Supporting others can be tough. Encouraging individuals can be tiring. Listening well takes time; loving well takes energy; pointing people to Jesus in the mess of sin and suffering often means personal sacrifice.
Counselling others can be confusing. Wisdom and discernment are needed to help people turn towards God in difficult times. All of us would do well to be acutely aware of our limitations. None of us, alone, has all the gifting necessary to spur on any other human being in all the ways they need.
Being part of the process is worth it, of course. Prayer is a privilege; opening Scripture a joy.
Being used by the Lord is wonderfully humbling and seeing people transformed, little by little, into the likeness of Christ is a foretaste of eternal perfection… But we need to be careful. None of us can (or should) keep on giving without some accountability. None of us can (or should) keep on giving without any thought to our personal well-being.
If we’re in the position of being a paid counsellor, we’ll know the benefits of having formal “supervision” (a regular chance to meet with an experienced counsellor to discuss process and progress, as well as other professional matters). If we work for a church, or other Christian organisation, there may be a line-management structure that helps ensure we neither veer off the rails nor sink under the weight.
But for many of us, our counselling “work” is in the context of being part of a congregation, leading a small group, being an intentional friend to someone in need. Who is going to help us think through our approach? Who is going to ask us the kind of questions that will keep our head, heart and hands working faithfully for the Lord? And what would those questions be, anyway?
A good place to start is our pastor. They are the “shepherds” of the congregation – they are tasked with pastoral care. And some may want to meet us regularly both to help us develop and to help ensure the care we are giving to others is genuinely encouraging them to grow. Other ministers will choose to delegate such a role to another member of staff, an elder, a wise man or woman within the congregation: someone they believe will do the job well and manage issues of confidentiality sensitively. Finding someone we trust – finding someone our pastor trusts – is an important first step.
Arranging to meet them, maybe once a month, is a good step too. Setting aside an hour can be a helpful discipline (remembering to include some prayer in that time). But how will the conversation go?
Each time we meet our pastor / mentor / friend, we can choose to talk about one or two people we’re supporting. The conversation could range widely – or we could simply ask them to ask us the following questions. They are questions that are designed to help us think biblically and strategically about the people we’re supporting. They’re questions that are designed to help us think collaboratively and creatively about the way we are working. And they are questions that are designed to help us think humbly and prayerfully about their needs – and ours.
1. How would you describe the central issue and how do you think it connects with their relationship with God?
2. What parts of the Bible are you finding relevant and how are you praying for this person?
3. Are you happy that you are making progress?
4. Who else in the church family (or outside it) have you included or could you include in this ministry?
5. Have you established a plan with them – do you think it is clear to them what you are trying to achieve together?
6. Are you enjoying meeting this person?
7. When do you think these intentional meetings will come to an end? How will that happen? Is this a shared understanding?
8. How are you doing yourself, personally?
If you’re active in your local church, why not find someone, in the coming weeks, who can ask you some – or all – of these questions each time you meet? And enjoy being shepherded as you point others to the best shepherd there has ever been.
If you’re a pastor, why not find someone who would benefit from you asking? Use them as a guide, not a straight-jacket. You might want to drop some, or add some of your own. You might want to ask some of them regularly, others just once. The important thing is to have an intentional plan to support those who are caring for the congregation – and enjoy seeing your sheep spurring one another on to love and good works.