Promoting PErsonal Change, Centered on the PErson of Christ through the PErsonal Ministry of the Word
Biblical Counseling Coalition: Grace & Truth

Leadership Styles and the Heart of Conflict

Conflict Resolution and Church Restoration--Leadership Styles and the Heart of Conflict

BCC Staff Note: You’re reading the third in a new three-part Biblical Counseling Coalition Grace & Truth blog mini-series on Conflict Resolution and Church Restoration. In today’s post, Ernie Baker writes about leadership styles and getting to the heart of church conflict. In Part 1, Judy Dabler instructed us in The Discipline of the Lord. And in Part 2, Robert Cheong developed the idea of Casting “A Vision of the Sea” for Church Discipline.

My Story

In my pre-professor days of pastoring, I often noticed that as the weekend approached I would get tenser. In particular, on Sunday mornings my stomach would be tied up in a knot and I rarely ate breakfast as I anticipated the worship service.

I began to explore why this pattern was in my life. In the Lord’s perfect timing the root of this pattern became evident as part of my own self-counseling project when I started the doctoral program at Westminster Seminary. The Lord was gracious and opened my eyes to understand how my heart was influencing me to respond to life this way. It became clear that one of the themes of my inner person was people pleasing or fear of man. This was confirmed when I realized that one of the thoughts of my heart (Hebrews 4:12) was “I wonder what they’ll think of my sermon” along with the accompanying worry or fear.

I soon realized though that this same concern led to passivity as a leader. I was not as aggressive as I should be for setting the pace in the church because there were stronger leaders, and I would have to stand up to them or would have to address issues in the flock that made me uncomfortable. By default my leadership style was laissez-faire. Because of this non-proactive style, issues that should have been addressed were left to simmer.

Praise God for His work of sanctification though because I have learned a lot about leadership since those days, and the Lord has done a major work in my life teaching me to be much more concerned about what the Lord thinks than what others think. By the grace of God I have learned much about the truth behind Proverbs 29:25, “The fear of man brings a snare, but he who trusts in the LORD will be exalted.”

Another Story

There are many church leaders who are the opposite of me though. They are aggressive and do not seem to care what people think. The culture would say they have an authoritarian or commanding leadership style.

This leader can intimidate people into silence because, sometimes unknowingly, they convey that it is not all right to disagree. Then issues are not properly addressed because the atmosphere of the church is not conducive to dialogue. The ministry “climate” is more about uniformity than unity in the midst of the diversity of the gifts in the body (Philippians 2:1-5; 1 Corinthians 12).

The Heart

As mentioned above, I realized that my heart desired the approval of others. To put it bluntly, I served and was overly concerned with the opinions of others. Unfortunately, this revealed my value system or as the Lord said in Matthew 12:33-34, “…For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The good man out of his good treasure brings forth what is good….”

Do you see what the Lord is comparing there? In 12:33, He says we speak out of our hearts but in 12:34, Christ switches to a parallel word—treasure. In other words, my heart equals my treasures according to the One who knows human nature better than anyone. I was treasuring, valuing, bowing down to, and worshipping the approval of others. This was revealed by my thinking and my emotions and influenced the way I led.

But what could be going on in the heart of the more aggressive leader? What could this person be valuing or serving? Maybe his thought life is something like, “No one is going to push me around.” Or, “I need others to respect me and do things my way.” I would submit for your consideration that those statements could reveal a worship of control or respect. This theme then influences the way the church is led.

Leadership style

Doesn’t this raise questions like, “Isn’t leadership style just part of my personality?” Of course it is. But think with me. The secular world speaks of various leadership styles and personality types using terminology like laissez-faire on the one hand and authoritarian or commanding on the other but with no consideration of the biblical teaching on the heart.

I think it is safe to say that we have not thought deeply enough about how the heart influences leadership and the personality. We also have not considered that the biblical corrective is to change at the level of the heart rather than just accept that the personality is locked in place.

A Warning and Motivation

A leader might find himself or herself saying, “Well I’m just a Type A and Type A’s are aggressive.” This thinking carries an underlying assumption that if you have this type of personality it is just the way you are and you cannot change; your personality is fixed.

Please consider that if this is true you cannot believe in (or your thinking needs to be fine-tuned about) the doctrine of progressive sanctification which tells us that we are growing toward Christlikeness. His leadership style is one of a shepherd (John 10: 1-18; 1 Peter 2:25; 5: 1-4) who knew when to be gentle and knew when to be aggressive.

This leads us to a chief motivation for being willing to change in that we too are called to be loving shepherds. Stating it differently, learning to be a shepherd demands that out of love for the flock I put to death my natural heart propensities. As a shepherd I am called to lead, feed, protect, and care for the flock. If a leader does not deal with his own heart tendencies (whether more passive or aggressive because of what is being valued) these primary activities of a shepherd will be out of balance in some way and the church will be more vulnerable to conflict.

