Equipping counselors in the local church is one of my great passions. It has been part of my big picture goal to see more and more people at Cornerstone equipped to do basic counseling and discipleship. In light of that goal we have been actively working to train more people. We have classes, seminars, and observation hours available to those who really want to learn to do it. I am not surprised, then, by this question, and I am delighted to answer it. The short answer is “yes.”
Counseling has, sadly, been reduced and limited to refer to a specific class of licensed professionals, most notably psychologists. There’s much to love and praise about psychology. Yet, counseling is not exclusively limited to their domain. In fact, several major studies revealed the importance and comparable benefit of para-professional counselors. In one meta-study, involving 154 comparisons from 39 studies, found that para-professionals were just as effective in helping clients achieve resolution to their problems. Provided that competent basic skills, good listening, and clear guidelines are all in place, a non-professional can help others. In fact we do this all the time.
Most of us have sought the help and input of our friends and family, and after listening to them, talking out our issues, and considering all that was said we are able to make decisions, make changes, and improve our emotional state. We help each other all the time, and prior to the 20th century it was normal to do this. With the dawn of the modern psychology we no longer trusted ourselves to do this, and so what had previously been called simply “soul care” became the domain of certain professionals. But we can do this!
In fact the Bible tells us plainly that we ought to be able to care for one another, instruct one another, encourage one another, rebuke one another, and bear one another’s burdens. One need only consult the litany of one-another verses in the Bible:
- Love one another (Jn 13:34-35; 15:12, 17; Rom. 12:10; 13:8)
- Live in harmony with one another (Rom. 12:16; 15:5)
- Welcome one another (Rom. 5:17)
- Instruct one another (Rom. 15:14)
- Comfort one another (2 Cor. 13:11)
- Serve one another (Gal. 5:13; 1 Peter 4:10)
- Bear with one another (Eph. 4:2; Col. 3:13)
- Be kind to one another (Eph. 4:32)
- Forgive one another (Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:13)
- Address one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19)
- Teach and admonish one another (Col. 3:16)
- Encourage and build up one another (1 Thess. 4:18; 5:11; Heb. 10:25)
- Do good to one another (1 Thess. 5:15)
- Exhort one another (Heb. 3:13)
- Consider how to stir up one another to love and good deeds (Heb. 10:24)
- Confess your sins to one another (James 5:16)
- Pray for one another (James 5:16)
- Show hospitality to one another (1 Peter 4:9)
- Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another (1 peter 5:5)
The church is to be a place full of counselors, and you can certainly be one of those.
Naturally there are areas of intense suffering and sin that require special training and awareness. Is everyone equally competent to help someone who is struggling with suicidal thoughts? No! Can you still be useful to your friend as they are seeking specialized help? Yes. Can you become equipped to help that person work through those tormenting thoughts? Yes! But there are many problems, struggles, sorrows, and sins, that the mature believer in Christ will be able to speak to. You do not have to be a licensed professional to do that. Likewise, you can become increasingly equipped to address a wise array of issues and struggles, even some intense problems.
Among Cornerstone Counseling Ministries we have two kinds of counselors we are aiming to equip: Crisis Counselors and Spiritual Friends. Crisis Counselors are those who undergo regular, intensive training and do lots of reading and study in order to be the most prepared to speak to serious emotional, psychological, and social problems (suicidal thoughts, OCD, domestic abuse, etc.). Spiritual Friends are just mature believers who know how to use the Scriptures to speak to the average struggles of life (lust, marital communication, stress, anger, etc.). You can become a counselor in either category at CBC, it just depends on how much training you want to undergo. But you can become a counselor. In fact I would argue you already are, the question now is whether you want to become better at it.