BCC Staff Note: You’re reading Part Two in a multi-part series by the BCC’s Grace & Truth bloggers on Biblical Counseling in the Local Church. In addition to today’s post by Keri Seavey, you can read Part One by Pastor Steve Viars: Biblical Counseling and Community Outreach. You will also read future posts by Pastor Kevin Carson, Pastor Andrew Rogers, Pastor Jonathan Holmes, Eliza Jane Huie, and Pastor Deepak Reju.
The most significant and rewarding aspect of our job as counselors in the local church has been to work our way out of counseling by equipping others to do it!
The local church community is meant to be a safe place to be honest about the hurts we face, the sins we commit, and the struggle we have in living by faith. Whenever you provide a context for honest and intentional engagement with the issues of the heart, counseling, practical care, and individual discipleship become realistic necessities. The needs of counseling can quickly overwhelm and swallow up the few who have been trained or equipped to provide this help.
Additionally, the strong exhortations and “one-anothering” imperatives of Scripture and the supernatural resources given to each member of the Body of Christ imply that each member is responsible for the care of every member. For these reasons, a thriving counseling ministry within the context of the local church must be an equipping ministry. Counseling, or coming alongside another in love, in the local church ought to be done predominantly (with some exceptions) by the local church members.
Many people in the church understand their biblical responsibility to one another and have a desire to love well, yet feel ill-equipped to handle the complex issues that can emerge. They are uncertain about what to say or do when another’s circumstances are intense or outside of their immediate experience. While they may understand in theory the powerful resources of the Holy Spirit and the living, active Word of God, they may still struggle to connect truth to life in ways that make a difference. Many feel their need to be specifically equipped to care well.
Equipping the Body seems a daunting and intimidating task indeed! How do you equip each member to care well with the grace and truth of the gospel? How do you equip individuals with different levels of education, abilities, and gifts? When this tension was felt most keenly by our counseling ministry team, we felt an urgency to come up with a model of care that was simple enough to explain to a fifth grader in 10 minutes, yet complex enough to undergird an entire ministry.
God gave wisdom and help in the creation of a 3-part model of care that has proven useful and accessible in the local church as well as other helping ministry contexts. A visual representation and basic explanation of the model will follow.
To give credit where credit is due, much of this model is a distillation of the education we received through CCEF counseling courses (Mike Emlet’s book Crosstalk was directly helpful in providing the Sinner, Sufferer, Saint categories to people) and gleanings from the resources of Bob Kellemen (in particular Soul Physicians, Spiritual Friends, and Equipping Counselors for the Church) and his RPM Ministries. www.rpmministries.org
Care for the Whole Person
Here’s how we picture whole-person care:
- Sufferer: We are broken, fallen people who live in a broken, fallen world with other broken, fallen people. Because of this, suffering is inevitable. As people share their story, listen for evidence of brokenness and pain which can be manifested spiritually, emotionally, physically, or relationally.
- Sinner: As fallen, sinful people, we are often blind, hardened or in denial regarding the reality and effects of sin or weakness in our lives. As people share their story, listen for evidence of weakness, blindness, stubbornness, and denial which can be manifested in unbelief, disobedience, disordered emotions or broken/strained relationships.
- Saint: When a person has been saved by grace through faith in Christ, that person has been redeemed from sin, united to Christ, and made a saint. As people share their story, listen for the evidence of grace and growth which can be manifested in trust in God, obedience, holiness, love for God and others, use of their gifts, service to God and others, and a fight for faith.
Care with the Grace and Truth of the Gospel
- Comfort: Christ, being moved by our suffering, entered into our experience when He came as a man to our broken world to redeem it. Because of His incarnation, life, rejection, and death, He sympathizes with our weakness, understands our temptations, and identifies with our pain in suffering. As Christ comforts us, we aim to comfort sufferers by:
- Listening well
- Lending perspective by embedding their story of suffering in God’s larger story of redemption
- Linking them to support
- Call: God is holy and requires a righteous response of wrath toward sin. God’s just wrath was fully satisfied at the cross when Christ atoned for sin, through His death, for all who trust in Him for salvation. Though His atoning work has definitively freed us from the penalty and power of sin in our justification, and one day will free us from the presence of sin in our glorification, we will have an ongoing battle with the reality of sin in our sanctification. As Christ calls us to repent, we aim to humbly call the sinner from sin by:
- Prayerfully preparing ourselves to confront
- Persuading the sinner to see sin where it exists as we speak the truth in love
- Promoting a gospel transaction which includes confession, repentance and reconciliation
- Confirm: Believing the gospel in faith makes a person new by uniting that person to Christ. They receive a new identity as a secure saint, forgiven of sins and imputed with the righteousness of Christ. They are adopted into a new family as a loved child of God. They are given a new heart with new affections for righteousness; with new abilities through the power of the Holy Spirit to walk by faith. They have a new purpose to glorify God and build His Kingdom as they live out faith expressed in love, obedience and holiness. They are destined for ongoing transformation unto Christlikeness until their future glorification in the presence of God. As Christ calls us to embrace our new life in Him, we aim to revive faith by:
- Establishing the believer in the gospel
- Expounding on gospel implications
- Encouraging gospel growth
The Goals of Gospel Care
- Renew Hope: The experience of suffering often causes a person to feel alone, misunderstood, unsupported, unloved, and hopeless. We aim to renew hope by communicating that while it’s normal to suffer in a fallen world, it’s possible to hope because of Christ and it’s easier to endure with help.
- Restore Peace: The experience of sin (whether due to blindness, hardness, or denial) often cause a person to feel confusion, anger, despair or anxiety in their relationships with God and others. We aim to restore peace with God, others and themselves by communicating that while it’s natural to struggle with sin in our fallenness, it’s destructive to live in it, and it’s liberating to be forgiven.
- Revive Faith: The experience of the saint who does not understand their new life in Christ often causes a person to feel doubt, anxiety, and insecurity in their relationship with God. They may lack purpose, direction, and meaning in life, feeling confused, powerless, and unmotivated to live out faith. We aim to revive faith by communicating that while it’s common to feel confused about the gospel, it builds assurance and confidence to believe what is true, it’s empowering to be made new, and it’s a blessing to walk by faith.
This simple discipleship model has proven to be accessible enough for all to understand, yet complex and sturdy enough to handle the pressure that we continue to build upon it. We have explained it in 10 minutes and taught it in a 5-week class. There is more room to develop it further. We currently use it as a foundational model in all of the caring ministries within our church. It has brought to these ministries the focus, balance, measurability, and direction that were needed. This “less-is-more” model has brought manageability to what seemed an impossible task of equipping the Body to care well.
Join the Conversation
What has been most helpful for you in equipping people to care for one another well?