Millard Erickson makes an important point when he says, “The church is one of the few aspects of Christian theology that can be observed” (p. 1036 in Christian Theology). If his statement is true, then the place where theology should have its most tangible impact is in the community of people who strive to live in its truth.
Secular researcher Barry Duncan, in his quest to determine what makes counseling effective, found that 40 percent of what determines whether counseling will be effective is the quality of relational resources an individual has outside counseling (in The Heart and Soul of Change).
Too often, we only ask the question, “What does the profession of counseling have to offer to the church?” In light of this research, I believe the question, “What does the community of the church have to offer to counseling?” is at least equally valid.
In my counseling, I will frequently ask people: “Who do you have whom you can talk to about this struggle? Who are you honest with and don’t have to pretend like everything is OK? Who asks you, ‘How are you doing?’ and really wants to know the answer? When do you meet with another person(s) just to discuss how life is going and encourage one another?”
Most often, the answers are no one and never. But it is being able to answer this question that accounts for 40 percent of the success rate in overcoming a life struggle. Notice counseling will never be able to provide this kind of resource. Even in an ongoing support group, you are forever defined by your struggle even as you seek to overcome it.
But the church (when operating as God designed—a living community) is precisely this kind of resource. This becomes even more profound when you consider the second largest variable in success: the level of trust between the counselor and counselee. This accounted for 30 percent of the success rate.
This means (by secular standards) if the church operates as the community God designed and its members demonstrate the desire/ability to understand one another in a way that builds trust, the relationships within the church have achieved 70 percent of what is necessary for a successful helping relationship.
To this point, we have not broached the subject of Scripture’s ability to provide a superior theory of counseling. We have only been considering the incredible benefits of living in community as God designed even in life’s toughest moments.
I want to be careful not to imply in this blog that formal counseling training is of no value. I am immensely grateful for the education and counseling experience I have received. I believe it does play an important role in understanding people’s struggles.
But my point here is simply this: The church is the kind of community counseling would try to create if it thought such a therapeutically powerful reality could exist. My role as Pastor of Counseling at The Summit Church is not to try to solve the church’s problems with counseling knowledge. My role is to encourage the saints, with a biblical equipping to love and understand people, they live in a community designed to transform lives in a way no professional structure can (Eph. 4:11-16).
What is the takeaway? Going to counseling without being meaningfully involved in a church and small group is like going to the dentist when you refuse to brush your teeth each night after eating chocolate-covered caramels. In light of this, reflect on Proverbs 18:1: “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desires; he breaks out against all sound judgment.” Are you in a small group?