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Christians don’t need counselling, do they?

Posted by Sally Orwin Lee, 23 Nov 2018

Sally Orwin Lee looks at biblical counselling, what it is and how it can help the local church in this article from the Summer 2014 edition of Crossway.

What comes to mind when you hear the word ‘counselling’? Perhaps you’re reminded of listening in to traumatic events in the news. Those affected are ‘receiving counselling’. You may be reminded of sitting in a small office on a comfy beige chair opposite a very kind person who listens in empathically with a box of tissues to hand. Such might have been the student counselling service when you were at university. What about Freud’s couch? Or the neurotic hero or heroine of a Woody Allen film who can’t quite get life together: Blue Jasmine perhaps?

As a biblical counsellor I often meet with suspicion. Counselling is about victimhood, isn’t it? Or mental illness, and this calls for a psychiatrist or a psychologist, not a well-meaning religious counsellor telling a troubled person to read their Bible more often and pray harder: ‘The words of the Bible don’t seem to mean very much… and my friend has given up on prayer.’

Counselling is a loaded term
I often find I’m answering the question, ‘What is biblical counselling?’ with what it is not. It’s an unsatisfactory place to begin, but it’s necessary because people want to know that biblical counselling is reliable, that it will do what they perceive counselling is designed to do. The British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy has the following definition: ‘Counselling and psychotherapy are umbrella terms that cover a range of talking therapies. They are delivered by trained practitioners who work with people over a short or long term to help them bring about effective change or enhance their wellbeing.’

For example, we might think of a friend having panic attacks. He goes to the GP to get some anti-anxiety medication to deal with the physiological aspects of panic and to be referred
for talking therapy to help them deal with the psychological aspects of their predicament. These may all be helpful things to do, so why would anyone need or want to talk with a biblical counsellor about panic attacks? Secular counselling or therapy may have helped them feel better by diagnosing the problem and giving them strategies that help them deal with the panic – but they still struggle to make sense of it as a Christian believer.

So what is biblical counselling?
Biblical counselling is about discipleship. The Christian believer is saved, or justified, and therein lies the great comfort of the gospel. We also know that it is just the beginning of a lifetime of responding daily to the call of the gospel to become more like the Lord of life himself, Jesus Christ. He is the one who lavishes his grace upon us in the power of the Holy Spirit to comfort and sanctify us in a world where we know that we and the world are not as God originally intended them to be.

David Powlison, executive director of the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation, gives this helpful definition in his book, Christ-centred Biblical Counselling: Changing Lives with God’s Changeless Truth: “Christ-centred Biblical Counselling paints the broad strokes of counselling. Just for starters, those broad strokes revolutionise the meanings that our culture attaches to the word counselling. These chapters do not intend to cover all counselling problems or topics … However, the discussion and case studies will give you a solid feel for how the Word of life speaks into the lives of troubled and troublesome people who face a world of troubles.”

Have you met anyone in your church family who is not troubled by something in the world of troubles in which we all live? Looking into your own life, are you troubled by your own particular world of troubles? And you may find that this definition already resonates with the role of any pastoral minister who brings help and hope to others in the context of your church family. On one level, all
Christians are called to counsel one another.

What about the Bible?
So we come to the sufficiency of Scripture, but not as a counselling handbook. Rather, as David Powlison says, we know that the Bible has all we need to ‘draw us to Christ, order our affections, explain our identity in Jesus, reveal the motivations of our hearts, all we need to change into the image of Christ and to find our hope in eternity.’

A wise biblical counselling model, therefore, is grounded in Scripture, a rigorous Reformed hermeneutic and biblical anthropology. It requires relationships characterised by the grace and love and mercy and compassion that characterise Jesus himself and which are shaped by the wisdom we find in the Scriptures. Paul writes in his first letter to the Thessalonians, ‘For this is the will of God, your sanctification’, knowing that this takes place in the context of suffering. Paul was prevented from visiting the Thessalonians in person, so he writes to them to keep on ‘more and more’ in ‘brotherly love’ as ‘taught by God’. His care and concern comes from the heart and he encourages them to keep going in the heart of the gospel itself. In the midst of responding sinfully (whether voluntary or involuntary) to suffering, we are to go on loving one another compassionately ‘so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.’

Biblical wisdom helps us answer the why, what and how questions of life in the context of the gospel of grace. They show us how the Holy Spirit is at work shaping the heart of flesh that the believer receives in faithful response to the gospel, the finished work of Christ. Why do I keep doing that? What is going on in my heart that makes me operate the way I do? How does biblical wisdom help me to understand what is going on in my life and in my response to it?

Biblical counselling in the local church
What might biblical counselling look like in the local church in the UK? The vision of Biblical Counselling UK is ‘to promote Christ-centred change, enabled by the Spirit, through the ministry of the Word in the local church.’ We want to keep a biblical counselling service rooted in the local church. In the context of the local churches of the North West Gospel Partnership in which I minister, it means that I support an individual struggling believer and the pastoral ministers who oversee and deliver pastoral care in the church family where they are, even as the individual counselling process
remains confidential.

We want to point pastoral workers in the direction of wise biblical counselling training.  There is growing interest in CCEF distance learning which is now offered as a Certificate in Biblical Counselling based at Oak Hill Theological College and soon to be extended to Edinburgh, Liverpool, and Nottingham. Finally, we want to encourage the dissemination of biblical counselling wisdom in the form of books and websites to pastors, pastoral ministers, or ‘one-anothering’ ministers in the local church. Calvin put it like this: “Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves… A veritable world of miseries is to be found in humankind. Accordingly, the knowledge of ourselves not only arouses us to seek God, but
also, as it were, leads us by the hand to find him.”

Do keep asking questions! And for more information, and for helpful books and links, please see the BC-UK website.

Sally Orwin Lee provides counselling, discipling, and training in the local churches of the North West Gospel Partnership. She is on the Steering Committee of Biblical Counselling UK and teaches on the NWP Ministry Training Course.

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