Blog

The Case for Counseling in Public Spaces

From the series:

by Scott Mehl

I’ve previously made the case for why counseling should take place in our homes as well as why it should take place in church offices. However, these aren’t the only two options when it comes to biblical counseling. The truth is, biblical counseling can (and often does) take place just about anywhere. This is because biblical counseling isn’t meant to be a formal relationship, like that with a professional therapist; biblical counseling always takes place in the context of a friendship. And friendships take place in all the various contexts that we live.

Think for a second about Jesus’ ministry. He didn’t have a home (Matt 8:20), and he definitely didn’t have a church office. So, where then did his private ministry take place? Everywhere. Anywhere. Wherever he was with his disciples, that was the perfect context for the encouragement, rebuke, correction, affirmation, and gospel reminders that they needed. Interestingly, this “wherever you are” format of ministry has been the norm for discipleship since the very beginning. When discussing the “discipleship” that ought to take place in a relationship between a parent and a child, God instructs his people in Deuteronomy:

You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. (Deuteronomy 6:5–7)

The greatest commandment hasn’t changed (Matt 22:38-39) and neither has the primary context for the commandment to be taught (whether from parent to child, or counselor to counselee): everywhere. Whenever you’re with people, wherever you’re with people, it’s an opportunity to remind them of the glorious truths of who God is, what he’s done for them, and how they are called to live as a result. Any time we’re together with people is an opportunity for biblical counseling.

Oftentimes, people are willing to open up more in less formal settings because they are more comfortable and their surroundings are more familiar. While not every topic is suitable for the local coffee shop, many of the most pressing topics in people’s lives definitely are. Meeting people where they are is a natural byproduct of the kind of love that God has called us to show one another. If a person is most comfortable in some form of a public space, than that’s exactly where we should meet them.

But, we also can’t discount the significant amount of biblical counsel that takes place in less formal settings, just because that’s where people most often find themselves together. I believe this is why the majority of biblical counseling that takes place in the church doesn’t actually take place in homes or church offices, but in restaurants, coffee shops, cars, trains, parks, offices, and playgrounds. Wherever you spend the most time with other Christians is the place where biblical counseling should be taking place the most. (And on a related note, wherever you spend the most time with non-Christians is the place where evangelism should be taking place the most).

When we are open and ready to speak the truth in love to those around us wherever we are, it gives us opportunities to love others through wise counsel that may never come up in more formal settings. Most of the friends in your life who desperately need to be reminded of the gospel, encouraged, corrected, and affirmed, won’t ever request to see a “counselor.” They will rarely ever find themselves in the formal setting where we assume “biblical counseling” is supposed to take place.  But that doesn’t mean they don’t need the truth. They do need it. And God has called you to deliver it to them.

You may not call this less formal kind of “truth-speaking” biblical counseling, but that’s exactly what it is. In every relationship, in every situation, there will be opportunities to listen and to serve, there will be opportunities to speak words of affirmation and words of rebuke, there will be opportunities to remind others of the gospel and to call them to live in light of it. Whether you call this “biblical counseling,” “discipleship,” or just good old-fashioned “friendship,” it’s still the same call. And it’s a call that each one of us has received from God wherever we find ourselves, and whoever we find ourselves with.