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Center at FBC Decatur offers Christian counselingcomment (0)

March 1, 2001

By Martine G. Bates

We believe that, intrinsically and fundamentally, people’s faith has to be the core of who they are. Why go against that? Why not use that God-given strength?”
That belief, explained by director Larry Little, forms the basis for counseling provided by The Enrichment Center, housed in First Baptist Church, Decatur. Billing itself as “A bridge for meeting people’s needs,” the center provides counseling and therapy from a Christian perspective.
The center, which opened about 18 months ago, fills a need for an alternative to secular counseling. Little said.
“We don’t think there’s really anything like us around,” he said. “We are clinically sound and licensed. At the same time, we’re distinctly Christian-oriented in our faith, so it’s an integration of someone’s faith into the clinical assistance. That’s really unique. Usually you find either one or the other.”
A few years ago, as the new pastor at First Baptist, Decatur, Buddy Champion asked other pastors in Decatur where they sent their members who needed more than basic counseling. The answers were not encouraging; people were driving to Huntsville, Birmingham and even Nashville to work with Christian counselors.
At the same time, Little had been nurturing a vision of a Christian counseling service for 10 years.
A conversation at Shocco Springs Conference Center in Talladega between Champion and Little laid the groundwork for First, Decatur, to provide space for the center.
The two were quickly proved right in their belief that a need existed. Eighteen months of operation and very little publicity later, the center is struggling to keep up with the number of clients who call seeking help. In addition to individuals who hear about the service from other clients, the center has referrals from doctors, lawyers, schools, churches and businesses.
Administrative assistant Deborah Gardner, who has been with the center from the beginning, professed surprise at the number of people who initially turned to the center for help. “We just didn’t realize how many people struggle with things in their lives on a daily basis.”
The shared vision has blossomed; the center provides counseling services to individuals and families in areas such as divorce recovery, grief, depression, anger management, Attention Deficit Disorder and many others. They offer conferences and seminars in career assessment and team building, as well as conflict resolution to schools, businesses and industry.
Although the thrust is clearly Christian and the center is housed in a church, Little is careful not to describe The Enrichment Center as a ministry.
“We charge fees and expect people to pay for the services they get,” he said. “A full ministry would mean we give away our services, and I think that’s not healthy in any regard. At the same time, we are a nonprofit. We have to operate like a business, but we minister to the needs of people.”
The staff can empathize with their clients, Little said. “We can say, look, God can see you through whatever. I think God’s pulled the staff around us; none of us do this for money. Like Deborah — she’s here because she has a real passion. Because of things in her life that she’s been through, now God has given her a passion to turn around and help others.”
The center seeks to support the work of pastors, but Little points out that they are not pastoral counselors. “We find that a lot of pastors want to help their parishioners, if they can trust the counselors.
“We don’t want pastors to feel threatened,” Little noted. “We want to undergird what they’re doing in their church, so we want them to know we’re not here to steal their members or to offer any kind of counseling that would be adverse to what they do. At the same time, we feel like we’re trained to offer a little more in terms of counseling. They’re not counselors, they’re pastors.”
The staff consists of three counselors, a financial consultant, an administrative assistant and a receptionist. The financial consultant was added when it became apparent that many of the problems facing families served by the center involved money. They also work with a physician when psychotropic drugs are indicated. An Advisory Board governs the organization.
The center is planning to move from its current location when appropriate facilities become available. “Our vision is to go to a freestanding facility,” Little said. “We hope to add therapists and to integrate into the community. We want to impact as many people as possible. I want to touch as many lives as God will let us touch.”
As with all growing organizations, the center is not without challenges.
Little explained, “We need to get people in here in a timely fashion. We have limited space and counselors to work with people. Also, not everyone can afford to pay for services, so we have a Heart Fund. Donations are tax deductible — people get scholarships,” he noted. “We’ve got to have help to do this. Our existence depends on contributions from businesses and individuals.”

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