The biblical corrective is to both try to understand how the inner person is influencing the way you interact with people and issues and correct it biblically, and also to more completely practice a model of leadership based upon shepherding. To explore this further I would invite you to study a passage that has been tremendously helpful for me. In 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12 we see how Paul interacted with people, and we see the characteristics of a Christ-like leader.

Recommended Resources

Join the Conversation

How does scriptural thinking interact with the topics of leadership style and personality types?

Can you think of ways that passive leadership makes a church more open to conflict?

What ways can an aggressive leader make a church more open to conflict?

Topics: Conflict, Local Church Ministry, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers | Tags: , , , ,

Casting “A Vision of the Sea” for Church Discipline

Conflict Resolution and Church Restoration--Casting A Vision of the Sea for Church Discipline

BCC Staff Note: You’re reading the second in a new three-part Biblical Counseling Coalition Grace & Truth blog mini-series on Conflict Resolution and Church Restoration. In today’s post, Robert Cheong shares about casting a vision for church discipline. In Part 1, Judy Dabler instructed us in The Discipline of the Lord. In Part 3, Ernie Baker will discuss leadership styles related to church conflict.

Casting a God-Size Vision

What tends to stir your imagination—old photographs, songs with engaging lyrics and melodies, philosophical conversations, nostalgic smells, well-worn poems, or walks in God’s creation? I was teaching a class this summer and one of the students shared a quote that I later learned was from the French writer and aviator, Antoine de Saint Exupéry, who lived in the first half of the 20th century. Allow me to paraphrase the quote that stirred my imagination:

“If you want to build a ship, don’t recruit people to gather wood, but give them a vision of the sea.”

This quote resonated deep within me, not only because I served in the United States Navy where I was on the pre-commissioning unit for the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71), one of our country’s foremost nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, but because it prompted me to think about God. Let me explain.

I have the blessing of listening and talking with church leaders from all over the country on a regular basis. I walk away from these conversations encouraged by their faithfulness, sobered by their weariness, and overwhelmed by their circumstances. After countless hours of discussions, I have become increasingly convinced that many leaders have a limited view of “church discipline.” Related to the quote, more times than not, the general understanding of church discipline is confined to “gathering wood”—the chore of knowing the “what,” “when,” “why” and “how” of church discipline. In the midst of gathering these important details, we can wrongly think that the “ship” being built is church discipline, rather than the church herself, the Bride of Christ.

But what is “the vision of the sea” that we should set our gaze upon as we think about the church in regards to God’s discipline? The vision that we typically cast is a picture of rightly responding to difficult situations where we confront and call out those in the church who are wayward as they wreak havoc on themselves, their family and others. Don’t get me wrong; you have to gather wood in order to build a ship. In fact, if you skimp on the necessary quality and quantity of wood, the ship will not be sea-worthy. But if we focus our energy and efforts solely on gathering the wood, the ship may never get built or the ship that we are called to build may not come close to being what God envisions given the mission she is to undertake.

Casting a God-Shaped Vision

So what is the “vision of the sea” that we should see for ourselves and cast before God’s people? This captivating and compelling vision applies to every aspect of church life, from worship to discipleship, from missions to church discipline, to our everyday life with God. So what is this vision that God would have us to see as He builds His church?

Take a moment. Imagine our God revealing His glory and love through Jesus Christ as He redeems His bride, the church. God not only saved us by His grace, but He adopted us so that we can live in communion with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God’s magnificence and beauty radiates through His church and into the world, as He forms His people more and more beautifully in Jesus in our journey towards heaven.

In this vision, God relentlessly pursues us when we wander from Him (Matthew 18:10-14), alluring us back as He leads us and speaks tenderly to us (Hosea 2:14; Romans 2:4), promising to feast with us as He shares His holiness (Revelation 3:20-21; Hebrews 12:10). The “heavens are shocked…and shrink back in horror” at our rebellion (Jeremiah 2:12), but sigh with relief and rejoice when the Spirit of God turns us back, as we seek to live in His glory and love, for which we were created to enjoy (Luke 15:7, 10, 23). God is continually inviting us to approach the throne of grace in our time of need, so that we can be lavished with His mercy and grace (Hebrews 4:16).

In this vision, we can enjoy life with God through our union with Christ, in whom all of God’s promises are yes and are guaranteed through the presence of His indwelling Spirit (2 Corinthians 1:19-23). Nothing can ever separate us from God’s love as we journey towards home with Him by faith.

Out of this glorious vision flows an understanding of church discipline. God’s discipline in and through the church is seen as His ongoing, redeeming work through His living Word and people as they fight the good fight of faith together to exalt Christ and protect the purity of His Bride. In this vision, God is redeeming everyone involved, not just the one who is wayward, but also the friends, family members, and church leaders as they wrestle with judgment and self-righteousness, fear and anger, hopelessness and helplessness, as they doubt the power of the gospel to change those who are rebelling, and question if their efforts will make a difference.

