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Biblical Counseling Coalition: Grace & Truth

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.

Our Port in a Storm

Julie Ganschow asks, “Are you ever so overwhelmed by circumstances that you are nearly paralyzed?” She then diagnoses the cause and prescribes a biblical solution based upon Matthew 14:28-31. Read Julie’s application of this passage in Our Port in a Storm.

Don’t Make This Counseling Mistake

Lucy Ann Moll talks about a counseling mistake she made as a counselee. Her mistake, as she indicates, says a great deal about what makes biblical counseling truly biblical. Read Lucy Ann’s insights in Don’t Make This Counseling Mistake.

The 8th Commandment

Kevin DeYoung addresses the meaning and application of the 8th Commandment in Of Justice and Generosity.

God’s Sovereignty

Randy Allcorn addresses the age old question, in practical, theological terms, in The Sovereignty of God: What Does It Mean? 

What Is Marriage?

Denny Burk interacts about the question, What Is Marriage to Evangelical Millennials? 

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

What Is It with Singing?

WhatIsItWithSinging

What is it with singing?

Many of us can’t seem to get enough of it! Crowds chant at soccer matches, revellers croon at New Year parties, drivers warble along with their stereos, and hardly any public occasion is complete without a rousing rendition of the national anthem. There’s something about singing that grabs us and brings us joy.

Not all of us, though. If we’re honest, some of us struggle. We sing softly for fear our off-key croaks will be heard. We shuffle awkwardly as the music begins. We “goldfish” wildly in the hope that we can give the impression of singing without ever making a sound. And that got me wondering—how come we don’t have any non-singing churches? Wouldn’t that be a sure fire winner with the tone deaf?

The Bible and Singing

The Bible, of course, is big on singing. There’s an extensive hymn book in the middle—songs of David, Asaph, and the like. And the storyline is full of song from start to finish…

At creation the angels sang (Job 38:7) and, in glory, so do the redeemed (Revelation 14:3). Right through Scripture, big and small events are marked by choruses of voices bringing praises to God. The people cross the Red Sea—Miriam leads them in song (Exodus 15). Moses delivers the law and is determined the people should remember it—so teaches them a song (Deuteronomy 32). The ark comes to the temple—the people raise their voices (2 Samuel 6:5). Solomon waxes lyrical about his beloved—and bursts into song (Song of songs). Paul and Silas in prison—and they sing (Acts 16:25).

It’s absolutely everywhere. In fact, I’ve read somewhere that after the command to pray, the next commonest is the instruction to sing. (I’ve not checked—you can count them if you want…and let me know).

Turning Professed Belief into Functional Belief

So, what is it with singing?

Yip Harburg, who wrote the lyrics for that Wizard of Oz classic Somewhere Over the Rainbow, also wrote this:

“Words make you think a thought; music makes you feel a feeling; a song makes you feel a thought.”

Many of us know the gap that exists between our thoughts and our feelings—truths that are known but not felt: God is trustworthy, but fear remains; sins are forgiven but guilt abounds. We know this gap exists not just because we see it in those we counsel but because we also experience it in our own hearts. Closing the gap is often the central task of counselling: turning professed belief into functional belief. And we can talk for hours trying to make it happen.

But just recently I’ve been wondering if we ought to sing more…if, perhaps, a little “music therapy” might not go amiss. Could we be overlooking the power of song? Missing the spiritual therapeutic that is found in singing aloud? Maybe singing is much more central than we think. Maybe it’s a key part of God’s plan for driving truth into our hearts, of getting theology inside.

Join the Conversation

What is the role of singing in your spiritual life?

What role could singing have in your counseling ministry—in helping people to move from professed belief to functional belief?

Topics: BCC Exclusive, Biblical Counseling, Local Church Ministry, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Theology, Worship | Tags: , ,

4 Principles for Finishing Well

4PrinciplesofFinishingWell

It’s springtime, one of the more challenging seasons for college students. It is that time of year when all major projects and papers are due. Every weekend is full of activities. Students are trying to find a summer job or a place to live after graduation. Friends are getting engaged left and right. The sun and surf are always calling…and everyone around you is a little bit punchy.

They can literally smell summer break, but there is so much to do between now and then.

In college, as well as in life, it doesn’t matter as much how you start, but how you finish that really counts. Everyone can use some encouragement during this time of year. Here are four practical biblical principles to help the college student finish the school year well—principles that all of us can relate to our calling to finish well.

Focus On Faithfulness (1 Timothy 4:12; 1 Corinthians 4:1-5; Matthew 25:20-22)

There is an unspoken expectation that success is only defined by excellent achievement. However, the Bible defines success as faithfulness. The Master’s welcome in the Parable of the Talents is “good and faithful servant,” even though the achieved outcomes were different (Matthew 25). The challenge of finishing well is not doing everything possible, but doing the right things well. When the end is in sight and there are more opportunities than time, focus your priorities on being faithful to what you have been entrusted.

