Why Your Counselee Needs the Church
Whenever I receive a new application for counseling, one of the first things I want to know about that person is what kind of church they attend. I’m familiar with many of the churches in our area, and thanks to the Internet, I’m able to see the doctrine and beliefs of the churches with which I’m not familiar. A person’s church affiliation is important because it will make my job either easier or harder.
Church involvement is key to the counseling process, because spiritual growth happens in community. No matter how many hours I spend in the counseling room with an individual, I can’t replicate all the roles of the community of believers. While I can talk with her, teach her about heart issues and help her apply Scripture to her problems, there are many things that simply won’t happen without her involvement in the local church.
God Himself lives in fellowship with others, and always has. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit live in perfect harmony together, and they function as one Person. As Timothy Lane and Paul Tripp say in How People Change, “Human beings long to connect because that is what we are made for.” Since we are made in the image of the Triune God, this really should not be a surprise.
We need to be in fellowship with others, not only for our own accountability and discipling, but also so that we can hold others accountable and disciple them. As we live and learn together, we gain insight and knowledge about what it means to follow Christ. We learn discernment so that we can help our brothers and sisters up out of their sin when they stumble, and so that we can lean on them when our own battle against sin is heating up.
I don’t know about you, but I need mentors. I need to have people in my life who are farther along the road of sanctification than I am. I need people to turn to when I become weary or have doubts. Even if I don’t call on them, my faith is boosted just by the knowledge that they are there, and that they will help me if I need it. This becomes really vital for the counselee when formal counseling ends. She needs to have a discipler from her church in mind, so that she can transition smoothly into a less formal relationship of mentoring and accountability.
Serving in some way in the Body of Christ is vitally important for the growth of the church as well as the individual. As we serve our fellow believers, we see that God can use us in many ways, and this fosters a sense of belonging. I always encourage my counselees to serve in their churches in any way they believe they are able, or sense that they are gifted.
Women are vital to the healthy operation of a church, and are gifted in ways that men aren’t. We are relational, and many of us are good at welcoming new attenders, visiting shut-ins, offering counsel to young wives, and a host of other things. I always encourage my counselees to think outside the box when it comes to service in the church. Though nursery, Sunday school, and meal ministry are good places to volunteer, there are many other things a woman can do outside of structured programs. Seeking out individual women and teens to mentor or forming her own small group Bible study would be wonderful gifts of service to the body, and would offer her opportunities to grow.
When I have an unchurched counselee who is really stuck in her sin and unwilling to give it up in spite of my rebuke and pleading with her, I have no choice but to end our counseling until she is ready to repent. If, however, she is a member of a church that practices restorative ministry, there is one more step I can take: I can call her pastor, share our struggle with him, and ask him to intervene. According to Matthew 18, this is the next step in helping her to repent and change: Take it to the church! The church is absolutely indispensable to the process of counseling because, when no other plea is successful, it is often the instrument of change.
When the church steps in with the restoration process, the Spirit of God uses the body of Christ to exhort the person to repent. Church members are asked to contact the sinning member and plead with her to repent and return to Christ. What a relief for me as her counselor, to know that I am not the only human trying to help her. The sin has been brought out into the light, and she cannot hide it any longer. This is where she will be confronted in her sin by people who know and love her. When counseling does not succeed in bringing someone to repentance, the church may be used of God to accomplish His purpose in her life.
Church membership is vital for a believer, and counselees must be encouraged to be active in a church. If they don’t have one, I ask them to attend my church during the course of our time together. This way, I know what they are being taught, and I can encourage them to get plugged in and start seeking a discipling partner. Biblical Counseling has its distinctive advantages for a season, but it can’t work as it should without the church.