For more than a decade now, I have been a self-proclaimed and unabashed “CCEF-Junkie.” My exposure to the Biblical Counseling Movement came through being introduced to CCEF’s Journal of Biblical Counseling, their Changing Hearts/Changing Lives curriculum, and their book series Resources of Changing Lives. The CCEF model of sanctification, wisdom, and biblical counseling has deeply shaped my life and ministry. In my last post at the Grace & Truth Blog, I spelled out what I love about Biblical Counseling when it’s at its best. In this post, I want to share some things that I have learned especially from CCEF’s Ed Welch.
In 2009, I had the privilege of taking Welch’s “Methods of Biblical Change” course at Westminster Theological Seminary. When I reviewed my notes after the class was completed, what struck me most were several seemingly “off-hand” quotes. These “Welchisms” have stuck with me and continue to guide my own biblical counseling methodology today.
“Biblical counseling is knowing someone and knowing Scripture and bringing them together.”
That’s it. Those three things are huge and complex and daunting, but they are also neatly summarized, simple, and achievable by the Spirit. Dr. Welch’s summary became my new shorthand for the task of biblical counseling, and I use it frequently as I describe what I’m trying to do as a pastor, counselor, and counseling trainer.
It seems that I often have to explain what’s unique about biblical counseling to people who have not heard of it before. Welch’s short sentence is a helpful threefold explanation. At the same time, while simple, it is not simplistic. There is an almost unfathomable depth in each of the three elements—knowing someone, knowing Scripture, and learning how to bring them together.
“When in doubt, you just wait and get to know the person better.”
I was particularly struck by how much Ed emphasized listening as the key to counseling methodology. As a preacher, I want to emphasize talking. I have truth! I want to share it! But what is the truth that needs to be applied to this person in this situation at this time? I will have to listen to find that out.
I am often bewildered by counselees and don’t know where to go next. I have been working with a man recently who is absolutely exasperating! He agrees with everything I say, no matter how strongly I say it, but he does not change. I don’t know what to do with him. Answer? I need to get to know him better.
“Listen so that you are affected by them.”
How do I know that I’ve truly listened? Before this quotable quote, I would have answered that I have truly listened to someone when I can repeat back to them what they are saying and include the emotions that color their words. But this new standard is much higher and deeper. I need to listen in such a way that I allow myself to be affected by them, changed. I need to feel something of what they are feeling. I need to suffer with them if they are suffering. I need to enter into their confusion, their fears, their frustrations.
I also need to be outraged by their sin. Numerous times in this methodology class, Welch expressed anger with a loud voice in response to the sin of someone to whom he is relating. I wouldn’t have thought of doing that, but as Ed has grown in godliness, he has grown in his ability to be righteously indignant with those who hurt others and defame God’s name.
I can’t fake that. Affectation is no substitute for affections. But I need to pursue it.
“Q. How much of the past do you need to know? A. Only as much as that they feel understood.”
This is a deceptively simple answer to a mammoth question. Whole counseling theories have been built upon a detailed understanding someone’s past. Most of the people I counsel expect to share their life stories with me as part of the process. We have come to assume that some “digging” will be required. Perhaps. But the answers to our problems are not in the past. They are in the supply of the Spirit—in His Word applied with wisdom.
However, I can’t disregard their past either. Our pasts are significant to each of us. They have shaped us, they have helped or hurt us, they feel a part of us. So, I need to know as much of the past as someone needs me to know so that they feel understood. It’s not wrong to think about personal history—often thinking about someone history with them is a mark of true love.
“The only rule for pastoring me is that you love me.”
Again, this statement is deceptively simple. Welch shared this in talking about what helps him to change. He is willing to be vulnerable with anyone who loves him. If you don’t love him, then he isn’t willing to submit his life to your authority.
Do I love those whom I am shepherding? That is the fundamental question, and all effective ministry is predicated upon it.
“Normalize the abnormal.”
I once counseled a man who weighed more than 700 pounds. I was befuddled in what to do with “Tiny.” I have pastored people who “shut down” when you try to talk to them—going catatonic, suicidal, and even “postal.” What do you do with unusual, even strange, folks? Welch’s mantra, “Normalize the abnormal” is the answer. The seed of their sins are resident in me. The trials they go through aren’t that different from mine. There isn’t anything that is central, necessary, and fundamentally important that the Bible doesn’t teach. If I can’t figure out what’s going on in a given situation, I need to wait and get to know the person better. But I don’t need to understand all the ins and outs of strange behavior (schizophrenia, multiple personalities, paranoia, hoarding, etc.) to be able to understand people. People are what the Bible says people are.
Not only does this approach help me to be confident in ministry, it helps those I’m trying to help, too. Some people want (sinfully) to be unique and to have a problem different from everyone else, but what we really need is to be connected to others and to share life and problems together. Normalizing someone who has an extreme version of whatever problem I have, will help them to connect with others in the body of Christ and find the answers that apply to all sinners of every extreme.
“Do you know the story of the Kingdom of God?”
Ed Welch repeated this question again and again. I wouldn’t have included that sentence in a counseling methodology class. But, of course, that’s the whole enchilada, isn’t it?
Join the Conversation
Who are you learning from right now and how would you summarize what you are learning in a few quotable quotes?