Care and Counsel as Mission: Christian Counseling’s New Global Look

Psychologist Saul Cruz and his family have lived and worked among the poor in Mexico City for the past twenty years. Pavel Raus, a counselor and seminary professor in Prague, leads marriage seminars open to the public and draws in the wounded and disillusioned from the streets of that highly secular city. Gladys Mwiti is a clinical psychologist and founder of Oasis Africa in Nairobi, which has trained more than five thousand counselors in sixteen African countries—places where AIDS is making orphans of many. Mwiti says,

“Africa bleeds and Africa weeps. Children’s laughter by the fireside has been replaced with wailing at the graveside….I have asked God for the healing of the wounds of my people with my skills as my offering of five loaves and two fish.”1

Saul, Pavel, and Gladys are part of the new face of Christian counseling worldwide which wants to shed the perception of Christian counseling as limited to “50-minute hours” in well appointed suburban offices and calls itself “care and counsel as mission.” The three were part of nineteen Christian caregivers from the fields of counseling, pastoral ministry, psychology, psychiatry, social work, and theology who met in Mexico City 5-9 January 2009 to explore the future role of Christian counselors in the Church’s mission of taking “the whole gospel to the whole world.”

With participants from eleven countries, the Lausanne Consultation on Care and Counsel as Mission was hosted by Saul and Pilar Cruz, co-founders of Armonía Ministries. The meeting was seen by many participants as a long overdue convergence of the Christian counseling movement which emerged in the 1960s and holistic mission thinking—an outgrowth of the 1974 Lausanne Congress. Much of the talk and passion in Mexico City was around serving the poor, understanding care and counsel as integral to a transformational “whole gospel” perspective, and making greater use of indigenous Christian theological reflection.


Lausanne Consultation on Care and Counsel as
Mission in Mexico City
 

The group also seeks to regain lost momentum. Twenty years ago, there was great optimism that Christian counseling and psychology would have a strategic role in the Church’s worldwide mission. However, that vision quickly narrowed, as evidenced by the evolution of a series of special issues on psychology and missions in one of the leading Christian psychology journals, the Journal of Psychology and Theology (JPT). In the 1987 issue David Hesselgrave contributed a seminal article entitled, “Can Psychology Aid Us in the Fulfillment of the Great Commission? A Missiologist Speaks to Christian Psychologists.”2

However, by 1993, the JPT special issue, limited by a lack of research on psychology’s possible role in the overall strategy of missions, narrowed its focus to the vitally important but bounded area of member care (i.e., caring for missionary and humanitarian personnel and families).3

This essential ministry, now supported by organizations, networks, publications, and conferences, while still far from adequate to meet the need, caught the attention of the Christian community and has grown considerably over the past twenty years. However, the broader role that Christian counseling and psychology could play in serving the poor and underserved in Jesus’ name remains understudied and underdeveloped, while the need for it, in a world of unprecedented suffering, has dramatically increased.

Current Global Needs and the Three Circle Paradigm
In addition to the challenge of poverty (at least eighty percent of the population lives on less than 10USD a day4) there is now the stark reality of terrorism, HIV/AIDS, ethnic strife, children at risk, sex trafficking, and natural and human-made disasters. The Lausanne 2004 Forum in Pattaya, Thailand, identified several “at-risk” groups with which Christian counselors frequently work: refugees, prisoners, people who abuse drugs, victims of violence, victims of sexual abuse, the elderly, and people with disabilities.5

However, until recently, there was little opportunity for conversation, networking, and collaboration among mission-minded Christian counselors whose focus is on using their gifts to minister to the “the least of these.”

The idea for a global consultation on Christian counseling as mission emerged from a 2007 meeting between Gary Collins, a pioneering thinker, writer, and networker in the field of Christian counseling worldwide; Fred Gingrich, a former missionary and chair of Denver Seminary’s counseling division; and myself. We adopted the phrase “care and counsel” to capture the breadth of multidisciplinary work done by Christian counselors and caregivers which goes beyond traditional counseling to include church and community-based ministries, emergency response to traumatic events, and educational outreach programs focused on marriage and family life.

A new paradigm emerged which conceptualized the global role of care and counsel as three related concentric circles:

  • member care,

  • Christian counseling in support of global Church, and
  • care and counsel for the whole world (see Figure 1).


Figure 1 

It was concluded that proportionally little research, training, theological reflection, or global conversation had focused on the overwhelming needs of the “big circle” and how Christian caregivers can respond.

Care and Counsel: The “Hole” in Holistic Mission?6
The Lausanne Care and Counsel as Mission Interest Group (LCCMIG) is building on the theological foundations that have been a hallmark of the Lausanne movement. The definition of holistic mission found in the Lausanne Occasional Paper on the subject states,

“Holistic mission is mission oriented towards the satisfaction of basic human needs, including the need of God, but also the need of food, love, housing, clothes, physical and mental health, and a sense of human dignity.”7

In 2007, the Lausanne Theology Working Group, at a consultation entitled, “Following Jesus in our Broken World,” noted, “The claim that Jesus is the truth must be demonstrated in the Christian praxis of attending to human pain and meeting human needs.”8

Beginning with the early morning Bible studies and prayer led by Dewi Hughes, theological advisor to Tearfund and a member of the Lausanne Theology Working Group, the importance of care and counsel to be culturally informed and biblically grounded was much on the minds of the Mexico City group.

