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

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”

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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: , , ,

Are You a Bad Listener or a Good Listener?

GoodBadListener

Tommy’s wife often gets frustrated because Tommy just doesn’t seem to care when she tries to have a conversation with him. As she walks into the living room to talk with him, his eyes stay glued to the television. As she talks, it seems like she gets very little of his attention. “Uh-uh…sure dear…uh-uh…whatever you want,” he’ll say, all the while never making eye contact with her.

Here is what she wants—nothing extravagant. She wants him to turn off the television, turn to face her, and give her his undivided attention. But he never does.

What Is a Bad Listener?

Are you a bad listener? What would your spouse or best friend or roommate or children say about you? Would they say you are a bad listener? People tend to think much more highly of themselves than they actually deserve. What would you say? Are you a good or bad listener?

What causes a person to be a poor listener?

Impatient people make for shoddy listeners. An impatient listener is not able to appreciate or be fully engaged in her present circumstances. She is not willing to hear her friend out. She interrupts or cuts him off. In her impatience, she communicates that she doesn’t care about what her friend has to say.

Another killer of conversations is tiredness. In a fast paced society, people don’t rest much. Little or no sleep means you are already exhausted when you begin a conversation, which doesn’t usually lead to a good conversation.

Think about your listening abilities during a Sunday morning sermon. How much do you zone out, especially when you are bored with what the pastor is saying? It is easy for the mind to wander to other things—work, what you’re doing that afternoon, a conversation with a friend or spouse that morning, etc. Zoning out or being easily distracted makes for bad listening.

Or you might tend to interrupt others before they are finished. Your thought is so pressing, or your tongue is so loose, that you blurt things out even before the other person is done speaking.

Impatience, tiredness, zoning out, interrupting—these are just a few of the many reasons why someone can be a poor listener. Do any of these descriptions fit you?

Consider the biblical picture of a bad listener—the proverbial fool.

“A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion” (Proverbs 18:2).

“If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame” (Proverbs 18:13).

“Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him” (Proverbs 29:20).

The biblical picture of the fool is one who doesn’t listen and understand, but speaks too quickly. In Proverbs 18:2, the fool finds pleasure only in saying what he wants to say. Because of his pride or selfishness or lack of love, he doesn’t care about understanding. He is impulsive. He answers before he hears. He doesn’t take the time to hear and then speak. In Proverbs 18:13, because of his impulsive speech, he is deemed foolish and shameful. Or as one commentator put it, this impulsive fool is “stupid and a disgrace.”

Are you the proverbial fool? Be honest. If you are, you might need to confess your lack of patience, love, and understanding before the Lord (Psalm 51:3-4), and to someone whom you have been not listening to….

What Is a Good Listener?

Contrast the proverbial fool with the advice we get from the apostle James…

“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19).

James’ encouragement is to be quick to hear and slow to speak. Wisdom and love are displayed in quickly hearing and not speaking.

The profile of a good listener is the opposite of the proverbial fool—patient, energetic, focused. He lets the other person finish without interrupting. Because he is eager to put others before himself, he listens and works hard to understand the other person. He doesn’t think so highly of himself that he regularly speaks before he hears.

Just think about Jesus. Think about His conversations. How engaged He was. How much He listened to others and asked questions in response. How skilled He was at drawing others out, and communicating His sympathy for a person, not just by listening, but by loving them and showing them what ultimately should matter in their life—faith, hope, and love. What would Martha, or Blind Bartimaeus, or the woman at the well, or the disciples say about Jesus? Would they say He was a good listener? Would they say He cared about them and took the time to understand them? Absolutely and positively yes!

Do you want to be like the proverbial fool or do you want to be like Jesus?

Are Pastors Bad Listeners?

Pastors are teachers and preachers. They daily and weekly proclaim God’s Word, and along the way, they grow accustomed to others shutting their mouths to listen. Every Sunday church members sit in silence and listen to the pastor’s words. God’s Word is powerful. It transforms lives. It does not go out void. This is how the kingdom works. God speaks through the instrument of a pastor, and the Word goes out to change hearts and minds. This is all good. And this is God’s redemptive plan.

