Starting a biblical counselling ministry

Last summer we started a biblical counselling ministry at the church I attend. It is early days, and we are very much feeling our way forward, but this blog post shares some of the lessons learnt along the way.

A quick caveat: every church is different and there is no one way to start a biblical counselling ministry. Some of the ideas shared here would not be possible or desirable in other contexts. Nor are any of these ideas original.

1. Get praying and see what happens

I had completed the Biblical Counselling UK Certificate Course a few years previously so, when we were looking to move home, I was keen to find a church where I could put some of this training into practice. When we arrived at our current church, it turned out that the elders had been praying that the Lord would provide someone with some training in biblical counselling. Wonderfully, two of us who had experience of CCEF training arrived at about the same time.

It was a good reminder that the Lord works through prayer and it was both humbling and exciting to find the Lord had been preparing the ground for a biblical counselling ministry.

2. Recruit a team and start meeting

The Lord provided a small team of four of us, all of whom had some experience of the Dynamics of Biblical Change module in the Certificate Course. In fact, we have made the completion of this module essential for those joining the team. We began with meeting regularly together to pray and plan. This has been crucial to giving the ministry team a feeling of momentum, and has ensured we actually do the things we wanted to do. Initial topics of discussion included clarifying the role of the team, confidentiality, running a Real Change course, the place of external help, and the channels through which church members could seek counselling.

The Senior Minister is a member of this team. His support has been essential – without it, the counselling ministry would have never got off the ground.

3. Give the ministry a name

We decided to call the team the ‘Pastoral Counselling Team’. ‘Biblical Counselling Team’ and ‘Pastoral Care Team’ were contenders – but for various reasons we felt ‘pastoral counselling’ would work best in our context. For each church, this decision will be different.

4. Aim for culture change

We agreed early on that the aim of the team was not to just meet with individuals for counselling but to build a culture of godly counsel throughout the church.

The vision is that wise counselling is seen as the responsibility of the whole church, not just the paid staff, clergy, elders or trained counsellors. Consequently, candid conversations should take place all over the church, in which people are honest about the state of their hearts and point each other to Christ. The Pastoral Counselling team is simply there to provide focused and deliberate counselling for more severe or sensitive struggles.

5. Real Change for Growth Group leaders

When thrashing out a vision for what we wanted the biblical counselling ministry to look like, we agreed that our Growth Groups ought to be the focus of pastoral care and that this should not be replaced by a more formal counselling ministry. One of the first steps was therefore to run a Real Change course for the Growth Group leaders. This equipped the group leaders with the basics of the biblical counselling model for change and gave them a flavour of what would be involved if someone met with a member of the counselling team.

We ran this course during the peak of the first lockdown. Initially I was sceptical about how it would work over Zoom. However, in some ways it worked better than in-person meetings. The meetings were easier to attend, breakout rooms allowed private discussions in pairs, and the timings were easier to control for me as the course leader.

6. Resources for Growth Group leaders

We have started producing quarterly one-page resources on topics of interest for our growth group leaders. There is nothing particularly sophisticated about these – usually we just steal a recent idea from a CCEF/BCUK article. So far, we have done one on godly lament, one on anxiety and will produce another this summer. The aim is to provide a light-touch equipping of the group leaders, help them keep alert to the issues that members of the growth groups might be struggling with, and reinforce the key points from Real Change.

The one-page resources typically include: questions you might ask someone who is struggling with the issue (explicitly linked to different aspects of the Real Change “three trees” diagram); links to further resources; and a brief indication of how the issue features in Scripture.

7. Preaching

Occasionally I have preached a mini-series on a counselling-esque issue. Last year I gave two talks on the topic of anger on Sunday evenings. This year I gave two on the topic of anxiety on Sunday mornings, coinciding with the easing of the lockdown restrictions. Of course, I hope these talks provided Christ-centred hope and healing to the church, but a secondary function was to introduce some of the broader themes of biblical change (the role of the heart as an active responder to “heat”, the doctrine of embodied souls, the relational nature of real change, the power of the Holy Spirit, the centrality of the word, etc).

Off the back of the recent talks on anxiety we hope to run another Real Change course – this time for any member of the church who wants to join.

8. Be patient

We can’t do everything. We have wanted to gather a small group to read and discuss a CCEF book. It’s a good idea and perhaps it will happen one day but, so far, we haven’t had time. We also wanted to run a Real Change course for church members earlier in the year but didn’t have the capacity. In any case, change is slow. Ministries take time to gather momentum and cultural change is slow. Be patient and play the long-term game.