Counseling and Evangelism

by James Rudy Gray

What partnership can counseling and evangelism share in the ongoing ministry of helping people who are hurting? The hope and power that Christ brings to a believer is the same type of hope a counselor must present to a counselee.

Sharing the gospel, the simple plan of salvation, or a personal testimony are all appropriate means of doing evangelistic work. However, the timing of the sharing can either hinder or help a person who is struggling with  an emotional issue.

It is a good practice for a counselor or pastor to establish a bridge of trust to the counselee first. Once trust is established, an effective witness can be a tremendous means of helping another person. Some people who come to us for counseling are lost and they need Christ as Savior. When they come to us, they may not be at the place in their lives where they are ready to listen. As someone once said, we should not pick fruit before it is ripe. Neither should we try to witness to everyone in a counseling situation.

It is important that a Christian counselor have a genuine and up-to-date walk with God.  That relationship itself creates a confidence that transcends the pressure to rescue someone by simply sharing the plan of salvation before they are ready to receive it.

I have had the privilege of seeing many people over the years come to faith in Christ during the counseling process. I made it a practice to pray, share Scripture, and communicate clearly the need for faith in God. I also worked hard to help hurting persons analyze their problem, discover alternatives, and formulate positive changes that would help them find relief from emotional distress. Once that connection of caring has been established, the counselor has a much stronger opportunity to share the gospel effectively.

In simple terms, the problem is sin and the solution is Christ. But, if we do not get involved in the nuts and bolts of the counselees' concerns and help them to see things differently, we will forfeit the opportunity to witness to them. They must see that we care about them and their situation.

I am convinced that there is a pre-conversion ministry of the sovereign God as His Spirit leads people to faith in Christ. By the same token, I am equally convinced there is a pre-conversion work that counselors can do as they help people. This work quite often builds the kind of trust that leads to a genuine conversion.

But not always. A Christian counselor can help a person in some areas of life and yet not be able to lead that person to faith in Christ. We can be faithful witnesses. God has not called us to be successful but to be faithful. If we are obedient to His Word, we can trust Him to do what He wills to do and what we cannot do.

Counseling includes helping a person cope; providing a basis for hope; and being a tool for change in a person's life. The greatest change a person can ever experience is the new birth and it may be that in the process of effective Christian counseling, personal changes provide the foundation for the greater change.

Persons who do not know God but are led to a Christian counselor are looking for something Godward. They may not even realize it. I have counseled many lost people who would not go to a "secular" counselor. Why? For some reason they were looking for something they believed they could really trust. If they can see God at work in those who counsel in His name and rely on His truth, they can be prepared by God Himself to move on to trusting Christ in the surrender of their lives to Him.

            James Rudy Gray, who pastors Utica Baptist Church in Seneca, S.C., is certified as a professional counselor by the National Board for Certified Counselors, and is a member of the American Association of Christian Counselors.

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