Give consideration to what it means to be faithful spiritually, physically, academically, vocationally, and relationally. There comes a confident clarity that orientates your days as you evaluate your responsibilities and focus your priorities on being faithful to what God has given and not on the expectations of others.

Trust in Your God (Romans 8:28-39; Proverbs 3:5-7; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Even when you are focused on faithfulness, there will be times when you don’t know how everything is going to get done. Who is going to pick up the pieces? How is everything going to work out? During this time of year, we need to not only be reminded that God is in control of everything, but that He can be trusted with the results.

At times, our trust in God is diminished because we are placing our trust in other things. Summer is fun, but it does not give joy. Rest is good, but it does not give peace. Intellectual pursuits are profitable, but they do not give personal worth. And let’s admit that nachos are great, but they do not give ultimate comfort. An expression of this dependency and trust in our God is through prayer. The practical mindset to acknowledge our dependent state and reliance before the presence of God opens our eyes to see Him on display through our circumstances. This gives daily hope as the pressure of the end of the semester is upon you.

Stay in the Moment (Matthew 6:24-34; Psalm 127:1-2; Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)

When there is a lot to get done, our minds are constantly thinking of the next thing. In fact, even though your body can only be in one place at one time, your heart can be drawn to 15 different places seemingly at once. This effect can create greater fatigue (even though you are not actually doing much activity). Letting your heart be fully engaged with what you are doing, not what you could be doing, is a practical discipline that builds upon your faithful pursuits, as you lovingly place your hope and trust in your God.

“I’m multitasking” is the lie we tell ourselves. Whether it is time to do homework, have lunch with a friend, workout, or participate in Sunday worship, seek to stay in that moment. Distractions can make anyone tired. This is not to say that you don’t plan for the future, but consistently thinking about what is next impacts the present. There is a simple joy in being present, both in heart and body, that brings contentment to the weary soul and will make you more effective as the semester draws to a close.

Work Hard and Don’t Complain (1 Corinthians 15:58; Philippians 2:14-16; Romans 5:1-5)

There is a temptation to grade our efforts on a scale when finishing up the last 10%. Ninety percent is still an “A” right? There is no way around it. Hard work is hard work. As we seek faithfulness and trust in God’s provision in challenging moments, we are empowered by His grace to persevere and grow in character. That’s one of the reasons you’re going to college in the first place, isn’t it?

Working hard is not just about grinning and bearing it, but pursuing it as a grace of God in your life. It is during the hardest times that God sanctifies us into His likeness. That transformation outweighs the temporary pleasure of cutting corners to finish early. If this process is not embraced, we complain. We essentially say that God’s provision, timing, and situation is not perfect for us and that we would do it differently if we were in charge. We can, however, have a confidence that God is working all things together for your good and especially in the last 10%.

Join the Conversation

What are some practical sacrifices and/or creative complements you can make to be faithful to your responsibilities? What are some practical and spiritual rewards for faithfulness? Consider who could use that encouragement in their lives and commit to sharing that with them.

What are ways that we lean on our own understanding? What does it look like to trust in the Lord in those times without neglecting our responsibilities?

What are some ways we can combat personal distractions to stay focused in the moment?

What motivates you to work hard? How can you be an encouragement to others to work hard when it is hard to work hard?

Topics: BCC Exclusive, Christian Living, Education, Faith, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers | Tags: , , , ,

The Centrality of Hope in Counseling Biblically

CentralityofHope

In my years of work as both a police officer, and now a biblical counselor, I have found that one common thread running through most, if not all interactions with people seeking help is their desire for hope. Whatever circumstance they face, they seek the assurance that things can change for the better.

It has been my observation over time that this search for hope is usually buttressed by the expectation that I, as either a first responder or counselor, would be trustworthy to either dispense hope or ensure them of a basis for it.

Hope, as it turns out, has much to do with why those in crisis or trauma call the police or seek wise counsel (Proverbs 15:22). My ability to build involvement with, and earn the confidence, and trust of the counselee is largely dependent on my skill in communicating hope.

As I reflect on the array of counseling cases that I have attended within the past few months and take into consideration the various trials faced by my counselees who themselves are as diverse as the troubles they face, I am reminded of the centrality and unifying role that hope plays in counseling biblically.

Whatever else the counselor seeks to accomplish in the life of their counselee, the responsibility to impart Christ-centered hope in each and every session is of first importance (1 Thessalonians 5:14).

Above All, Give Hope

This matter of hope is no tertiary thing (1 Thessalonians 4:13).

