Steps for Starting a Counseling Team
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 Guidelines for Starting a Counseling Team
in the Local Church

The following guidelines are adapted from the Brazilian lay counselor training project. If you have a lay counseling ministry or begin one by adapting these ideas to your context, let us know so that we can help people in this ministry network with each other. For help in English, contact Rachel Kornfield. If you speak Portuguese, contact the ministry’s leader, Maria José D. dos Reis or its executive secretary, Patrícia Neves. If you live in Brazil, tell us what state you live in, so that we can connect you with possible resource people in your state.  

After revising or adjusting the below steps for your reality, create a schedule of when you would like to complete each step.  Then, put a check mark in front of each one as you complete it.  It would be good to review progress monthly for the first year.  


The steps for starting a counseling team can be summarized in five stages:

  1.  “Friendship”, a study group in which the leader and team-in-formation experiences the introductory semester on counseling. This could include about 10-20 people. They could be from a number of churches if the churches are small or do not have very many people interested in this ministry. 
  2. “Dating”: the team-in-formation, probably reduced by 50%, offers the introductory counseling course (phase 1) to lay counselors in the local church (one semester). The team will minister to 6 to 20 people, including leaders of small groups and ministries that counsel people. 
  3. “Engagement”: the team-in-formation (those called to be counselors, be they lay people or professionals) of at least 3 people solidifies their vocation and begins focusing on more specific areas, such as a brief therapy model of 6 to 12 sessions.   
  4. “Marriage”: making the team and ministry official. Team members are those who have been trained in the GROW mentoring model and the brief therapy model. Anyone who wants a certificate in counseling and training during a three-year period will go on to participate in special modules during the third year. 
  5. “Reproduction”: birthing this ministry in other churches or possibly birthing new ministry teams that are spin-offs of the basic counseling team.
Below we go into more details of specific steps related to these four stages.
A.   Friendship
  1. Pray. A lot! Pray before and after each of the steps below! When we sepak of prayer, we are talking especially about hearing God. We recommend that each individual and/or the team-in-formation have a retreat with God near the beginning of this phase. 
  2. Obtain the approval of your pastor and/or the leadership of the church regarding this project. If there is some hesitancy, propose it as a pilot project to be evaluated after each semester.
  3. Specifically ask the pastor if he and/or his wife would like to participate in the initial semester so as to know from the inside-out what is happening and be able to speak into anything that may need further direction. Also ask him to recommend the people in the Body who he thinks could have a calling in counseling ministries.
  4. Form a weekly study group (3-30 people) interested in counseling ministries.   One excellent option of a book to study is Gary Collins’ How to be a People Helper
  5. People who stand out in the study group may have a calling in this area. Select various people as possible leaders or co-leaders of this ministry. Criteria: 1) have the pastor’s approval, 2) demonstrate emotional and spiritual maturity, 3) sense a possible calling in this area, 4) be willing to make time to invest in this ministry, 5) normally have suffered significant emotional traumas and 6) have experimented in a significant way the grace of God in healing and restoration.
  6. At least these leaders, but also others in the group who are interested, should participate in the Counseling Training Phase 1 offered in various places in Brazil. To find out more get in touch with the people mentioned at the beginning of this link. Criteria to be able to participate:
    1. Read the whole book by Gary Collins listed above, and take notes.
    2. Participate in a study group (item 2 above) 
  7. Identify a provisional leader (IMMEDIATELY! All the rest of the steps depend on this one!).
  8. Seek to identify at least two other members of the team-in-formation.
  9. Start to get together weekly, if you are not doing so already, as a team-in-formation, to make plans and continue making your way through the steps indicated here,a nd to do the follow-up training for phase 1. 
  10. Find out if your pastor is involved or could become involved in a movement that provides a clear vision and practice of healthy church life, including healthy cells or small groups. It is essential that the counseling team be in the context of a church that is purposefully growing in health and nurturing small groups and ministry teams. 
  11. If possible, the leadership, if not the whole team, should participate in monthly training encounters with other leaders in the same kind of ministry, having an opportunity for mutual support and training under a city or state coordinator, someone with years of experience in this ministry. Both the monthly training meetings and the intensive weekend-training seminars should feature:
    1. Prayer ministry with debriefing afterwards for learning and training.
    2. Teaching in areas that are fundamental to this ministry: foundations, biblical basis, methodology, spiritual warfare, prayer ministry, twelve-step support groups, etc.
    3. Personal support and prayer ministry for team leaders.
B. Dating
  1. Once you are done with Phase 1 as a potential team, let all the leaders of familiar groups or cells know about the course, as well as the entire pastoral team and all those who might be interested in perfecting their simple and daily counseling skills. There are no prerequisites in order to participate in the first phase. 
  2. Define the schedule and the place in order to capacitate the lay counselors, maybe during Sunday school at the church itself. The ideal is that the meetings be two hours long, with one hour for theory and another hour for practice. If this is not possible, you will have to adapt the schedule in order to go slower.
  3. Search for copies of Gary Collins’ book, How to be a People Helper. If you need at least 10 copies, you might want to order the books through the counseling network for a discount. 
  4. Reassess the schedule and the place where the potential team can meet, possibly in order to meet one hour before the Phase 1 study group so that there aren’t two meetings per week.
  5. The team must look for advice from a Christian psychologist or psychiatrist. It would be even better if this person was part of the team. If it is not possibly to obtain advice directly, you may pursue it indirectly through the national counseling team or through REVER which might have some recommendations regarding this.
  6. Look for training opportunities and congresses, such as the REVER training for veterans (March and July) and the REVER Congresses (October), in order to perfect your knowledge and abilities.
  7. Look for training so as to perfect yourselves as a team. This might include the following offered by MAPI:
    1. The Introductory Clinic of Ministerial Network about gifts, callings and personality styles.
    2. The Basic Training in the Formation of Teams
    3. The Advanced Training for Teams (Eight Characteristics of Productive Teams)
  8.  Occasionally offer an eight hour seminar on Saturday at your church or at other churches about topics that your team learned about during training sessions and congresses, and, so, generating financial resources. Each person in the potential team should search for an area in which to specialize according to age or kind of problem and seek to develop themselves in this area.
  9. Start scheduling counseling sessions at church:
    1. With supervised people who have done at least 5 AROAs with a grade average of 7 in five areas (empathy and the 4 areas of AROA).
    2. When someone reaches a grade average of 8 in five successive counseling sessions in these 5 areas, they may begin to counsel without supervision.
    3. “Certified” counselors must renew their certificate every semester with a supervised AROA and a grade average of 8 in the 5 areas.
C. Engagement
  1. Plan to have you and your potential team participate in Phase 2a and 2b training for counsel teams. Phase 2 is for people with a calling and anointing in the area of counseling, who really want to dedicate themselves to this ministry as their main ministry. It focuses on brief therapy and on how to help people in 6-12 sessions with Everett Worthington’s book, “Hope-Focused Marriage Counseling: A Guide to Brief Therapy” (InterVarsity Press).
See the differences between Phase 1 and 2 in the graph below:

