(These are notes for the final session of a Biblical Counseling conference which will be held in August in Chile. The previous posts for this conference are found here and here).
At this point, I you want to think more broadly about a biblical counseling ministry. Up until this point, we have been discussing biblical counseling as a response to a crisis. The person who comes to biblical counseling is someone who is suffering a significant trouble; whether a significant circumstance like a difficult marriage; or a significant sin which has led to trouble. This leads us to think that biblical counseling is unique in life of the church; it is somehow detached from the normal functioning of the church.
All that we have done so far and all that we will do next week may seem to support that idea: here you are going through serious sustained training on some very difficult subjects. I just spent a session telling you to be very careful whom you choose to be a counselor in your church.
At this point I want to adjust your thinking slightly. Biblical counseling is specialized, and it is part of the core function of a church.
Matthew 28 records the resurrection of our Lord. That chapter ends with the Lord’s instruction to the Church:
Matthew 28:18–20 (NASB95)
18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.
19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,
20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
The main verb in that sentence is to “make disciples”. We will do this as we go out into the world. We will baptize them and teach them to observe all that Christ has commanded. That is the job of the church. We are given no other commission, beyond making disciples of Christ.
So let’s turn the question around: We need to ask if Biblical Counseling fits into that job description for the Church. Is Biblical Counseling the work of making disciples? If the answer is “no”, then it has no place in the church. Yes, it might be a good work, like caring for the poor or bringing blankets to the cold.
On the other hand, if biblical counseling is included within the scope of making disciples, then it is a necessary function of the church.
So let’s consider what it means to give Biblical counsel. It simply means to tell someone what the Bible says about their circumstance. It means to teach someone what Christ has said. Moreover, as Jay Adams noted it includes giving instruction. Biblical Counseling is precisely the act of teaching one to obey all that Christ has said.
When the street evangelist speaks to someone on the corner about Christ tells them of sin and repentance, they are giving counsel from the Bible. When parent tells a child the importance of not lying or working diligently as onto the Lord, the parent is giving biblical counsel. When a pastor opens the Bible on Sunday morning and explains the text and applies the text, the pastor is giving biblical counsel.
In an essay in from Scripture and Counseling, Kevin DeYoung and Pat Quinn write:
The ministry of the preacher and the ministry of the counselor are not different kinds of ministry but rather the same ministry given in different settings.
When a pastor sits with dear saint who is on her death bed, and the pastor sets her gaze upon Christ; the pastor is giving biblical counsel.
What you need to understand is that front to back, beginning to end, the duty of the Church is to give biblical counsel. That counsel starts with evangelism, leads them to baptism, to the Lord’s Supper, to knowledge of how to renounce ungodliness, to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present evil age and to live in earnest expectation of the Lord’s return. That is all biblical counsel.
We fit the counsel to the person and the circumstance. The street evangelist does not debate the details of difficult doctrine involving last things or the order of the decrees of God. His message is fit to the circumstance: sin and repentance. We do not teach four-year-olds like we teach college students.
Some questions are very difficult. We refer tricky theology questions to the pastor. We send young mothers to older mothers to learn from their experience.
Already in all of your churches, you have made some divisions in the way in which discipleship instruction is taking place.
When we bring in biblical counseling to the congregation, we are doing nothing new. Rather, we are doing what we should always be doing: teaching people to observe all that Christ has commanded.
We are merely saying that we have too often restricted Christ’s counsel. We have said that Scripture has something to say about repentance, but nothing to say about depression, anxiety, sorrow, loneliness, shame, conflict, laborious work, fear. We are saying that Scripture has nothing to say about all the troubles which came into the world with sin; well, nothing other than you need to leave the world.
When we restrict the scope of the Scripture’s counsel, the people in our congregation are going to get counsel. However, they are going to get it from someone other than the Lord.
I want you to imagine that your congregation has many well-trained counselors who know how to speak of difficult marriage problems. They can speak with sympathy and wisdom from the Scripture and give hope to trouble marriages.
I want you to imagine that your church once a week gives free marriage counseling to people in your area: unbelievers who are desperate for something that will work. Your counselor sits down with this frightened desperate couple and explains that their troubles with communication and selfishness and anger all have a cause: human beings don’t work correctly because we are estranged from the source of the one who speaks with perfect clarity, the God who loves and gives from an endless fountain of grace, that the love of the perfect God drives out fear and calls us in as children.
I want you to imagine that you have unbelievers who come to your church to hear the hope of the Gospel because the pain of sin has become too great to bear. When unbelievers hear sin, they often think you simply don’t like them. But when their pain is great and you explain that sin is not your dislike of them, but rather the cause of their sorrow; that sin is irrationality that ruins human life; and that there is an answer to that sin: an answer which will relieve of us the guilt and power of sin and that we can learn to live differently; when you can say that in a way that the one who is now lost can understand: you are putting the Gospel to work.
As Dr. Baker said, If unbeliever think you can help them with their marriage, they will line up to hear the Gospel.
And so these people who had “without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12), are brought into the Church. They are baptized. They entered into membership; and now comes the task of teaching them to observe all that Christ as commanded.
Teach them to Observe
Imagine a brand-new Christian who comes to your church. While this person is in true faith, they are far from mature. They need to be taught and admonished so that they may be presented complete in Christ. Col. 1:28. Certainly the normal work of the Church, preaching, teaching, singing, praying, receiving the Lord’s Supper in the assembly of believers will have a real and profound affect of people.
