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The value of counseling training

A friend in New Jersey writes about 11 Sept: “I saw it only minutes after it actually happened... so many families... so many parentless children in our area... our church staff organized grief counseling training and quite a few folks are now certified to help others process the trauma... Our false sense of security has been destroyed.”

Her church (Millington Baptist) saw the need for counseling training. The church’s Pastor of Family Ministries and Counseling, Glenn Murphy, comments: “I began to lead the church in the direction of a counseling focus in part because of my own training and education, in part because of my own painful recovery process and the value that Christian counseling was to me personally, and in part because of the need I saw for it in so many people's lives both within our church and within our community. The grief counseling aspect of this is a recent addition to what we are doing within this area. Our Grief Recovery counseling training grew out of our nation's tragedy of 11 September, but it has far wider implications. It has application to anyone who has a broken heart for whatever reason.”

The particular training program that this church has used is Sunrise at Midnight. However there are many training courses available, and there is value in secular courses too, which may be offered as evening classes in colleges.

Why counseling

First, it is best to clear up misconceptions. Counseling is not psychiatry, psychoanalysis or general psycho-babble. We are also not referring to counseling for salvation as used at evangelistic events. And counseling is of course much wider than just grief counseling.

Counseling is the ability to come alongside people, understand and empathize with their feelings in a non-threatening way, equip them to understand themselves and their reactions, and help them to move forward in their lives. Like many other things that can be used for the Kingdom, it is not a substitute for discipleship, sanctification, Bible knowledge, or the work of the Holy Spirit. But as an additional tool, it is powerful and useful. Its value goes beyond merely helping people with problems, because it teaches so much about effective one-to-one communication and relationships, and therefore helps us in evangelism. The better we understand how people really ‘tick’ and feel, the better we can explain the gospel to them in meaningful sensitive terms.

If we combine an understanding of counseling principles with insight into effective journalistic writing and Christian communication, we have a potent combination for online evangelism! The ability to speak sensitively to the needs of the individual, even when addressing a group, was of course perfectly fulfilled in the Lord Jesus.

There is a very strong case for every local church arranging counseling training for suitable members, yet so few do this. It can enhance the effectiveness of member ministry in many ways.

“If a Church wants to experience both spiritual and numerical growth, there is no substitute for a counselor training program and a counseling ministry. I was engaged in training lay people for telephone counseling for five years and I have never seen anything produce Christ-like character like ministering to hurting people as they did,” says Bill Beatty. (Bill is Executive Director of the International Christian Library.)

Of course there are potential dangers, such as people attempting to give help in areas beyond their competence, where professional input is required. Clear accountability and rules are needed. Training people in counseling does not mean they must then be involved in any specific church program. Just to understand the principles involved will help them in their day-to-day life and witness.

Listening skills

The learning to listen is an integral part of counseling. It is also a skill that can be learned on a stand-alone basis, and there are training courses available.
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