The Lay Counseling Training Program (LCTP) is designed to provide individuals with training and hands-on experience in gospel-centered counseling. The goal of this program is to promote personal, gospel-centered growth in individuals and to equip and encourage them to engage in Spirit-dependent, gospel-saturated counseling, both formally and informally, within the NHC body.
Counseling involves “getting alongside people to serve them—to assist them in making the changes God wants them to make. This kind of counseling is not only a formal ministry of the church; it’s meant to be the lifestyle of every believer” (Paul Tripp).
The LCTP follows the “Head-Heart-Hands” approach and is comprised of academic projects, mentoring, observation, and hands-on experience. The program is designed so that each successive phase of training progresses into deeper and more rigorous training. The student may complete only the first phase, or press on and finish all three. Therefore, the program lasts between nine and 42 months, depending on how many phases of the training you choose to complete. Your time and financial cost increases with each phase of training.
Our goal is that the lay counselor would be equipped for the good work of counseling ministry (2 Timothy 3:17).
When people hear the phrase “Christian counseling,” it’s easy to consider it therapy or psychology with a little bit of Jesus mixed in, or specialized help for “the really messed up people.” But at its heart, gospel-centered counseling is simply restorative discipleship and is therefore a significant part of accomplishing our purpose at North Hills Church: to Believe God’s Word, Connect with God’s Family, and Share God’s Story.
Restorative: A Holistic View of Brokenness
Gospel-centered counseling is restorative because it begins with a holistic view of brokenness. We need counseling because we are fallen people living in a fallen world.
Our hearts are affected deeply by sin. In the Bible, the “heart” is used to describe collectively our mind, our emotions, and our will. Our own personal brokenness and sin are reflected in thinking that is clouded, affections that are pulled towards idols, and behavior that is both sinful and destructive.
Our relationship with God is broken. Ultimately, our sinful hearts are a reflection of our broken relationship with God. We do not properly understand, worship, love, and obey Him.
We are surrounded and affected by brokenness. Not only are we sinners, we are also sufferers: we are surrounded by the brokenness of this world and are sinned against by others.
- We are affected physically. We are embodied souls vulnerable to sickness, disease, and disorders.
- We are affected spiritually. We are surrounded by spiritual forces that are real and an enemy, the devil, that seeks to tempt and destroy.
- We are affected relationally. Abuse, neglect, family dysfunction, and other broken relationships affect us deeply.
- We are affected culturally. The voices of a world opposed to God and resistant to redemption are loud. They confuse us. They shape us. They coerce us.
As David Powlison describes, each of us is a “physically-embodied, socially-embedded, spiritually-embattled person.” We are both sinners and sufferers.
Healthy gospel-centered counseling always includes an understanding of how the active human heart, with all of its own sinfulness, responds to physical, spiritual, relational, and cultural influences.
Discipleship: A Holistic Environment for Change
Counseling is also discipleship, which means that the best way to address our brokenness is with a holistic environment, focused on gospel-centered change.
Gospel-centered. At the center of any environment that produces spiritual change is the gospel—the person and work of Jesus. Without Jesus, there is no redemption and no transformation. Change begins when we bring our shame, our guilt, and our pain to the cross and see that Jesus is sufficient for all of our brokenness.
God’s story of redemption. The beauty of the work of Jesus on the cross is seen most clearly in light of the bigger story of redemption recorded in the Bible. Jesus is God’s promised Hero, who, through the cross, restores God’s original purpose in creation. Change happens when we truly see Jesus as our only Hero and begin to find our identity and significance flowing from our place in God’s big story.
The Holy Spirit. God’s Spirit is the one who comes alongside to help, to expose our sin, to open our eyes to see the beauty and power of Jesus, and to produce genuine spiritual fruit. Without His supernatural help, change is impossible.
God’s Word. The Spirit primarily speaks to us through God’s Word. As we open the Bible, God reveals both our own hearts and His heart for us. We see our brokenness for what it really is and can listen to God’s voice calling us to the Redeemer as our only hope.
Prayer. We show our dependence on the Spirit and the Word as we pray. Prayer is an expression of humility and need, an acknowledgement that God loves to lavish His children with grace, and that His intervention is our only hope for change.
