Today, more and more people are feeling isolated, overwhelmed, and hurt by a variety of life circumstances. Jesus Christ, the “Wonderful Counselor,” served people by meeting practical and spiritual needs. He spoke words of hope and healing. Now more than ever, church leaders recognize that the local church must serve as a safe place for spiritual care and Biblical guidance for life’s problems and decisions.
Biblically—and practically—spiritual care of church attendees and staff should not fall solely to the pastor. To meet growing needs for spiritual counseling, many local churches are developing lay counseling ministries in order “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up”1 —Eph. 4:12
Organizing a church lay counseling program calls for prayer and planning. It also includes implementing a risk management program to safeguard the church and the people involved in church-sponsored lay counseling programs. Church leaders need to become aware of legal risks and responsibilities associated with counseling and take preventative steps to protect the ministry from unnecessary legal liability.
Generally, lawsuits against churches related to lay counseling address breach of privacy, abuse, negligence, and reporting failures. By developing lay counseling procedures, your church can provide much-needed guidance while protecting counselees and counselors. In the process, it also may help avoid unnecessary litigation and its emotionally and financially destructive effects on your church and the people involved.