If you are in a dry season, struggling to even connect with God, does such a “vision of the sea” captivate and compel you in your own life with God? If you are frustrated with the apathetic attitudes within your church, will such a vision captivate and compel those whom God has entrusted to you to shepherd? If the relentless demands of ministry have caused you to grow weary and pull back from pursuing those struggling with sin, does such a vision spur you to join God as He is continually redeeming His Bride for a life of endless glory and love? If you have resisted carrying out church discipline, regardless of the reason, does such a vision shed new light on the beauty of and the necessity for carrying out His discipline?

I pray that as you continue to lead and shepherd God’s people, you will be driven by this “vision of the sea.” I pray that as you cast this vision to those in your church, they will embrace God’s call to fight the good fight of faith with one another. In doing so, they will experience God’s glory and love as they participate with Him in His mission (Hebrews 3:12-14; 1 Timothy 6:12). As a result, God will build up the body of Christ in love as each member does its part to help spread His glory in the church and world (Ephesians 4:16; 2:10).

Added by the BCC Staff

For an excellent book that further develops this blog post, see Robert Cheong’s work, God Redeeming His Bride: A Handbook for Church Discipline.

Join the Conversation

How does a God-size and God-shaped vision captivate and compel you in your life and ministry?

Topics: Church Discipline, Faith, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers | Tags: , , , , , , ,

BCC Weekend Resource: Helping Women Who Have Had Abortions

The BCC Weekend Resource

BCC Staff Note: On weekends we like to highlight for you one of our growing list of free resources. This weekend we highlight a resource audio from the 2014 IBCD Summer Institute. For a complete list of speakers and messages, visit the IBCD Summer Institute 2014 home page.

In this resource, Jadele Taylor addresses the topic of Helping Women Who Have Had Abortions. Jadele explains the importance of identifying and understanding the post-abortive woman and then leading her through the steps of confession, forgiveness, and real freedom that only Christ can offer.

Popout Audio Player

Topics: Abortion, Audio, Grief/Loss, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Women/Wives | Tags: ,

Friday’s 5 to Live By

Friday's 5 To Live By

Each Friday our BCC staff links you to the top five biblical counseling and Christian living blog posts of the week—posts that provide robust, rich, and relevant insights for living.

The Rise of Biblical Counseling

At The Pacific Standard, Kathryn Joyce has written on The Rise of Biblical Counseling. She writes as an outsider of the movement and not as a proponent of the movement. However, every biblical counselor should be aware of her piece, as it is instructive to learn how others view the modern biblical counseling movement. Joyce quotes from leaders within the BC world, such as Heath Lambert and Donn Arms. To read her lengthy article, visit The Rise of Biblical Counseling.

Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life

Donald Whitney’s classic work, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, has been updated. Read Chris Dendy’s review at 9Marks here.

Heaven and Earth

At Eternal Perspective Ministries, Randy Alcorn addresses the question, Can it Be Heaven if People Are Aware of Anything Bad on Earth? 

Biblical Change

Julie Ganschow teaches us about Restructuring Your Life for Biblical Change.

Truett Cathy Has Died: Some Thoughts on the Man and His Mission

At Christianity Today, Ed Stetzer writes about the legacy of Truett Cathy, founder of Chick-fil-A. Read his reflections in Truett Cathy Has Died: Some Thoughts on the Man and His Mission.

Join the Conversation

Which post impacted you the most? Why? What blog posts have you enjoyed this week that you want to share with others?

Topics: Five To Live By, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers | Tags: , , , , , ,

The Discipline of the Lord

Conflict Resolution and Church Restoration--The Discipline of the Lord

BCC Staff Note: You’re reading the first in a new three-part Biblical Counseling Coalition Grace & Truth blog mini-series on Conflict Resolution and Church Restoration. In today’s post, Judy Dabler shares about The Discipline of the Lord. In Parts 2 and 3, you will read posts from Robert Cheong and Ernie Baker.

All Was Not Well

My counseling ministry nearly ended before it began. Early in my ministry, I witnessed a church-related conflict that so discouraged and shocked me that I seriously considered finding another line of work.

A pastor had contacted me for counseling. His children were hurting, and his marriage was distressed. This same story is played out in churches around the world. Unfortunately, in this case, the pastor had misrepresented the condition of his family prior to accepting his new call to the church. The elders had been told that all was well in the family. Sadly, all was not well.

Falsehood

“Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body” (Ephesians 4:25). What is a falsehood? A falsehood is a lie, or an inaccurate or untrue statement. A falsehood might also be a truth. One of the most common types of falsehood occurs by over-emphasizing a “truth” in order to capture the attention so that the listener does not realize there is more to the story.

Few things destroy relationships more than falsehood. When it comes to the church, falsehood is a serious enemy that threatens the entire church body. “…put off falsehood… for we are all members of one body.”

