In John 21:15 Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me more than these?” Peter replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” So Jesus told him, “Then feed my lambs.” Jesus repeated this two more times (John 21:16-17). This command is just as important today as it was when Jesus talked to Peter. It’s important not only for pastors, but for every believing Christian. If we truly love Jesus, we must take the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of our fellow believers seriously. This is one of the important missions of the church. But does it mean that every Christian must be a counsellor?

If we love Jesus, we must take seriously the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of fellow believers.

Paul told the members of the churches in Galatia to “share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). He told the Corinthians that God “comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us” (2 Corinthians 1:4).

Paul also lists the gift of healing as one of the spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:9, 28-29). We usually think this refers to physical healing, but emotional and spiritual healing are equally important. Jesus promised that the Father would send the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, who would bring peace to troubled hearts (John 14:26-27). God is concerned about our mental health as well as our physical health and the Holy Spirit empowers the church to address both.

Christians who have the gift of healing need to exercise this gift as a means of helping the entire church (1 Corinthians 12:7). But all Christians can be good listeners and carry each other’s burdens.

Qualities of Christian Counsellors

An effective Christian counsellor in Africa should have the following qualities:

  • A love for Jesus and the desire to share that love with others.
  • Dependence on the Holy Spirit, the Counsellor, for wisdom and guidance.
  • Respectability and acceptance by others. A counsellor must be trusted and respected in the community.
  • Willingness to do far more listening than advice giving.
  • Patience, compassion, respect and empathy for people and their problems.
  • Focusing on empowering people to take responsibility for their own lives.
  • Respect for the private life of the counselee, meaning strict confidentiality.
  • Gift of wisdom and deep knowledge of the Bible.
  • Sensitivity to cultural or ethnic issues related to communication.

The Role of Confession, Prayer, and Story

James writes, “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and wonderful results” (James 5:16). Many times hearts are troubled because of sin. Good counselling therefore means establishing trust so that the troubled person feels free to make his or her confession to the counsellor as well as to God. Strict confidentiality is essential to establishing this trust.

Christian counsellors also have a powerful tool in the gift of prayer. It is God who ultimately heals, not the skill of the counsellor. Humble and fervent prayer helps to keep that perspective. Prayer for wisdom and guidance should always be uttered before any counselling session, as well as during or at the end of the conversation. Counsellors can lead people through prayer to ask forgiveness, to commit themselves to a better life with the help of God, to grow emotionally and spiritually, and to experience more peace, happiness and general well-being.

Prayer for wisdom and guidance should always be uttered before any counselling session.

The basis for every counselling session can be Jesus’ compelling invitation and promise: “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

We Africans like stories. Counsellors should encourage people to tell their stories and briefly use their own stories to relate to the person being counselled and to counsel them. The Christian counsellor should lead people to construct another life story—a story of hope—and help them realise their own abilities as uniquely made in God’s image to build a better future. They should be helped to realise that their identity in Christ defines their lives, not their problems.

When to Give or Seek Counsel

Counselling can be in a formal setting at a scheduled time or it can be informal with a cup of coffee or on a walk. Some of the best counselling happens during an informal conversation after a church service or during a chance encounter. This is where caring Christians, even though they are not trained counsellors, can be used by the Holy Spirit to make a difference in the lives of troubled believers. Christians who love Jesus can share that love with needy people by being good listeners. They can show compassion and comfort, and pray with hurting people.

Counselling can be in a formal setting at a scheduled time or it can be informal with a cup of coffee.

Counselling should not always be left to a pastor or trained professional. Sometimes believers who have been through a painful situation themselves are more effective in helping someone facing a similar situation. A widow can be very helpful to a woman who is grieving the loss of her husband. A Christian who has suffered from depression can be effective with someone battling the same illness. A believer recovering from addiction to alcohol or drugs will not be fooled by the denial of another person battling addiction. That’s why Paul wrote that God comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others with the same comfort God has given us.

However, in some cases it is important to refer a person to a trained Christian counsellor if possible. People dealing with abuse, childhood or past trauma, or mental illness may need help that goes beyond even most pastors’ expertise. This may be especially true for people who have faced the trauma of war, being a refugee, or famine. Do not be afraid to admit your own lack of knowledge and ask others with training for help. Do not blame yourself or the one you are counselling when progress is slow or impossible. It may be that the wounds are so deep that a person needs the help of a professional.

Christian Counsellor, Don’t only Offer Advice

Sometimes people wrongly assume that counselling always means giving advice or giving solutions to problems. This may be true in some instances, but just being willing to listen, to show compassion and to pray together can be more helpful and effective than trying to give advice. When Jesus saw Mary and her friends weeping at the death of Lazarus, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled (John 11:33). He could have advised them, “Don’t worry, I’m going to raise him from the dead.” But no, he wept with them. Sometimes the best counselling is to do the same.

Just being willing to listen and show compassion can be more helpful than trying to give advice.

The illustration of the church as the body of Christ is most helpful in seeing the importance of care and counselling in the church. Paul writes that each part of the body should have equal concern for each other. “If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, if one part is honoured, all the parts are glad” (1 Corinthians 12:26). Every Christian is called to be concerned about fellow believers and to bear each other’s burdens.

Points to remember:

  • Being concerned about another person’s burdens and helping carry those burdens is an important part of the Christian life, as the Scriptures both demonstrate and instruct (Galatians 6:2).
  • Care and counselling involves truly listening to people, with patience, compassion, respect and empathy for people and their problems. It is so much more than giving advice.
  • Care and counselling require respect for the private lives of the people you are helping, meaning strict confidentiality in all conversations. Christians need to learn to build the trust of people they wish to help.
  • All Christians, when caring for others, should use the powerful tool- the gift of prayer.
  • Some situations require the help of trained counsellors. Recognise these situations and be sure to help the person in need to get good treatment.
  • Approach Christian care and counselling with the same promise that Jesus gave us: “Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29).

Contact Oasis Regional Directors to order your Africa Study Bible:

  • Regional Director East Africa: WhatsApp: +27 79 572 4877
  • Regional Director West Africa: WhatsApp +234 809 111 1184

The Africa Study Bible app is available on the Tecarta Bible App, the world’s best study Bible app, which is available to download on Google Play Store and Apple App Store.