Yesterday, I wrote about the difficulties in finding and making friendships in the church. Too often, when self-sacrificial love is required to form friendships, we isolate and hunker down in our own foxholes of safety and security.
Over the years, I’ve noticed that a large majority of the people who I see for counseling have little to no friendships in their life. Indeed, many of the people who we see for counseling could be having some of those exact conversations with their friends, but unfortunately for a variety of reasons, they don’t have any.
Can you assign your counselees the task of “finding” a friend? I believe you can, and in many cases you should. Leaving your counselee with the task of “finding community” can be vague and lead to discouragement. Far too often, the intentionality of finding friends dies, not for lack of desire, but for lack of concrete steps to follow. Friendship lives and dies in the realm of “intentions.” You can have the best intentions aimed at finding and forming friendships, but if those intentions aren’t executed and realized in tangible action, you’ll find yourself exactly where you began.
Here are five practical ways we encourage counselees to find and form Christ-centered friendships.
1. Find someone who’s already in your current sphere of life.
In counseling we can complicate things more than necessary. I like to ask the counselee to find someone they already naturally run into. Who do they sit in church with? Are there overlapping activities in day-to-day life where friendships can be formed? Is there someone in their neighborhood, school, or work with whom they fellowship with?
2. Discover a common area of service in the church.
Finding a common area of service in the church offers a way to build up the body of Christ, but also builds a friendship. Could your counselee serve together on a Children’s Ministry team or host something in their home? Join together to make a meal for a new mom, someone who’s recently been bereaved, or better yet visit a shut-in member of the church.
3. Ask them to pray for you, and ask how you can pray for them.
In counseling we are not only asking questions and building rapport with our counselees, we are actually seeking to model a way of conversation and relationship. I find people can get scared at having “deep” conversations, and often allow this to keep them from having any conversation. Here’s an important question, but one that allows for a variety of answers which will grow in depth and vulnerability as the friendship matures and grows.
4. Invite them into an ordinary aspect of your life.
We are constantly seeking to break down the divide between sacred and secular when it comes to life. Like the Puritans, we believe all of life is lived coram Deo, and thus able to be redeemed and done for His glory (1 Corinthians 10:31). The common and mundane tasks of life are ripe for opportunity to glorify God and build life together in community. Ask your counselee to invite their friend to do something ordinary: share a meal together, run an errand, take a walk in the park, sit in church together, exercise and hit up the gym, or take in a local sporting event.
5. Select something from your counseling, and share it with them.
Maybe this is the scariest aspect of the suggestions above, but it’s also the one which can begin moving a friendship from the shallow waters of getting to know each other to the deeper currents of understanding the heart of each other (cf. Proverbs 20:5). Encourage your counselee to open up and share something God is teaching them and growing them through. What is something good, hard, or bad that would be helpful and meaningful to share.
Surely one of the goals in counseling is to help our counselees transition back into the body of the church, not as a perfected individual, but a person committed to the ongoing, progressive work of gospel-centered change. Keeping your counselee dependent on the counseling relationship can often work against you in the long run, so make it a priority early on to help your counselee form and develop Christ-centered friendships and watch the Spirit grow and change them!
Join the Conversation
As a counselor, do you typically include in your “treatment plan” helping counselees to find spiritual friendships?
What additional suggestions would you give regarding practical ways to help counselees to find friendships?