Counselees who face a trial of any kind hope for the very best outcome and resolution. We are not surprised then to observe people of all beliefs and faith systems expressing, in some way, a longing for hope that the pain and trials of life have an answer.

In any counseling scenario, the absence of hope, that is, the judgment that all is lost, will be detrimental to the prospects of success in counseling, however faint they may appear to be (Proverbs 13:12).

Dr. Wayne Mack writes that “biblical change cannot take place without hope.” He goes on to say that hope that is unbiblical, of the type offered in non-Christian settings, such as secular counseling and psychotherapy offices, “will inevitably crumble.”

Mack’s counsel can be difficult, but necessary, to convey when people believe themselves to be the recipients of hope that the biblical counselor knows is rooted in the emptiness of humanist philosophy, rather than the fullness of biblical wisdom. Discerning how and when to share those concerns is critical to providing a gospel-centered hope (Proverbs 1:7; Proverbs 27:6). It should be done with care, concern, and respect (Ephesians 4:15).

Mack’s words are worth careful consideration, nonetheless. They serve to remind us that not all hope is created equal (Matthew 7:24-27). For this reason, he calls upon those involved in biblical counseling to discriminate between true, biblical hope and that which is false.

The Substance of Hope

The substance of hope in biblical counseling, regardless of the facts and circumstances of a given case (i.e. marital infidelity, physical sickness, addiction, depression/anxiety, etc.), is the timeless, matchless, eternal word of God (Hebrews 4:12; 2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Even as we celebrate science and medical technology making advances in the treatment of true diseases of the brain, the biblical counselor is persuaded of Scripture’s centrality to the offering of hope in the practice of soul care (Psalms 119:105).

Dr. Robert Jones writes that what makes biblical counseling biblical is the counselor’s vision for God’s redemptive work in Jesus Christ. He writes that “The Bible does not merely inform our counseling, as if it were simply one source of truth among several…the Bible drives our counseling.”

Indeed, as the many theories of secular psychology are constantly refined, and new, even competing theories are developed, Christ and His Word remain the same (Hebrews 13:8; Isaiah 40:8).

How Then Shall We Counsel

In an era of exploding medical advances, it is improbable that any one counselor would display omniscience in the latest discoveries and understanding of how to apply all available scientific data on every possible counseling topic (particularly those not trained in the practice of medicine).

This begs the question, then, about how the clinically-informed biblical counselor ought to approach his or her work. Are we striving toward becoming dispensers of clinical data or conduits of gospel-driven, Christ-centered hope?

Dr. Heath Lambert writes that today’s biblical counselor leaves the practice of medicine to those who know how to provide it, while recognizing that spiritual problems do not have physical remedies.

The counselor’s task then, through training and education, is to become adept at discerning the difference between the physical and the spiritual, and being nuanced enough to recognize when the two may be colliding as they formulate potential counseling remedies.

When counselees see that their counselor is interested in the wellness of their whole person and is not only concerned with identifying sin and memorizing Bible verses, as some outside of biblical counseling have suggested, hope is extended and confidence is instilled.

Hope-giving counselors who are committed to biblical change lead hopeful counselees.

Join the Conversation

How do you intentionally instill biblical hope, session by session, in your counselees?

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

Grace for Sin and for Suffering

GraceforSinSuffering

Here’s a problem that we’re all familiar with in ministry to people: how do you deal with a person who has been badly sinned against, but is now acting out in response? Our elders and staff regularly encounter this in conflicts between husbands and wives, but it’s easy to find in any conflict, particularly when there’s a power differential in the relationship.

Part of the challenge for my congregational leaders is that our local culture, both in our church and our surrounding community, tends to be strongly sympathetic towards people who are mistreated. Now in its place, sympathy is a great thing (when modeled after Christ’s version in Hebrews 4:15).

When unbalanced, however, sympathy can easily downplay, minimize, or excuse another’s actions and attitudes on the basis of what happened to them. In that environment, any attempt to help another be responsible or accountable when they’ve been harmed, sounds harsh. It sounds as if you’re not giving to others the kind of grace that Christ gave to you.

The Power of Words

Our leaders are especially sensitive to that criticism, so I wanted to help them develop categories that would guide them as they ministered to people who had been hurt by others. I began by drawing their attention to the power of words, noting that when someone is wronged we tend to call them a victim or label them as having had a traumatic experience. Technically there is nothing wrong with those words or categories. When used within a biblical framework, they can be descriptively helpful.

The problem is that in my context, they’re often not defined biblically. Instead they’re given their popular definitions that tend to view them as exclusive categories such that:

  • When you’re a victim, you cannot simultaneously be a perpetrator, or
  • When you’ve been traumatized, you cannot have an emotionally healthy response.

