We should be good at counseling—-caring, skillful, thoughtful. We should become the very best—-careful, helpful, practical. But more often than not, we have been poor and foolish, rigid or inept. The pat answer, snap judgment, brisk manner, and quick fix are too often characteristic. Where is the patient kindness? Where is the probing concern and hard thought? Where is the luminous, pertinent truthfulness? Where is the flexibility of well-tailored wisdom? Where is the unfolding process? Where is the humanity of Jesus enfleshed in humane, humble, sensible people? Have mercy upon us, Father of mercies.
Heath Lambert’s The Biblical Counseling Movement After Adams is a good book about the people of God attempting to become good at counseling. Lambert proposes some desirable next steps in the unfolding of our corporate wisdom. There are more chapters to be written in this story. Where are we heading? How can we go forward in a good direction?
Our trajectory into the future is the most important part of the Biblical Counseling movement. As I look over the landscape of Lambert’s book, I see a progression of six stages in the development of our collective wisdom. This is the process any one of us goes through in awakening and maturing into the wise love of good counseling. These six stages also describe the process all of us will go through as we grow up together.
First Stage: We each need to hear—-some of us for the first time—-that the church has a unique and significant counseling calling.
The Lord interprets personal struggles and situational troubles through a very different set of eyes from how other counseling models see things. He engages us with a very different set of intentions from how other counseling models proceed. We, as his children, are meant to counsel according to how he sees and proceeds. The fruition of that vision may seem far off. Your church currently may be doing a poor job of counseling, or counseling through deviant eyes, or abdicating the task entirely. But as you come to realize that the Wonderful Counselor intends to form his people into, well, into pretty good counselors—-and getting better all the time—-it makes you stop and think. Until we know that something might exist, we can’t envision participating. Participation becomes a possibility when something rises above the horizon. I hope that you hear the call.
Second Stage: We need to agree that the vision is a desirable one.
Not only could the church become good in counseling, but we also should become wise and fruitful in counseling ministries. Our God calls us to grow up in this area of ministry. You might want to read Ephesians 3:14-5:2 through the eyes of the question, “What does this imply about mutual counseling ministry?” Every sentence has implications. Hearing that it is possible to counsel in biblical wisdom—-that God wills us to do so—-leads to assent and commitment. I hope you say, “Yes, this should be so. I may not yet understand exactly what it will look like, but I agree it ought to happen.”
Third Stage: We need to personally embrace and embody the vision.
This is the decisive step, the sine qua non. Scripture teaches you how to understand both your deepest struggles and also your best gifts. God shows you how to face your heaviest troubles and how to respond to your greatest blessings. I believe that the Lord’s vision of my sins and sorrows, of my graces and felicities, is the true understanding. I believe that the Lord’s way of engaging broken people in a broken world is the only truly loving engagement. I take all this to heart. As we take it to heart, we enter into the lively dynamics of transformation portrayed in Psalms, Proverbs, Prophets, Histories, Gospels, and Epistles. You enter into God’s counseling process for yourself. You become his disciple, learning his ways. You join the wise saints of all ages.
God’s take on things becomes yours. You increasingly come to live in reality, leaving the shadowlands behind, forsaking the virtual realities. Whatever the configuration and severity of your personal problems, you come to understand yourself in a new light. I am not committed to biblical counseling because it’s a theory that I happened to find persuasive, or because one killer Bible verse turned the lights on. I am committed because God tells the truth about me, about my world, about the Father, Savior, and Friend who has taken me to heart and takes me in hand. And I come to know any other human being—-you, my fellow struggler, my brother or sister—-by the same light in which I am coming to know myself.
The fact of personal embrace and embodiment is no oddity unique to biblical counseling. There is something essentially autobiographical about every counseling model ever proposed—-Freud, Adler, Jung, Wolpe, Rogers, Frankl, Gestalt, Glasser, biomedical psychiatry, MFT, CBT, ACT, DBT, EFT—-or any eclectic combination. Each theory and practice reveals its author’s core personal faith. Any ABC theory and XYZ therapy invented a hundred years from now will proclaim something essentially autobiographical. It will offer some way of interpreting and then reconfiguring humanness, according to where the author stands personally. If that understanding is not true to Scripture and to Christ—-the Word written and the Word incarnate—-then it will be false to humanness. In a commitment to biblical counseling, I bear witness to how I understand life and how I live. I hope that you enter into the call to wise counseling as simply one outworking of your call to live in Christ.
