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September 2009

Volume 2

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Some years ago I heard a denominational leader state that the work of counselling was not a legitimate ministry because it did not fulfill Paul’s definition of ministry in Ephesians 4:11-13. While some might find his comments shocking, his words invite us to consider the basis upon which we might consider the work of counselling to be a missional activity. Using a case study approach this article will consider three contexts in which Christians counsel with a view to answering the question the ways in which the work of counselling is a kingdom activity.

Each study focuses on a different individual, a pastor and two professional counsellor. Each counsellor attends a large multi-ethnic congregation where s/he enjoys the support and encouragement of other Christians. In addition to their church involvements, they are active members of their respective professional associations. Finally, all three counsellor are concerned for the spiritual welfare of those they work with.

Pastoral Counsel as Soul Care

Pastor Darnell’s approach to the work of pastoral counsellor draws on the Christian tradition of soul care (Seelsorge). Historical examples of this approach are found in the writings of the Puritans whose reflections utilize a compassionate understanding of the human condition combined with instruction in the doctrines and disciplines of the faith. For pastor Darnell this is accomplished through the work of spiritual formation which he understands to be “the continuing response to the reality of God’s grace shaping people into the likeness of Jesus Christ, through the work of the Holy Spirit, in the community of faith for the sake of the world” (cited in Greenman and Goertz, 2005). Thus we see that the missional character of pastor Darnell’s counsellor is to help people respond to God’s grace and mature in their faith.

Christians Who Counsel – Being Salt and Light

Maria, who is a social worker in a secular agency, has a different sense of mission. Although Maria is expected to honour the secular mandate of the agency and not proselytize her clients, the agency values her knowledge and expertise in the areas of spirituality and her familiarity with the evangelical community. As a result, Maria’s colleagues consult with her on these matters and the agency permits her to explore her clients’ questions relating to spirituality as long as she does not impose her values. While Maria tends to view her work as primarily secular in nature, there is nonetheless a missional component in what she does. First, her presence within this agency provides opportunities to engage the professional conversation in ways that assist others to work with Christ followers. Second, as a Christ follower her engagement of the professional conversation provides an important voice or perspective that would otherwise be missing. Finally, her presence within this agency provides support and encouragement to clients who are awakening to their spiritual needs. Thus we see that being a Christian who counsels enables Maria to bring her faith into the marketplace in ways that contribute to the missional work of the church.

Christian Counselling – Partnering with the Church

Henry is a Christian therapist in private practice. While he is subject to the ethical guidelines of his profession, his reputation as a Christian therapist means the majority of his clients are open to exploring how their faith speaks to, and serves as a resource for addressing, the reason they have sought counselling. Curiously, Henry’s conversations with clients about the role of their faith and faith-based resources in therapy is not what defines the missional character of his counselling practice. Rather Henry’s contribution to the broader work of the missio dei is evident in at least three other ways. First, pastors have a limited amount of time to devote to the work of counselling (Benner, 1992) as well as limited training for this type of work. Thus Henry partners with area pastors as he provides longer term counselling for those who require someone with skills and knowledge that is beyond the competency of many pastors. This partnership with pastors becomes evident when a Christian client matures through the integration of his/her faith with his/her life and as a result is better prepared to engage in works of service (Eph 4:11-13). Second, studies indicate clients prefer therapists who have spiritual values and are able to engage the client’s spiritual values (AAPC, 2000). Viewed from this perspective, the missional nature of Henry’s counselling practice lies in the fact he and his Christian clients are fellow pilgrims. As a result his use of spiritual resources in therapy is not merely a matter of joining with the client but an outgrowth of his own experience of God’s grace (2 Cor 1:3-7). A third potentially missional dimension of Henry’s practice arises from his involvement within his profession. As a professional working with an identifiable community within society Henry engages the mainstream professional culture in ways that contribute to an improved understanding of Christian clients when he speaks to the values and concerns of these clients and helps others be effective in their work with Christians.

Conclusion

These case studies present three paradigms for the work of counselling that are differentiated by the counsellor’s context while retaining a missional orientation. Thus while context shapes the form and much of the content of the counselling process, each context provides the counsellor with specific opportunities to engage God’s kingdom work. Thus the question is not whether counselling is a legitimate kingdom ministry but rather whether the Christian counsellor makes use of the opportunities provided by his/her context in ways that are beneficial for Christ seekers and Christ followers.

Bibligraphy

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