Most good resources are taken from someone else (it’s not stealing if you give credit) and this is no exception. I took this from Coram Deo’s Bob Thune (https://bobthune.com/videos/the-role-of-a-gospel-community/) who in turn admitted to taking it from someone else.
Look at the well-drawn picture that is the photo for this post. This road represents the Christian life. We know that there will be troubles on this road and we know that the place of Christian community is to help people through these struggles and hardships. This diagram maps out the place of ordinary Christians, pastors, and professional counselors as we go. The normal road is labeled 70%, the off-ramp is 20%, and the tow truck is 10%. The road is our “ordinary” brothers and sisters in Christ, the off ramp is our pastors or elders, and the tow truck is specialized professional counseling.
The road (70%)
I specifically put “ordinary” in quotes in the above paragraph, because I don’t believe the word does justice. The Bible says that each of us has been given the Holy Spirit, and this spirit helps us as we counsel, help, exhort, and even rebuke one another. This is where the brunt of the work in community happens. As you struggle in your Christian life, and we all do, this should be your primary go-to. About 70% of problems can be handled well by a fellow Christian with a Bible.
In a church context, this is the least likely to be over-emphasized, but it can still happen. An overemphasis of this type of care to the detriment of the other two can look like the blind leading the blind–people giving opinions that stretch further than their knowledge or expertise would allow.
The off-ramp (20%)
Sometimes the ordinary believer finds himself out of his depth. The believers may be young and inexperienced or may just not know the right place in the scriptures to counsel from. Or sometimes it is something that, for lack of a better word, just blows up. The filing of divorce petition or a sudden death can leave even a healthy community group scrambling to care for its people. Here you bring in your pastors or elders. These are men who have the same Holy Spirit and Bible as you, but who have been vetted by the church and can speak out of the place of a long and mature walk with God.
When this type of care is overemphasized, it looks like everything being shuttled to the pastor, leading to the burnout of the pastors. Worse yet, an over-reliance on the pastors lead to weak structures underneath those pastors, which in turn leads to the collapse of the church when the pastors do burn out.
The tow truck (10%)
These are professional specialized counselors. These people have specialized training in working people through issues in a way that even a seasoned pastor often cannot. This is usually because it deals with a specialized area of expertise. Especially in cases where you are working with a mental disorder or severe abuse, these men and women are God’s common grace to help in ways that might otherwise overwhelm both your members and your pastors.
An overemphasis of this care can be especially tempting. In our world of quick solutions, we can be tempted to send someone to a professional to get “fixed,” We can unknowingly begin to think of the professional counselor like our mechanic: go to the clinic, get counseling, and then be done with it. Not only is that not how the problems of people ordinarily work, but little by little we can give off the message that if someone is anxious, prideful, fearful, or depressed, then they simply have a problem that the ordinary Christian is not equipped to deal with.
I love this diagram because It is so important to not only talk about these three resources, but also to talk about the ratio in which they ought to be used. This also helps avoid an argument in which one side says we ought to lean on pastors and counselors and the other says that that we ought to just help each other.
As I went through this with my community group, I had people on one hand that really didn’t see much need for specialized counselors and people on the other hand who gave those same counselors a disproportionate place. And remember that all of these intersect. You don’t recommend someone to a counselor or pastor to get rid of them. Instead, the counselor or pastor helps the person get back on the main road, where the group needs to resume care. And the beautiful thing is that we, in gospel community, all travel on the same road. Today you may change someone’s tire and tomorrow you may see that same tire on his car as he gives you a lift.