BCC Staff Note: You’re reading Part Three in a four-part Grace & Truth blog series on Models of Care in the Biblical Counseling World. Read Part One by Brad Hambrick: Church, Counseling, and the Gospel at Work, and Part Two by Mark Shaw: Serving the Community to Impact the World.
Models of Care in the Biblical Counseling World: Series Introduction by Deepak Reju
While church-based counseling has often been the centerpiece of the biblical counseling movement, for many years we’ve seen a widening of potential models of care. What happens when Christians in local churches think creatively about how to meet the counseling needs of their community? Each day this week we’d like to showcase a different model and challenge you to think if you could do something similar to reach your community for Christ through the ministry of biblical counseling.
The Philadelphia Renewal Network: Coordinating Counseling Care
The local church is the ideal place for counseling. The local church is also the most dangerous place for counseling.
Both of these statements, unfortunately, are true. It is a reflection of the “already, not yet” reality of our spiritual nature and how that can play out as we live in community. As a ruling elder of a PCA church, I have time and again seen people seek counseling either only from the trusted head pastor, or else they will go outside of the church for professional help. A shepherd can feel hand-cuffed when trying to speak into that person’s life effectively as they are excluded from this crucial part of the conversation.
As a psychiatrist by profession, I have been on the other side of the equation as well. There I have encountered a different set of obstacles that prevent the translation of one’s growth in the gospel through counseling back to life within the Body of Christ. The busy lives of both the professional and the pastoral team inhibit this translation. Perhaps one of the largest, practical barriers is simply the cost of good care. (It didn’t take long for me to get tired of apologizing to potential new patients for my rates, and then to my family for not charging enough for my time which they would cherish to have for themselves.)
To address these tensions, God lead me to establish the Philadelphia Renewal Network (PRN), a non-profit organization that exists for a two-fold purpose: 1) to coordinate the counseling and psychiatric care that takes place outside of the local church with the shepherding care within the church, and 2) to help reduce the financial obstacles to that care. The easiest way to think of it is like a cross between an HMO and case management.
The Affordable Care of Acts
We learn from the early church that, “All who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:44,45). PRN strives to accomplish this redistribution of resources by receiving from the larger body of Christ and enabling those in need to have access to services.
This is done in a few ways:
- Through a small “premium” for member churches, at varying levels of membership with associated benefits and reduced costs for services.
- Through donations.
- Through a percentage of all counseling services facilitated by PRN.
After the expenses of PRN are met, the surplus gets established as a scholarship fund that will be used to subsidize or fully pay for care for those who can’t afford it.
A Shepherding Extension
PRN is intentionally structured to have its primary identity as the extension of the shepherding arm of the local church. It is not a counseling center which can further the mental compartmentalization of care that is “outside” the church. While the various counseling locations are not physically in each person’s local church, the relationship with that local church is explicit.
To enhance this connection, each church is assigned a PRN Care Coordinator whose main goal is to be sure that the counseling is integrated with the shepherding of that church. This is done through the provision of an initial treatment plan and monthly progress notes by the counselor for each PRN client, regular meetings with the church pastoral team where feedback and prayer requests are solicited for their members receiving care, and periodic meetings with the counselors and pastors from the member churches to maintain the shared vision and foster those relationships.
Additionally, PRN counselors are available to train and equip leaders of the local church so that they will feel more empowered to walk alongside of those struggling in the church. The hope is to both help the member see the church as a place where they can experience the gospel speaking into the details of their brokenness, and for the church to grow in its ability to be a place where this can happen.
There are several advantages to this model. Church membership is valued, as there are both financial incentives and relational benefits for a church member seeking care within the body of Christ. Members do not feel “handed off” to someone else to provide the counseling, but instead see the tight relationship between their church and the counselors who are supporting the church’s shepherding efforts. Furthermore, it is not an individual journey alone, but an opportunity for the larger body to become equipped and grow as they learn how to walk with someone in need.
It is a chance to have the best of both worlds for counselors as well. Those God has given special counseling gifts and who are distributed throughout the city can work for and support the local church in shared ministry, instead of working in a silo and feeling independent from the work that God is doing through His church. Counselors for PRN also have the opportunity for supervision, in-service trainings, and quarterly meetings with the director for a personal spiritual and professional inventory and development.
Like any model, there are disadvantages as well. Most of them are administrative, with the necessary attention to privacy laws, informed consent, and education about this unique structure compared to some of the more familiar counseling arrangements. It can also be challenging to coordinate the busy schedules of a number of pastors, church leaders, and professional counselors. Counselors must be invested in this model because they will be doing more work to provide the necessary progress reports. It can also get confusing to keep track of the “in network” and “out of network” services, the varying fee structures, and the method of reporting and payment of services. I thank God every day that He has blessed PRN with an amazing person to oversee that aspect of its functioning (and trust me, lest you think I am boasting, it is NOT me!).
I am excited to see what God would do in and through the Philadelphia Renewal Network and the local churches it serves. You can learn more about it or contact us through the Philadelphia Renewal Network.
Join the Conversation
How can churches better coordinate care of their members with para-church counseling ministries?