People face many problems and predicaments in this sin fallen world we live in. When they encounter issues, the first person they often turn to, is a pastor in the local church. Many pastors see counseling as something the “professionals” do. Modern psychology has taken over, even in many of the most biblically conservative churches.
The majority of issues the pastor will be confronted with are not bonafide psychological/medical issues, they are situations that need to be dealt with, or discipleship concerns. How can one discern the difference? It is typically evident after the initial discussion and evaluation of the person you are helping. It is always wise to encourage someone you are helping, to see their medical doctor who can properly evaluate them and treat accordingly. Under no circumstance should the pastor provide medical counsel, or instruct the person being helped on what to do medically. This is wise, and it is also important for liability, that those issues be left with the medical professionals.
What are some practical keys in helping someone?
As a regular practice, we only counsel people who are already a part of our church family, or who are willing to make the commitment to be. The reason for this, is it takes so much time and energy, and also a commitment on the part of the person being helped, that it is best in our setting to limit who we help.
When you are first presented with a problem, do a quick inventory of whether it is a situation that needs to be dealt with, or if it will require a discipleship process of several sessions or several months. It is always helpful to have the person seeking counsel to complete an intake form, which will provide helpful and necessary background about them, and their problem, so it can be dealt with.
The majority of what the pastor will be presented with, can be handled in one session, or a few at the most. People deal with life decisions they need wisdom on, relationship conflict, and a variety of other issues. Many times, if the person is a sincere follower of Christ, they will already know the biblical solution to their problem, and simply need encouragement they are thinking correctly about the situation.
The Bible is the pastor’s authority and guide. Any direction we offer, must be with confidence from God’s Word. Ultimately, if the person is to experience life change, they will have to submit themselves to God, and the power of Word to be changed.
Give clear homework assignments from the Scripture. There are a number of good biblical counseling resources available that can be used. Set expectations, and if people do not keep their appointments, or do not follow through on homework assignments, refuse to continue the counseling relationship until they take their commitment seriously.
Keep a confidential record of your work with people. If you do, you can go back and know the approach you have taken. This keeps you from repeating the same process with the person, should you need to help them in the future. This is particularly important in a long-term pastorate. It can also serve as a blueprint for helping others in the future because many of the same problems are presented repeatedly.
Be extremely cautious not to create dependency in the person being helped. Your goal is to point them to Jesus, and the power of God to change their life. Keep clear boundaries with those you are helping.
It is fairly easily discerned if people really want to be helped, or if they are going through the motions. Don’t be hesitant to call it as you see it. Let them know that you care about them, but they have to be in a place where they want spiritual help for it to be beneficial.
Raise up other people who love the Bible and love people who can also provide soul care in the congregation. This is particularly important in raising up women who can help women and men who can help men. Create a culture of care in the congregation
Most of all, pray. Pray for wisdom from God on how to help people. Pray for the people you are privileged to help.
This is only an introduction to biblical counseling, not a comprehensive treatise on how to do it. If you are ill equipped to help people, make the commitment to get the biblical training you need. Find someone who is more experienced in the ministry who can help you. As situations arise and you work through them, don’t be afraid to ask for help on what to do.
The thinking of some pastors is that they don’t offer any counseling at all, they always refer. If this is your thinking, I have one question for you. Where in the Bible, are pastors instructed to refer discipleship to people outside the church?