Note from the BCC Staff: This is the fourth in a series of periodic posts by biblical counselors regarding the practical intersection of small group ministry and biblical counseling. Read Part 1: At the Corner of Small Groups and Biblical Counseling, Part 2: Change in Community, and Part 3: Uniting Discipleship and Counseling. Today we learn from Pastor Andy Farmer of Covenant Fellowship Church, Glen Mills, Pennsylvania.
The Ministry of the Word in Everyday Life
Our church, Covenant Fellowship Church, started as a church plant in 1984 with a team of a couple of dozen adults and children relocating to the Philadelphia suburbs. We are part of the Sovereign Grace Ministries family of churches. The church currently has a membership of about 1,500 people. We are committed to a pastoral care model built on Gospel centrality and biblical counseling. The pastors of the church care for the spiritual needs of the people in the church in preaching and teaching, in their personal ministry, and in creating structures of care for the church. We are committed to doing personal biblical counseling as a significant and ongoing part of our ministry responsibilities.
To be committed to care through biblical counseling, however, doesn’t mean that the pastors are the designated counselors within the walls of the church. While the call of the pastor presumes that he has gifts, skills, and experience in the care of people, biblical counseling doesn’t succeed or fail on the expertise of the one giving it. The emphasis isn’t on the gifts of the counselor, or the fact that counsel is coming “from the pastor,” but on the power and sufficiency of God’s Word. Therefore, we see counseling in a broad sense first—as ministry of the Word among ordinary people in everyday life.
Community Group Ministry
Our basic structure for ‘counseling,’ as understood above, is our Community Group Ministry. Small groups have been an integral part of our church since its inception. In fact, for the fifteen years that the church met in rented facilities, small groups were the sustaining context of the church on a day-to-day basis. That orientation remains very much who we are to this day even though we now occupy a building and have the programs and ministries that a building allows a church to provide.
Our Community Groups (as they are now called) have some features that make them distinct from the way small groups are structured in many churches. For one thing, the Community Groups are the primary context where members of the church receive the care provided by pastoral ministry. While our pastoral staff is dedicated to availability, responsiveness, and counsel to any member, it is neither biblical, practical, nor ultimately helpful for the members of the church to depend on personal pastoral meetings for care. People need the effect of the gifts the Holy Spirit distributes throughout the body of believers. We all need the ‘one another ministry’ that is embedded in biblical community. And we need the shared experiences of suffering, weakness, and change that are essential to the maturity and witness of the church. The Community Groups serve that function in a primary way at Covenant Fellowship Church.
Community Groups are so essential to who we are as a local church that they are an essential expression of membership in the church. In other words, to be a member of Covenant Fellowship Church, a person is committed to attending and actively participating in a Community Group. If a person is not involved in a Community Group they are not positioned to receive the pastoral care that the church has promised to them. As pastors, we are committed to the care of God’s people given to us through membership and seek to help anyone who is not participating in a Community Group find a way to experience this necessary care. Simply put, a person’s care from the church, whether it is meeting practical needs or addressing spiritual struggles, is intended to be centered in the familiar and supportive environment of the Community Group.
Our Community Group leaders, therefore, are more than just facilitators of the small group. They carry a responsibility to ensure that every member of the church has access to the practical care of the church and that the pastors are kept abreast of the needs and challenges the people in the church face. Our Community Group leaders are the primary laypersons who have personal ministry responsibility in the church. Prior to becoming Community Group leaders, they will have demonstrated a mature ability to offer counsel to others as brothers and sisters in Christ, will have gone through our general discipleship and leadership training courses, and will have had specific training in the responsibilities of Community Group leadership. Small group leaders meet as groups with pastors once per month for the purpose of their own care and for ongoing training in personal ministry.
The Personal Ministry of the Word
But we are not looking for the Community Group leaders to ‘do the counseling.’ We have sought to teach the church that ‘counseling’ is one expression of the personal ministry of God’s Word in community; alongside discipleship, intercessory prayer, biblical fellowship, wise advice, confession, encouragement and shared study of God’s Word. It is in the multiple layers of relational ministry that counseling occurs.
For example, if someone is struggling with acute anxiety, he or she may meet with a pastor who will help position them through formal counseling for change. But the pastor will involve the Community Group leaders, friends, and even at times a brother or sister who has struggled with the same issue to create a network of prayer, support, and counsel for that person. Since we view change as a work of God that takes place over time, this ‘community based counseling’ provides the insight, support and accountability to help a person with lasting change over time.
It is the cooperative work between creative pastoral engagement and enduring community fellowship that serves as our model of biblical counseling in the church.
Join the Conversation
What could you apply to your ministry from the way Covenant Fellowship Church blends creative pastoral engagement and enduring community fellowship?