Clear boundaries and expectations are vital for an effective counseling ministry
With more than 20 years’ experience counseling couples, I have learned some things that could help pastors and ministry leaders in this area.
Definitely counsel those who have problems that you feel competent addressing or areas in which you have training. I have a master’s degree in divinity as one of my degrees, which required that I take only one counseling course. I realize some parts of counseling are just common sense, biblical understanding and spiritual discernment. However, if you feel you’re in over your head or the individual or couple isn’t changing under your guidance, it’s time to consider a different strategy.
Have clear hours designated for counseling and stay within those boundaries. Even professional counselors can only do so much. Pastors have so many tasks and time demands that counseling is best when set for a designated time. Clearly define what an emergency is so that others don’t define that for you.
●Boundaries with the opposite sex should be clear and in writing. Include your spouse and staff members in this decision. The enemy can use a damsel in distress to tempt you. It’s best to counsel someone of your same gender during individual counseling.
●The best assignment I had in seminary was when my professor had us make a referral notebook. This included finding a psychologist for psychological testing, a
psychiatrist for medication, social workers, counselors, shelters and drug rehabilitation. Definitely have a Rolodex of people that you can refer to with integrity. It’s
important to interview and meet these professionals because not all Christian counselors have lifestyles or beliefs that you would be comfortable referring. I refer to specialists because I believe there is wisdom in a team of counselors.
●Something that helped me tremendously when I was a pastor was having a follow-through policy. I would see someone, give them homework and they could only make the next appointment if they did their homework from the prior session. I would not reschedule unless they completed it. This policy will save you a lot of wear and tear from those who just want to talk and not grow or change responsibly.
Don’t Do This
Definitely don’t counsel if it’s not your gift. Bring counselors on staff or offer professional counseling to your congregation. My experience is that counseling is a gift just like preaching, and I know counselors who can’t preach.
●Counseling at night is also something to not do. You may have already had a long day, your family needs you, and you will be less effective and discerning after hours. Lacking time boundaries is common in ministry. Jesus had boundaries, and He didn’t chase down the rich, young rulers. Identify your boundaries and have your staff help you be accountable to keep them.
●Remember, Jesus is the Savior of the world. You and I are limited. So with humility, accept that you can’t help everyone. Counseling those who need help effectively may take another professional with additional training and skills. A pastor who gets too dependent on the results of his or her counseling can be taken for a real ride. Ultimately, the results rest on the people you counsel. Sometimes, you must accept the fact that not everyone is ready to walk the walk.