As shepherds we are motivated to care for the flock that God has entrusted to us. Pastoral care is a vital role of ministering to our congregation. However, there is often a need that goes beyond the role of pastoral care. When marriages are in crisis, grief is impacting our daily life, or addictions lead to dysfunctional behaviors, professional therapy or counseling is needed.
There is no right or wrong way to provide counseling to your congregation, but there may be a good, better, or best way.
The candid question is; “What role should counseling play in the mission (Great Commission) of the local church? Click & Tweet! ”
How you answer that question will shape the choice you make in the way you provide counseling.
The bottom line is that in today’s complex and litigious culture, we must be purposeful in our approach to provide wise counsel. Therapy takes a tremendous amount of time, and it’s important to be candid about whether or not pastoral and ministry staff are qualified to provide ongoing counseling.
5 Models of Counseling within a Local Church:
(Note: These pros and cons are not meant to be comprehensive, but only to hit the highlights.)
Church Benevolence Model
In this model, a church-employed clinician provides services to the congregation. The pro to this model is very low cost to free therapy provided to anyone in need. The cons are low accountability, the patient/client is not invested in change, and this model doesn’t scale. (You can’t afford enough therapists to keep up with the demand.)
Pastoral Counselor Model
In this second model, the pastor or pastors on staff provide counseling to those in the congregation. The pro to this model is similar to the Benevolence Model. The counseling is available for free to anyone in need. The cons are that the pastors, except in rare circumstances, are not a licensed professional to provide on-going counseling. Their time is consumed by the high demand, and there is low accountability or motivation for the patient/client to change. (This model also does not scale.)
In this next model, the pastor or pastors serve in more of a triage role. They meet with the person 1 or 2 times, (3 at most) to establish a spiritual connection, encourage and give biblical guidance. Then they make a referral to a licensed therapist who has been vetted and is on an approved list with the church. This is our practice at 12Stone Church. The pros are many, primarily allowing the pastors to do what they are trained to do and the professional therapists to do what they are trained to do. The con is that the cost can make it difficult for some people to get the counseling. The church may sometimes assist with the cost by paying for a limited number of visits.
Independent Onsite Clinician Model
Like the first model, there is a licensed clinician onsite, but they are not on staff. They are an independent contractor who uses or rents space and charges their set fees. (Some offer a sliding scale.) The pros are that you have a highly capable therapist readily available to the congregation and there is no cost to the church. The cons are that it may be cost prohibitive to some people, and there are legal and tax issue liabilities created for the church.
Lay Counselor Model
A pastor on staff, or a lead volunteer gives organizational oversight to a well trained lay-staffed counseling program. This is a high risk decision with mixed reviews, both good and bad. Since legal issues have become more aggressive, few churches take this option. There are alternative options such as the Stephens Ministry. It is not considered counseling, but a care giving ministry. However, even though it is not classical counseling, the nature of the care given meets many of the congregation’s heart felt needs.
Which model is right for you?
Is there one I’m missing? Leave a comment.
PS: There are a large number of certifications and credentials for counseling professionals…and not all “professionals are licensed. Here is one counseling center’s attempt to explain them.