Should we spend time counseling when we could be out evangelizing, building community, strategizing for mission or preaching? Isn’t counseling something missional leaders “refer,” not something we do?

Well, it depends on how we define the word counsel. If we mean specialized sessions devoted to psychological issues that can not be addressed by the gospel, then perhaps we shouldn’t counsel. However, if we mean discipling others with gospel wisdom in the full range of human thinking, feeling, and behaving, then perhaps we should reconsider our default practice of referring.

Overlooking Counseling

Mission-minded people tend to overlook or look down on counseling. We may see it as an obstacle to mission. Too often I’ve heard things like, “God called me to preach not to pastor.” “I’ll save ‘em, somebody else disciple ‘em.” Or “Counseling isn’t my gift.” But this simply doesn’t square with the Bible. Counseling might not be your gift but it is your responsibility.

Even the greatest church planter, the Apostle Paul, had time for counseling. His letters are charged with gospel-centered counsel that springs from an intimate knowledge of people’s everyday lives. Very often, his counsel is to counsel (Rom 15:14; Eph 5:25; Col 3:12-17; 3:12-13; 10:23). Peter, James, and the writer of Hebrews also counseled their churches and counseled them to counsel. If we’re biblically faithful, counseling is something that is required of all God’s people, even church planters!

Professionalizing Church Planting

Church planting has already become an industry. Just Google “church planting”(897,000 hits). A multitude of conferences and businesses have sprung up around church planting. Best practices and best venues dominate planting conversations. Church planters borrow business language and practice in order to “plant” churches. Consider this string of questions:

  • What are you running? What are your numbers like?
  • Are your groups multiplying?
  • When are you going to plant next?
  • How are you reproducing leaders?

We’re quick to talk numbers and slow to talk transformation. If we’re not careful, church planter will become another religious profession in an increasingly professionalized Church. Planters will share more in common with entrepreneurs than they do with apostles, elders, and pastors. Church planters will become disobedient to God and irrelevant to his Church. They will build buildings and launch services, not pastor people and cultivate community.

Pastoring while Planting

Missional people often reach unreached, unbelieving, and very broken people. As a result, pastoral wisdom and gospel-centered counseling quickly become important skills. For church planters, the biblical office we hold is not church planter but elder-pastor. How are you cultivating pastoral wisdom? How are you growing in your capacity to shepherd your flock with wisdom, truth, and grace?

In order to plant healthy missional churches, we must grow in gospel breadth and depth. It’s imperative we train others to think the gospel down into issues of the heart and back into the struggles of their past. This will enrich our sermons with pastoral application that grows from spending time with struggling sheep. The best application is mined not from homiletical brainstorming but from pastoral counseling.

Counseling on mission is critical. If we do not counsel while we are on mission, we will fail in planting missional churches, while succeeding in starting organizations and events. Gospel-centered counseling should be the overflow of gospel-centered church planting.