by Scott Mehl
Last month I made the case for why biblical counseling should often take place in our homes. Of course, you’ll notice that in my entire post I never quoted a single Bible verse that required personal ministry to take place in the home. That’s because there isn’t one. Counseling in your home is a common implication of the biblical principles of hospitality, but it’s nowhere near a biblical command in and of itself.
Where you counsel someone is an issue of wisdom, and as such, it has a number of different good answers. Where you counsel someone is, most fundamentally, an issue of love. The question isn’t “Where do I want to counsel this person?” or even “What’s the most convenient place to counsel this person?” The question ought to be: “Given what I know about them, and their situation, where would be the most loving place to counsel this person?”
Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, (Philippians 2:4–5)
While the answer to that question may sometimes be “our homes,” there will inevitably be other times when that is not the most loving answer. While church offices didn’t exist during the time of the New Testament, that doesn’t mean there’s no place for them in modern biblical counseling.
Church offices exist because our culture and society are set up in such a way that collaboration, study, administrative work, and serious meetings most often take place in professional settings away from the home. In one sense, the church office has adopted the shape of a modern business, where its employees gather at a central location to collaborate and share resources. In another sense, the church office has adopted the shape of a modern therapist, where people go to a professional setting to meet with a trained resource to receive help with their problems.
While Scripture doesn’t, in any way, require these kinds of corporate or therapeutic settings, they can often be helpful when they are what those we are ministering to have come to expect. For many people who are struggling significantly, a familiar setting (one that is professional and “neutral”) can be a real blessing and remove the kind of apprehension that is inevitably a part of needing help.
In addition, a church office can provide a sense of formality that may be a loving aspect of helping a struggling person. When you meet with someone in a professional space at an appointed time it carries with it a sense of formality that can lend itself to the diligent work that needs to take place in the struggling person’s life. In our culture, when you give someone an assignment you want to follow up on while sitting in a professional setting, they expect it, and they’re probably even more likely to complete it.
Finally, meeting in a church office can also be an act of love toward someone because the efficiency of it allows you to meet with an additional person or two than you otherwise would be able to in less formal settings. While we ought to be careful not to generally equate efficiency with love, there is a way that wise efficiency can help us love others better and love more people better than the careless use of inefficient practices.
I have to admit that, in this current season of life, at least half of the counseling and discipleship I am doing is taking place in our church office. When I decide to meet with someone in our church office it is usually a result of a combination of these three reasons. I don’t counsel in our church office because I believe it’s the ideal place for personal ministry (I don’t), or because it’s where I enjoy meeting with people the most (it’s not). I counsel people in our church office because, in certain situations, I believe it’s the most loving place to meet people given their expectations, the benefits of the formality, or the logistical limitations of both of our time and space.
To love people well we need to be open and flexible to where we meet with them. And, in our current cultural setting, a church office can often be a great option (even for volunteer counselors). Because considering well our locations is just another way we can love those God has called us to minister to.