But transfer this into a counseling room, and things might not go so well. Pastors expect to speak and people to listen. So, after a few minutes of conversation, the pastor might make a few assumptions, speak into a situation with great authority, maybe even quote a Bible passage or two to make his point, and then be done with the matter (and the person for now).

Which one does your pastor resemble in the counseling room—the proverbial fool or Jesus? If you are a pastor, remember: Good shepherding starts with knowing the sheep (John 10:3, 11, 14-15). That requires a lot of you—patience, listening, and understanding the sheep. Be slow to speak and quick to listen. Before you say anything, figure out what your member is struggling with and what is motivating him to do what he does. Only after you understand should you then speak into his life.

The Listening Test—How Good or Bad Are You?

A good way to figure out if you are a good listener is to ask those who know you best. Start by rating yourself on a scale of 1 (poorest of listeners) to 10 (best listener on the planet). To test your rating, ask someone who knows you really well what he or she would rate you. Whether they come up with a different number or one similar to your rating, talk about it with them. You can imagine a husband saying to his wife, “Honey, you said I was a 3, but I rated myself as a 7, am I really that bad in your eyes?” Do this test only if you are humble enough to receive someone else’s feedback. If you are not humble enough to receive godly criticism, then don’t ask for it.

The End of the Matter for Listeners

Ultimately, no matter how good or bad you are, listening is a skill that you can grow in, but you never do it apart from God’s strength (Ephesians 6:10; 1 Timothy 1:12) and His grace (Romans 15:15). Work harder at being a better listener; but remember that God is at work in you to make you more like his Son (Philippians 2:12-13; 1 John 3:2). Praise be to God that Jesus will never leave us or forsake us.

One day, we won’t have to work so hard at listening because we’ll be surrounded by a great throng of believers, from every century, and every part of the world, all praising and singing to God. The singing won’t be overwhelming, but glorious. And there will be no sin—so you and I will be patient, energetic, and focused in our conversations. What a glorious day that will be.

Join the Conversation

As we evaluate our listening-quotient, are we more like the proverbial fool or more like Jesus?

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

12 Wisdom Principles for Hearing and Responding to Critiques

12Wisdom

A Word from Your BCC Team: Today’s post is a very important contribution from an individual who has been a leader in the modern biblical counseling movement since its launch—Dr. Howard Eyrich. Dr. Eyrich is addressing an issue—how to humbly and wisely respond to and engage with those who critique us—that the BCC addressed in our launch document known as the BCC Confessional Statement. In the Introduction to this document, we noted that:

“We confess that we have not arrived. We comfort and counsel others only as we continue to receive ongoing comfort and counsel from Christ and the Body of Christ (2 Corinthians 1:3-11). We admit that we struggle to apply consistently all that we believe. We who counsel live in process, just like those we counsel, so we want to learn and grow in the wisdom and mercies of Christ.”

In the final of 12 statements, we addressed the importance of Christlike and Christ-honoring engagement with others—both inside and outside the modern biblical counseling movement:

“We want to present the claims, mercies, hope, and relevance of Christ in a positive, loving, Christ-like spirit (1 Peter 3:15). We seek to engage the broad spectrum of counseling models and approaches. We want to affirm what is biblical and wise. Where we believe models and methods fall short of Christ’s call, we want to critique clearly and charitably. When interacting with people with whom we differ, we want to communicate in ways that are respectful, firm, gracious, fair-minded, and clear. When we perceive error, we want to humbly point people forward toward the way of truth so that we all become truer, wiser, more loving counselors. We want to listen well to those who disagree with us, and learn from their critiques. Our mission to spread the truth and fame of Jesus Christ includes a desire that all counselors appreciate and embrace the beauty of a Christ-centered and Word-based approach to people, problems, and solutions.”

Dr. Eyrich writes in the spirit of the BCC’s Confessional Statement as he lays out for us 12 wisdom principles regarding how those in the modern biblical counseling movement can respond to critiques—whether from others who self-identify as being within the movement or from those who self-identify as being outside the movement.

The Modern Biblical Counseling Movement as a “Profession”

Biblical counseling has become a “profession.” It may not have been the intention of Jay Adams and other early leaders to create a profession, but the result of their work has produced one.

Hence, we find ourselves in the position of facing critics from a variety of directions. The following twelve statements spell twelve recommendations that I hope will be helpful guides for us in the coming days. There is a bit of an overlap between several of these recommendations, but the emphasis is a bit different in each one.

