The Grace of Counseling
Tim St. John | MAY 23, 2019 | 3 MIN READ
I have joy of pastoring the counseling ministry at Lighthouse Community Church in Torrance, CA. We have a team of more than 20 counselors who aim to reach struggling hearts with the hope of the Gospel. By God’s grace, our ministry is growing. More people in our church are willing to ask for help, and we’ve been given more opportunities for conversations with other churches about how we do our ministry.
Counseling in the church feels like something new that is catching on right now. People are thinking about it more and talking about it more. But what we do in our biblical counseling ministry is already happening in your church. Just as the public ministry of the Word in preaching is one of God’s graces given to the church, He has also given us the grace of relational ministry of the Word to one another. As we speak and minister the Word in our ordinary conversations and relationships in his church, we help each other become more like Christ by the Spirit (Eph 4:15).
However, just as there is art, skill, and preparation required for preaching the Word of God on a Sunday or sharing the Gospel with an unbeliever, being able to build one another up with the truth in our everyday relationships is a skill that needs to be developed (1 Thess 5:14). For example, if a friend tells us they are struggling with anxiety we might have the wisdom to listen and show empathy, but do we know how to humbly encourage their heart with the hope of the Gospel? If friends tell us they are overwhelmed with their sins, do we know how to pray with them and humbly ask questions that build a better understanding of the idolatry in their hearts? We must give thought to and grow in our ability to come alongside one another and have wise and loving conversations, especially if counseling is one of God’s divinely appointed means of grace given to the church.
Here are three simple, yet perhaps relationally challenging ways we can share this grace with each other.
1. Ask simple questions to cultivate a deep understanding
How do you start conversations? I highly recommend waiting to ask the question “How are you doing?” until about five minutes into the conversation. At that point, “How are you doing?” becomes more than just a greeting or a surface-level way to catch up. It becomes a way of demonstrating genuine care.
As you listen, ask follow-up questions. First, ask questions that clarify what they are sharing (What do you mean by _____? What does that look like?). Secondly, ask questions that expand the context (How often does that happen? What helps with that?). Third, ask questions that express a genuine interest for whatever they identify as important (What excites you about ____? What are you afraid might happen when ____? What feels most challenging as you face _____?)
Their answers to these simple questions can help reveal the worship of the heart. As you understand the beliefs and desires that are significant to that person, you are able to talk and encourage them on the level of their relationship with God, rather than just being limited to addressing the level of their circumstances (Prov 20:5, Matt 12:34).
2. Share eternal hope through a moment of prayer
Perhaps one of the most vital, yet most overlooked, expressions of love is praying with one another. I think we would all agree that we should pray for one another, but when we pray together with others, we help one another direct our hearts and lives to God. As we hear someone pray for us, we are given a vision of God that helps reorder our world around his glory.
Think of someone who prayed with you in a meaningful way. What did they say that made a difference? How did they help you find hope in God through the way they prayed? I remember sitting with another pastor at our church as we prepared to meet with a family who was angry with us. As the pastor prayed for us, he said, “Father, if this is what you have for us, help us to suffer their anger with humility so that we might love them well.”
His words immediately reminded me of 1 Corinthians 6:7, where Paul asks the Corinthians who are struggling with conflicts over property and money, “Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?”
The prayer helped me see that I did not need to fear suffering, but that I could enter that meeting thankful for the chance to love like Christ. God used this simple prayer to calm my fears and free my heart to love with humility.
Praying together reminds us that we all need God’s grace — whether we are the one trying to help or the one being helped. In prayer, we take our understanding of a person’s life and connect it to a vision of God so that he or she can see who God is in the midst of what he or she is facing.
3. Embrace the messiness of mutual ministry
Walking with one another inevitably leads to messiness. We might make mistakes. But as we minister God’s grace to others, we discover that it is also God’s means of giving grace to us. As we experience our personal weaknesses in relationships, we find our God revealing his strength in our weakness and bringing praise to his glorious grace (Eph 1:6).
At Lighthouse, we have worked hard to build a counseling ministry in which trained counselors are ready to have grace-filled conversations with those facing overwhelming seasons of sin or suffering. But this is nothing new or special or flashy. These are ordinary conversations powered by the extraordinary grace that has been given to each of us to share with others.
What is the destination? Ephesians 4:15 says that God uses our ordinary conversations that speak the truth in love to grow his church in every way into him who is the head, into Christ. May the words we speak today give grace that builds others up so that together, our churches grow more like Christ.
Tim St. John serves as the counseling pastor at Lighthouse Community Church in Torrance, CA. He's a graduate of the Master's Seminary (M.Div, Th.M) and completed counseling certificate training through ACBC and CCEF. Tim's passion is to see the grace of gospel-centered counseling grow and thrive in local churches.