My pastor client had been honest with me about his failing marriage, so when the elders fired him for his falsehood, I was troubled. The pastor had met with the elders, admitted his fault, confessed his lie, and sought their forgiveness. It would take me years to realize that at the time I had failed to grasp the seriousness of this pastor’s falsehood, and the grave impact it had on the elders and the entire church.

Discipline

Falsehood is not a minor issue. “The Lord detests lying lips…” (Proverbs 12:22). Falsehood on the part of church leaders is extremely significant because of the broad and extensive impact these men and women have on the spiritual well-being of other believers. Falsehood in the church damages unity, which hinders the church’s ability to send the bold message of God’s love to the watching world (John 17:20-23). Because God so loves the world, believers who engage in falsehood ought to expect the loving discipline of the Lord.

The more this pastor suffered, the angrier I became at how his situation had been handled by the church’s elders. Counseling my client and his family through the consequences resulting from his lost job and a dwindling severance was painful. I called my mentor to discuss the situation and seek advice. I will never forget his words: “Judy, do not spurn the discipline of the Lord in your client’s life.” Every time I responded with a “Yes, but…” he would repeat his words.

“Do not spurn the discipline of the Lord.”

My mentor invited me to see this pastor’s hardship as the Lord’s discipline in his life. Falsehood indicates a serious heart issue that needs attention. God desires good for each of us, and He is always at work to produce Christ’s character in us. Therefore, out of love, God will discipline His own.

 I studied Hebrews 12:7, 10-11 in my effort to embrace my mentor’s counsel.

“Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children.…God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

Consequences

One painful aspect of the Lord’s discipline is that consequences are often experienced broadly. It is not just offenders who suffer the pain of the Lord’s discipline, it is everyone who loves the offender, and everyone who is connected to the offender. When one of us is disciplined, there is a sense in which we all are disciplined. If discipline results because of falsehood, it is not only painful to experience, but we must also face and deal with the damage done to church unity as a result of the falsehood.

The most significant consequence of the Lord’s discipline, however, is the eventual righteousness and peace that results… for those who have been trained by it. What does it mean to “be trained”? Those who are trained in any area first endeavor to “get it” (repent), then they “own it” (confess), and then they strive to live it out. Believers trained by the Lord’s discipline come to share in the holiness of God by trusting in His love and living in obedience to His Word.

If you are experiencing the discipline of the Lord in your own life, or witnessing discipline in the life of another believer, or even a church leader, remember that God the Father disciplines those He loves. It is painful to watch and experience discipline. It is painful to watch and experience discipline as a result of falsehood.

Do not spurn the discipline of the Lord.  He disciplines those He loves.

Join the Conversation

In your church ministry and in your personal life, what does it mean to “not spurn the discipline of the Lord”?

Topics: Biblical Counseling, Church Discipline, Faith, Local Church Ministry, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Suffering | Tags: , , ,

A Testimonial: How Biblical Counseling Helped Set Me Free from Alcohol and Drugs

A Testimonial--How Biblical Counseling Helped Set Me Free from Alcohol and Drugs

BCC Staff Note: This blog post and resource is part of a Biblical Counseling Coalition series of testimonies by people who have received biblical counseling. Though anonymous, each testimony is from a real person who is excited to share how biblical counseling has benefited them. For additional testimonies in this BCC series, click here. Today’s testimony highlights the power of God’s Word to set us free from alcohol and drug addiction.

Headed Down a Dark Path

Before coming to faith in Christ, I was headed down a dark path in life. One full of pain, failures, and headed for sure death. I did not grow up in a Christian family, and going to church was not a part of my life. My parents went through a nasty divorce when I was about 13, and I decided I was going to live life on my own terms and do whatever I pleased. My mom walked out on us, and my dad turned to alcohol.

I immediately felt a sense of abandonment and that I was not loved. I wanted to fit in, so I began to associate myself with a group of people who had the same rebellious attitude I had developed. I grew up with no guidance in life and figured I knew best; the pleasures of sin quickly ensnared me. A worker by day and a drinker at night, I watched my father mask his pain through alcohol and drugs. Soon, his habits became my own.

After some time had passed, I no longer found fulfillment in the drink, so I started to do drugs. Not long after that, selling drugs and doing drugs became my life. I even dropped out of high school in the 9th grade. For many years to follow, I chased after drugs, money, and females. Eventually I turned to a needle as a way of trying to fill that void I had on the inside. I became a slave to a needle and heroin because it numbed me completely to pain and life in general.  It was a dark road, and the choices I made brought a lot of trouble into my life.

Externally, I seemed fine, but on the inside I was barely hanging on. I knew a few people who committed suicide, and I witnessed firsthand others die from overdosing on drugs. I began to believe that if the drugs didn’t take me, then suicide would be my solution to ending my pain. That is a dangerous place to be mentally, and I spent many nights in tears wishing I could build enough courage to end my own life. Every new day was a battle and troubles just seemed to get deeper. The drugs, money, and girls no longer made me happy. My problems and pain seemed to get worse by the day. I saw absolutely no reason to keep living; I was a failure and I just wanted it all to end.

