Pastors are gifted individuals who have spent many years of their lives, sometimes decades, learning about how to guide their church. They have received many classes beyond Greek, church history, and worship coordination to include spiritual formation, pastoral care, leadership, communication, and possibly even types of Biblical counseling.

So, when someone comes to the senior pastor asking the pastor to marry them and include pre-marital counseling, this is usually a given expectation. Talking about working out problems, understanding how sex is honoring to God, and the roles we play in a marriage are great topics to discuss. Even more so, parents who come to youth pastors not knowing what to do with a child who is disruptive, oppositional, and defiant, the youth pastor can develop some mentoring and guidance for the youth as well as support for the parent.

But what do you do when an individual who has a severe heroin addiction and had recently overdosed but survived comes in to see you? Or how do you help someone who has significant psychotic and paranoid thinking and is looking for relief? What about someone who has a parent with crippling Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder or Hoarding Disorder and the child wants to see their parent find happiness again?

Even harder still, you meet with someone who is depressed or struggling with trauma and just wants to know if God is punishing them. After a bit of meeting with them, you see there is some strong concerns that go well beyond your capabilities. Or you do marital counseling with a couple and on their third appointment, only the wife comes in and shares there has been a string of domestic violence in the relationship and she does not know what to do.

It is in these moderate to severe mental health and substance misuse symptoms we need to look to refer to a mental health professional. You get to sit and talk with people about sin, grace, redemption, and edification. But many times, the scope of a pastor’s knowledge becomes limited when someone comes in feeling suicidal, having a manic episode, or struggling with drugs. We need to connect them with a professional counselor who has the trained education and experience to deal with this.

My hope is that this checklist will help you navigate that process easier. We cannot account for every possible type of scenario that will come up, but the list below is a strong comprehensive list of what to do when referring someone. It is also broken down into three stages: preparation of referring someone, what to include when referring the person to counseling, and what you as a pastor can continue to do after they have started to attend counseling.

I pray this is received and put to good use. Having been in ministry before becoming a professional, licensed counselor, I understand how open people are with you, so it is an honor to be able to help you lead people who are hurting to find peace, hope, joy, and love. I pray for your words as you meet with them and their decision making as they consider the choice to find redemption not only in their earthly bodies, but also continue to work with you as their pastor to find eternal redemption and grace.

If you are interested in looking at the checklist, we will only be offering to people who receive our newsletter. So you need to sign up before this Friday to get it. Fill out the form below and look for it in your inbox this weekend.

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Published by Jeremy Smith

Jeremy is the Co-Occurring Program Coordinator and a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor at a community mental health center. Jeremy has a history of working as a ministry director for Youth for Christ for 8 years and then working as a mental health and substance use adult counselor in Colorado and Ohio, specifically running an Opioid Residential Treatment Center.

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