Sean Gould

Advice to Counsel in Community

March 29, 2017

Do you remember receiving a good piece of advice at some point in your life?  What was it? Did it involve something regarding a daily task or a specific way of handling a relationship? Often times, a good piece of advice is simple, pithy, and to the point.

I remember a really good piece of advice I heard during my seminary years from a guest speaker. We were sitting in a Q&A session and someone asked the speaker, “If you could give one piece of advice to us seminary students, what would it be?” As he pondered the question and then began to speak, you could hear the rush of paper and pen getting reading to jot down every word that was uttered. The man responded, “Read your Bible every day and pray every day.”

Many of the students had puzzled looks on their faces as they were awaiting a more mind-blowing revelation.  But to this day, that is some of the best advice I have ever received.  It was simple, helpful, important, and timely.

As I have been serving in various churches over the years, there is another piece of advice that has served me well in my counseling efforts.  That advice is this: counsel in community. It’s a basic concept that has been invaluable for me time and time again. At the heart of it, what I mean is: bring other church members along with you as you counsel people.[1]

Benefits to Counseling in Community

It Benefits the Counselee

Bringing in a close friend or fellow small group member of the counselee can help in multiple ways. For starters, there is already some built-in trust and rapport.  This should help the counselee feel more comfortable, at ease, and potentially more open to hearing questions and receiving truth in love. Having a trusted friend alongside you can help bridge that gap.

Having another person in the room—someone who loves the counselee and can provide on-going care—also supports the idea that the person is not alone. If one of our goals in the counseling session is to care for the counselee, it seems helpful to bring another person into the room who has already been involved in giving care.

From a counseling standpoint, it also provides for accountability to take place after the counseling session. Instead of one person knowing the homework and what steps need to be taken, the other person can help encourage and instruct the counselee after the counseling session is finished.

It Benefits the Counselor

Have you ever been in a counseling situation where the counselee has a difficult time describing the problem he or she is facing? Perhaps the conflict or incident is very fresh, and words are hard to come by because of strong emotions. The friend in the room might be able to describe the situation when the counselee needs help articulating what has happened.

Meeting in a group can help in data gathering in other ways. It is much harder to speak falsehood to a counselor when there is another person sitting right there who might know of the situation. And even if the friend doesn’t know the situation, the counselee is more likely to be more upfront with the counselor when a known trusted friend is in the room.

Having another person in the room also benefits the counselor by adding a layer of visibility, accountability, and protection. I have heard some difficult stories over the years of how a one-on-one counseling situation led to inappropriate actions. We live in a fallen world with sinful hearts and often it’s just good wisdom to guard against temptation. Another person in the room would be a great help in this.

It Benefits the Church

Paul writes in Ephesians 4 that God has given the church shepherds and teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ. What a great opportunity we have as counselors, teachers, and small group leaders to equip the saints in our counseling sessions. It is my guess that this is a commonly neglected avenue of equipping in our churches today.

One of my goals as a counselor in the church is to multiply myself by equipping others to do the work of counseling. And while teaching classes or seminars on the topic of counseling can be a tremendous help towards this goal, training and equipping goes to another level when people can actually see the work practiced. It is one thing to read a book or article about counseling practices; it’s another thing to be present in the actual work.

So, we have an opportunity not only to help the counselee, but also to instruct and equip the other friend in the room to grow as a healthy, contributing church member.  The church is the primary means that God uses for our growth and godliness. You are not a super counselor—and that’s ok, because neither am I. But even if we were, it would be foolish to circumvent God’s appointed means of building up the church.  Counseling in community trains and raises up future counselors and ultimately equips church members to make their contributions to the health of the church.

Join the Conversation

Does your counseling ministry feel more like Lone-Ranger care? What are some ways you could bring others along in your counseling to help care for those in need? What would that look like in your context?

[1] This, of course, presupposes that you have received permission from the counselee.

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