Lay counseling accomplishes many things: it involves members in the work of the church, provides a fulfilling ministry for lay persons, takes a load off the pastor, and solves people's problems.
In this age of self-help books and popular seminars, we sometimes forget that proclamation of the gospel and the practical teaching of Scripture is the basis for helping people cope with life. Jesus was a preacher, as were the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament apostles.
These spiritual giants were not content to stay behind a pulpit, however. They met people individually and discussed problems personally. By his life and teaching, Jesus emphasized face-to-face contact, and he encouraged mutual caring among his followers. The writers of the Epistles used the words "one another" almost sixty times, usually in the form of admonitions to care, encourage, edify, teach, confront, and support. James defines "pure and undefiled religion" in terms of both holy living ("keeping oneself unstained by the world") and compassionate service such as caring for needy widows and orphans.
People-helping is taught in the Scriptures, it is required of all believers (not just pastors); it is urgently needed in all congregations, whatever their size, as people struggle with today's stress, confusion, and anxiety. Recognizing this need and the biblical mandate to meet it is the first step toward developing a congregation of "people helpers." Only then can we look at some practical, procedural questions.