A Note from Chris Adams: Have you been faced with messy situations that required you to know what to say and what to do? Most of us are not trained counselors, but God has called us to minister to women. It can be overwhelming and frustrating if we feel unequipped to help hurting women in messy situations. This week, Dr. Deb Douglas, First Baptist Church, Bossier City, LA, shares some basic and practical ideas on how we can effectively minister to women in tough places.
Counseling beyond our expertise is a temptation. Someone comes to us with a problem. We have a desire to help, but the reality is the problem is beyond our knowledge and abilities. But because of the compassion in our hearts that desires to help hurting people or because we like to fix people (Read control freak here!), we throw caution to the wind and wade right in the complicated messiness that is way above our heads. We later drag ourselves to the surface, exhausted and overwhelmed, promising to never attempt to fix anyone again.
The truth: counseling is an epically-portioned responsibility. The words we say can easily be misunderstood, twisted, or incorrect, and may encourage the person to act in unsound or unsafe ways.
All because of our words.
There are people we can help. Sometimes, our help is to be a listening ear, a prayer warrior, or an encourager. At other times, our help may be referring them on to others.
How should you prepare to counsel women?
- Counseling requires that you stay prayed up and ready. Take time for personal spiritual growth. Enlist prayer warriors to pray for you as you counsel.
- Get equipped. Take courses, study, and read books to know what to say and how to say it.
- Know the Bible. Staying scripturally sound is essential to effective counseling.
- Deal with your own stuff. This prevents your own stuff from taking over counseling conversations. A smart counselor or minister is one who is in counseling or has gone to counseling in the past.
- Check out motivations. Take an honest look. Why are you counseling? If it is because counseling makes you feel loved, important, or smart, you need to stop right now! Is it because you like to give advice or control the issues of others? If so, back away from counseling others.
- Be upfront about your qualifications. What life experiences, preparations, or education qualify you for counseling?
- Allow time between counseling to process and mentally download one person’s session before counseling the next person.
Here are some things to remember when counseling:
- Never talk more than you listen.
- Never get up and walk out. Unless there is a threat to safety, walking out due to frustration or anger sends the message that the situation is hopeless. (Trust me on this one, the more you counsel the more likely this one is to happen!)
- It’s OK to not be able to fix the person’s problem. Some things in life are difficult and can only be solved in prayer. Let the person seek help from God rather than depending on the counselor to do the fixing.
- It’s dangerous to say more than you know. It’s OK not to have the answers. It’s dangerous to give untested, unsound advice. Point women to prayer!
- Stay away from clichés. “Whatever doesn’t kill you…” “God won’t give you more than you can handle” (this one is a gross misquotation of Scripture). Clichés are empty of meaning or encouragement, often doing more harm by showing a lack of sincerity or caring.
- Avoid saying things you cannot know such as, “It’s all going to be OK” or “It’s going to all work out.” Life is not that simple; it gets hard at times. Be truthful in encouragement. If you do not have anything positive to say, do not say anything. Silence is OK!
- Remember, this is not about you! We serve to glorify God and show His love to women in the midst of messy lives.
- When a woman says she is being abused, you must be proactive about keeping the woman safe. Abused women struggle with shame and guilt that make it very difficult for them to seek help.
- Know that you only get one side of the story, and it’s from one perception that might be skewed. Many counselors will not give marriage advice unless both partners are present.
By now, counseling in the messiness may sound like something to run from rather than embrace. But looking at Jesus’ life, we see He ministered by getting into messiness of life. We are to be His imitators.
Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. —Galatians 6:2
For more help and resources on ministering in the messy, check out Women Reaching Women in Crisis and Steps: Gospel-Centered Recovery or refer to the other articles in the Hurting Women or Ministering in the Messy categories.
Dr. Deb Douglas has served in women’s ministry for over 37 years. Now she spends her time working with Purchased Ministry, a ministry to women in the sex trade industry. Deb is also the Director of Biblical Counseling at First Baptist Church, Bossier City, LA. She was the first to graduate from New Orleans Baptist Theological seminary with a Masters degree focusing on women’s ministry and has earned a Doctor of Education in Ministry degree from NOBTS. She is “Pearl” to 3 sweet grand babies, “Mom” to Jared Douglas and Katie Chavis, and wife/sweetheart to Paul Douglas.