Friday, September 21, 2007


I should have seen it coming. Sunday, following the service, several people lined up to see if they could "get some time with me" this week. Why should I have seen this coming? Because the holidays are over, the winter is getting long, and depression is setting in. All the "stuff" that people put on the back burner during the holidays piles up and makes for a counseling-filled January.

Pastors and other Christian leaders, if they are not careful, can soon find their schedules filled to overflowing meeting with folks. I say "if they are not careful" because I believe that leaders should take care to not allow this to happen. First, because there are others in the body who are better equipped (I find that very few pastors feel qualified as counselors in spite of the Competent to Counsel course available through CTKU!). Second, because a leader's time needs to be balanced between working "in" the ministry, and working "on" the ministry.

I think a good rule of thumb is that a pastor should not spend more than six hours per week counseling. Six hours would mean two one-hour session on three different days, or three one-hour session on two different days. Most professional counselors will tell you that six hours is a lot because for every hour spent counseling there is additional time spent preparing and processing. Plus there is an emotional "weight" to some counseling sessions that far outweighs the hour.

How can a pastor care for increasing numbers of people, yet limit his counseling load? The answer is found in this principle: A pastor's job is not so much to do the ministry, as to see that the ministry gets done. Along these lines, it is not necessary for the pastor to counsel all the people, but to see to it that all of the people get the counsel they need.

It's important for a pastor to have a relationship with a Christian Counselor. If you do not know of a good Christian counselor in the area, do some research. Ask some veteran pastors in the area whom they refer to when they do. Contact Christian counseling associations to find counselors who may practice in your area.

Once you identify a trustworthy counselor, spend some time building the relationship with the counselor so that you feel comfortable sending folks to him/her when needed. Go to coffee and share your vision for ministry and outreach. Let them do the same. See if you have a connection. If not, keep looking.

Here are some of the ways I've worked out the financial arrangements with a Christian counselor:

1) The individual/couple pays for the sessions. In many cases people are able to afford counseling even when they think they can't (and maybe they can't NOT AFFORD counseling). In some cases you may have to counsel them to rearrange their budget to afford it (no going out to eat, etc.). If you are unsure, ask: "Are you in a position to pay for counseling?" If so, your job is going to be to point them in the direction of a counselor that will be trustworthy.

2) CTK pays for the sessions. There are times when folks really can't afford counseling, but nevertheless need to be able to see one. This is a great opportunity for CTK to have a significant ministry. Just have the counselor send the bill to CTK HQ marked for your Worship Center.

3) Coupons. See if the counselor will sell you a few coupons you can give to the couple for free counseling sessions. If you are referring a lot of people to a counselor you might recommend 10 coupons for the cost of 8, or something like that. The thing that is nice about coupons is that you can have them in your possession and give a troubled person something tangible when they walk out of your office. The bad part is that they may not actually go and redeem the coupon.

One counselor I worked with gave me some "freebie" coupons. Under normal circumstances I would refer individuals and couples to him and they would pay him on a sliding-scale fee (based on their income). In extreme cases the counselor trusted me to give out a "freebie" coupon, where the counselor would counsel them gratis. I think this was the counselor's way of participating in CTK ministry, and a way of appreciating our support of his.

4) Co-op. Pay half of the counseling session cost (or some other ratio). Have the counselor bill the individual/couple for part, and us for part. I like this idea when it is possible, because studies show that people take counseling more seriously even if the individual has a minor buy-in financially.

As a rule of thumb, I've used 1% of giving as monies that can be given away to help others. So in a
Center where there is $5000/mo. giving, then $50/mo. would just be given away with no strings attached. You might not be able to get even one counseling session for $50, but you might want to do something similar in terms of picking a percentage that you want to go toward helping people.

The frequency of counseling is usually front-loaded - more frequency to begin with, and then backing off. In some extremely dramatic cases people may need to see a counselor more than once a week to get through the trauma. Often a once-a-week meeting is appropriate, tapering to every other week, and then monthly. It is important for you as the pastor to be clear about the commitments you are making, as the individuals needing counseling and the counselor will be happy to meet as frequently as possible, and there is little resistance to that notion if the church is picking up the tab.


Having spent too much time in counseling myself during some seasons of my ministry, I've reflected on why I allowed that to happen. Here are some of my conclusions:

1. Counseling is a buzz. The immediacy of helping someone, of entering into the crisis, can be intoxicating. It makes you feel needed. It makes you feel important. It makes you feel helpful. Be careful here. Don't get sucked in by your own neediness.

2. Inability to say no. When someone asks, "Pastor, can I meet with you this week?" how do you say "No."? After all, you're the pastor. The answer is "gracefully" but you have to be prepared. I've learned to follow up with some questions of my own, like, "What would you like to talk about?" If their answer tells me it's counseling they need, I often say, "Well, you need to know that I do not consider my self a trained counselor. The main things I'm equipped to help folks with are common sense, biblical solutions. If you feel that you need a therapist I would be glad to point you in the direction of a friend of mine."

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