Those underlying, unrecognized assumptions ignore an important aspect of the Scripture’s understanding of humans that we are always both actors and acted upon. When you translate that truth into a fallen world, that means every one of us knows what it is to sin and to suffer.

Now God’s grace is so amazing that it comes to both those who sin and to those who suffer, but it does so in different ways that addresses the differing needs of the sinner and the sufferer. That distinction, however, gets lost when you blur the boundaries between sin and suffering, or worse, when you excuse a person’s sin because of their suffering. When that happens, you no longer know what grace looks like in that situation, and you needlessly compound or prolong the effects of brokenness.

Grace for Suffering and for Sin

Having laid that foundation, I then walked us through the chart below to flesh out how grace looks different in several categories of spiritual care. For instance, grace always impels you to move toward someone who has been affected by a fallen world. But your Initial Care for the Person has different intentions with different hopes depending on whether they’ve sinned or suffered.

Later, Initial Care gives way to longer term care and it’s helpful to recognize that the Person’s Ongoing Struggles are likely to be different and will require them to adopt different aspects of Gospel Identity for themselves. Not surprising, as the more word-based approaches to ministry differ, so too do the diaconal, or deed-based approaches to address the Physical Care for the Person.

I also find it helpful to think outside the individual, both to the Care Team’s Attitude toward the one they’re helping as well as how that person now Engages with Others.

The following chart is clearly not exhaustive nor does it develop a counseling method. Instead, I was trying to demonstrate that the same desire to show grace must express itself differently depending on whether you’re engaging someone who has sinned or someone who has suffered.

Sufferer Sinner
Initial Care for Person Comfort: Call sufferer to endure patiently. Confront: Call sinner to repent (not exhaustive or complete, but an initial, frank admission of wrong doing).
Person’s Ongoing Struggles Shame: “I am defined by what someone did to me.” Guilt: “I am defined by what I have done.”
Gospel Identity “I am defined by who I am related to. I am a child of the King. Jesus is my Brother.” “I am definited by what Jesus has done for me. My sin does not separate me from Him now or for eternity.”
Physical Care for the Person Restore what’s been lost if possible. Relieve burdens generated by the person’s sin as, or if, appropriate.
Attitude of Care Team Sympathize with shared experience of living in a broken world. Sympathize with being similarly tempted.
Engagement with Others Provide protection from others who have harmed them. Set boundaries on them in order to protect others from them.

 

Living in a fallen world provides countless opportunities to live out the grace of God with others, but one-dimensional grace that cannot distinguish between sin and suffering, is not His kind of grace. Jesus was able to heal and feed people, without that inhibiting Him from rebuking the Pharisees and Peter (who was also one of the ones He had fed).

You can and must offer a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name as well as strive to turn someone from actively engaging in rebellion. Both are undeserved instances of God’s kindness to someone in trouble, but they are not interchangeable kindnesses.

Join the Conversation

How does the chart assist you to minister grace uniquely to the person facing suffering and the person fighting besetting sin?

Topics: BCC Exclusive, Local Church Ministry, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Sin, Suffering | Tags: , , ,

The 2015 IBCD Summer Institute “Equipped to Counsel”

IBCDEquippedToCounsel

The Institute for Biblical Counseling & Discipleship (IBCD) exists to equip Christians to counsel one another in their local churches. Our annual summer institute brings together a variety of pastors and biblical counselors to share the knowledge and resources they have developed over decades of ministry. This conference in San Diego county is a great way for pastors or laypeople to be encouraged and strengthened by the Word of God.

This year we are joined by Heath Lambert (Executive Director at the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors) and Voddie Baucham (Pastor of Grace Family Baptist Church, TX) to discuss how the church can be “Equipped to Counsel.” The event will feature 6 keynote sessions and 24 workshops. It will take place at Mission Hills Church in San Marcos, California on Thursday through Saturday, June 25 27, 2015.

Keynote Sessions

  • The Necessity of Biblical Counseling by Heath Lambert
  • The Necessity of the Word in Counseling by Voddie Baucham
  • The Necessity of the Holy Spirit in Counseling by Brian Borgman
  • The Necessity of Prayer in Counseling by Voddie Baucham
  • The Necessity of the Church in Counseling by Jim Newheiser
  • The Necessity of the Gospel in Counseling by Heath Lambert

Good News for Weary Women

IBCDWomen

All women are also invited to come hear Elyse Fitzpatrick teach on her new book “Good News for Weary Women” at the IBCD Women’s Pre-Conference.

Women today feel the weight of the world on their shoulders and can often carry a relentless burden of unrealistic expectations and worry. As Elyse Fitzpatrick has traveled this country, she has seen increasing evidence of this weariness epidemic invading our churches and communities. And she has good news for women everywhere: there is hope! God doesn’t judge us by our to-do lists. Instead, He calls us to faith in the work Christ has already done.

