How Discipleship Ministries Enhance Counseling Outcomes

This post originally appeared in Careleader.org

Jenna, a twenty-seven-year-old working professional, comes to see you initially for anxiety related to work. She shares with you that she’s been really stressed working sixty-plus hours a week and that it’s starting to take more of a toll on her. Over time, you learn that she has developed an online shopping addiction and accrued thousands of dollars of debt. She is also single and lonely and has become addicted to online porn. Over time, Jenna begins to discover some of the deeper heart issues related to her addictions and anxiety and slowly learns to place more of her trust in God.

As things improve and her sessions come to a close, however, you’re concerned with the “what next” after Jenna concludes her formal time in counseling. How do you ensure that she’ll continue building on what she’s learned and will have access to the support she needs?

One of the best ways you can help Jenna and others like her to flourish after their formalized time of counseling has ended is to connect them with existing discipleship and service ministries in your church. As individuals and families grow in their dependence on God, we want to ensure that they will be part of a broader community of support to help them grow beyond the immediate crisis or situation. We also want them to get to a place where they are able to give back and serve the needs of the body and experience all the richness and fulfillment that comes with serving others.

No two discipleship ministries are the same. From working with brand-new believers in the basics of how to study the Bible to encouraging a young mom struggling with motherhood, discipleship ministries can vary greatly in whom they’re for and how big they are. Whether it’s youth group meetings, church-wide small groups, or marriage counseling with a couple who can’t seem to have a peaceful conversation, nearly every church has discipleship programs you can connect people to. And those programs and ministries can provide outside support and growth opportunities to help counselees flourish in Christ.

Yet how, specifically, do these ministries enhance the long-term outcomes for a counseling scenario? Let’s explore three ways:

Inclusion in a broader community

Counselees who have a healthy support system outside the counseling room are more likely to have long-term success during and after counseling. It’s important that there’s more than just the counselor investing in an individual or family, yet it’s shocking how many individuals who seek out a counselor have no additional support system to lean on.

Discipleship ministries at your church can help provide a support network outside of the counseling room where counselees can be connected. When counselees have a safe community in which they can share their struggles and secrets, they are more likely to actually do so and are less likely to continue to hide their sin or pain. When your church approaches counseling-related matters as an opportunity to demonstrate biblical love to one another rather than judgment, a supernatural support system is born. Safety encourages sharing in community, and sharing in community is a first step of biblical “one-anothering” in action.

Community also gives the opportunity for individuals like Jenna to see and hear how others handle stress and life’s struggles in dependency on the Lord, rather than in futile self-made attempts to play God in one’s own life. Hearing stories of how God works and is present in the lives of others, even amid distress and hardship, helps to build one another’s faith and point each other to Jesus, our only hope.

Group accountability

When counselees know they will be held accountable for their actions by loving mentors and friends who pray for, encourage, and challenge them, they are more likely to stay on track with expectations for responsibilities and changes. These accountability partners, mentors, and disciplers also serve as the go-to people they can call on when the temptation to sin is intense and very real.

From a church community perspective, this is mutually beneficial so that the burden is not solely on the pastor. This makes attending to the needs of the congregation more attainable and helps prevent staff and lay leadership burnout. For individuals already connected to a local church, this is a great help to the counselor in helping counselees employ trusted resources to help them grow.

For people such as Jenna, once a rapport and trust have developed in a small group, ideally, true, honest sharing of struggles will take place. In these safe small groups, individuals can share their sin struggles to obtain help, prayer, and accountability for the journey to maturity in Christ. Granted, not all small groups may allow for such vulnerability if they are more social in nature, so be wise as to how you recommend groups to church members.

Additionally, while the counselor and Jenna unpack the underlying heart issues related to her anxiety and its various manifestations, you can help Jenna connect with an older mature female mentor to meet with her regularly for accountability and encouragement.

Healing through service

Have you ever had a counselee who seemed unable to establish a strong sense of personal identity outside of his or her illness, addiction, or struggle? There is a built-in function of community to helping counselees move beyond a focus on their own struggles, and that is the biblical call to serve others, especially the forgotten, neglected, and historically underserved. When counselees can help meet the needs of others through ministries of service in your church, it can often unlock a new phase of healing and self-identity in their own lives. Whether at the soup kitchen or the nursing home, connecting counselees to ministries doing real service can be incredibly beneficial—for everyone. In time, Jenna was able to serve the church that had served her by being a mentor for other women in the church struggling with online porn addiction.

The benefits of connecting counselees with existing ministries

By tapping in to the built-in benefits of community, accountability, and service found in your church discipleship ministries:

  • You can increase counseling outcomes and lessen the long-term burden on your own schedule.
  • The counselees get to experience the blessing of the body of Christ and grow in their spiritual maturity.
  • The ministry receives the benefit of the counselees’ investment in the group.
  • The church benefits by fulfilling their purpose in training the body to minister to one another and to work together in the training and caring of souls.
  • As the individual or family experiences real discipleship in action, they in turn are also being equipped to disciple others in the future.

When churches train members to disciple and/or mentor other believers, it makes it easier to connect counselees with critical spiritual support resources rather than struggling to find a person or a couple who may be a good fit to help them. Whether adult or youth ministries, churches with discipleship ministries create a safe place to enhance counseling outcomes. While it may take some work to institutionalize the relationship between the counseling chair and the ministry room, the benefit is well worth the effort.

For further reflection

  1. What two discipleship ministries at your church could function as “on ramp” ministries for counselees to easily connect with?
  2. How can you communicate this strategy and its importance to the lay leaders of each of these ministries?
  3. Whom are you counseling right now that would greatly benefit from connecting to one of your church’s discipleship ministries?

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