How is nouthetic counseling different from just coming along side of those who are struggling and building relationship and speaking into their lives?
This was the question that was put to one of our students as he explained to his church elders his goal to complete his studies with us and seek certification. Though framed many different ways it is a common question—why the need for formal training and formal counseling? Why can’t our church people just help each other with problems informally? Isn’t this just the “one anothering” the Bible talks about?
Let’s think for a moment about how your church accomplishes the tasks it believes are important. You believe studying and learning the Scriptures is important so you have organized a Sunday School and other learning opportunities. You meet at a set time, someone is designated to teach, and when you meet everyone understands the purpose of the gathering. The teacher has studied, is prepared to take charge of the class, and leads the students in a structured way to make good use of the time allotted.
What about your choir? You have a goal of presenting a Christ-honoring anthem in a way that will facilitate the worship of your congregation. How is that accomplished? The choir meets at an appointed time, a qualified leader who understands music is placed in charge, and he uses the rehearsal time wisely to prepare the choir to minister the following Sunday. Would the choir be ready if rehearsals were done informally with a few choir members meeting at different times, in different places, and informally going through music of their own choosing?
In Corinth the church tried to have just these kinds of worship services.
What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. (1 Cor 14:26)
The result was chaos. No one was being helped and nothing was being accomplished. Look again at the specific question as it was posed to our student. It consists of three abstract clichés strung together and asked as though this was the preferred way to minister to those who are “struggling.” Come along side how? Speak what into their lives? How will you decide if you have built a sufficient relationship in order to do this “speaking?” Does this same church approach other important ministries with similar vague and ill-defined plans?
Helping people deal with important problems in a biblical way that pleases God is far too important a task to do in such a haphazard way. It should be pursued aggressively, by people who are trained thoroughly, and done in a structured way so much can be accomplished as quickly and effectively as possible. Why should hurting people have to wait for a relationship to be built with a counselor before getting help?
Biblical counseling is not the only ministry going on in a church, but it is a vital one. Church members are taught and ministered to in a variety of ways, in various settings, and by many different people—all leading to the building up of the body of Christ. But when people’s lives hit the rocks (how’s that for a good cliché?) and they have problems that need immediate attention, what could be better than to have a cadre of well-trained men and women in your church who are ready to meet with them with the same kind of purpose and focus that your other church ministries are afforded? So much more can be accomplished—and much more quickly—if counseling is done “decently and in order” (1 Cor 14:40).