Phase 1
Phase 2
Trained people
All those Who encourage or counsel others; leaders of familiar groups and almost every leader.
People with the calling and anointing for the counseling ministry.
Length of Counseling
Focuses on counseling in only one session.
Focuses on brief therapy, counseling in 6 to 12 sessions.
Theoretical Base
Gary Collins, How to Be a People Helper; trios and a problem-solving model.
Everett Worthington, Hope-Focused Marriage Counseling: A Guide to Brief Therapy; trios.
Phase 1 and having read Worthington
Very high; every church needs this foundation in order to promote healthy relationships.
Highly recommended, but optional. Normally priority only for those with a special calling.

  1. Give continuity to Phase 2 as a team at your church, possibly opening up to people who have not yet taken part of training outside the church.
  2. Plan to offer Phase 1 again. If it is not possible to make Phase 1 available in the near future, maybe those in your church who are interested might be able to participate in it in a nearby church. Also, if there are one or two nearby churches who are interested in doing Phase 2, you might want to do it together.
D. Marriage
  1. From amongst those who completed Phase 2, identify those who have a calling for this ministry in order to become the church’s official counseling team. You may use the graph at the end of these steps to help in the evaluation of these people concerning this ministry. 
  2. Participate in the introductory clinic of the ministerial network and seminar “Basic Training for the Formation of Ministry Teams” so that you may have a better idea of how to structure your team.
  3. Develop your strategic planning for the next year with a declaration of vision, strategies, values, measurable objectives, activities used to reach them, agenda, etc.
  4. Each person in the team may choose an area of specialization according to age or kind of problem e seek development in this area.
  5. Check the possibility of the team leader or a member being part of the REVER team, be it in the local church or at state level, in order to maintain connection with this ministry.
Choosing a Potential Team

Place the names of the potential team in the graph below, giving each a grade between 0 and 10 in regards to the indicated criteria (with the possibility of 12 if the person exceeds expectations in this area). Once this is done, add up the grades for each person in the right column. Begin with the team leader and follow with the co-leader.

Calling to Counseling
Ability to hear God
Ability to listen to people
Teachable, accepts correction
Has followers
Emotional Health

If you want, you can go back to the initial page about TEMA ministry, which provides all links to sub-topics related to this ministry.  


MAPI - Mentoring and Accountability for Pastoral Integrity

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