With eager excitement, I recently took a position as pastor of discipleship and counseling at a church in Michigan. Shortly after, I was also given responsibility to oversee our missions and outreach work. This made me think, how can evangelism and missions intersect with the work of counseling?
When you think about it, cultivating a missional lifestyle develops maturity in so many of the directions we’re trying to push counselees towards:
- Accurate thoughts of God: Telling others the gospel and engaging in missions steers a counselee to focus on God’s glory and think bigger thoughts about Him.
- Love for Christ: A lifestyle of evangelism and participation in missions provides consistent reminders of unmerited grace – enhancing affections for Christ, countering affections for the world, and stimulating gratitude.
- Outward orientation: Evangelism and missions provides a natural way to serve and encourage others rather than to be self-focused.
- Biblically-defined meaning and value: Telling others the gospel helps counselees consider what’s genuinely significant and glorious, helping them redefine what they’re after.
Specific Ways a Missional Lifestyle Can Help
Now we could be tempted to think, this is too advanced for a counselee. Depending on what’s going on, that might be the case. But you could also say the more serious the struggle, the more serious the prescription necessary. Just like practicing hospitality hits on multiple aspects of sanctification, participation in missions breaks through all sorts of rubble. It’s both a way out of a struggle and an indication of growth from that struggle. Think about some of the typical matters we counsel and the impact this can have:
- Sadness: Those struggling with depression get it half right – this world isn’t very pleasant and it’s fallen. Participation in missions reminds them of the other half – God has provided the answer through a relationship with Him.
- Spouses in conflict: You can tell spouses they’re on the same team and have larger purposes than what they typically argue about. But sometimes they need tangible ways to experience that. Hosting missionaries, praying for each other’s evangelistic conversations, and reading together about what God is up to overseas can do just that.
- Pornography: Regular participation in evangelism and missions provides a frequent reminder that people are made to serve God, not our fantasies.
- Bitterness or resentment: Whatever job or circumstance in life someone may think they’ve lost out on, and however legitimately painful those may be, counselees need to be steered towards thankfulness that they’re given the underserved privilege of representing Christ to all people, and regular participation in evangelism and missions reminds them of that.
- People who want to matter: What could be more significant than being part of telling others the gospel?
Ways to Engage
Ready to help a counselee cultivate a missional lifestyle as one of the many tools in your arsenal to help them? This will look different for everyone and some of these are quicker and easier to do than others. Follow up every so often to assess impact.
- Pray for your church’s supported missionaries. Encourage a counselee to contact their missions pastor or take notes during their church’s prayer meeting about how they can pray for their supported workers.
- Serve missionaries who are on furlough. Give a counselee homework to find out the next time a supported missionary will be back in town and offer to help with rides, hospitality, and other needs. Perhaps host a Q&A session or ask them to coffee to hear about both their fruit and difficulties. As counselors know, actively praying for and serving others tends to let a counselee know that even if they’re struggling, they’re still of great use to the kingdom.
- Read Operation World. Or biographies. Either way, push a counselee to see how God is working or has worked for His name. Operation World provides encouragement by showing how God has been working in hard places, describes challenges, and offers prayer requests specific to particular countries. It is a great resource to think bigger and beyond present hardships.
- Slowly build towards a lifestyle of evangelism. This is easier than it may appear. A little forethought can go a long way, as can further reading. Some initial ideas:
- Who: Co-workers and neighbors are obvious, but also take notice of who you regularly see at the places you frequent. Perhaps the other parents at a kid’s soccer practice or fellow customers at the market. Chances are they recognize you and would be open to conversation.
- Create a bridge, part I: What common interests do you have with non-believers? Try to do something where you can naturally have conversations.
- Create a bridge, part II: Think about conversations that are doorways to the gospel. Sports fans like to talk about the “greatest of all time.” You could bridge that by asking, what do we mean by great? Would you mind if I tell you how the Bible defines greatness and One who is truly great? Or say an athlete or celebrity gets in trouble; how might that be a way to talk about the balance of grace and justice?
- Remind a counselee this is what they’re made for. Naturally, if you suggest any of this, a counselee may object – “I’m here to talk about me, not some guy in a country I’ve never met!” Or, “Let’s focus on the here and now, not on eternity!” But that’s the point. Praying for others, being part of the Great Commission, and living in light of eternity is about the counselee – it’s what they’re made for if they’re believers in Christ. They just need to see and experience that.
Questions for Reflection
What impact could prescribing evangelism and engagement in missions have on your counselees? What roadblocks to growth could be removed when they have tangible ways to think bigger and more outward thoughts and act accordingly?
Jason Hsieh serves as associate pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he oversees discipleship, counseling, and missions.