In last week’s post, I addressed the question, “Is Scripture Enough?” and explored the Christian counselor’s role in bringing healing to those with mental illness. The Church Therapy model suggests that pastors and professional Christian counselors can work well as a team to support those in their care. However, presently very few licensed counselors work in church settings. Some have private practices that are advertised as Christian-focused, while others have practices that do not overtly state that they are Christian. Many Christians who are counselors would not identify themselves as “Christian counselors,” but instead would say that they are simply Christians who are professional counselors by trade.
One line in last week’s post got me and a few others thinking about where Christian counselors should work. I wrote, “…many of these Christian counselors have chosen to work completely outside the framework of the Church or discipleship. I find this to be tragic, as many well-trained Christian counselors do not see it as their role to serve the Church.” Does this mean that all Christians who are trained as counselors should work in church settings? Would that even be possible?
First, allow me to reject my own question that serves as the title to this post. There is no “should” when it comes to ways God can choose to call people. Christians work in secular settings in all kinds of different professions, from doctors to carpenters to teachers. I am not about to limit the work of the Holy Spirit by making a blanket statement that all Christian counselors must be called to work in a church or alongside a church directly. We are all ambassadors and ministers of the Gospel when we care for and bring love to our neighbors. We weep with all who weep, not just other believers.
On the other hand, the Church has at times been a hostile place to licensed counselors as the mental health debate has raged on over the past 50 years. The thing that I find tragic is that many Christian counselors I have personally known would have loved to work in a church or come alongside in some way to use their gifts for the edification of the Church. Yet there were no in-roads for them to do so. Many I knew in my graduating class at Gordon Conwell ended up in secular settings not because of a calling, but because that was where they could find a job. Even my church did not “hire” me so much as give me the opportunity to create something that did not exist and for which they could offer no money. The pastors and I have had to figure out a lot along the way, including how to create a sustainable role for me both financially and structurally. I started writing this blog as a way to flesh out all the different aspects of how to make it possible for counselors and pastors to work side-by-side.
Professional Christian counselors are an asset to the Church and pastors must begin creating pathways for them to serve in churches. Some may be called to work in secular settings but may desire to serve the local church by offering a workshop on a mental health topic or leading a Stephen’s Ministry. Others may have a burden and desire to work on a church staff, and pastors can make that possible through the Church Therapy model.
My message is simple: every single believer has valuable gifts and all of them are welcome in the kingdom of God. Pastors and professional counselors are working towards the same ends with different roles, gifts, and skill sets. Until this spiritual war is over, we are in an “all-hands-on-deck” place. We can’t afford to send anyone away because we want to debate about psychology and theology. People need help, and we need to make every resource available where they need it most: the Church.