Set Free in Christ!

Over the years of my sinful lifestyle, I had been in and out of jail four times and wasted about two-and-a-half years behind prison walls. It was there, however, that I found the One who would heal my scars, clean me up, and make me new (2 Corinthians 5:17).

My last trip to prison, I knew there had to be more to life than what I was chasing after. When I look back on my life now, I see that jail was the place that God used as a way to remove me from all the distractions, calm me down, and get my attention. I didn’t find religion and I didn’t find Christ; He found me (Luke 19:10). He wasn’t the one who was lost, I was. I was running away while He was pursuing after me.

On my previous trips to prison, the first thing I would want was a Bible, and the first thing I would forget when I got out was the Bible. But this time it was different; I knew there had to be a change. I had gone through a few “treatment” programs over the years and a behavior modification program which only created temporary success. As I began to take God’s Word seriously, not only reading it, but applying it to my life and living by biblical principles, it was then my life began to produce lasting change as the Spirit and the power of the Gospel renewed my mind and transformed my heart (Psalm 119:11; 2 Peter 1: 3,4).

The Role of Biblical Counseling in My Life

Biblical counseling has caused me to be confronted with the truth—that I am a sinner, and that the Bible is sufficient for all areas of life and all my problems. In particular, I learned from biblical counseling that outside pressures (job, relationships, finances, etc…) tend to bring out the sin which is on the inside. I began to learn that the way to change was not by changing my external situations. Rather, I needed to take the truths I was learning through biblical counseling and attack the root (false worship) issue which causes the bad fruit with true worship. Then replace the bad fruit with good fruit which results in Christ-likeness.

This change did not come about by anything I could do on my own; change came about through Him who provides the Spirit without measure. And the rewards are far greater than changed behavior; it is an attainment of all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding and knowing the Lord Jesus.

The greatest joy that biblical counseling has given to me is the gift of hope, the hope which is only found in a relationship with Christ. Many secular theories’ goal is behavior change; biblical counseling’s main goal is Christlikeness!

I never realized Christ was all I needed until He was all I had. Though I turned my back on him many times, He never turned His back on me. Though many had turned and deserted me, He was patient with me. It was through the witness of another inmate that I came to be a believer in Christ. In that prison I remember getting on my knees on that cold, dirty floor and crying out to God to please help me change my ways and make me new. I had no clue how that was going to happen, but this time something in my heart truly believed He could do it.

At the time, I didn’t understand what He saw in me or why He would even want anything to do with a guy like me. Today I know He saw the suffering of His Son, the Lord Jesus, and His blood that was shed for me. Oftentimes, even 10 years later, I wonder why God chose to spare me when I saw so many lose their life. He chose to spare me because He did not spare His own Son (Romans 8:32). How thankful I am that God accepts us just the way we are when we come to Him dirty and stained, and how amazing His grace is that He loves us too much to keep us that way!

It has been 10 years now and my life has dramatically changed. Having Christ in my life has made a world of difference and given meaning to my life. My joy is complete in Him (John15:11), and He has put a new song in my heart (Psalm 40:3). Though at first it was not easy, and many times it was painful to change, letting go of my old ways of life was a struggle because it was all I had known for many years. I was always known as a failure, and it took me some time to get rid of that mindset. After spending my whole life running from my fears and troubles, I knew this time I had to face my giants. But I would no longer face them alone (Matthew 28:20).

It wasn’t until about a year or so later after I had done my own research on the history of Christ’s crucifixion that I truly felt forgiven! The chains of shame and guilt were lifted, and I felt like a prisoner set free for the first time; amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me! I knew Satan would try to hold me down in shame, guilt, and regret, but I also realized that what Christ did on the cross was so much more and that God the Father was completely satisfied to look upon him and forgive me. I find true peace and purpose everyday which I never knew before because I surrendered and stopped running.

One of the many blessings the Lord has given which I cherish and cling to is the promise He has made in John 14:27. The Creator, Sustainer, and Ruler of the world has given us His peace!

“When Satan tempts me to despair, and tells me of the guilt within, upward I look and see him there who made an end to all my sin. Because the sinless Savior died, my sinful soul is counted free, for God, the just, is satisfied to look on him and pardon me” (Before the Throne of God Above by Charitie L. Bancroft).

Join the Conversation (Added by the BCC Staff)

What is your testimony of how God’s Word and biblical counseling, used by the power of God’s Spirit, has changed your life?

