A fascinating poll was just released indicating that although most American churchgoers have no problem developing relationships at their church, they are less likely to use their time to help fellow Christians grow in their faith, suggesting a real disconnect for disciples of Jesus Christ at the very heart of Christian discipleship.
Respondents to the LifeWay Research survey were asked whether or not they agree with the statement: “I have developed significant relationships with people at my church.” A total of 78% of them said that they “strongly” or “somewhat” agree with that statement- and that’s good news. But only 47% of respondents strongly agreed or somewhat agreed that they “intentionally spend time with other believers in order to help them grow in their faith” – that’s not so good news.
There is a difference Christian between making friends and following Christ to help ‘make and mature fellow disciples’. According to a Lifeway executive, “Most churchgoers have had at least some success at making friends at church. But the majority aren’t as confident as they could be about the significance of those relationships.”
The survey also found that a strong minority of churchgoers in the U.S. do not attend typical small groups or Bible studies that their churches offer throughout the week. That finding is key since those groups in community are the church’s primary means in which to help those that hunger for and need biblical maturity or more Christ-likeness and spiritual growth.
Caring for One Another
As our church learned through a small group study series, biblical discipleship is fleshed out in large part by those interpersonal and transparent relationships- ‘friendships’, that are borne out of a church community that move both giver and the recipient to grow in the faith, wisdom and knowledge of Jesus Christ, as they care for and love one another.
That’s right, the many “one another” commands of the New Testament serve as a foundation for discipleship, which carries the meaning of teaching in the context of relationship. In fact, I would argue if more relational discipleship took place within the local church, there would be less need for “professional” or outsourced counseling- Christian and otherwise.
I recently read of a pastor of a fairly large church saying—at a counseling conference no less—that he wasn’t going to hire any more pastor-counselors for the church pastoral staff. What he meant was: he had hired pastoral counselors whose schedules quickly filled with counseling, but they didn’t have time to equip the body to counsel each other. Given that equipping is a critical part of the pastoral mission, his decision made sense.
He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-12)
Although counseling (e.g. marital) is a part and parcel of pastoral leadership–the leadership of the local church has also been commissioned to equip or train the congregation to care for each other’s souls.
In other words, the first wave of counseling for Christians is to be provided by fellow, caring Christians from their own, local church, where members have committed to their fellowship and to disciplining one another, those they know best, which includes Bible based encouragement and exhortation, which is the very backbone of what we think of as counseling…
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet 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).
Lay ministry is a beautiful and extraordinary thing when it happens. When biblical discipleship is permeating a local church, people are not as in need of or as dependent upon professional advice to deal with sin and despair, bio or physiological issues notwithstanding. Rather anointings of grace are seen, offering Spirit-filled words of guidance and wisdom. Indeed, lay ministry is one of the premiere blessings of the church’s birth at Pentecost.
If you feel a little inadequate to be a part of such a process, or that such a local church ministry is impossible to even behold, remember that God is pleased to have the church mature through the ministry of weak people who seem unqualified in the world’s eyes (1 Corinthians 1:27-29).
You will know that you have arrived at and are serving in such an imperfect church, when you observe that the people share their struggles with each other and are praying with each other.
A Discipling Church is a Counseling Church
Our helpfulness- our care for souls- starts with our need for care. We need God and we need other people. Maturity through dependence is our goal (Ed Welch, Caring for One Another, 8 Ways to Cultivate Meaningful Relationships).
Although Christians are taught early on as they come to faith that they are to be dependent upon God and his grace for salvation and sanctification- being “conformed to the image of Christ”, the Lord has provided means in which to dispense that grace, such as the reading and study of his word (“hearing his voice”); prayer (“having his ear”); and the body (“living life in a local church”).
The latter means of grace means seeking as author Ed Welch said, “To be a part of meaningful relationships that become a natural part of daily life in your church.” He adds that following certain scriptural lessons to ‘care for one another’, will result in “ordinary, needy people caring for other ordinary, needy people in everyday life.”
As we move towards one another, talk openly and kindly about sin with one another and seek to speak wisdom and truth to one another in love for one another, we are in essence providing Biblical counsel to our church family.
Let’s face it, this generation is full of personal struggles. Some of these are struggles that humanity has always suffered from are: anxiety, depression, addiction, guilt, shame and anger, yet our times have added some of its own, such as internet and pornographic addictions and its resulting isolation, leading to greater acts of violence as well as today’s psychiatric diagnoses. All of those can be helped by meaningful engagement by a wise and loving church community of faith that is empowered by the Holy Spirit of God which helps ‘one another’ grow in the grace of Jesus Christ. God’s people should strive to do that part of God’s business- the business of counseling, God’s way.