Think about the topical issues unique to your congregation that lay counselors will likely encounter. Develop a team of lay counselors who have the personal characteristics discussed below and can most effectively minister to the needs of your church family.
Consider the following characteristics in selecting potential lay counselors:
Spiritual and emotional maturity
Appropriate spiritual gifts, such as mercy, exhortation, wisdom, and teaching.
A desire to help and support hurting people
Sufficient knowledge of the Bible and the ability to apply biblical principles
A willingness to accept supervision and an ability to follow through with assigned tasks
A commitment to serve for at least one year
Seek lay counselor recommendations from church staff and other church leaders who are familiar with the personality and gifting of people in the church.
The success of your lay counseling ministry depends greatly on the character and quality of the counselors you select to staff the ministry. Developing screening guidelines that can be consistently applied will benefit your ministry in several ways:
Increases the ability of church leaders to choose spiritually mature believers who are appropriate for the lay counseling ministry
Heightens protection from incidents of sexual abuse
Helps demonstrate to those seeking counsel—and to a court, if necessary—that your church has not been negligent in screening potential lay counselors
Your job isn’t done once you’ve established your selection criteria and identified individuals as potential lay counselors. The next step is developing screening procedures that will help you maintain the integrity of your ministry and ensure that qualified people are serving as lay counselors. Consider these elements as you establish screening guidelines:
Application form. No one involved in a lay counseling ministry should be exempt from completing an application form. Everyone—including all employees involved in lay counseling administration and all applicants for volunteer lay counseling positions—should complete an application. Consider having the applicant indicate their agreement with your church’s statement of faith, marriage and sexuality beliefs, and counseling philosophies as a part of the signed application. Doing so allows the church to exclude those who may disagree with fundamental tenants of the church's stated faith and protect against unbiblical or even abusive teaching.
Criminal Background Check. Criminal background checks have become common elements in employee hiring—and should be a part of your church’s overall hiring policy. To provide a safe environment for counselees, your church should also conduct a criminal background check for volunteers, especially those who will have access to children, youth, and any other vulnerable individuals
Reference Checks. Require applicants to provide the names of at least two independent references who can speak to the applicant’s lay counseling qualifications. You should contact references either in person or in writing before you allow an applicant to provide lay counseling. Before allowing the individual to serve as a lay counselor in your ministry, ensure that you have received verification from these references that the applicant is a qualified and competent counselor.
Personal Interview. Consider developing a uniform set of questions that will help you gain greater understanding of the potential lay counselor’s character and background. Use time in the interview to follow up on any questions or concerns revealed through your other screening processes of the applicant. Interviews also offer a good opportunity to educate the potential lay counselor about the time commitments, training schedule, and other expectations for someone on your church’s lay counseling team. Church leaders may desire to administer various spiritual gifts or psychological tests as a part of the interview process. This also is a good time to evaluate the applicant’s knowledge of the Bible, as well as their ability to apply the Bible to matters in the context of lay counseling.
Check with a local attorney to ensure all your screening policies—including criminal background checks—are following local, state, and federal laws.
In addition to the above screening procedures, include the following in your overall screening practices:
The “Six-Month” Rule. As should be the case with all ministry volunteers at your church, lay counseling volunteers need to be members or regular attenders of the church for at least six months before being put into the position of lay counselor. Sexual predators often volunteer for ministries in which they can gain quick access to children or other vulnerable individuals. Normally, they won’t wait long to gain access.
Annual Renewal Application. Lay counseling administrators and counselors should complete a renewal application form annually. This annual inquiry will help uncover potentially serious situations involving existing workers. It should include the legal risk management questions from the initial application form. If problems have developed, it’s crucial that your ministry be aware of them as soon as possible.
Feedback. Once your screening process is in place and functioning, consider asking for feedback from those who have completed the process. You may want to create a special survey to gather their input. Ask them about the effectiveness of your screening process and encourage them to make suggestions for improving the process. You should constantly assess how your screening process is operating and make changes as you identify more effective ways of conducting screening.
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