By Mark Dance
“How should we counsel an unmarried couple who are living together? A parent whose child is confused about their sexuality? A gay couple who are interested in membership or a wedding at our church?”
These were some of the questions I was asked to cover in a recent decision counselor training for about 100 couples. If you’re not familiar with the term, “decision counselors” this can refer to church members who are designated to talk to people at the end of each service. These lay counselors need to be prepared for this cultural chaos.
So do you—not because it’s coming to your church, but because it’s already there.
Cohabitation and homosexuality have become cultural norms and are therefore not considered to be social sins. Our society didn’t stop believing in heterosexual marriage; it just legitimized alternative options.
Here are a few basic decision-counseling tips that’ll help your church leaders get ready for the awkward conversations they’ll inevitably have.
1. Listen First.
The woman at the well believed in marriage, but she didn’t practice it very well (John 4). Jesus almost always led conversations with questions because He was a good listener.
The temptation to try and fix people makes it hard to listen patiently, but their stories are important, so open your ears before you offer advice.
Every married couple has marital problems, but some came to church because they need a code-red intervention. If you sense they need more than you can give them on Sunday morning, ask them if you can follow-up with some vetted counseling options.
2. Speak the Truth.
In regards to sexuality—kids, parents, and church leaders are confused. Your church, however, isn’t confused if it has a clear statement of faith on its website.
If your church is confused, you’re in the wrong church. If your church is simply unprepared, make this a priority because your people are vulnerable to internal heresy and external litigation.
Most Southern Baptist churches put The Baptist Faith and Message, 2000 on their website. This kind of statement defines what a biblical marriage is, which alleviates the need for your counselors to share their personal opinions.
Your decision counselors are there to represent your church, not themselves, so just encourage them to point people to your church’s faith statement, especially if someone becomes confrontational.
3. Speak Truth in Love.
“Speaking the truth in love…” (Ephesians 4:15).
God is clearly opposed to ANY sex outside of marriage, including adultery and fornication, so don’t treat homosexuals or transgenders with less compassion than Jesus treated the woman at the well.
Defend biblical truth without being defensive. Teach your counselors to listen to themselves. How’s their tone? Shooting straight with people isn’t the same as shooting at them.
The LGBTQ community is convinced evangelicals hate them. We’ve been called to love them and bring them into our Father’s house, so welcome them genuinely.
Jesus was a “friend of sinners,” so we want to be also. Jesus was full of “grace and truth” (John 1:14), as we should also be.
4. Use Discernment.
I use the term “decision counselor” because most of you probably recognize it, but you really need to use a different term going forward. Unless someone is a licensed therapist, they’re not a “counselor.”
Depending on the state you live in, the title of “counselor” might require specific, board-approved licensure and is therefore protected by law.
My church uses the term “encouragers” to describe the deacons who talk to people at the end of each service, as well as our membership class.
Introducing People to Jesus
Jesus told the woman at the well her views on God and marriage were wrong, and she became an effective evangelist!
He also came to seek and save the lost, so when they show up at our church, let’s be ready to introduce them to Jesus.
MARK DANCE (@markdance) serves as director of Lifeway Pastors. He speaks at churches, conferences, and retreats–often with his wife Janet. Mark has contributed to several books and offers weekly encouragement at MarkDance.net.