Theological Primer for Counselors: The Local Church

We continue our brief series covering the ten basic categories of theology and relating them to our walk with the Lord and to our personal ministry of the Word of God to one another. Today, let’s think about the doctrine of the church, specifically the priority of the local church and its ministry of the word, one member to another.

The local church is the intended and ideal environment that God has provided for counseling and experiencing biblical change. In fact, a local church that teaches the normalcy of growth and change into the image of Christ is sure to see an effective counseling ministry develop. It is not an accident the commands to exhort and counsel one another are found in letters to local churches. The apostles always assumed that every believer would be a faithful member of a local body of Christ and the New Testament never even entertains the idea of a Christian not being accountable to a group of fellow believers. The book of Hebrews, written to a local body of Jewish believers, stresses the immense value of this relationship. “Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25). The ministry of biblical counseling (intensely-focused discipleship), is part of the disciple-making mandate given to the church.

The New Testament teaches that the responsibilities of pastor-elders are educational, administrative, and pastoral. Educationally, pastor-elders are to faithfully preach and teach the whole counsel of God from His Word (2 Timothy 4:1-5; 1 Timothy 5:17) and to defend sound doctrine and refute false teachings (Titus 1:9). Administrative responsibilities include protecting and ruling God’s flock (Acts 20:28; 1 Timothy 5:17; Hebrews 13:17). Pastoral responsibilities then include caring for God’s flock (voluntarily, not under compulsion) motivated by a desire to do God’s will with eagerness, while at the same time setting a godly example for believers to follow (1 Peter 5:1-4). I say all this to emphasize that intense biblical admonishment and discipleship (i.e. counseling) is an integral part of the disciple-making process and must not be shirked by church shepherds. Other believers can and should be involved in the counseling ministry of the local church, but shepherds must lead. The responsibility for biblical change, however, does not fall on the leaders. That is, when individual believers are counseled from God’s Word by church shepherds, the sheep have a responsibility to submit to that counsel and obey their church leaders in the Lord (Hebrews 13:17). For this reason, it is wise for a local church’s counseling ministry to require counselees to regularly attend at least one of their church services where the Word is consistently preached and taught and what is taught in the counseling room is reinforced from the pulpit.

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