Fourth Stage: We need training, teaching, mentoring, practice, and supervision.
Maturity always involves an educational process, a discipleship. You read books, talk with others, take classes, give it a try in practice, get feedback. If you are humble, you grow wiser. Your comprehension grows in scope and depth. Your skills in loving develop more relevance and flexibility. We rarely grow to understand anything without conscious application. Some of you will start to read good articles or books. Some of you will form discussion groups. Some of you will enter a graduate program for systematic study in biblical counseling. Some of you will take part in training in your church. I hope that you seek out the sort of learning appropriate to who God has made you and how he is working in you.
Fifth Stage: We need to become good at counseling.
Excellent, in fact. You can enthusiastically embrace biblical counseling as an idea, even go to school to learn more, while still remaining inept. Perhaps the most accurate synonym for counseling is wise love. Wise love makes a huge difference in other people’s lives. Both the receiving and giving of wise love make a huge difference in your life. Genuine care, a searching question, sympathy and understanding, a timely and true word of God, practical aid, patience in the process—-these are life giving.
Here’s the bottom line: you must become better able to help people. This contains a divine paradox. All genuine life transformation is the direct work of the life giver, the Shepherd of his sheep, the Father of his children. At the same time, this living God willingly uses us to give life to each other, to shepherd each other, to nourish, protect, and encourage each other. Skill takes time and experience. Skill calls you to the humility of a man or woman who is always learning. Skill bears fruit. It sweetens and brightens the lives of other people. I hope that you pursue the goal of becoming good at counseling.
Sixth Stage: We need to develop leaders.
Counseling wisdom is a communicable skill. It must be communicated to others, spread around, passed down the generations, developed further. Three kinds of leaders will be raised up.
Some people will become leaders by their skillfulness in teaching others. They are able to break a complex process down into its component parts. They have a sense for the scales and arpeggios necessary to learn to play beautiful music. They possess some of the many sub-skills: assessing others accurately, selecting good candidates, hands-on training, face-to-face mentoring, insightful supervision, careful coaching. Leadership means not only the ability to counsel strugglers but also the ability to help someone else learn to counsel strugglers. It replicates skill. It’s not a given that skill in practice (fifth stage) leads to skillful teaching (sixth stage). Think of a basketball player who can routinely nail the 24-foot jump shot. What if you ask him to teach you to nail your jump shots from downtown, and he tells you, “I just shoot the ball, and it goes in.” He may make the Hall of Fame as a player, but he’ll never be a coach. Will God call you to train others?
Other people will become leaders by their ability to contribute to intellectual progress. Biblical wisdom must always be sharpened and developed. It is fashioned by engaging new problems, meeting new threats, interacting with new contenders, and identifying new needs in order for us to grow up into greater wisdom. It helps all of us when someone can put familiar truths into unfamiliar words and point out unexpected implications. It helps all of us when one stands back and reflects on what we are all doing and then points out both our strengths and also our weaknesses. It’s so easy for any of us to stagnate or get into ruts. We need to be refreshed, to extend the range and depth of what we understand to be true. Will God call you to contribute to the R&D work that refreshes ministry? Will he call you to push the envelope so that we all become more faithful to the God who speaks and acts?
Still others will become leaders by their talent as entrepreneurs and managers. Counseling needs a home. The care and cure of souls calls for organizational structure, institutional development, delivery systems, support staff, financial underpinning. All ministry costs time and money and occurs in a context. Leaders with gifts in startup and in administration are able to create, maintain, and re-create appropriate structures and support systems so that counseling skills are best used. Will God call you to help build healthy churches or healthy parachurch ministries so that the body of Christ can deliver the goods of good counseling to people in need?
Most of all, may each of us live our lives within God’s reality, becoming good at receiving wise love (stage three). And may each of us thus grow up toward wise love in helping others (stage five).
Adapted from for foreword to The Biblical Counseling Movement After Adams by Heath Lambert, 2011. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org.