Bob Kellemen has big dreams. In Equipping Counselors for your Church, he envisions churches not only as places with biblical counseling ministries, but as places of biblical counseling. He says, “My goal is not the production of yet another program or yet another ministry on the sidelines. My goal is the promotion of a congregation-saturated mindset of every-member ministry with an entire congregation passionate about and equipped to make disciples” [10].

Although initially skeptical about Bob’s vision (partly because I misunderstood it), his book gradually brought me on board and I’ve been thinking about how to turn Bob’s dream into reality in a local church I’m involved with. Practical man that he is, Bob has already provided lots of tips on realizing the vision. However, he also repeatedly admits that implementation will vary depending on the background and character of the each church. So, here’s my own plan for realizing the vision in the local church I’m working with:

1. Preach on Romans 15:14
Bob’s exposition of this verse was perhaps my favorite section in his book, and powerfully persuaded me of the biblical grounds and realistic possibility of what he was advocating. This verse is a huge encouragement and challenge to the church of Christ.

2. Distinguish between formal and informal counseling
A lot of Christians are turned off or frightened by the term “counseling” and would be horrified at the thought of seeing themselves as a “counselor.” One way to overcome this barrier might be to change the “counseling” terminology to something like “Discipling One Another” (that’s the phrase I use in the course I’ve started teaching) or “Spiritual Friendship” or “Speaking the Truth in Love.” Even if we keep the term “counseling,” it’s vital to communicate the distinction Bob makes between formal and informal counseling:

Every member of every church should be equipped to speak the truth in love in small groups, in the foyer, over the backyard fence, at the dinner table, and at the diner—the informal model. Additionally, some members with gifting, passion, calling, and commitment may focus their ministry on intentional and intensive ongoing biblical counseling—the formal model [254].

3. Focus initially on building a culture of informal counseling
If you start by calling for volunteers for “Marriage Guidance / Bereavement / Terminal Illness Counseling Training,” then most folk will run in terror, and those who do volunteer are probably the wrong people. So, instead of rushing to get formal counseling classes off the ground, focus first on building a culture of informal counseling.

Challenge people to multiply the number of relationships they have with others in the church (why not add at least one new relationship each year or month?), and to deepen the nature of the relationships they have with others in the church. “Are they simply family relationships where you focus on sharing the latest family news? Are they business relationships where you usually talk about how your careers are going? Are they leisure/hobby relationships that major in fishing, hunting, shopping? Are they social or cultural relationships with an emphasis on the births, deaths, marriages and gossip in the community? Etc.,”

What we want to do is develop the spiritual quality of these relationships so that eventually Christians casually and easily enquire how others are doing spiritually and what their spiritual needs are, but also ask for, offer, and receive spiritual counsel.

4. Model informal counseling/spiritual friendships
We can encourage people along these lines by giving a good example of what “spiritual friendship” or “informal counseling” means in practice:

  • Tell people what you most recently read from your Bible or a Christian book and how it helped you.
  • Ask people what they have been struggling with and if there is anything you can do or pray for.
  • Educate people in what kinds of things to say/not say in specific situations (e.g. bereavement, depression, miscarriage, etc).
  • Share a meal with a person or a family and guide the conversation to spiritual matters.
  • When you read the Bible with anyone, just speak a few sentences of explanation or application.

5. Encourage people to start with family and friends
As perhaps many Christians have never really shared much from their spiritual experiences, nor felt comfortable asking people about their spiritual lives, maybe the best place to start is at home with family or with friends. Husbands and wives, why not make it a daily practice of sharing with one another at least one thing you read from the Bible each day. Ask your children what they would like you to pray for. Or ask your friends to pray for a specific need you have. Just begin to build confidence, vocabulary, and comfort in speaking about spiritual matters with one another and then gradually venture forth into other people’s lives as well.

6. Anticipate, listen to, and deal with objections
Any changes in churches usually involve some friction. Bob recognizes that and provides some great material in his book on managing change and resolving conflict. Tomorrow I’ll post seven objections that I tried to head off at the pass when introducing this concept to a church.

7. Share “37 Ways to Love One Another
On the subject of answering objections, Paul Tautges has put together a great blog post in which he gathers together 37 passages highlighting the huge biblical emphasis on horizontal relationships and responsibilities in the church. Which Christian can honestly look at these verses and not feel the cumulative pressure of the duty and privilege of ministering God’s Word to one another?

8. Identify and Train for Formal Counseling
As the “informal counseling” culture builds, it will help us to identify some to be equipped and trained for more “formal counseling” roles in specialized subjects. Maybe encourage people to start praying that the Lord would lay a special burden on their hearts for people with particular needs (e.g. depression, miscarriages, substance abuse, marital conflict, bereavement, long-term illness, etc).  Bob’s book provides a helpful template for identifying and training people for specific counseling roles. He also points to numerous teaching and equipping resources.

9. Keep the vision alive
Despite the length of time that all this will take, and despite the difficulties and discouragements that we will inevitably face, let’s try to keep Bob’s vision alive in our minds and in the minds of our congregtion as well. Let’s keep dreaming of a church full of Christians ministering the Word to one another both informally and formally, and then reaching out into the community with God’s healing words for a broken world.

Buy Equipping Counselors for your Church here and watch the book trailer here.

  • Bob Kellemen

    David, How exciting to see you contexualize one another equipping in your local church setting! Bob

  • Bernard

    This article seems relevant:
    Points out that in the days before people possessed their own copy of the Bible, instructing one another was the equivalent of daily Bible reading.