Treat or Refer?

Practical advice for ministering to emotionally and spiritually wounded group members.

I have spent the last 14 years serving as a chaplain or in some form of pastoral ministry in the local church. During that time, I have taught and trained literally hundreds of small-group leaders on the subject of Christian care and counseling. My advice is usually to love people until it hurts, perhaps love them some more, and make sure they are getting help somewhere in addition to the small group. Throughout my training and education, I was taught one rule: refer, refer, refer. I am not a licensed counselor, and I should not try to be one. I let the experts handle the hard stuff.

Advice for Pastors

If you are a pastor in a church, then you know your time can get eaten away doing nothing but counseling. And there may be necessary seasons of that. However, I do not advise entering into a long-term counseling situation with parishioners (keeping in mind that mentoring and discipling are different than counseling).

Instead, I tend to stick with a three-session rule. If someone comes to me and we determine that some amount of counseling will be helpful—or if someone continues to schedule meetings with me and we end up discussing the same issue(s) over and over—I will only meet with that individual three times before I assist him or her into a more structured setting, such as a support and recovery group or meeting with a licensed counselor. Wherever I live, I keep the names of a few counselors and resources that I have pre-screened, and to which I feel comfortable referring.Â

Advice for Small-Group Leaders

Issues like death, divorce, addiction, sexual sin, depression, job loss, and so on can all be dealt with at some level within a small group. However, the weightier issues of life—those that will take ...

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