Community. Christian community is essential to change, because it is the best place to experience a gospel-centered, spirit-dependent, Word-saturated, prayer-filled environment. As we, together, bring our brokenness to Jesus, we actually experience Jesus’ fullness through each other; we speak the truth in love to one another, and we stir one another up to love and good works. In other words, God uses messed up people to help other messed up people see themselves and see Jesus.
Ephesians 4:15-16 say, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
This “speaking the truth in love” happens at North Hills Church in two primary ways:
- Public ministry: Sunday worship services, preaching, training classes, conferences, etc.
- Personal ministry: life groups, small group counseling, one-on-one counseling, etc.
Public and personal ministry are meant to work in cooperation with each other. This necessary cohesion is why our counseling ministry works very closely with other ministries, like life groups, preaching and teaching, and Christian partner ministries outside of NHC.
How Does Counseling Work?
Simply put, gospel-centered counseling attempts to create an atmosphere of grace that connects a holistic view of brokenness and a holistic view of discipleship.
Love. All gospel-centered counseling starts with love. One sinner who loves Jesus comes alongside another sinner with a heart of love and grace. Love doesn’t stand at the top of the pit and say, “come on up.” Love jumps down into the pit and says, “let us bring our brokenness to Jesus together and see Him redeem.”
Know. Flowing from this heart of compassion is a desire to know the person who is struggling. This is where we ask thoughtful questions that help us understand what is affecting the person’s heart. We listen with carefulness and compassion. We try to understand what kind of brokenness is influencing their hearts and how. And, we seek to understand how their hearts are responding to these influences, and ultimately, to God.
Speak. As we seek to know the person struggling, we are also gently drawing them into a gospel-centered environment for change. As we listen to the Spirit, open God’s Word, and engage in prayer for and with the person we are helping, we speak, offering words of hope and truth that are centered on Jesus and His story of redemption.
Change. As we listen well and speak with grace and truth, our hope is that the person who is struggling will see Jesus as their hope for change and will respond in genuine faith, repentance, and obedience. This kind of deep change doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and patient rest in the work of God’s Spirit.
What is the Lay Counseling Ministry?
Counseling ministry includes many aspects: mentoring, coaching, encouraging, discipling, counseling, partnering in prayer. God calls every member of the body of Christ to minister to one another in these (and may other) ways. This training process will help us evaluate the maturity and giftedness of those desiring to be part of the lay counseling ministry of NHC. One of the goals of the program is for graduates to become part of the lay counseling ministry; however, participation in this ministry is by the invitation and discretion of the counseling leadership team and is not guaranteed upon completion of the program. Mentors will give feedback and direction as you proceed through the program regarding where you may be best suited to serve the body with your gifts.
Before applying to the Lay Counseling Training Program, the following prerequisites must be met:
- You must be a member of North Hills Church,
- You must be currently engaged in a Life Group.
A minimum of “Phase 1” (see below) training is required for lay counselors who are assigned one-on-one cases by the counseling department. All new lay counselors, including those who have participated in the NHC Counseling Ministry for less than a year, are required to participate in the program. Individuals who have a degree in counseling or extensive counseling experience may qualify for a modified version of the program. (Discuss this with the Pastor of Counseling Ministries.)
As you participate in the program, you will need to continue your active engagement in your Life Group. This engagement is an integral part of your mentoring process, because your primary sphere of personal ministry and counseling should be your life group. Therefore, you should connect with your Life Group leader (or a mature believer in your group) on a bi-weekly or monthly basis, to evaluate and encourage your personal growth, and to discuss how you can effectively serve other members of your group through personal discipleship and/or counseling.
Course requirements for the Lay Counseling Training Program are a combination of classes, reading assignments, study guides, case studies, participation in counseling groups, and attending counseling forums and meetings. The program is designed so that the breadth and depth of training increases with each phase. The phases are intended to coincide with, and train for, the first three types of Soul Care described in Appendix 4. All of these requirements have “Head-Heart-Hands” elements.
Each student is given access to our online classroom, via personal login credentials. Classes, training, case studies, and sermon series are made available through this online platform. Additionally, completed assignments, feedback, and progress tracking are all contained in the online classroom.