Statement 1: We need to labor at a continual renewal and refreshing of our biblical theology. These critiques are far wider and deeper than counseling methodology. They are distinctly theological.

Statement 2: These critiques call us to disciplined clarity. The broad strokes of our earlier historic approach are insufficient to address the sophisticated criticism of today. It was easy to distinguish the error of Freud and contrast ourselves to his philosophy.

Statement 3: These criticisms demand that we do not depend upon our passion to carry the day. Reasoned responses, formulated through a theological framework with effectiveness illustrated by good research, is essential. A passionate address without substance to a friendly audience will gain applause, but to the professional world it will yield being discounted. We cannot be satisfied with talking to ourselves.

Statement 4: These criticisms call for refined language carefully chosen to say precisely what we desire to say. We must articulate in perspicuous language that is clearly expressed and therefore easily understood.

Statement 5: We must read and listen carefully to our critics and we must answer with preciseness. We must learn to ask penetrating questions. We do not have to have the answer on the end of our tongue. We must admit when we do not readily have a well-thought-through formulated answer in some instances, and then we must take up the challenge to develop the answer.

Statement 6: We must take up the “offensive” without being defensive or attacking. We need to anticipate the next round of challenges, articulate our perceptions, and deliver the answers.

Statement 7: We must demonstrate in our writing and our counselor training a Christlike level of compassion. There should be no cause for someone who comes to us out of a life of sexual and personal abuse or unbiblical lifestyle to ever level a charge that we were cruel or lacking in compassion. Biblical truth in that person’s life may call for difficult wrestling with personal responsibility, but that must come only after we have formed a bond of love and trust in which such work can be done with love-rooted security.

Statement 8: We must do a better job of grasping secular modalities, understanding them, and being able to give a credible biblical response to them. Simply retreating into our theological presuppositions without a clear, well-reasoned, and knowledgeable grasp of the nuances of the argument, the technique, and the analysis will no longer serve our movement, or worse yet, the gospel.

Statement 9: We must encourage a cadre of next generation biblical counselors, who are cross-trained, practitioner-academics. That means that many of us need to have an eagle eye out for such promising individuals, mentor them (at the expense of our own success if necessary) as they move through their academic training and their daily practice of ministering to people.

Statement 10: These criticisms must motivate us to regular, thorough, theological, prayerful, and devotional investigation of the Scriptures seeking the face of God so that the glory of God is reflected in our persona, our practice, and our teaching.

Statement 11 on Clarity: When critiquing one another, are we sure we are assessing the biblical counseling person or group accurately, including a comprehensive firsthand understanding of the person or group’s writing or ministry practice. We easily slip into the journalistic style so common today that takes a sound bite or blog bite and turns it into something quite different than the intended meaning of the author. Are we distinguishing the difference between an exploratory opinion and a serious deviation? In other words, because someone may nuance a view differently than we do, does that come to the level of error?

Statement 12 on Charity: Are we willing to and engaging in the ministry of speaking the truth in love? We must be willing to follow the biblical principle articulated in Matthew 18 that we advocate in our counseling practice. We must be willing to interact with the person privately expressing our concern in humility and love before we are willing to go public with our critique even if the self-identified biblical counseling representative has gone public with his/her criticism.

A Final Analysis

I am suggesting that we, like the Apostle Paul, must write and teach Romans-style. We need to present the truth. We need to anticipate the critique. We need to own the objections and critiques and with careful, precise language address them. We must learn to frame the argument or set the course of the discussion and provide rationale for what we think, propose, and do in language that can be understood by those who disagree with us, rather than react to the critiques.

Join the Conversation (Added by the BCC Team)

What are your reflections on these “12 Statements”?

What additional “Statements” would you add concerning how to respond in a Christlike and Christ-honoring way to those who offer critiques of the modern biblical counseling movement?

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

BCC Weekend Resource: Living for Approval

The BCC Weekend Resource

A Word from Your BCC Team: On weekends, here at the BCC we enjoy pointing you to excellent resources for your Christian life and for your biblical counseling ministry. Today we do so by posting the following blog by Dr. Amy Baker, which is excerpted from Why Do I Care? When Others’ Approval Matters Too Much (releasing Fall 2015 by New Growth Press). Unlike almost all of our other BCC blog posts, book reviews, and resources, this excerpt may not be reproduced without the express written permission of New Growth Press. To purchase this and other NGP resources, please visit www.newgrowthpress.com.

