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A Church Counseling Program

A Church Counseling Program
Dr. Rogelio Aracena Lasserre

The way we work in our churches is very diverse and the development of a counseling program will greatly depend on the doctrinal focus and work of the church. For our goal, let’s establish some ideas that will motivate you to begin a counseling program. These ideas are part of the experience in our church and I trust they will help you to continue to improve in what you are probably already doing.

The first thing we need to establish is the following: pastors are not psychologists. Becoming one is a long process and involves a thorough understanding of causes and variable personalities and conduct. It also requires a degree in psychology. The reality is that we are simply counselors with a theological base, but we need to acquire knowledge and basic psychological tools that will allow us to distinguish situations we can handle. However, many of the problems we encounter should be handled by a trained Christian psychologist. With this in mind, counselors (in the church) will have the right attitude about themselves and the people they will help.

For example, a believer confides he has a habit of taking things that don’t belong to him and is ashamed when he gets caught. The first option is that we are in the presence of a confessing thief. Theft is forbidden and punished in the Bible. But there is a deeper problem because the person admits he has stolen and is also surprised and embarrassed by this conduct. This is a common symptom of kleptomania and the person needs more specialized help. The counselor needs training to handle this kind of problem. It takes time, experience and supervision. The key is the pastor and his level of interest in counseling and a commitment to enable the church to seriously handle this kind of ministry.

Let’s look at how to use three main counseling elements. When counseling, prayer should be relevant to the interview. Ask the person seeking counsel if he/she wants prayer, otherwise it will be coercive. If the person does not want prayer, the counselor can mentally pray for the person and success of the interview.

  1. Prayer should not be used to establish authority from the viewpoint of the counselor or to induce behavioral changes.
  2. Nor should it be considered a religious service. It is better to honestly say, “The time is over, we can continue at the next appointment.”
  3. When the counselor and the counselee have deep relationships with the Lord, it is good to pray together and ask for guidance and help. Sometimes the counselee will ask for prayer, but the counselor can suggest you pray together.
  4. Prayer should be effectively used in counseling when it is relevant, proper and mutually desired. In this sense, prayer honors and pleases the Lord who is the Shepherd of souls, and permits the Holy Spirit to be our comforter.
  5. Use plain and relevant language. Avoid theological statements as you pray, which makes it difficult for your visitor to understand.

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

  1. The Bible should be introduced with authority in the power of the Holy Spirit, not manipulative. Avoid the threat of punishment if your visitor does not obey the Word of God according to the counselor’s point of view.
  2. The counselor cannot infallibly judge the spiritual condition of the visitor and arbitrarily apply scripture to a possible problem. It is better to suggest studying a suggested Bible passage and ask if the person sees something that applies to the situation and can share it.
  3. The majority of people who go for counseling show anxiety. We should not put pressure on them by using Bible passages to make them feel worse. We need the person to be able to completely verbalize what is going on inside and later, the Word of God will be easier to hear and understand.
  4. There are people who do not show anxiety, guilt, or concern over the problem they face. For these, a biblical admonition is appropriate, especially if this is a repeat offense. Always do this in a loving manner.
  5. Using God’s Word must be done prayerfully. Personal meditation in God’s Word will help the counselor work properly.
  6. Select a list of Scripture passages that will illustrate the problems you will discuss. Hymns and songs are also appropriate. People in crisis cling to people and things which are familiar to them. For example, old hymns like “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” “Rock of Ages,” “No One Ever Cared For Me Like Jesus” and some new choruses express security and comfort. Appropriate use of this kind of music can provide relief and security to the one seeking counsel.

It is proper to establish a disciplined program of basic Bible preparation for the members of a church who will be part of a counseling team. The elements that should be covered are:

  1. Security of a believer: a minimum of 10 lessons that give understanding of the experience of salvation, the security of the process, the importance of faith, and what the local and universal church is.
  2. The doctrine of salvation: a minimum of 15 lessons that solidify the basis of security of the total work of Christ and the effects on the life of a believer because of Christ’s death and resurrection.
  3. The doctrine of the Holy Spirit: emphasis on the full life of the Holy Spirit. A minimum of 15 lessons.

Note: The basic program of FLET Universidad is recommended. The six books are 12 month studies which involve a tutor or leader in the church. The themes are: Introduction to the Old Testament, Introduction to the New Testament, Panoramic view of the Bible, The Church I Serve, Church Leadership, and The Great Doctrines of the Bible.

Regarding the necessary foundation in psychology, I suggest two books to begin: The Encyclopedia of Psychological Problems by Dr. Clyde Narramore, who teaches diverse psychological problems that are very practical. This book is part of the LOGOI 2009 seminars since one of the courses is on pastoral counseling.

To amplify the theory and strategy of counseling, the book by Dr. Larry Crabb, How to Counsel, (translated by LOGOI) is recommended.

Supervision is very important point in counseling. The pastor needs to keep track of visits to counselors and make notes regarding them. Sometimes it will be important to share some cases with other colleagues (without mentioning names) to get other opinions. In the local church, leaders who are working as counselors need to immediately report to the pastor for further help and suggestions.