The Important Ministry of Counseling in Local Churches
Briefly travelling to the West to be equipped as a biblical counsellor has been personally refreshing. Especially for a person who comes from a developing country and from a different culture, the general orderliness of the traffic system, the cleanliness of the surroundings, the beauty in the creation and the affluence of the people make one wonder if the West is perfect!
But it doesn’t take long to realise that the West has many problems too. It has economic, social, religious and political problems as well. Despite being comparatively more advanced, it is far from perfect. Similar to any other place in the world, the West is filled with men and women who are sinners! On the surface level, it may appear beautiful and problem-free, but at the end of the day, it is as broken as the rest of the world. The fact is that we all live in a broken world with broken people who have alienated themselves from God.
And, because of people’s unbelief in God and rebellion against him, they not only sin against God, they sin against their fellow human beings too. The more they sin against God, the more they are gripped and enslaved by sin. And the more they sin, the more they hurt themselves and others. Being gripped by sin is similar to the condition of the demon-possessed man in the New Testament (Mark 5) who, in spite of being chained, breaks off his chains and runs among the tombs, constantly cries out and cuts himself with stones, and is unrestrainable. Like him, rebellious human beings cannot be restrained from harming themselves and the people around them.
Figuratively speaking, one could say men and women without God are like zombies who are determined to hurt themselves and others. Now, looking at the fallen condition of humanity, the question, “Has God left us without any hope of healing?” must come to our minds. Praise the Lord! He has not. He has given us the local church to radiate God’s manifold wisdom of his glory, love, kindness, compassion and grace towards hurting sinners through Jesus Christ (Eph. 3:10). The Local church is like a hospital that treats the broken world with the medicine of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. There isn’t a greater cure for sinners who struggle than the gospel itself (Matt. 11:28). And local churches have been entrusted to proclaim, defend, and apply this gospel, both to those who are estranged from God (through evangelism) and also to those who are in His family but continue to struggle because of the effects of the Fall (through discipleship and counselling).
This is why I believe that as we think about the ministry of counselling, we should realise the vital role that the local church plays. Here are four reasons why I believe the Local Church and Counseling belong close together.
- We are counselled as we Submit to God’s Word in Worship
Men and women are created to worship God and enjoy him forever, as the Westminster Catechism puts it. The greatest delight of a Christian is to worship God. All our suffering, worry, pain and anxiety will pale into insignificance when we worship the Lord in truth and spirit (Phil.4:4-7). It is as a local church we are commanded to gather together to worship God corporately (Heb. 10:25). I believe there isn’t any greater joy than to worship God with the fellow saints in the local church (Acts. 2:42-47).
If I can put it respectfully, without dismissing the need for other types of counselling, the greatest counsel takes place when a sinner receives the Word of God in humility and with joy (Heb. 4:12-16). I believe that as we worship the Lord under the guidance of Scripture and look to God in faith and repentance, the Holy Spirit draws us closer to God by cleansing our souls and by giving us counsel and a sense of assurance and peace. This is a supernatural work of the Spirit of God. By not being a part of the local church, one would miss the greatest counsel God can give to a believer through the preaching, singing and fellowship of the local church.
- We receive Counsel from the Church we Commit to
The Word of God teaches that all Christians should be committed to a local church. A believer cannot grow in his faith if he is not committed to the body of Christ. It is the local church where our souls are cared for by allowing ourselves to be accountable to the leaders of the church and also to fellow believers in the congregation (Heb. 13:17). If someone wants help but does not want to commit to a church, they are effectively cutting themselves off from the solution to their problem because they are not immersed in the life of the church where they are likely to find godly counsel. A casual and uncommitted visitor may not get the needed help because Elders need to prioritize their time to minister to those who are indeed committed to the church.
- God calls Elders to give Counsel to Local Churches
On the flip side of my previous point, on the day of judgement, God would evaluate a pastor’s ministry based on how he cared for the sheep. This shows the importance of faithfully preaching and serving the flock. But this also includes the ministry of applying God’s Word to individual sheep to help them in their various struggles with sin and suffering. As under-shepherds, Elders are to proactively care for sheep who need help.
- Members Counsel One Another in a Local Church
The local church is where the community of believers is found, and all believers in the local church are called to care for one another. It is true that Elders lead in this and may be more able to care, but it is also true that the Elders are to equip the saints so that all the members can do the work of ministry (Eph. 4:12), which includes counselling those who are struggling. It is through the community and the fellowship of believers, that Christians are discipled, encouraged, loved, cared for and counselled(Rom. 12:3-16).
And so, my encouragement to all those who are thinking about the need and importance of counselling, is that they see the primary importance of the local church for God’s people to be cared for in their struggles.