On Thursday (June 25th) join with women from churches throughout the area for a day of edification and fellowship. Registration includes a catered lunch and a copy of the book.

More Info

For more information on IBCD and these summer events, please visit: http://www.ibcd.org/summerinstitute

Topics: BCC Exclusive, Biblical Counseling, Conference, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Prayer | Tags: , ,

2 Trips, 6 Nations, 10 Ministries!

The BCC Weekend “Megaphone”

A Word from Your BCC Team: On weekends, we frequently use our BCC “megaphone” to make you aware of biblical counseling ministries. This weekend we do so by posting a recent e-update from Dr. Wayne Vanderwier and Overseas Instruction in Counseling.

Ministry Blessings

Here is one of those obscure “internet research” facts:

People do not typically click on a link or a file in an email to open it.

If the information they want is not in the text of the email, it will not be read. However, long emails—like this one—don’t get read, either.

That’s really discouraging for folks like us who want desperately to share about the amazing work that God is doing through OIC and who work diligently to create the file that is, well, attached.

Since the attached Update (that’s your cue to open it now) covers two trips involving six nations and ten ministries, it is mostly just basic, factual information and some pictures.

If you haven’t already opened the attachment…

Click here to open the OIC Insiders Update

Human Interest Stories

So here are just a few stories that add some “human interest” to the newsletter vignettes…

Two extant ministry locations in the Philippines grew to three in January. And although this was our first time in Davao (click for pics), God blessed our work at Soli Deo Gloria Christian Church in wonderful ways. Susie, who never gets sick, had a bit of a medical problem while we were there. But our training program included several doctors who came to her aid and resolved the issue. Following the training we “retreated” to a nearby resort for a couple of days. Susie and I had the (not so) bright idea of taking a hike in the jungle. We promptly got lost and had to be rescued! It was only after we left that facility that we discovered that we had been uncomfortably close to an area of civil unrest!

Our gracious and far-too-generous partners in Cebu (click for pics) determined to take us on a gastronomic world tour during our days with them. It’s just a little embarrassing to mention that we ate at restaurants representing nine—yes, nine—different nations. Crazy, huh? We loved spending time with Mel Caparros, Lead Pastor at Living Word, and his sweet wife, Marie. Their church has nearly one hundred “outreaches”—ministries we would call church plants—not only in the Philippines but also in various other nations. In fact, in just a few weeks we’ll be going to the UK to connect with two Living Word churches to discuss biblical counseling training in England and Scotland.

Our final stop in RP was in Manila (click for pics) at one of our partners’ churches, Higher Rock Christian Church. The Update contains the story of their extravagant preparation for the 400 people who attended our Module 2 program.

It’s an overnight flight from Manila to Sydney, Australia, from which we jumped down to Melbourne (click for pics). Our Lord allowed us to begin another new training program there in cooperation with Biblical Soul Care Australia, this one at another international partner church, GraceWest Bible Church. And Susie was given the privilege of teaching a special Ladies Evening program.

On page two of the Update you’ll find pictures of the two graduate classes at Kyiv (Ukraine) Theological Seminary (click for pics) that kicked off our second trip of the year. And on the weekend between those classes, I had the privilege of serving the staff at Word of Life, Ukraine (pics in KTS slideshow). Although both the director and I suffered with a cold, God was good to give us a great time.

During the second week of KTS classes something else of special significance happened—we hired a Russian Director for OIC, Stepan Pavyluk! You’ll be hearing more about this soon, but it is a really exciting development in the expansion of our work in the Slavic World.

Our modular program in Egypt (click for pics) was next, with another exciting development— one of our MBC graduates assisted in the teaching. This is a really good program being done in partnership with New Renovare Ministry, a biblical counseling training ministry under the direction of Dr. Yasser Farah.

My teaching in that modular program finished at 10:30 a.m. on a Saturday. Then we were whisked from one conference center (in the desert) to another (near Alexandria), and I began teaching in an academic program (for NTCGS; click for pics) at 4:00 p.m. – until 9:50! What a day!

The most challenging, and yet in many ways the most wonderful, days of ministry on this trip took place in St. Petersburg, Russia (click for pics). Challenging? I taught nearly a whole module of new material by myself and had some difficult conversations. Wonderful? We “graduated” more than 50 folks and began to plan future ministries in Russia!

Finally, Susie and I and our OIC colleagues Don and Elizabeth Roy stopped by “The Motherland” (have you seen my family name?) Amsterdam, Netherlands (click for pics). Our one day “Introduction to Biblical Counseling” seminar was designed to help us assess the wisdom of initiating a modular training program, a ministry Don would direct, there. We were pleasantly surprised when 55 people from 21 churches attended, an indication from our Lord that we should move forward! Personally, I’m thrilled!