Topics: Addictions, Christian Living, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers | Tags: , , , , ,

How Does God Expect Us to Be Able to Change?: The Linchpin

How Does God Expect Us to Be Able to Change--The Linchpin

A New Insight into Ephesians

Many of you reading this blog have sat through a preaching series on Ephesians or perhaps even taught the book of Ephesians. Others reading this blog have cited various portions of Ephesians to teach, reprove, rebuke, and exhort counselees on a variety of topics. Still others of you hold some type of Bible college or seminary degree which means that the book of Ephesians has been the focus of a course along the way. In my Th.M. (Masters of Theology) program in seminary, I had an entire course on Ephesians in which we worked from the Greek text. I could not give an accounting of the number of times I have read and studied this book in part or entirety.

So, we are each intimately acquainted with this book. Nonetheless, about three weeks ago a new insight into this book occurred to me as I read through it one morning in a quiet time. I discovered the linchpin of this book—the fulcrum or essential requirement on which the entire book depends and pivots.

Ephesians and Biblical Counseling

A typical preacher or college professor will tell his class that the book of Romans is the Bible in miniature. On occasion I’ve quoted this and said “and the book of Ephesians is Romans in miniature.”

Many of us have told a class or a counselee that chapters 1-3 are foundational doctrine and chapters 4-6 are the practical out workings of that doctrine. Many of us have also used Ephesians 1 to encourage a counselee struggling with the assurance of salvation pointing out that God took action in eternity past on his/her behalf. Or, we’ve reminded another counselee from Ephesians 2 that it was by grace that they were spiritually resurrected without an iota of works on his/her behalf.

Every biblical counselor involved in marital counseling has cited Ephesians 5:21-33 to instruct couples in appropriate marital roles. I teach our FELLOWS program regarding marriage and cite this passage as the means of reversing the consequence of the curse in marital relationships.

Every biblical counselor has challenged counselees with respect to spiritual warfare. Connecting Peter and James with Paul, we instruct a counselee to “humble yourself” (1 Peter 5:6), “submit to God,” and thereby resist Satan (James 4:7), and armor yourself (Ephesians 6:10-17) to conduct spiritual warfare.

In many respects, if the only book of the Bible a biblical counselor had in hand was Ephesians, she/he would have sufficient data about God, humanity, the dynamics of change, and the goals of change to conduct a biblically successful counseling enterprise.

Ephesians 1:1-3:12 answers the question, “What has God done for us?”

  • He blessed us with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ.
  • He chose us in him before the foundation of the world.
  • He predestined us to the adoption of sons.
  • He bought redemption through His blood.
  • He revealed the mystery of His will.
  • He provided us an inheritance.
  • He sealed us in him with the Holy Spirit of promise.
  • He made us alive in Christ.
  • He raised us up with Christ.
  • He joined us with other believers in the church.

Ephesians 4:1-6:24 answers the question, “What does God desire from us?”

  • Develop biblical unity (4:1-10).
  • Develop spiritual gifts (4:11-16).
  • Develop Christlike godliness (4:17-6:9).
  • Deploy spiritual armor (6:10-19).

The Linchpin

Ephesians 3:13-21 is the linchpin and answers the question, “How does God expect us to be able to change?”

The linchpin is Paul’s prayer. Paul prays that they would be strengthened with power in the inner person in accordance with the riches of Christ’s glory (think power).

Paul extrapolates this by looking to a three-fold outcome.

  1. First, that Christ may dwell in their hearts by faith. The Ephesians lived in a world dominated by faith and minds that dwelled on the goddess Diana. She determined their life practice. So Paul is praying that the work of the Holy Spirit will produce in the Ephesians an alternative mindset or worldview by making Christ the object of their faith—dwelling or controlling their thinking.
  1. The second desire of Paul’s prayer is that they would comprehend the love of Christ to the point that it is inexplicable (surpasses knowledge).
  1. Third, Paul prays that they would be filled with the fullness of God. Paul is praying that the power of the Holy Spirit working in the inner person would lead to an all-encompassing awareness of the love of Christ which in turn would    motivate them to obedience (putting off the old man and putting on the new man) by the mind renewal that comes from Christ’s indwelling.

So, here is what happened in my quiet time. The Holy Spirit focused me on the linchpin. In a very dramatic way, after practicing biblical counseling formally since 1969, I was shaken to the core of my being with the incredible simplicity of my and my counselees’ dependence upon the Holy Spirit to effectively implement Ephesians 4-6 in the counselees’ lives as they grasp what God has done for them outlined in Ephesians 1:1-3:13.

The result has been that this Pauline prayer now resides under the glass at my counseling desk. It has been become my daily reminder to humbly seek God asking both for wisdom for myself and the work of the Holy Spirit in my counselees’ lives even as Paul prayed for this Ephesian church. If the apostle Paul desired and needed to pray this prayer, then certainly I do. May God encourage you to do the same as you engage your counselees and their world, a world not unlike Paul’s world.

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How would it impact your life and ministry if Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:13-21 became your “linchpin” prayer?

Topics: Faith, Gospel-Centered Ministry, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Sanctification | Tags: , , , , , , ,

How Christ Changes People

How Christ Changes People

We all want to change and grow in Christ.

