‘Called to Counsel’: How We Are Sharing God’s Grace with the Hurting and Lost
‘Called to Counsel’: How We Are Sharing God’s Grace with the Hurting and Lost

“I was sick and you looked after me.

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By Heath Neal

Everywhere you look, people are sick and hurting. At our church, we encounter people every week hurting from the sickness of sin. Some of their pain comes from the sin of others, but often it is the devastating result of their own sin. This shouldn’t surprise us. Scripture repeatedly tells us we all are sinners. (See Genesis 3; Romans 3:10, 23; Jeremiah 17:9; and John 3:17-21 as examples.)

For years, our church’s response to the sick and hurting was to pray for them and hand them the number of a counselor in town. Unfortunately, we weren’t pointing them to the One who could actually heal themJesus. Through the conviction of the Holy Spirit, we began to “walk alongside” troubled folks inside our church and in our community. We had been outsourcing our role as Christ’s ambassadors to the hurting and lost. It had to stop.

This decision began a several-year journey of discovering how to equip people to be disciples of Christ who make disciples of Christ. Our lead pastor, Shannon Lovelady, convinced eight people in our church family they could be the helping hand that people needed as they walked out of their sin and into the arms of a loving Savior. So he sent them to a biblical counseling conference.

Imagine their fears: I’m not a counselor. That’s for professionals. In the midst of such reservations, the eight discovered this: As disciples of Christ, we are all called to counsel (Romans 15:14). So the little group came back to Carrollton, Georgia, believing, We can do this. We should do this. We must share God’s truth, love, and grace with the sick and the hurting.

Creating Space for a Biblical Counseling Program

Fast-forward five years; today our church has a full biblical counseling program that discipled more than 120 individuals in the last year. We sold our church building and built a community center called City Station that is open seven days a week. City Station includes a restaurant where people can experience the love of Christ. The proceeds help our partner mission organizations.

The community center also houses a fitness center where each instructor has been trained to hear people’s stories of hurt and pain and teach them the truth of the gospel. City Station also has conference rooms available free to our community for business meetings, birthday parties, and any other need. We offer these spaces so hurting folks can meet someone who has been healed by Jesus.

Our campus also has 16 apartments that house 60 college students being discipled in covenantal housing (that is, in a community that covenants together to live a life that honors and brings glory to God). There is also a full-day Christian preschool to train the next generation. And, of course, there are rooms for counseling. Our church also meets here. We minister to sick and hurting people from our community all week long. It is amazing!

Our church finds joy in this. Our staff comes to work every day excited to hear how hurting people are connecting to Jesus. Our members and volunteers are excited to hear stories each week of how their giving is helping people escape the enslavement of sin. When you step into the mess of other people’s lives, you are blessed beyond imagination.

Stepping into the Mess

Make no mistake, it is messy. We hear about marital infidelity, porn addictions and masturbation, loneliness and depression, anxiety and despair, drug abuse and physical abuse, anger and pride. We hear how personal sin has damaged others, and how other people’s sin has wreaked havoc on the otherwise innocent.

When a couple comes in and the wife says they are getting a divorce because “I found him cheating and he has a porn addiction,” the problem isn’t solved overnight. There will be many meetings, phone calls, and “I just can’t do this anymore” moments. In the process, we might need to provide a couch to sleep on. Dealing with people’s sin is messy, but it’s worth it!

In our biblical counseling program, called Soul Care, we listen to people’s stories, introduce them to Jesus, and help them live out God’s truth. Everyone has a story to share, and most people are willing to share if someone will listen. We start with, “Tell me what is going on in your life.” Once we know that, we begin a journey of helping them understand how God created them to live and teaching them how to walk in his plan.

Walking alongside Hurting People

To be clear, we don’t “fix” people who apply for counseling. We can’t. We have seen countless lives move from addiction to freedom, pride to humility, anger to forgiveness, despair to hope, and anxiety to peace. But we can’t take credit for any of it. All of the credit goes to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our role in this is to be faithful to his calling: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you” (Matthew 28:19, 20, New Living Translation).

This is what we strive to do at Southern Hills, the Church at City Station. We walk alongside people in their messes, sickness, and sin. We teach them how to obey God’s commands, and God changes their hearts. We hope not just to see changed behavior in every person who enters our counseling process. It really doesn’t matter if someone stops watching porn but doesn’t surrender their desire for someone or something other than God to satisfy them. No, in every person who walks through Soul Care, we hope to see a changed heart and a desire to live a life completely sold out to Jesus.

As Paul said, “Christ is all that matters” (Colossians 3:11, NLT). When that happens, marriages are restored, addictions are beaten, lives are changed, sickness is healed, and God is glorified! This is what biblical counseling is all about. We want God to be glorified as people are healed from their sin and sickness.

One important piece of advice: Don’t copy us. Don’t start a counseling center. Don’t sell your church building and build a community center. These things will not heal the sick in your church and your community. They are just tools given to us by God.

Don’t seek the tools. Instead, seek to walk alongside the sick and hurting. That’s the place to start. On Sunday morning, instead of outsourcing God’s call to counsel those in need, answer that call. Speak the truth in love. “I don’t know how to heal you, but I know Jesus, and he can heal you. Can I walk alongside you in this?” Trust the Lord in this process and watch the miracles of healing he will perform.

Heath Neal serves as executive pastor of discipleship at Southern Hills, The Church at City Station, in Carrollton, Georgia. He and his wife, Karen, are the parents of Reese (8), Vivian (6), and Eliette (18 months). He loves the outdoors, games, sports, and having fun.

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Organizations and Resources Available to Churches Interested in Starting Biblical Counseling

  • Association of Biblical Counselors (christiancounseling.com). We partner with them for all of our training. They help equip churches to train lay counselors.
  • Real Change: Becoming More Like Jesus in Everyday Life by Andrew Nicholls and Helen Thorne. This six-session study teaches how the gospel changes us to be more like Christ.
  • Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands: People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change by Paul David Tripp. This book teaches practical ways to minister to others.

Additionally, Southern Hills, The Church at City Station is happy to share advice on how it trains lay leaders to counsel hurting people with God’s Word. Contact hneal@sohillscc.com with questions about how you can get started walking alongside those in your church.
H. N.

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