Joyfully serving those that serve others,

Dr. Wayne A. Vanderwier
Overseas Instruction in Counseling
www.DiscoverOIC.org

Topics: Megaphone Post, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Uncategorized

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.

When God Closes the Womb

In reflecting on Mother’s Day, which in the U.S. was earlier this week, Karen Gaul has written a Christ-centered post that helps us to remain sensitive to the pain, loss, and grief that Mother’s Day can bring. Read Karen’s thoughts in When God Closes the Womb: Being Childless on Mother’s Day.

Caring for Widows

At the Practical Shepherding site, Brian Croft alerts us to a new resource, co-authored by Brian and Austin Walker. Read about the new resource at Caring for Widows

The Importance of Being ACBC Certified

In this video resource, Dr. Nicholas Ellen shares The Importance of Being ACBC Certified.

Overview of ACBC Certification

In this video resource, the ACBC shares An Overview of ACBC Certification.

I Quietly Admitted That God Had Won

In this post at Tim Challies’ blog site, we’re encouraged to reflect on surrender to God. Read these challenging thoughts at I Quietly Admitted That God Had Won.

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

8 Recommendations “When Counseling Hits a Dead End”

8Recommendations

I still vividly remember many of my undergraduate courses I took in biblical counseling. In my Problems & Procedures course, we would cover a variety of issues from a biblical perspective that included both a foundation and a methodology to work through. In my Counseling Practicum course, we “practiced” doing counseling on a fellow student, who—no surprise responded quite well to my “counsel” in just three short sessions.

One of the things I don’t remember covering (or perhaps I was absent that day) was what you do when your counseling hits a dead end. While we would all like to think our counseling and care for others follows a wonderfully laid out, upward trajectory of progressive sanctification, the realist in us acknowledges that life rarely plays out like this. The trajectory is more akin to a squiggly line full of potholes, setbacks, and dead ends than a nice, clean storyline.

As a counseling pastor, one of the most frequent questions I receive from our lay counselors and caregivers is what to do when you’ve done all the “right things” and nothing seems to be working. Here are eight recommendations I share with them by way of encouragement even when counseling seems to have hit a dead end.

1. Pray

Prayer on a list like this seems obligatory, perfunctory, and even somewhat pedantic, but it’s for this very reason it needs to be here at the top of the list. A lot of times we view prayer as “Plan X” rather than “Plan A.” We don’t just pray, but we commit ourselves to praying for, during, and after our counseling sessions because we cannot do this alone.

James writes, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5), which in context is directed at wisdom in understanding life’s trials and temptations. When counseling hits a dead end, the first thing I want to engage in is prayerful supplication to God for wisdom on what path to pursue.

2. Reread Notes and Homework

Hopefully as you’ve been meeting and counseling, you’ve been taking notes and collecting homework assignments. I encourage our counselors to go back from the very beginning to reread through what they’ve written. Often, things they have written down have escaped their memory, and the rediscovery provides a new opportunity or angle to engage the counselee with.

Reread their homework assignments. Where do you see growth and change in their writing? Go back to their intake paperwork; what was their initial reason for contacting you? How has that been addressed or not been addressed?

3. Listen More Intently

As counselors, listening should be a skill we are constantly seeking to grow in, and yet I find myself growing a bit lazy in how I listen. In my impatience, I can tend to want the counselee to finish what they’re saying so I can step in with my next pithy quote or Bible verse. Learning to wait patiently after a question is asked can often provide ample opportunities for follow up.

David Powlison often speaks of asking wise questions to our counselees, but also waiting for wise answers. One of the ways we grow in this spiritual discipline is through loving listening (even with our posture).

4. Examine the Counselee’s Network of Care

If we are hitting a dead end in counseling, one of the areas I want to examine is their network of care. Who is in their life? How are they relating and responding to the counselee? Are we properly engaging everyone we can? Are there small group leaders, Bible study facilitators, or church leaders we should be reaching out to for help and encouragement?

At Parkside, we encourage and ask every counselee to come with a biblical advocate designed to help make the transition from counseling to body life happen as smoothly as possible. Many times in counseling, the counselee can be depending on the counselor and the session to provide all the relational needs in their life. Stressing the need to be plugged into the wider body of Christ is something which can help counselees see life with new eyes.

5. Ponder Whether They Are Following through on Their Responsibilities

Many times in counseling, I find that I have grown a bit lax in asking for robust engagement and commitment in the counseling process. One of the questions I ask our counselors is, “Are you putting in more work and effort into the counseling session than your counselee?”

