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March 4, 2015

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The Art of Counseling (Part 1/2)

by Matt Ulrich

CounselingCounseling is a craft that people spend years cultivating through schooling and experience.  There are, however, some specific issues that require counseling that will inevitably come up that you as a microchurch leader will have to field.  With that in mind, we want to give you a few pointers of how to handle some tough counseling situations that you are bound to run in to as a microchurch leader and where to go from there:

This is a two part series, so we want to start with the basics.  This is a very cursory overview of some foundational aspects of counseling in a microchurch setting that need to be laid before we can move on.  Here are some essential elements of a good counselor:

1. Be a Good Listener.  When I was in seminary, one of my good friends that was there with me took a class called “Grief, Death, and Dying”.  I was super curious to hear what she learned, so at the end of the class I asked her to sum it up for me and give me the cliff notes version.  She said that the class went through an intense theological study of both the Old and New Testament but that at the end of the class, the consensus was the best thing to do for a person in a grief stricken situation was to simply be there with them and to listen.

That was the big epiphany.

It seems so elementary, but you would be surprised at how many people can’t just listen, especially leaders.  Drop the pride about how much you know about the subject and take the first major chunk of time and listen.  That’s it.  Many people solve their own problems by just talking it out and having someone listen and ask good questions.  So take a deep breath and just hear the person out!  You will be amazed at how far that really goes!

2. Questions are Key.  After you have spent some time listening, reassess and ensure that you heard what they were actually saying (not how you interpreted it).  Saying things like, “So what I hear you saying is…” helps to make sure you are on the same page.  After that is clarified, then having a series of good questions ready is extremely important.

The best way for someone to grow in a counseling situation in my mind is through the process of self-discovery, meaning you simply throw out the right questions, and through the person’s response, they end up solving their own issues.  It is a way to lead someone to a conclusion without actually giving the answer.  No, this is not manipulation, but a way for him/her to come to a conclusion without you having to explicitly say it.

Ex: Let’s say someone comes to you and tells you about a guy that she likes but is unsure about due to character issues.  She comes and says, “I don’t know what to do. Should I date him or not?”

A few good questions would be: “Could you see yourself marrying this man?  Does he have the character you are looking for in a husband?  If nothing changed about the way he acted for the rest of his life, would you be ok with that?”

Questions like these face the person with a reality check and forces them to make some clear cut decisions about the situation they are in.  Again, this is not telling people what to do, but pointing them to some obvious facts to you that are not so obvious to them.

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Say You Don’t Know.  Simply put, you are a microchurch leader, not the omniscient  Messiah.  If you don’t know the answer, don’t fake it till you make it.  Just be honest.  Say you don’t know.  This will save you and the person you are counseling a lot of headaches and heartaches.  A good response would be, “You know, I don’t really know, but if you give me a few hours, I can ask [fill in the blank with someone who is a spiritual elder or authority in your life that has wisdom in this area] and get back to you.”

4. Always Bring it Back to the Bible.  As much as possible, always bring it back to the Word.  There are many things that the Word can shed light on and bring hope, love, conviction, correction, and peace to.  Utilize the greatest tool we have as often as you can!  Pretty self-explanatory here!!

5. Know When to Get Professional Help.  There are going to be times when you simply don’t have the answers and it is not one of those easy fix situations.  When there are things that are very serious that you don’t feel comfortable handling be sure to notify someone at the church so we can get the right people involved.  We want your microchurch members taken care of, not victimized.  Sometimes you can handle it, but sometimes you can’t and we want to be there to help you and the members of your MC.

Next month, we will go a little deeper in the art of counseling, so stay tuned!

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1 Comment Post a comment
  1. joyfullyalive44
    Mar 4 2015

    This is so good. Questions are great, because ultimately we don’t want to be Messiah for others or Holy Spirit, for that matter. Jesus said to teach disciples to obey all that He’s commanded us, and much of what Jesus wants us to teach is not merely the do’s and don’t’s but the principle, heart of the matter: loving God and loving people, not mere behavior modification but heart transformation. Who can change a great, but God. That’s why involving Scriptures and prayer is so important. Thanks for the reminders.

    As leaders our job is to be able to equip others to analyze situations and test and approve God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will for their lives. We don’t want them dependant on us. We want them dependant on Holy Spirit. We want to reproduce people who are listening to God on their own, cooperating with Holy Spirit, and basing much fruit as a result. Keeping the end goal in mind when counseling can help place things into perspective, Messiah complex aside.

    Yes, I believe there are times when more than questions should be posed, but ultimately the goal is not to control one’s life when a decision needs to be made but to love him or her well. Telling the truth in love is needed. However, if the person does not respond the way we hope or do what we think is clearly in their best interest, what do we do? We can be against the sin or disagree with a decision, yet remain “for” the person. Always for the person. And pray.

    Thank you, P. Matt! I miss Greenhouse Church, but am so thankful that I can stay connected to such godly, sound wisdom through your blogging. God bless you, brother!

    PS: there is truly no one size for all approach when counseling, though there are things that work most of the time, I’d agree. So, I pray all the more that holy spirit will lead me when counseling. I can never forget my need to be Counseled by Him! 🙂

    Reply

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