Peer Counseling in the Church
Paul M. Miller. Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1978. 166 pages.
The general trend toward specialization and professionalism is particularly evident in the area of counseling. Training programs are burgeoning across the nation to meet the strident need. The trend is also apparent in the churches. Increasingly, counseling centers serviced by professionals are established as part of the ministry of the church. Frequently persons are employed full time as “ministers of counseling.”
Growing social need has, in a large measure, dictated these developments. And surely we laud the many-faceted response to these needs both in society in general as well as in the churches. Paul Miller, however, raises the fundamental concern that counseling should not be relegated to the domain of the professional but that it should be viewed and practiced within the context of the Christian community, the church. He states that “to give counsel to the church and receive counsel from the church” (p. 15) is central to the very nature of our relationship to each other within the church. “It is Christ’s intention that Christians should meet a large share of one another’s needs . . .” (p. 14). He therefore posits para-professional counseling as one of the responsibilities that we owe each other as members of the Body of Christ.
The stated assumption is easily demonstrated by the scriptural teachings on love, caring, correcting, sharing, discipling and disciplining. It appears that in the move to professionalize counseling within the church, we are faced with the danger of losing yet another distinctive characteristic of the people of God. It moves the caring ministry away from the crux of Christian relationships to the office of the professional.
Twenty years of counseling in various settings have convinced the author of the need for people to receive help in their home church rather than away from the church. The book is written to develop a life support fellowship within the church. He anticipates that some instruction and skill development will be required in order that individuals become more effective in this role.
These basic assumptions, outlined in the introduction, are followed by a concise summary of counseling attitudes and skills in chapters one to three. The last three chapters focus on vocational counseling, premarital counseling, and marriage problem counseling.
The book could well be used by individuals and/or groups as a study guide to identify basic counseling attitudes and skills. It does not provide specific directives for skill development. However, individuals are encouraged to implement the principles in their counseling experiences. The training goal is not to develop more professionals but to motivate and help more persons in the church to recognize and utilize their gifts of counseling. It is also recommended to churches which are concerned about the kind of community they wish to become.