I don’t ask that in a way which negates the need for self-sacrificial love on the part of the counselor, but is the counselee coming into the session unprepared and with an understanding that you are going to change them, rather than the Spirit of God working through the Word of God?

6. Ponder Whether You Like Them

This question is very convicting for the counselor, and one which should be addressed if counseling has hit a dead end. I remember hearing Ed Welch ask the question, “Do you like the person you’re counseling?” It sounds simple enough, but I can honestly say that when I find it hard to relate to a counselee it changes the way I counsel. I find myself being a bit more impatient, abrupt, judgmental, and unloving.

In contrast, when I really enjoy my time of counseling, I find myself giving more grace, asking better questions, and all around being a more patient counselor. Ed goes on to say that those people we find it hard to counsel are probably there for that very reason—that they are hard to like and to love—which is probably why God has placed them in your life.

7. Try a New Angle or a New Question

I cannot tell you how many times a completely new line of inquiry has opened up a new pathway in counseling. Asking some simple questions:

  • “What’s your favorite Bible verse?”
  • “What’s your favorite hymn?”
  • “Where are you growing in Christ?”
  • “Why do you think it is happening?”
  • “Let’s examine the fruit you currently see, and work our way backward to your heart.”
  • “Where can you articulate growth over the past few sessions?
  • “Where is God up to good? Where is life hard or bad?”
  • “What areas of life have been re-oriented?”

8. Consider Ending Your Meetings and Referring to Another Counselor

While this hopefully isn’t the first instinct when you hit a road block in counseling, it is nonetheless something which should be on the table and done in consultation with other wise counselors or your counseling pastor.

In whatever situation we find ourselves in as counselors, hitting road blocks and dead ends reminds us that we are ultimately not in control. Every session must be submitted to the Holy Spirit who alone can open blind hearts and blind eyes.

There is something very humbling about counseling when we realize who alone can bring about real change and hope. May we continue to point to Him as our only hope even when counseling gets hard and tough!

Join the Conversation

What additional wisdom principles do you recommend when counseling seems to hit a dead end?

Topics: BCC Exclusive, Biblical Counseling, Local Church Ministry, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers | Tags: ,

4 Guidelines for Addressing “Mindfulness”

4Guidelines

A businesswoman in my church approached me with a question about a training program for upper level management in her company. She had been given a book called Search Inside Yourself, written by Chade-Meng Tan, an executive at Google whose official corporate title is “Jolly Good Fellow.” Meng was one of Google’s earliest engineers who matriculated into a role in corporate culture oversight with the search engine giant. Meng’s current job description is threefold: “Enlighten minds, open hearts, create world peace.” Along with all other senior level staff, my friend was being required to read the book as a continuing training project. She wanted to know what I thought of it.

This gave me the opportunity to look more closely at something that I’m seeing as a pastor with increasing frequency. Meng’s book is one of the more well-known popular treatments of what is known in the therapeutic world as “mindfulness.” If you aren’t familiar with mindfulness, you will be. It is the current shelf-filler in self-help literature. As I talk with folks in my church who work in the mental health field, it is also one of the rising stars in therapy for a broad range of mood and thought disorders. It is also growing as a recommended self-care tool for therapists.

Mindfulness: What Is It?

What is mindfulness? There is no standard definition, but the following from Psychology Today captures most of the features of mindfulness as it is understood at popular and therapeutic levels.

“Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass by you, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.

Mindfulness comes out of Zen Buddhist meditation principles. The key components of mindfulness from the above definition are a conscious effort to focus on the present moment, withholding judgment on any thought feeling or sensation of that moment, and then learning to think and act out of the reality of that moment rather than allowing instinctive but unproductive emotional and thinking patterns to drive your responses to life situations. The basic tools of mindfulness are meditation exercises and relaxation techniques.

Mindfulness has cache in the psychological community as an evidence-based practice with studies showing measurable benefits of its use as both a therapy methodology and as training for therapists. Mindfulness has been most closely linked with Dialectical-Behavioral Therapy, but has also developed into specialized treatment regimens in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). According to the professionals I interacted with, it is “a hot thing” in the mental health community these days.

Mindfulness: Where Is It?

The purpose of this post is to help pastors and biblical counselors to biblically, wisely, and constructively engage this trend as it engages our churches and people. And it most certainly does and will engage us.

You will encounter it like I did through the question of a church member who has to deal with it as a workplace requirement. What Google does, other businesses tend to follow, and Google does mindfulness. You’ll engage it through the parents in your church where the concept of “mindful schools” is growing as an educational model. You’ll engage it because there are growing “Christian mindfulness” networks and resources that seek to screen out the eastern philosophy of mindfulness and replace it with Christian concepts. And you’ll engage it because there will be Christians who see the devil in the Zen underlying mindful practices and who will let you know about it.

