Every ministry we add to a church’s offerings adds some burdens. There is no such thing as a ministry that is all perks and no challenges. Part of making an informed decision about (a) whether your church develops a formal counseling ministry, (b) what types of formal counseling are added to your church’s offerings, and (c) how these decisions are communicated with your membership requires identifying and understanding about what these challenges are.

The difficulties listed below are not things you can “fix” or “prevent” once you understand them. While there are ways to mitigate the prevalence of these challenges, they are realities which will exist if you have a formal counseling ministry, and, over which, you must deem the benefits of a formal counseling ministry to be “better” if you pursue this option.

This is in contrast (not contradiction) to the predominant tone of Christian teaching; which is proclamational – determining what is “best” based upon the teaching of Scripture and persuading people to make that choice.

Behind this approach is the assumption there is no “one” model for counseling, pastoral care, or one another care that is best for all churches. It is not my intent to advocate for a formal counseling ministry in every church. However, the more formal your church’s counseling ministry, the more of this tone will be present.

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6. A counseling ministry will attract situations on which your church does not have an “official position.”

Is there a biblical “statute of limitations” on when a spouse can opt for divorce after infidelity, what areas of leadership or volunteering are biblically-viable for someone who comes to faith after transgender surgery, or can a church “require” someone to pursue counseling if it’s needed but not wanted? The fundamental instinct of a church to lead from its official positions becomes more difficult to maintain the deeper a church delves into the brokenness of human experience.

Advantage: New skills of care and influence are developed when our confidence about the “right answer” or “proper application of the right answer” is in doubt. These skills are still applicable when the right answer is clear and can make our ministering of these answer-applications more effective.

7. Counseling does not have a population group like other ministry areas (communications challenges).

Most ministry areas have a “population” – children, youth, young professionals, etc… People know whether they belong to the group based upon demographic information and are not offended by the designation. The church can create communication databases based upon these distinctions that prevent communication clutter within the church. These groups typically have gatherings which allow for dissemination of group-specific information. However a counseling ministry is largely devoid of these advantages.

Advantage: Your church will be challenged to think creatively about communication. The larger the church is and the more there is to communicate to the church as whole, the more “creative” and refined your communication systems will need to be in order to effectively maintain awareness of the counseling ministry.

8. Having a counseling ministry will attract “new ministries” you may not want to be a part of your church.

Everyone is extremely excited about whatever has helped them. There are many counseling related curriculums or ministries which may not fit with the doctrine or structures of your church. Navigating a conversation where you decline to offer a ministry that was “so helpful” to them can be difficult. Having a counseling ministry will increase the number of these conversations.

Advantage: You will become aware of many good ministry initiatives you did not know existed. You will become aware of subject areas that your members feel are under-served in the church. Your sense of “status quo” will be regularly challenged by practical solutions, even if some of them do not fit the doctrine of your church.

9. A counseling ministry will create confusion for what pastors do as counselors.

This happens whenever you create a formal ministry for anything. “If there is a [blank] ministry, does that mean the other pastors don’t do [blank] anymore? Is the [blank] ministry where we’re supposed to direct anyone with who [meets blank criteria]?” Put “youth” in the blanks above. Church life is too organic to be as segmented as the job titles of its leaders. This can be particularly unhelpful for a ministry area that can be as stigmatizing as counseling.

Advantage: This can force a church to consider how ministry leaders (staff or lay) and ministry programs catalyze ministry in their area instead of doing all the ministry under that heading. Because the distinctions between formal and informal ministry in counseling are more defined than other areas of ministry, it can be a fruitful area to begin thinking through these distinctions.

10. A counseling ministry in a small to mid-sized church can change the personality of your church.

If counseling or recovery ministry is more authentic than a church’s small groups, then a competition over who is “really doing church” can emerge. 10 people in a 100 member church create more culture change than the same number in a 1,000 member church. The more niche-oriented a counseling ministry is (i.e., addiction, divorce, grief, etc…) the more commonality there will be in the people it attracts (i.e., age, key elements of life story, persistent life challenges, etc…).

Advantage: “Authenticity” should be a part of body-life in a church. To the degree that a counseling ministry challenges a lack of authenticity in a church serves the discipleship process well. As long as niche ministries do not hamper a sense that “this church exists to reach our entire community,” the de-stigmatizing message they bring that the “gospel is for everyone and God wants to begin a relationship with you where you are” is beneficial.

If this post was beneficial for you, then consider reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on the Church and Counseling” post which address other facets of this subject.