But two hours on Sunday when weighed against the entire pressure of the world for all of the other hours of the day and week will hamper our growth. Moreover, it is a truncated understanding of Christianity. There is an entire aspect of the life of a Christian which goes beyond Sunday.
Please do not hear that I am in any manner making light of Sunday worship: it is the apex of our week. But if try to box our Christian life into just that time, we fail to honor the life of the Church:
Colossians 3:16 (NASB95)
16 Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms andhymns andspiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
The work of teaching and admonishing is a work of everyone to everyone. The Christian life is public worship but is also life together. In Acts 2 it describes the life of the very earliest Church:
Acts 2:42–47 (NASB95)
42 They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
43 Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles.
44 And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common;
45 and they beganselling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.
46 Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart,
47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.
Without going through the elements of that passage, you can see that there was substantial life together.
Now let’s think again about discipleship: to be discipled is to be trained to a manner of life. Everything in your life and everyone with whom you interact is busy discipling you. You are discipling others.
There is a meaning which takes place when you try to limit one’s Christian life to merely Sunday morning. That Sunday-only Christianity means something different than a Christianity which entails one’s entire life.
One of the reasons that we have so much “crisis counseling” in the Christian church is due to the fact that we are not doing a better job discipling the people within the church.
Here is an example: When a couple comes in for marriage counseling, you will work them through what the Scripture teaches about marriage. A faithful pastor in the pulpit who is working through the Scripture will preach through the Gospel of Mark and have maybe a sermon or two which even touches on marriage.
The failure there is not because the pastor has failed, it is because the congregation has failed:
Titus 2:3–5 (NASB95)
3 Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good,
4 so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children,
5 to besensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored.
Did you hear that? The Holy Spirit has delegated to the older women in the congregation the task of teaching the younger women the work of being a wife and mother. How many marriages would be in better shape today in our churches if the older women were continuously teaching the younger women godliness in marriage and motherhood?
But instead, we wait until there is a crisis and the wreck of a marriage shows up in need of help.
Imagine a young husband who comes to you because he has hurt his wife by not loving and caring for her? What if there had been a man in your congregation who had been weekly meeting with this man, asking him questions about his marriage (and other things)? What if the questions had revealed two years ago that the marriage was suffering? How much easier would it have been to help this family two years ago, when the problems were less, when the pain was less, when the bad habits were not so firmly put into place?
What I want you to see is that giving counsel from the Bible is something which needs to be built into the fabric of our church, so that the work of discipleship is done.
Where then is the pastor in this process?
Ephesians 4:11–16 (NASB95)
11 And He gave some asapostles, and some asprophets, and some asevangelists, and some aspastors and teachers,
12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;
13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.
14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming;
15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspectsinto Him who is the head, evenChrist,
16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.
Look at verse 12: the head teachers in the church have the job of equipping others for ministry. Those who have the most knowledge are to pass on that knowledge to others in the church.
Those others, under the direction of their pastors, are busy equipping still others: the work of the ministry is spread out through the church.
There are people in the church who are masters at caring physically for others. Those people must know how needs help and how to give that help. Some are especially gifted at hospitality. Others at teaching. Some at preaching. Some are more proficient at evangelism. Some people are quite good at answering questions. There are mothers and fathers to help give wisdom. There are employers who can help employees learn how to work well; and employees who can help employers learn to be not abusive or unfairly demanding.
And now I want to return to our question of training counselors. Not every person in the congregation needs to be a preacher; not every person needs to be fully trained to handle depression and severe anxiety. Some people need to know how to ask questions, give encouragement, and provide basic instruction about the daily life of a Christian.
Think of the entire church as all having a role in the work of discipleship. You can think of the training you give in giving biblical counsel as something which moves from the most general and basic to the most particular and difficult.
If you have small groups, you train the small group leaders in a level of counseling so that they can give accurate instruction on daily life, know how ask questions and also know when they come across a marriage which needs substantial help.
When I oversaw a counseling ministry in a church, I learned that there were people who were especially fit for various tasks. Some people needed a great deal of intense structure. Some young men needed very direct rebuke and unquestioning follow-through. Others were discouraged and needed help and encouragement and support. I had people in the congregation who were fit for all sorts of tasks.
Think of your congregation as an army and the battle being, the World, the Flesh and Devil. The Holy Spirit has given you many, many weapons in this fight: all of the people in your congregation. And now think of how few weapons we use. Do we really deploy our congregations to serve in building up the body of Christ?
In most congregations, very few people do most of the work. And since the needs are great, we do not always use people to the best of their gifts. Imagine you have a tremendous evangelist whom you are using to keep the church clean. There is nothing wrong with cleaning the church; it must be done. The way we use the misuse the people in our church is sort of like using a racecar to pull a plow across a field. It might work, but it is not the best way to use the racecar.
Counseling training is more than just training a counselor who looks exactly like you. Your congregation has been called to be a counseling center: a place where people are taught to observe all that Christ has commanded.
And when the entire congregation is busy in this work, it frees up those who have been fully trained to be able to help unbelievers and believers at other churches. You create capacity for everyone to work at their full potential.
This model also takes enormous burdens off of the church leaders so that they can do their work. Too often we expect the pastors to do all of the visiting and preaching and counseling and caring and evangelism. When we do this, we crush our pastors under enormous burdens.
Now this is only introducing you to this idea: it is not a full-fledged plan with all of the details.
[ask for questions]