But mostly you will engage it because at one level it “works.” Yes, at its functional level, mindfulness works. We live distracted, over-stimulated, multitasking, stress-fueled lives. And we experience the short-term (sleep disorders, anxiety, etc.) and long-term (health consequences, relational estrangement, etc.) effects of that kind of lifestyle. So, it would stand to reason that something radically different from that way of doing life; something that can be done anywhere, at any time, without any cost and requiring very little natural skill would be beneficial. It should work if for no other reason than to interrupt our bad habits with a conscious and focused alternative “time out.”

But just because it works, is it wise and worth pursuing? I want to offer four guidelines for addressing the issue of mindfulness in a pastoral setting. Knowing how to engage mindfulness with biblical wisdom and clarity is important if we are to help people tossed around by the latest waves in popular psychology.

Mindfulness: How Do We Wisely Address It?

First, let’s not try to baptize, rebrand, or reboot mindfulness as a biblically-derived practice. I’ve seen some well-meaning Christians attempt to locate mindfulness in the practices of the Christian mystics—an attempt that tends to overlook the less orthodox aspects of that tradition.

And while there are plenty of places where biblical thinking and responsiveness to life situations call us to govern our minds and emotions, the fact that the roots of mindfulness practice remain in the Zen worldview can’t be reconciled with biblical faith. At the heart of Zen mindfulness is the understanding that we are connected to the cosmos in a holistic way and that meditation actuates that connectedness. That is Zen reality. But in truth—biblical truth—we are distinct individuals created as image bearers, not of the cosmos, but of a Personal God who is the determiner of the reality we engage. Zen is an escape from true reality, not an engagement with it.

Second, let’s advocate and encourage what the Bible does warrant as better than mindfulness. Dwelling on negative past experiences: mindfulness says don’t do it; biblical faith says we have been born again to a living hope (1 Peter 1:3-5) Worrying about the future: mindfulness says don’t do it. Biblical faith says the future is in the hands of a wise and loving God who works all things out for ultimate good (Romans 8:28-39—there’s a cosmic reality worth pondering!) Mindfulness says focus your mind in the moment: biblical faith says think on things above, where Christ is (Colossians 3:2-3). Mindfulness says don’t judge your thinking and feeling; biblical faith says it has already been judged, and you have been given the mind of Christ and have been filled with the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:14-16). Mindfulness says being in the moment is the way. Jesus says, “I am the way” (John 14:6).

I could go on and on, but you get the point. The problem with mindfulness in its fully-orbed expression is not just that it points in the wrong direction; it sells the depth of human experience far short when compared with the riches of knowing Christ. The message of the gospel is good news that mindfulness can never match.

Third, let’s help folks discern fad from substance. As always, once something that has some credibility on a therapeutic level emerges into the self-help world, it goes over the top. Claims of effectiveness get wildly overstated and substantiation for those claims rests primarily on testimonials and misapplied “scientific studies.” A few celebrity practitioners and authorities will flood the market with books, seminars, and high concept multi-media. We can serve our folks by gently helping them distinguish the fad and hype self-help economy that targets the felt needs of people while offering little more than jazzed up, effectively-packaged common sense. This acquired discernment will help them with mindfulness and whatever next big thing comes down the self-help pike.

Fourth, let’s guide people compassionately toward biblical wisdom. In the more conservative Christian cultures in which most of us serve, anything that smacks of mysticism or Eastern philosophy will and should hit our radar as a concern. But too often at the street level of our churches we become known for what we’re against, and that can limit our opportunities to guide people toward biblical wisdom. We can’t help people learn to drive if they won’t let us in the car. Besides, if someone has been helped by mindfulness practices, then we won’t serve them by telling them they haven’t been helped. We’re better off helping them to see what is actually helpful about what they are doing. Stripping the Zen components away, mindfulness might be most akin to exercise.

I like to come home from the office and jog. Is it because I love running? No, it’s because the act of running forces me to only think in the moment (in my case, surviving my run). I go into the run with the cares of the day; I come out with a clearer head and various clinically confirmed physiological benefits that come from physical exercise. Mindfulness activities like controlled breathing and focus on clearing the mind of distractions essentially do the same thing. Let’s be committed to careful listening and wise counseling as we talk about this issue with folks we serve.

Winston Smith and Cecelia Bernhardt offer some great practical insights for counselors who are engaging clients on mindfulness in a podcast here.

Join the Conversation

Have you encountered the mindfulness trend? Where do you see the folks you serve in ministry engaging it? How are you responding to it?

Topics: BCC Exclusive, Biblical Counseling, Methodology, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Theology | 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.