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Lay Counseling in the Church - by Mary L. Weinstein

One reason why pastors burn out is because they take on too many responsibilities and don’t delegate to others.  The pastor should not have to be the only one who can counsel and minister to people.  The entire body of Christ has spiritual gifts and talents that enable them to do many things the pastor does.  It is important that churches teach their members how to help one another. 


The body of Christ ought to be able to exhort, edify and comfort one another.  They ought to be able to pray, minister, and do lay counseling with others.  When I say counsel, I don’t mean do therapy or diagnose people’s problems.  I am referring to lay counseling, the type that can be done through praying, reading the Word, encouraging and helping one another.  Lay counseling,  however, can be taken to a higher level by having members trained through organizations like the American Association of Christian Counselors.  They offer excellent counseling programs for a fee.


New believers should not be counseling others.  They should be sitting under the leadership to learn, grow, and be rooted and grounded.  Then when they are ready, they also can be trained to lead and counsel others.  However, for mature believers, there’s no reason why they cannot be trained to minister to others.  If a member doesn’t want to submit, this is a clear indication that they don’t belong in ministry.  Obedience is the tool of change, not the result of it. 


There are several things people need to know about lay counseling.  Honesty and confidentiality are essential.  If someone has a problem maintaining confidentiality, then they should not be allowed to counsel.  If a person needs counsel, they need to be open and honest about what is taking place in their lives.  They need to feel comfortable with the person ministering to them.  Members need to be taught people skills.  People love to talk about themselves.  Therefore, it is important to be an active listener.  Sometimes all it takes is to listen to somebody and never say a word.  Other times, we need to pray with them and guide them in what the Holy Spirit wants to do in their lives.  People need to be taught to hear from God for themselves and evaluate what God is saying to them.


Many churches have cell groups. However, sometimes these groups spend a lot of time eating and chatting instead of truly teaching the Word.  A good idea is to have a different person share either a word or a testimony.  One person should not do all the talking each week.  People have to be given the opportunity to be involved and partake in ministry.  It is part of the growing process.  People who are not involved, do not grow.  Cell groups are a great place for people to practice people skills and to do ministry. 


The church has to teach people to make it on their own, to be self reliant and take responsibility for themselves.  People need to learn to diagnose themselves.  God uses pain to speak to us.  Sometimes that’s the only way people listen.  Teach them to face the pain.  Don’t take away people’s guilt.  They need it.  They also need defense mechanisms to help them deal with pain. 

Some things can only be learned by experience and cannot be taught.  Empower people to become what they already are in Christ.


Train members to ask questions to provoke people’s thinking.  Usually people have the answer to their problems.  People need to be encouraged to solve their own problems.  A person who is going through something is not always in sin or being attacked by the devil.  There are different reasons why people go through trials.  Perhaps God wants to develop their character or is preparing them for other things. 


Most of the pain in our lives is caused by poor relationships.  This is because we go into relationships expecting others to meet our needs.  When our needs are not met, we become angry, bitter, resentful and/or unforgiving toward people.  We need to learn to deny our “self.” 

The enemy loves to cause strife and division through offenses.  He knows people are easily offended.  We must be careful not to be offended so easily.  It is important to teach members to serve others and not have expectations from anyone.  This will avoid a lot of disappointments. 


People have to be taught to think biblically.  Spiritual disciplines are crucial in a believer’s life.  A believer needs to practice silence, solitude, fasting, and prayer.  It is so important that people read, study, and meditate on the Word of God.  The Word of God addresses most of the problems we experience in life.


If churches would train their flock to do the above, it would allow the pastor to be more effective at pastoring and leading thus avoiding burnout.  The pastor would be free to focus on other issues.  The pastor would be healthier and more balanced and the church would be a refuge for the hurting like it was meant to be.


2009 Copyright Mary L. Weinstein

Mary L. Weinstein is a Certified Life Purpose Coach through Life Purpose Coaching Centers, Int'l.  She holds a Bachelor of Theology in Biblical Counseling from The King's College & Seminary.  She is an ordained Minister, Biblical Counselor and Bible Teacher.  Mary is the Founder and CEO of Friends with Purpose Ministries.  Her website is http://www.friendswithpurpose.com

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