The Mexico City Consultation: Process and Outcomes
Several goals were set for Mexico City:

  • Identify and understand more deeply the most pressing areas of human suffering and how to respond to them;

  • Issue a powerful call for a greater, more coordinated, and higher impact response to the “big circle” of human need; and
  • Set an agenda for future work, including the opportunity present at the Cape Town 2010 Congress.

The venue of Mexico City, near one of Armonía’s community transformation centers, provided a profound sense of place for the work of the consultation.

Participants were given tours of historic Mexico City as well as an in-depth orientation to Armonía’s transformational approach to integral mission among the poor. Participants sang and played with the children at the community transformation centers and neighborhood families invited them into their homes, shared their stories, and prayed together.


Dr. Araba Sefa-Dedah from Ghana greets a
mother and her child.
 

In working toward its goals, the consultation progressed in three stages using a collaborative, visual “future search method.”9 In the first stage of the consultation, “Focus on the Past,” participants wrote personal histories and recorded key world events and milestones in the life of care and counsel as mission on wall-length timelines. As small groups identified emerging themes, nineteen stories and perspectives on the last forty years of world history began to integrate into one shared story.

In the second stage, “Focus on the Present,” everyone entered into the process of creating a “mind map” diagram (see Figure 2) of the current world trends that will be most influential in shaping the future and that relate most closely with the concern of care and counsel as mission.


Figure 2 

After developing the mind map, the group divided into four stakeholder groups and studied the map along the perspectives of:

Preparing (training and preparation)

the whole Church (building bridges within the Church)

to take the whole gospel (developing a biblical view of mission)

to the whole world (mobilizing for mission)

The most prominent trends and themes that emerged were:

  • The challenge of poverty/growth of the poor

  • Holistic transformation

  • The use of collaborative and co-creative processes

  • Spiritual poverty

  • Indigenous Christian theologies

  • Biblical social justice

  • Continuing conversation on evangelism versus integral/holistic mission

In the third stage, “Focus on the Future,” five action groups identified different aspects of the practical agenda for Care and Counsel as Mission and expressed their specific personal commitments in working toward them.

Future plans include:

  • Communication and publications

  • Networking

  • Training, supervision, and consulting

  • Research and development

  • Administration and funding

  • The Cape Town Congress: Plenary presence, prayer and guidance centre, and workshops
  • The International Institute (commencing 2012): A roving venue for theologians, anthropologists, mental health practitioners, and students to engage in serious dialogue and training about the cultural context of healing.

Gary Collins, Saul Cruz, Al Dueck, Fred Gingrich, and myself were named as an executive committee for the LCCMIG. The consultation ended with a service of worship and celebration of the Lord’s Supper led by Gladys Mwiti of Kenya, Xuefu Wang of China, and Robson Gomes of Brazil.

Regaining the Bolder Vision
The Mexico City consultation is a major step for Christian care and counsel toward regaining a bolder vision for its role in the overall strategy of missions. The vision goes beyond member care and beyond taking care of our own—important as that work is. Following in the steps of Jesus, it is also to humbly provide compassionate, respectful, competent care and counsel in his name to all who desire it.

For more information or a detailed report of the Mexico City consultation, see the LCCM website at: www.careandcounselasmission.org or email Brad Smith at smithbrad@aol.com.

Endnotes

1. Langham Partnership International. 2005. Gladys Mwiti, Kenya: Serving in the Tough Places in Africa. 14 March.

2. 15(4): 274.

3. Hunter, W. F. 1993. “Missions and Mental Health: Introduction to a Special Issue.” Journal of Psychology and Theology 21(1): 7.

4. Shah, A. 2008. Poverty Facts and Stats. 3 September. 

5. www.lausanne.org/documents/2004forum/LOP34_IG5.pdf, 9.

6. This play on words is inspired by the title of an article by S. S. Canning, M. K. Neal, R. Fine, and K. J. Meese. 2002. “Mental Health Resources: The ‘Hole’ in Holistic, Christian, Community-based Health Care?” Health and Development 12(4): 11-17.

7. www.lausanne.org/documents/2004forum/LOP33_IG4.pdf, 16.

8. www.lausanne.org/issue-theology/limuru-pointers.html

9. Weisbord, Marvin and Sandra Janoff. 2000. Future Search: An Action Guide to Finding Common Ground in Organizations and Communities. San Francisco: Berrett-Koelhler.


Dr. Bradford M. Smith, a Boston (Massachusetts, USA) area psychologist, is chair of the Lausanne Care and Counsel as Mission Interest Group and president of Care and Counsel International. Leading up to the 1989 Lausanne Congress in Manila, he was Lausanne's director of program development and Congress participant selection director.