The Editor’s Desk by Shawn McMullen
Throughout my ministry I’ve encouraged individuals and couples to seek guidance from professional Christian counselors when a personal crisis or life situation required more guidance than I had to offer. I’m thankful to have such resources in ministry and I thank God for the men and women who have prepared themselves to serve the church in this way.
At another level, however, there are many opportunities for members of the local church to help those who seek a listening ear and dependable counsel. In fact, Christians who are biblically grounded and spiritually mature are in a unique position to offer counsel to others in the local church—and often they enter these counseling relationships with several advantages.
The advantage of trust. When people make up their minds to seek spiritual or emotional help in a time of need, they often gravitate toward those they already know and trust. Perhaps you’ve noticed certain folks in your church people naturally go to with their problems—Christians who have earned the trust of others by their consistent examples and gracious spirits.
The advantage of history. If the counselor and the person seeking counsel are part of the same church fellowship, they may be familiar with each other in ways that give their interaction a head start. Often it’s easier to ask for help when you’re bringing your problems to someone who is familiar with your history. Familiarity with the home life and personality of the one who comes for counsel can be helpful to the counselor as well.
The advantage of availability. The nature of a professional counselor’s work often requires appointments to be set up days or weeks in advance. It’s worth the wait. But sometimes we want help today. This is where counselors in the local church can provide timely ministry. We must never take advantage of others’ schedules, but at the same time it’s nice to know there are people who are readily available when a need arises suddenly and unexpectedly.
The advantage of accountability. Sitting in the same Sunday school class, meeting in the same small group, or even worshiping in the same auditorium week after week with someone in whom you have confided creates a natural system for checking in and checking up. It’s more difficult to hide your true self and your true feelings from people you see frequently.
The advantage of encouragement. The writer of Hebrews urges Christians to “encourage one another daily” (Hebrews 3:13), and the fellowship of the local church provides an ideal outlet for such encouragement. Someone in whom you have confided may encourage you on Sunday mornings with a brief but heartfelt “How are you?” Your encouragement may come from a knowing glance or a gentle touch. It may come from uninterrupted conversation over coffee in the middle of the week.
Professional counselors are a valuable resource for those who struggle. But at other times, when you’re hurting or confused and want to confide in someone, you may need to look no further than your local body of believers.