The counseling capacity of church spiritual leaders- Why people seek help from the church.
There has never been a need for pastoral counseling like this time. People are hurting, people are going through issues related to the COVID-19 and even other life’s pressures and stresses. The gospel of Jesus Christ calls for the church to heal the brokenhearted and bind up their wounds. It’s part of Biblical ministry and Jesus Himself did it at several instances in the scripture. The question is how do we do that, what do you do as a pastor or a spiritual leader when people come to you? How do you handle their cases and needs if any?
If you are not a pastor or a spiritual leader, have you ever sought counseling from your pastor? Why did you choose to go to the Pastor and not anybody else, or even a professional counselor? I have personally done that many times. Maybe to answer my question in that context is that, it was because pastors or spiritual leaders are non-judgemental depending on the trust level, second, pastors are naturally approachable and thirdly, pastors are always available at no cost.
WHY DO PEOPLE SEEK HELP FROM THE CHURCH
Honestly speaking, people need help and guess where the majority goes to seek that help from, they go to the church! Yes, people seek help from the church even non-believers.
But why the church?
In Africa, people associate their mental wellness to traditional beliefs and others to spiritual beliefs. Mental issues are associated with witchcraft, bad omens, curses, demonic possessions, and many other funny stuff people mention out there. Consequently, that’s what determines where they will seek help. People also associate suffering as a lack of faith or just punishment from God and that where you hear people asking God “why me?” “why is God allowing all this to happen?”
Christianity does not exclude suffering, a theology without suffering is not complete, it’s just a ‘thorn on the flesh’ as Paul called it. That means, by the end of the day, we are all humans and we will face hard times and even painful situations. The church is a place of refuge because Christ offers comfort and peace to those who seek Him. Probably that’s the reason why people turn to God when things go wrong or when facing storms with life.
WHAT IS THE ROLE OF THE CHURCH IN COUNSELLING
The truth is that the church has a very wide gap to bridge in terms of promoting the emotional wellness of her members. The Church of Christ should not only be concerned about the spiritual needs of her members but should also take care of their psychological and emotional needs as well as physical needs. The Church should demystify these negative theories about Mental health in our society and be at the frontline to help those who are already expressing mental problems.
However, unless the spiritual leaders understand why mental health is just a normal state of being like physical health, they may not know what the person is going through beyond the situation presented, they may even be the ones propagating the Stigma in the name of prayer request and hence making people shy away from expressing their issues.
As far as I know, pastors are really trying their best to offer help, prayers, or support to those people. However, most of them don’t know how to go about the whole process of Counseling. What normally happens is that they listen to the person’s stories, suggest possible solutions, and pray for the person and maybe one or two follow-ups. If you are a pastor I would like to know how you do it.
I believe, pastors are capable of helping their members who are going through various issues through counseling. Many people are already seeking help from them and therefore there is a need for integration of theology and counseling psychology to equip and train pastors on how to handle those issues.
At the same time, there are also pastors who go through personal issues in silence. A wounded shepherd may not protect his flock from the enemies. (Pastors, seek help, accept what you are going through, confess to a person you trust, embrace your pain, and release it to Christ, He who carries all our burdens, ALL! NOT SOME!)
WHAT CAN THE CHURCH DO BETTER?
The church should intentionally teach about the common issues people are going through like marital conflicts, domestic violence, facing terminal illness, parent-child conflicts, sexual abuse, depression, anxiety, etc. People should be encouraged to seek help and even giving them options of where they can find that help. It could be one way of breaking the stigma and allowing people to come out.
The church can also advance how counseling is done. Counseling is a process, it’s not a one-day thing, there is a standardized format to be followed but it may not necessarily be that professional, but it should be relational and confidential except if the person seeking help is in danger of harming themselves (suicidal) or others when you may be required to disclose to relevant authorities or suicide prevention center.
If you’re a pastor or a church leader, and you wish to learn how to offer pastoral counseling, I would recommend that you go through Brad’s free lessons on how to establish an effective pastoral counseling ministry in your church at the link below. He offers free training which I believe will be helpful to you.
Brad serves as the Pastor of Counseling at The Summit Church in Durham, NC. He also serves as Assistant Professor of Biblical Counseling at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, a council member of the Biblical Counseling Coalition, has authored several books including God’s Attributes: Rest for Life’s Struggles, and served as general editor for the Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused (churchcares.com) project
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mercy Kosonei is the founder of Embrace Life Beyond, a Christian Mental Health advocate and blogger. She is currently a stay at home mom and a Masters student of Christian Studies. She is a trained psychologist and very passionate about the integration of psychology and spirituality.