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Equipping Lay People For the Care and Cure of Souls

During the summer of 1969, I had an epiphany. God spoke to me in a way that changed my life at the time and has continued to reverberate throughout my entire career. It was not a ram but two agnostic psychologists who caught my attention and through whom God chose to call me to a life of equipping the saints to do the work of ministry with a special emphasis on the care and cure of souls. Over three hot summer weeks, I participated in a workshop on small groups with Carl Rogers, O.H. Mowrer, and their colleagues. As a result, I developed a passion for once again turning the church into what Mowrer called the single most powerful therapeutic community that the world has ever known.

At the time, I was Associate Dean of Students at the University of Cincinnati, where the staff experienced firsthand the devastation of sex, drugs, and rock & roll among the student body. Rogers said that peer and paraprofessional counseling would be essential to the nations health within the next 10 years. There are two reasons it is necessary, he said. First, professional counseling is no more effective than that done by friends and lay leaders such as teachers, pastors, and professors. Second, the rate of the current psychological destruction of our young people will make it financially and logistically impossible for people to get the counseling and healing they need from professional therapists. This, along with Mower’s statement about the power of the early church, sent me on a lifelong journey of training Christians in the art and skill of soul care. Since writing a doctoral dissertation integrating Carkhuffs model with scriptural approaches to training helpers in 1975, I have written a series of monographs and training materials that are now being used around the world. The uniqueness of our design, if it exists at all, lies in our philosophy of equipping every church member with the knowledge and skills necessary to provide self-help and peer help for friends and family members. Those whose talents, interests, and gifts become evident in the basic skills classes are recruited for specialized education and training in preparation for inclusion in a formalized, supervised para-professional, or lay care giving ministry. In our experience, 75% to 80% of hurting church members seek a pastor as their first choice for professional counseling; a full 100% talk to numerous peers before ever telling a pastor they need assistance.

The basic training includes classes in Carkhuffs core conditions of Genuineness, Respect, Empathy, and Warmth. We also cover an introduction to cognitive self-counseling in a course entitled Rational Christian Thinking as well as basic biblical approaches to the care and cure of souls. Every member of our church took the Myers-Briggs Temperament Indicator and integrated it with the Houts Gift Check List. Some of the congregations with whom I consult choose the DISC or a similar personality assessment tool. We had over 3,000 people take our basic classes at College Hill Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio. The more advanced training includes classes in Helping People Change and the application of confession, forgiveness, repentance, and healing prayers in an intense, experiential group called Breaking Free From the Past. The current crop of unethical and scandalous behavior by celebrity pastors/counselors reminds me to include the fact that we teach and re-teach the Importance of peer paraprofessional and professional confidentiality. The recent breaches of confidentiality by Christian leaders counseling the famous and infamous has undermined the trust of all of us who desire to pastor and counsel ethically. College Hills lay counseling ministry was called the Teleios Center because we promote wholeness and maturity rather than just counseling. Teleios included about 65 para-professional helpers, numerous support groups, a monthly healing service, and opportunity for prayer by the trained listeners following worship services. We also had over 125 lay pastors. After more than 20 years of training peer, para, pastoral, and professional helpers, I am convinced that Rogers was right and that the Ephesians passage on equipping the saints is one of the most Important yet least implemented aspects of Scripture (Eph. 4). The massive breakdown of traditional social and family structures over the past 30 years makes the training of the entire congregation an even more critical task than it was in the 70s. The current blending of small groups with caring skills holds great promise for churches around the world. However, small group ministries without skill training can be lethal. Small groups are powerful powerfully good or powerfully bad. Life or death are in the power of the tongue, and the power of the group to mend or mangle cannot be overestimated. Support/recovery/ nurture groups that have unskilled leaders and members will deal death rather than minister life to one another. Life way Ministries is currently training at the Cell Group Pastors Schools in Singapore and Taiwan.

In October 1998, we taught our first train the trainers class so that they will be able to completely contextualize and multiply the work of lay ministry. Our core value is to raise up men and women who can carry on their own personalized work long after we are gone. Our great-great grandchildren in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark are teaching their own, locally produced version of the philosophy and processes we Americans first taught them in 1987. What a thrill it has been to see the materials that were developed within a Reformed, Evangelical Free Church context be used so powerfully in the State Lutheran Churches.

We have also experimented with our approach in the former Soviet Union. Dr. Galina Chentsova studied with us at the Life way Hospital Unit for several months and returned home to Moscow to train her colleagues in the unheard-of use of practical skills in interpersonal ministry and Christian prayer. Galina saw the way we taught the biblical caring skills to both our church members and the residents of our in-patient unit. She concluded that if psychiatric and addicted patients could learn how to minister to each other, these skills could be transferred to her professional colleagues. She returned and has taught many professionals, pastors, and the pare nots of a Christian school she co-founded. Russian therapists were well trained in treatment philosophies but practical counseling was forbidden in the Soviet Union. The goals of practical counseling, like Christianity, were an anathema to the regime. With the dramatic changes in managed care along with the simultaneous increase in individual and family dysfunction, the need for congregations to equip their members with practical and advanced interpersonal skills is at its highest point in memory. Despite their strong and defensive aversion to God, it seems that Rogers and Mowrer were prophetic voices for the church. It is heartening to see some clinicians such as Crabb discover the power of lay ministry. It is, However, somewhat disheartening to see the lack of general equipping in the church. How long, O Lord, will our pastoral leaders fail to see the love, power, and truth of God revealed through well-equipped lay men and women?

Source by Peter Pak Disoza

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