Losing Approval Can Be Frightening

In our sin-broken world, we all are drawn toward hiding behind walls of success, accomplishment, and popularity to protect ourselves from rejection, displeasure, or humiliation. We crave the approval of others and can easily be overcome by the fear of man. As a desire to please people becomes consuming, our lives become less and less authentic.

It is difficult, and sometimes frightening, not to have the good opinion of others. We can tell people all day long that what others think of us doesn’t matter. The problem is: it does matter. We want people to like us. We want others to be pleased with us. We want the approval of those around us.

Although I want to be authentic, I often struggle and fail. I need help outside of myself. My precious Savior comes to my rescue and then points me toward the help I need to get beyond my fear of man. One of the places we find His grace for us is in Psalm 118. Full of rich help for folks like me, let me identify just a few of the many points of hope found in this passage.

Meditate on Having Received God’s Love: Psalm 118:1-4

One of the first steps we can take in putting off living for approval is found in the beginning verses of Psalm 118.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures forever…

Let those who fear the Lord say:
“His love endures forever.”

As people who love and long for approval, those who fear the Lord and trust in His redemption can rejoice in having received God’s love and acceptance—a love and approval that will endure forever!

Cry Out to God: Psalm 118:5

It can be anguishing to face losing the approval of others. Yet, working to keep it, confines us to a small world where life consists of pleasing others so that we won’t be rejected, humiliated, or exposed. We don’t live freely in the big, wide world created by our glorious Savior. We live as a prisoner to the approval of others.

So, what can we do? We can do what the psalmist did in verse 5: we can cry out. We can tell the Lord about our anguish and fears. We can tell Him how scared we are of being ridiculed, losing another’s approval, being exposed…We can cry out to the One whose love endures forever.

And when we cry out, we can expect that God will answer and set us free! We can expect to be released from our prison cell of approval and brought to a spacious place.

Recognize that Success Is Not Dependent on My Will Power: Psalm 118:13-14

Suppose I don’t think I can stand it anymore. Knowing that people are talking about me behind my back, ridiculing me, or eager to harm me seems overwhelmingly hard. The psalmist felt that way too. In verse 13 he tells us that he was pushed back and about to fall. It didn’t feel like he was going to win. It felt like he was going to be defeated. But that’s not what happened.

When I don’t think I can take it anymore, I need to remind myself that success is not dependent on my will power. The Lord will help me; His love endures forever. Therefore, I must not quit.

No Longer Dependent on Others’ Approval

As we allow Psalm 118 to help us take steps toward authenticity, we can expect to see change start to take place. While we will still have a desire for approval, the desire is being restored to a proper place. Our joy is not dependent on others’ approval, our joy finds a home in pleasing God because His love endures forever.

Join the Conversation

There are many more steps in Psalm 118 that help us as we battle living for approval. What other truths from Psalm 118 can strengthen us in becoming authentic?

Topics: Christian Living, 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.

Entering God’s Joy

At the CCEF blog site, Dr. Ed Welch invites us to Enter God’s Joy.

The Emperor of All Maladies

At Julie Ganschow’s Biblical Counseling for Women site, guest blogger Linda Rice reflects on the book about cancer, The Emperor of All Maladies. Rice compares physical cancer to the cancer of sin in The Emperor of All Maladies.

A Story of Terror, Pain, and Loss Swallowed Up by Grace

At Denny Burk’s site, he has posted a moving and intense video of Dr. Heath Lambert’s personal testimony. You can view this engaging video and learn about Christ’s redemptive power in A Story of Terror, Pain, and Loss Swallowed Up by Grace.

Do You Take Care of the Body? 

By the title, you might expect that Tim Challies is asking us about how we each care for our physical bodies—which are the temple of the Spirit. Instead, Challies is challenging us to use our gifts to minister in and to the Body of Christ. Read his challenge in Do You Take Care of the Body? 

How to Find a Mentor

Russell Moore addresses the very practical issue of How to Find a Mentor.

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.