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Here is the full question: Are the spiritual gifts given to the New Testament church (especially to the elders) sufficient to meet the counseling needs of God’s people? I’m wondering if more elders need to acknowledge their God-given sufficiency to counsel (or disciple) those given to their charge and more fully devote themselves to this aspect of their pastoral labors.
The short answer is “yes,” the gifts are sufficient for the church leaders to counsel well, but I would add that they are also for the entire local church. Every Christian has spiritual gifts to provide soul care to each other. Many verses support this “one another worldview.”
There are many other texts given to the church that would affirm that we have a role in “counseling” each other. My preferred word for what you’re talking about is “discipleship.” It’s a broader term for counseling, and that word applies to all Christians.
Of course, the Elders would lead the charge in all discipleship endeavors, as well as instruct their members on how to counsel each other. Ephesians 4:11-16 teaches that God gave the church leadership the mandate to “equip the saints for the work of the ministry,” which includes discipleship.
One of the reasons that I lead this ministry is because of a “discipleship breakdown” in our local churches. I’m a para-church (para: “alongside of”) organization. Our primary aim is not to replace the church but to “come alongside” to help pastors in their call to equip their churches.
One of the ways that we do this is by encouraging those who come to us to bring a church leader to their counseling sessions. This “perspective on counseling” not only serves the counselee but it helps me to equip the church leader further. When we do this, it helps the church to catch a vision for a more comprehensive view of discipleship within the church.
I also created our Mastermind Program for the purpose of helping churches. Our main aim is to identify and isolate potential and proven leaders and train them so they can serve their churches more effectively.
We recommend church leadership involvement with the student, so they can provide oversight and encouragement while their church member is benefiting from our training.
There are two dangers when we talk about church leaders doing the work of discipleship in the churches that the Lord has called them to serve.
Danger #1 – Leaders do not counsel well. There can be many reasons for this. (1) They don’t have a high view of discipleship. (2) Perhaps they “disqualify” themselves from counseling, saying they have not received training. (3) Some leaders prefer not to get into the messiness of people’s lives.
(4) There are leaders who are not strong advocates of active obedience (James 1:22). They believe that all you need to do is preach the Word, and people will transform. There is an element of truth to this perspective, but it’s flawed if that’s all you practice.
If the preaching of the Word were the only thing you needed, there would not be so many calls to active obedience. I’m talking about being intentionally intrusive with each other.
For some pastors, they have combatted the weak preaching phenomenon in Christianity by making preaching the only thing the Bible teaches about how folks change. This “over-elevation” of God’s Word is a tragic mistake.
Danger #2 – Leaders do nearly all of the counseling of the church. Your question could lend to this idea, which would be a monumental error for the church. A pastor that does not delegate the responsibility of counseling to the body will keep his church small and suffocate the sanctification needs of the church.
And when I talk about “keeping the church small,” I’m not talking about making it a number’s game where a large crowd is good, and a small gathering is terrible. I’m saying that if you don’t equip the saints to do the work of the ministry, you will have an immature and possibly self-centered church.
It’s not about numbers; it’s about helping each church member to fulfill their God-given capacities. And a significant piece of filling up a person’s ability (infographic) to do counseling will manifest by how they love others more than themselves. The non-delegating pastor is suffocating his church.
You want to pray for your leaders by asking the Father to help them find the balance between these two dangers. As you imply, it’s critical for all ministry leaders, especially pastors, to be counseling.
Counseling is one of the best ways to “stay in tune” with what is happening with your folks. If you’re getting into the nitty-gritty of a person’s life, you will know them well, which will make you a better counselor, friend, pastor, and teacher. Getting deep with others will keep you in touch with your people, and it will impact how you study God’s Word.
You also want to share your desire to come alongside him to help him with the soul-care needs of your church. It’s a body ministry, not a one or two-person show. Everybody in your church has a role to play, and you want to do your part to help facilitate this good aim.
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).