Since January 2011, I have served individuals and families from surrounding communities and churches with professional counseling and coaching services. Prior to 2011, before earning my degree and working as a professional counselor, I occasionally volunteered as a trained lay counselor for five years. Three weeks ago, I moved into a new office – the first office not located on church premises.
For the first time, I have as many non-believing clients as I have believers.
Interestingly, I gained my non-believing clients while still serving from the church office. In my experience with my clients and with people in my social circles, there is something both believers and non-believers have in common. (It’s not good.)
First, I want to share that every time an individual enters my office for counseling (or coaching), I can’t help but respect their courage – the fact that they are willing to get vulnerable and work on personal growth is commendable. Regardless of faith, it takes a lot of strength to walk into an office and ask for help. For an individual who is atheist or agnostic to walk into a church building and ask for help? It must take ten extra doses of courage! Most of these non-believing clients told me it wasn’t easy entering the church. So,
I knew I had only one chance to make a REAL impression and connect with them,
and hope they would be willing to take this journey and trust me to help them work through their difficult life issues. With each one, in the first five minutes I stated I was not there to preach to them or to judge them in any way. I’m grateful that in each case, especially with my most recent group of non-believer clients, it was a pleasant experience and we connected very well.
I met them where they were. Jesus taught me that.
I studied the way he related to people. While in grad school, I created a curriculum and program for spiritual growth. With this simple concept, as Jesus exemplified for all humanity, we should be able to connect with others, regardless of their walk in life.
- Be Relational
- Be Encouraging
- Be Authentic
- Be Loving
Bottom line: In all things, love.
My experience with counseling brought a perspective I wasn’t expecting. Yet, I wasn’t really surprised because I could relate to what my clients and others were sharing with me. There was a common denominator amongst the majority of my Christian clients. In fact, those in my social circles began sharing the same general belief and experience.
Christians reported that they did not consider other Christians, including their closest church “friends,” amongst their most trusted.
Most clients told me they chose not to speak to others in the church about their most difficult and private life issues. In fact, many stated that people from their church would be surprised to know things about them. (Ditto.) Yet, not many people are talking about this. I believe the reason some of these people were entrusting me with their stories was because I marketed that I was an independent counselor not obligated to report information to ministers or church leadership, even though I was a Christian counselor whose office was located in a church. I know many Christian counselors who inform their clients they will consult with their ministers, and many (not all) ministers insist on it. I, on the other hand, promised complete confidentiality.
I could hardly believe the painful stories I was hearing. One might believe that a counselor in a small town church office would be working with families with marriage issues or in need of parenting coaching. Along with family issues came family secrets, and individuals dealing with trauma, and some of the most painful stories I have ever heard. My clients had been holding on to secrets and refraining from asking for help or even just sharing with anyone in the church. When I asked the reason they refused to tell even one person they considered to be a friend in the church, the answer was the same:
They didn’t want to risk being judged or criticized.
That’s the common denominator – believers and non-believers alike don’t want to be judged or criticized by unloving Christians. Is this outrageous to anyone else? Church, we need to do better! Christians, we need to be better. Our own church families don’t trust us. Is it any wonder churches are losing members and struggle to fill their pews? Residing in Indiana, I wondered if this was a Midwest problem? I don’t yet have research to back this, but I believe it’s a global issue (national, at least). If it’s a problem with just one church, it’s heartbreaking! My clients come from many church backgrounds, and some stopped attending church services. Some of my atheist/agnostic clients claim it is organized church that led them to their belief (or lack of it) today. I am challenging all Christians:
Live REAL lives, beyond the Sunday mask.
It is time to be REAL; to be what Jesus taught. To walk in Truth. To reflect our Father’s love beautifully, as Jesus did. Anything short of that is unacceptable. Bottom line…
In ALL things, love.
Please leave a comment below…
How REAL (relational, encouraging, authentic, loving) are you?
In your experience, how REAL are Christians?
Do selected Christians from your own church really know you?
Have you ever been so hurt by Christians at church you refuse to return to worship services?