When deciding to make a referral, a pastor must consider his limitations in the areas of time, training, and qualifications (Wright, 1985). Is there time among all the other responsibilities of being a pastor to help this person effectively? What background and specialized training is required to help this person? Is a specific license or qualification required to provide the service that this person needs? If there are doubts on any of these points, and there is a substantial risk of harm to the individual or others around them, then an obligation exists for the pastor to refer the counselee to an appropriate professional.
Many professionals in the community practice Christian values and show respect for their client’s spiritual and doctrinal beliefs. Develop partnerships with these kinds of professionals so that you are not taking a “shot in the dark” with your congregants and their families when specialized help is needed.
The primary responsibility of the ministry is “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ,” (Eph. 4:12). The members of the Body of Christ will benefit and grow through crisis when a pastor can assess a crisis accurately; provide attentive care through prayer, the Word, spiritual care, practical counsel, and the church; recognize the limits of his time, skills, and qualifications; and build partnerships with professionals that allow him to make confident referrals for care.
(from an original paper entitled, “When Crisis Comes to Church,” January 15, 2011).
Wright, H.N. (1985). Crisis counseling: Helping people in crisis and stress. San Bernadino, CA: Here’s Life Publishers.