But how does change happen? How does sanctification—or growth in Christ—occur? What is the power for progressive change?

Typically in biblical counseling we have talked about how people change. That’s a great phrase and one I’ve used and will continue to use.

However, lately I’ve been tweaking that language in an important way: how Christ changes people.

We can only change because of Christ’s saving grace that has already changed us (Romans 6; Ephesians 1:1-3:12; Colossians 3:1-11) and because of Christ’s sanctification grace that motivates and empowers us to change (Ephesians 3:13-21; Titus 2:11-12).

As I develop in detail in Gospel-Centered Counseling: How Christ Changes Lives, our salvation not only forgives our sin (justification) and reconciles us to God (reconciliation). Our salvation also changes us by implanting a new heart within us (regeneration) and embedding new resurrection power in us to be victorious over sin (redemption).[i]

How We Counsel Christians

How does the phrase, “how Christ changes people” impact how we counsel Christians? In thinking about the relationship between our salvation and our sanctification, some summarize it as, “sanctification is the art of getting used to our justification.”

I suggest a more biblically robust description. “Sanctification is the art of applying our justification, reconciliation, regeneration, and redemption.”[ii]

If sanctification is simply the art of getting used to our justification, then biblical counseling would either be unnecessary or consist only of reminders of our salvation. We would focus on the “indicatives” of our salvation (what Christ has done for us and who we are in Christ), rather than also addressing the “imperatives” of our salvation (how we live for and grow into the image of Christ).

Interestingly, Martin Luther, who many look to for this “indicative-only approach,” did not practice this approach. While Luther believed that reminders of our salvation and meditation on the indicatives are essential motivators for growth in grace, Luther practiced a both/and approach of faith active in love.[iii] In response to grace by faith (indicatives), empowered by grace we actively grow in grace as we love God and others (imperatives).

Others see sanctification primarily as imperative-only—“try harder.” Apart from grace motivation and grace empowerment, this approach to sanctification matches what the apostle Paul preaches against in Galatians 5:3. “Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” If this were our view of sanctification, then discipleship would become little more than spotting a sin, confronting a sin, and exhorting behavioral change.

The biblical approach to sanctification is a both/and approach. Christ’s grace is both a salvation grace and a sanctification grace. We highlight both the indicatives of our salvation (Christ has already changed us) and the imperatives of our sanctification (Christ is empowering us to increasingly reflect His image). We must understand our salvation and we have a role to play in applying our salvation.

Sanctification Looks Like Christ

Many Christians have simply given up on sanctification. I’m convinced this is partially because we’ve mis-defined sanctification either as being exclusively of God (“let go and let God,” the indicative-only approach) or as self-effort obedience (“try harder,” the imperative-only approach).

I’m also convinced that many have given up on sanctification partially because we’ve made the goal so otherworldly and mystical. The Bible makes it so this-worldly, so human. Sanctification is increasingly becoming like Christ in His relating, thinking, choosing, and feeling. Our target is the heart—a heart that increasingly relates like, thinks like, chooses like, acts like, and responds to feelings like Christ does. Sanctification is both who we are and who we are becoming. In Christ we are regenerated human beings and we are sanctified human becomings—becoming more like Jesus.

Jay Adams taught this truth decades ago in his foundational work, The Christian Counselor’s Manual. “Be what you are. Basic to the New Testament concept of motivation is the task of becoming what you are. In a real sense we are not merely human beings, but also human becomings.[iv]

In Gospel-Centered Counseling, I unite a robust understanding of our salvation and our sanctification into the following definition:

Sanctification is the grace-motivated and grace-empowered art of applying our justification, reconciliation, regeneration, and redemption so that our inner life increasingly reflects the inner life of Christ (relationally, rationally, volitionally, and emotionally) as we put off the old dead person we once were and put on the new person we already are in Christ (relationally, rationally, volitionally, and emotionally).[v]

As biblical counselors, we journey with counselees in their growth-in-grace story empowering them to tap into Christ’s resurrection power that is already at work in their new heart. People learn and apply the gospel truth that “it’s supernatural to mature.” Christ’s grace changes people and empowers them to mature into His likeness—becoming more like Him in how we relate, think, choose, act, and respond to our feelings.

Biblical counseling for change involves empowering saints to apply the supernatural power of Christ’s grace to mature them into Christ’s likeness. God has planted within us the same resurrection power that raised Christ from the dead (Ephesians 1:5-23). The apostle Paul made it the goal of his sanctification to “know Christ and the power of his resurrection” (Phil. 3:10). We help people to tap into, apply, and avail themselves of the resurrection power that is already in them. We stir up the new creation they already are in Christ.

Gospel Amnesia and Gospel Inertia

Peter takes this biblical counseling approach in 2 Peter 1:3-11. He starts by highlighting our new identity in Christ—our new nature as new creations.

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires (2 Peter 1:3-4, emphasis added).

