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.
How Are Lay Counselors Selected?
Churches will find a variety of selection techniques ranging from open invitation (where anyone who so desires becomes involved) to selection through a process of interviews and tests. Whatever method is chosen, careful selection is a key to lay counseling effectiveness. Many people may want to be involved when a lay counselor program is first announced. In one church the pastor announced the formation of a training class for lay counselors and set up 20 chairs for the first meeting. At the announced time 140 people appeared—almost half the congregation.
To keep classes small and to be more carefully selective, some churches give training by invitation only. This can create resentment among those who want to participate but are not invited. Often many (not all) of these persons are individuals with problems of their own. They come to the class subconsciously seeking solutions for their own needs, or intent upon helping others as a means of sublimating their own struggles. The following approach is suggested for recruiting the right people: