Yehoto Swu Kiho
Founder, Insight Institute of Christian Counseling, Sovima
The number of broken and hurting people in our society and churches is rapidly increasing. Real people who have real issues are sitting in our churches looking for help, hope, and healing. One of the ways in which this pressing need could be met is through counseling ministry.
The biblical basis for counseling ministry in the church is found in Jesus' declaration of His own mission on earth. Luke 4:18. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because he has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim deliverance to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those that are oppressed.”
Research shows that when hurting people do reach out for help, the first place they turn to is the church. This finding is significant because, in the Naga context, people usually turn to the church for initial advice and support when they encounter any kind of problem, be it relational, emotional, spiritual, substance, or mental health-related issues.The church is typically the counseling office, and the pastor is a counselor.Although pastors have genuine concerns for believers’ issues, they areso overloaded with numerous other pastoral duties that they don’t have sufficient time for counseling.Herein arises a need for trained pastoral counselors who can devote time exclusively to counseling.
There are a few reasons why, in our context, the church is viewed as a potential resource for individuals experiencing difficult seasons in their lives. For some, it is a matter of access. The difficulty of accessing free or affordable counseling and mental health care is why congregants with relational, emotional, substance use, grief, or other mental health-related problems are more likely to seek help from the church or faith community.For others, it could be due to the stigma associated with mental health and seeking professional help. Within the Naga Christian community, there is still a thick stigma against seeking professional help. No wonder many people put on a façade and avoid seeking professional help, even though everything on the inside is falling apart. Nevertheless, many will willingly seek help when counseling is integrated within the context of one’s local church.That being said, if the church is the first place for suffering individuals to seek help,the church must be ready to offer it. After all, what better opportunity could the church ask for than that hurting people to come to her, seeking answers to the problems in their lives? Ironically, the lack of counseling ministry in many of our churches has led many hurting people to perceive our churches as unwelcoming, despite smiling greeters at the door.
One crucial area for the church to reflecton is our approach to ministry. While it is commendable to see some Naga churches adopting a holistic approach, the majority of our churches concentrate primarily on the spiritual component. It’s important to note that supportingstruggling believers requires more than just providing comfort from the Bible and prayer, especially when it comes to substance use and other complex mental health conditions. Hence, the congregation's physical, emotional, and mental well-being must be a part of the church's ministry. In other words, a holistic approach to ministry is essential if the church is to thrive inthe 21st century.
This highlights the necessity of incorporating counseling intochurch ministry. Consequently, here are some practical suggestions for the church.
First, every church should considerhaving a trained pastoral counselor on staff who can provide professional counseling in the church or, at the very least, facilitate care or support groups like grief support groups, marriage enrichment groups, addiction recovery support groups, a 24-hour crisis hotline, etc. Having a counselor on the pastoral staff decreases the stigma about getting help and increases the accessibility of services.
Second, not every church has the luxury of employing a trained pastoral counselor. Hence, training pastoral staff in basic counseling skills, as well as a general understanding of substance use disorders and other mental health-related issues, is a great place to start. This will enable them to offer basic counseling and also provide appropriate referrals.
Third, the church needs to collaborate with local counselors, mental health professionals, counseling centers, counseling institutes, and ministries.
Fourth, although pastoral counseling is advisable, there is a place for Christian counseling outside of the church setting. The Church should be open to referring congregants to specialized counseling centers and mental health professionals when congregants’ issues fall beyond the scope of their expertise.
Fifth, a "referral file" of community resources, such as clinics, hospitals, and support groups for mental health issues, as well as recommended counselors, can be kept up-to-date by the church.
Sixth, churches may sponsor the cost of therapy sessions, detoxification, rehabilitation, or mental health treatment. Smaller churches may consider collaborating with faith-based organizations or counseling ministries to provide support if these options seem overwhelming.
Last but not least, considering the rising need, it is not an exaggeration to state that all local churches need a trained pastoral counselor, and all tribal church associations urgently need counseling departments to address the unique challenges confronting believers today.
People everywhere are hurting, including those within the church.Church ministry that does not connect at the level of people’s sins and sufferings is incomplete. It fails to demonstrate the compassion of the God of Scripture. Therefore, the needs of people should influence church ministry. Counseling is one important instrument by which the church stays relevant to human needs. What a difference it can make when wounded souls know they can find help andhope in a welcoming environment, free of cost, stigma, or condemnation. And that’s an incredible opportunity for the church to be real front doors in helping people get care. It’s also a great ministry and evangelistic opportunity. Let us all endeavor to be that kind of church!