Peter doesn’t stop there. He fans into flame our new heart with these words.

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to  godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins” (2 Peter 1:5-9, emphasis added).

Peter starts and ends with our identity in Christ as new creations. He insists that we avoid gospel amnesia—forgetting who we are in Christ. He also insists that we avoid gospel inertia—apathetically refusing to grow up in Christ.

Christian, the Face of Jesus Is in You!

Someone once asked Gutzon Borglum, the creative genius behind the presidential carvings on Mount Rushmore, “How did you ever create those faces out of that rock!?” Borglum replied, “I didn’t. Those faces were already in there. Hidden. I only uncovered them.”

Christian, the face of Jesus is already in there. In you! This is the essence of regeneration. God originates within us a new disposition toward holiness. Christlikeness is etched within. The Divine nature is embedded in our new nature (2 Peter 1:3-4; Colossians 3:1-11).

In sanctification, we yield to and cooperate with the Holy Spirit who uncovers the Christ who dwells within. To grow in Christ we need to understand and apply who we are in Christ. Once we are clear on the new person we are in Christ, we continue by faith active in love as we cooperate with the Divine Architect who daily transforms us increasingly into the image of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18; 4:16-18). In biblical counseling it is our joyful privilege to join with our brothers and sisters in Christ on their growth-in-grace journey.

Join the Conversation

How does the phrase, “how Christ changes people” impact how we counsel Christians?


[i]See chapters 11-12 and 15-16 of Kellemen, Gospel-Centered Counseling: How Christ Changes Lives.

[ii]Kellemen, Gospel-Centered Counseling.

[iv]Jay Adams, The Christian Counselor’s Manual, 161.

[v]Kellemen, Gospel-Centered Counseling.

Topics: Christian Living, Faith, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Sanctification, Theology | Tags: , , , , ,

12 Marks of Counseling That Is Biblical: BCC Weekend Resource

The BCC Weekend Resource

BCC Staff Note: On weekends, we like to highlight various free resources that you can find on our site. Today we highlight the Biblical Counseling Coalition’s Confessional Statement.

What Makes Biblical Counseling Truly Biblical?

That’s a great question, isn’t it? “What makes biblical counseling truly biblical?”

During the launch period for the Biblical Counseling Coalition, three dozen biblical counseling leaders spent nine months working on nine drafts of what has become The Biblical Counseling Coalition’s Confessional Statement. This document succinctly identifies and describes 12 marks of counseling that is truly biblical.

You can find the online version of the BCC’s Confessional Statement here.

You can find and download the PDF version here.

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“What makes biblical counseling truly biblical?”

Topics: Biblical Counseling, Methodology, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers | Tags: , ,

Friday’s 5 to Live By

Friday's 5 To Live By

Each Friday our BCC staff links you to the top five biblical counseling and Christian living blog posts of the week—posts that provide robust, rich, and relevant insights for living.

Who Is Saying Medication Is Unimportant? Part 2

Heath Lambert continues his series on biblical counseling and medication. Read his thoughts at the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors’ blog site here: Who Is Saying Medication Is Unimportant? Part 2.

Forgive Us for Our “Go-It-Alone” Attitude

Trevin Wax quotes Phil Newton on a prayerful attitude of forgiveness for our self-sufficient ways. Read Newton’s thoughts at Forgive Us for Our “Go-It-Alone” Attitude.

4 Books to Feed Your Brain

Jon Bloom at Desiring God shares recommendations of Some Books to Feed Your Brain.

Do Children Who Die Go to Heaven?

Daniel Akin has recently updated a resource original co-authored by Dr. Akin and Dr. Al Mohler. Read Dr. Akin’s position on Why I Believe Children Who Die Go to Heaven.

Curved Inward

Alex Dean at Gospel-Centered Discipleship writes:

“Incurvatus in se (being curved inward on oneself) is the main enemy of making, maturing, and multiplying disciples. More than Satan’s plans to thwart our evangelistic efforts. More than the apologetic arguments of the leading atheists. More than the newest scientific discovery. Men and women curved inward will never desire to make, mature, and multiply disciples of Jesus.

This is why so many theologians have remarked about the power of the gospel especially for Christians. We need to have our gaze redirected every day. The gospel reminds us, over and over, that nothing good resides in our members, and yet, there is no condemnation because of the finished work of Christ. We are drawn to look on Jesus. We are moved to consider him. Something like worship begins to stir up in our hearts. And do you know what the automatic outflow of worship is? Making Disciples.”

Read the rest of his thoughts at Curved Inward.

Join the Conversation

Which post impacted you the most? Why? What blog posts have you enjoyed this week that you want to share with others?

Topics: Five To Live By, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers | Tags: , , , , ,

About the BCC

The BCC exists to strengthen churches, para-church organizations, and educational institutions by promoting excellence and unity in biblical counseling as a means to accomplish compassionate outreach and effective discipleship.