons often subsequently flounder in their spiritual life because they did not truly understand the gospel or they have no idea what to do next.
All of that is different in the counseling room. The setting provides a natural opportunity for the person to ask questions to clarify what it means to become a follower of Christ. They know that if they ask for more time to think and pray about the decision, you are willing to meet with them for as many weeks as they like. After they come to Christ, the process flows naturally into explanations and discussions about how the gospel impacts every area of life.
3. It positions you as a church that cares about the community.
Every church is known for something. Like it or not, your neighbors have formed an opinion about you. More importantly, they have formed an opinion about God based in part on what they observed about you.
Offering free biblical counseling to people who are hurting communicates a message to those who live around you. Over time people will begin hearing testimonials of lives that have been dramatically changed through the power of God’s Word. That is why we do not have to advertise our services. People hear about us through word of mouth.
4. You will eventually be known as a community resource.
Resources commonly known as “talking psychology” are drying up in many of our communities. Our culture is rapidly moving to a medical model of behavior in part because this approach is less expensive to deliver and more palatable to the medical insurance companies. The net effect is all sorts of judges, law enforcement professionals, educators, social service workers, and other community leaders scratching their heads about where to send people who are hurting.
Isn’t that a great opportunity to “shine as lights in the world”? If community servants are looking for resources to meet human need, and if the gospel is the ultimate answer to the problems people face, shouldn’t we do everything we can to link the needs with the resources in Christ? Wouldn’t it be great if people referred to our churches as community assets? Don’t we want people to conclude that the town is a better place because of our presence?
5. Your church family will be filled with trophies of grace.
A rather significant percentage of the men and women who join our church each year met us at the doors of the counseling ministry. After they trusted Christ, they began not just a short term relationship with a counselor, but a long term relationship with a church family. In many senses we do not just seek to have a counseling center—we seek to be a counseling center. Yes, they frequently bring their baggage in boxcars. But having such men and women as part of our church family keeps things fresh and alive.
Every church has to figure out how to bridge what they believe with people in need of the message. A community based biblical counseling center has helped us move toward fulfilling that desire.
What about you?
What are your thoughts about this mode of ministry outreach? Does your church offer counseling to people in your community? Why or why not? What other ministries does your church have that serve as a bridge to the community?