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You may be more familiar with the phrase “biblical counseling” than “soul care.” Soul care, as I refer to it, includes both preventative biblical care and more formal biblical counsel. When I think about the simplest definition of biblical counseling, I often define it as “speaking the truth in love with growing compassion and skill.” The philosophy of biblical soul care emphasizes that every believer can be a wise counselor. In fact, I would argue that we all counsel ourselves daily. We also counsel others in our circle of influence. The question is not if we counsel; it is how we counsel. Is our self-talk biblical? Is our advice to our friends biblical (Prov. 27:9)?
The model for a healthy soul care ministry comes right out of Scripture. Every church should consider the pastoral charge in Ephesians 4:11-16. There may be several applications, but Scripture is clear that every believer is needed for the body to work properly. We need to be careful not to compromise proper theological thinking about equipping and maturing the saints while giving room to contextualize our methodology. With this in mind, I want to share what I have found to be consistent indicators of a healthy soul care ministry based on Scripture:
- A commitment to biblical authority and sufficiency in soul care (Rom. 12:1-2; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:3-5)
- Theological clarity, strong philosophical convictions, and effective methodological contextualization (1 Tim. 6:3; Titus 1:9; 1 Thess. 1:5; John 16:4; 1 Chron. 12:32)
- A strategy of counseling to equip from counselee to senior pastor (Ex. 18:17-27; Eph. 4:11-16; 2 Tim. 3:17; Heb. 13:21)
- A purposeful discipleship and care mentality that includes a transforming culture, community life, and counsel (Matt. 28:19-20; Rom. 15:14; 1 Pet. 2:9; 2 Cor. 3:18)
- A seamless and connected continuum of equipping and care (Eph. 4:11-16; Ex. 18:17-27, 2 Tim. 2:2)
Let’s look briefly at how these indicators can be achieved.
Healthy Soul Care Ministry Must Be Biblical and Transforming
Without the Bible, soul care is simply rearranging the flesh. We are reminded in the book of Romans that we are not to be conformed to the world but transformed by the renewing of the mind (Rom. 12:1-2). For our counsel to be transforming, we must see our authority and competency as coming from Scripture (2 Cor. 3:4-6)—not from degrees, experience, or pragmatism.
Healthy Soul Care Ministry Must Start with Clear Theological Roots and Common and Core Convictions
Soul care cannot thrive in a church without the pastor’s buy-in or the elders embracing it as an integral part of the discipleship philosophy. It might take some form, but without the support of church leadership, it won’t receive the nutrients necessary to thrive. Without vision and leadership (1 Kings 3:9; Prov. 29:18), and without the appreciation of the private ministry of God’s Word complementing the public proclamation of God’s Word, soul care becomes stunted or siloed (Acts 20:20).
Counseling and Care Must Be More About Equipping Than Fixing
Equipping your people to abide in Christ and His Word is such an important mindset for every counselor and coach (John 15). If biblical counsel is reduced to just fixing problems, we will run right past the power of the gospel. The gospel is not a band-aid; it is an ever-present reality of our desperate need for Christ (1 Thess. 1:5). Teaching our people to rely on Him, to please Him, to become more like Him, and to bear fruit in Him is different than just changing behavior or “call me when you get in trouble again.”
Every Believer Must Be Invited to Engage and Equipped to Care
We have gone from the priesthood of all believers (see 1 Pet. 2) to the professionalization of counseling. Ninety percent of good biblical counsel belongs to the ground troops. The frontline of soul care is in your home, in your small group, in your youth ministry, and at your place of work. Imagine a well-equipped army of believers speaking the truth in love—not only a church with a counseling department but a church of biblical counselors!
Scripture Calls for a Continuum from Mutual Ministry to Intensive Soul Care
This is not a program or a new fad. The Scriptures have always called for taking care of each other, being in authentic community, living out the “one another’s” of Scripture, and establishing the church as a teaching hospital for godly living and soul care (Col. 2:8; Heb. 3:12-14; Titus 2). We need to extinguish the false dichotomy between discipleship and counseling. We need to return a full-orbed soul care ministry back to the church.
No church is perfect, and this is a long road. A healthy soul care ministry takes time and energy. It is okay to have a lot of room to grow, but take time to assess if your church is on the path to a biblical and thriving counseling ministry.