Rowing or Sailing in Ministry?

sailboat sailing on water near island

The Desperate Need for Biblical Counseling in Church Revitalization 

By Matthew Statler

The last thing I want to do is add additional burdens to the hardworking pastor, church work and in particular church revitalization can feel like rowing a boat. When you hear the exhortation from the biblical counseling world, or read books like Competent to Counsel you may nod your head but know in your heart you are already overwhelmed. I want to encourage you to raise the sail of biblical counseling and watch what God does. 

The personal ministry of the Word is sometimes a neglected element in church revitalization. There are so many other things that demand our time. I was convinced of Biblical Counseling before arriving at my current church, but experience confirms to me the desperate need for biblical counseling in dying churches. Biblical counseling can often be the sail that catches the wind, it should not control the direction of the church, but it can move the church in a healthy direction. Not only that but it will also take some of the pressure off of you in the long run. Why should you as a leader in a local church counsel biblically? I can think of at least five reasons. 

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Hurt People

Our communities are hurting, from pandemics to riots to mandates everyone and anyone has an opinion. People are tired and wounded. Some are hurt because they lack any biblical or church foundation, they have never developed spiritual disciplines, and are sheep astray. They experience worry and fear, they are downcast and full of sorrow. Many have lost loved ones and are grieving. A church website that offers biblical counseling can be a great opportunity to bring in some of these sheep and help them grow in their faith. Good biblical counseling in a church can encourage healthy one-anothering. Some of our best volunteers have received biblical counseling and are now reaching out to others. What a beautiful picture of redemption, the broken telling the broken about the Good Shepherd (John 4). 

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Sinful People

What do you do with ingrained sinful habits? I have heard some pastors exclaim; “That’s above my pay grade!” When asked to deal with an adulterous husband and a hurt wife. These things should not be so! We can offer hope through Christ, by confession and repentance and faith there can be renewal and reconciliation. In fact, that is our ministry (2 Corinthians 5:18-20)! A church that is in revitalization has men and women who have settled into preferred sin patterns, partiality, gossip, and laziness all abound. In my ministry, I have done more biblical counseling sitting in the sanctuary and talking with an older saint about sin struggles and our calling in Christ than I have sitting in my office. The training and instruction that comes from certification with ACBC provide immeasurable help in navigating delicate conversations. 

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Preaching Benefits

Preaching the Word is the primary task of the Pastor and the church (2 Timothy 4:2). Public proclamation corrects many of the errors a church in need of revitalization has, however, I have noticed that when I take the truth preached and engage one on one with a church member that truth becomes practical and useful.

We must follow the example of Paul in Acts 20:17-38 and preach the whole counsel of God and also warn individually and personally each person we can. This makes our preaching much more intimate. Think of the tears of the Ephesian Elders in Acts 20, but also our preaching is more specific to the struggles our people are facing. One of the most poignant moments over these last few years was when counseling an older woman who was suffering the effects of aging. I was able to mention in one of my sermons through Titus that we are waiting for the blessed hope (Titus 2:13) and that even though our bodies are failing we have something greater. The counseling and the preaching of the Word impacted her so much that she was no longer gloomy but had an unspeakable joy. 

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Biblical Counseling in the local church is scalable. Most pastors I know are occupied with many tasks. It is hard to consider adding counseling into the mix. If you are the only staff member of a church it can be hard to find the time to counsel. God is gracious that when we act in obedience to His Word He provides the means and the time. Meeting with one church member or community member a week for scheduled and specific biblical counseling is manageable for most of us.

Not only that inviting an elder to sit in and learn will multiply your efforts as you equip that elder to do counseling. The main point is that our counseling does not have to be expansive it can be simple. As you graduate counselees you should be setting up home groups or small groups. These groups often put into practice the biblical principles that were taught in counseling. 

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Diminishing and Increasing Returns

The beauty of biblical counseling in the local church is that as the pulpit ministry strengthens the congregation, the counseling needs of the body begin to diminish. The more I exposit Scripture the more equipped the congregation is in Titus 2 ministry, the older teaching the younger. What I have found is that the church members are handling most of the care in their small groups. They only reach out to the pastor and elders when there is a complicated issue that is not resolved easily. This increases our outward focus as more and more it is members of the community are reaching out for help. This becomes a means of evangelism as well as church growth. Community members that do not have a local church home are expected to attend worship with our congregation. This develops relationships and in turn, leads to a community. 

As you can see biblical counseling is hard work because it is heart work. Yet this rewarding effort can be a benefit to any church but is increasingly helpful to a church in revitalization. I don’t know about you but I would rather sail than row. 

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Published by Matthew.Statler

I joyfully pastor Sierra Vista Baptist Church in Arizona. I'm certified in Biblical Counseling from the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC). I graduated from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary with an MDIV with a concentration in Biblical Counseling. I also am an Iraq war veteran. Matthew Statler SFC, US Army(Ret)