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

4 Ingredients of Personal Ministry

4 Ingredients of Personal Ministry

Risotto is delicious. I love risotto, but would always eat it out—at my friends’ houses or at restaurants—because, although it is delicious, I also found it somewhat mysterious. How can rice become so tasty? I was sceptical about my ability to cook it at home. How would I be able to turn bland rice into scrumptious risotto? The answer, I learned, is to identify and use the right ingredients. As it turns out, Risotto is more than just rice! There are several other ingredients that need to be added, in the right amount, and in the right order. Once all the ingredients are combined, a delicious meal emerges.

Effective personal ministry can be similar. To many, from pastors to small group leaders, effectiveness in personal ministry can appear mysterious and complicated. To be sure, there is a complexity to ministry—as well as a reliance on the supernatural work of God’s Holy Spirit! But there is also a delightful simplicity that revolves around some core ministry ingredients.

There are a lot of good ways to answer this, but Paul Tripp penned one of my favourite. Dr Tripp defines personal ministry as:

The “careful ministry of Christ and His Word to the struggles of heart that have been uncovered by good questions from a committed friend.”[1]

In this succinct definition, Dr Tripp gives us four of the key ingredients to effective personal ministry. Let’s briefly consider each ingredient.

Careful Ministry of Christ and His Word…

Both counselling and discipleship ought to be marked by a careful use of the Bible. The Bible is absolutely central to how we think about our lives, so we want to make sure that we’re placing the joys and sorrows of life within a genuinely Christian framework. We also want to be speaking God’s truth to one another, not simply sharing our opinions or passing on inherited values. And we want to do this carefully— not being too fanciful with Scripture, not taking promises out of context, or handling the Bible glibly.

The apostle Paul says that gospel workers should make a big effort to handle God’s Word rightly (2 Timothy 2:15). A key ingredient in effective personal ministry, therefore, involves rightly handling Christ’s Word.

…To the Struggles of Heart…

The heart is the target in ministry. While we want to dispense accurate spiritual information to those we minister to, our goal is not simply their increased theological knowledge. We know that our big need is heart renewal—beneath the surface of everyday sins and sorrows, there lies a battle raging in each of our hearts. In the ordinary moments of everyday life, these are the heart issues that we wrestle with: whom will I trust? Who or what will I look to for help, hope, comfort or relief? Who or what am I tempted to seek, delight in, or worship?

For effective personal ministry to take place, we must consider both ingredients: divine truth and the human heart. Personal ministry occurs when both ingredients are being used.

…That Have Been Uncovered by Good Questions…

The first two ingredients raise further questions: “How am I going to know what this person’s particular heart struggles are?” “How am I going to know which truths are most relevant if I cannot see what is going on inside their hearts?”

The answer is gloriously simple:

Ask good questions!

Good questions act as a vegetable peeler: they remove the outer layers so that you can see under the surface. Good questions enable you to see what your friend was thinking or feeling when they said or did that particular thing. Good questions break through the superficiality that marks too much of our relationships and ministry. Good questions enable you to uncover the struggles of the heart, and so they’re a vital ingredient in effective ministry.

On a personal note: for years, I had undervalued good questions. I foolishly thought that one simply needed to “speak truth” to people in order to do effective ministry. I am increasingly realizing how important asking good questions really is. Effective ministry is not less than Bible teaching, but it is more than Bible teaching. Don’t forget about this excellent ingredient, or your ministry will likely lack taste!

…From a Committed Friend.

Our fourth vital ingredient is spiritual friendship. Effective ministry boosts good relationships— you may not perhaps start out as friends, but hopefully after journeying together in Christ, you will experience the richness and depth of spiritual friendship.

This also reminds us that ministry is personal, not professional. I am not a guru or sage who simply dispenses aphorisms to relative strangers; I am a friend, a fellow pilgrim, another human in daily need of Christ’s mercies. Therefore I am open to learning from those I minister to! Their perseverance through difficulties can greatly encourage and challenge me, even as I seek to minister to them.

Personal ministry has little room for celebrity, professionalism, or façade. Christ relates to us in personal ways, calling us friends and revealing his heart to us. He draws us to himself in relationship, exposing our hearts and connecting his truth and grace to our need.

A Delicious Risotto or Tasteless Rice?

Sadly, all too often our ministry lacks one or more of these vital ingredients. When that happens, things become bland, dull, and tasteless. Different people will gravitate to certain ingredients more than others, so be sure to audit yourself: Which of these do you tend to over-emphasize at the expense of the others? Which ingredients do you need to add to your ministry recipe?

Personal ministry is the careful ministry of Christ and His Word to the struggles of heart that have been uncovered by good questions from a committed friend. May God help us to add all these ingredients together, so that our ministries brim with the aroma of Christ and nourish the souls of people.

Join the Conversation

Which of these 4 vital ingredients of personal ministry do you tend to over-emphasize at the expense of the others? Which ingredients do you need to add to your ministry recipe?


[1] Paul David Tripp, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2002), 165.

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

Are We Using the Word “Brokenness” Biblically?

Are We Using the Word Brokenness Biblically

We often hear Christians today talking about “brokenness.”

Many seem to use “brokenness” to describe the underlying reason they sin. Someone might say, “I struggle with pornography because of the ‘brokenness’ I experienced growing up in a home with a father who objectified women.”

Others seem to use “brokenness” to describe the result of being sinned against. For example, “I experienced deep ‘brokenness’ when I was emotionally ‘wounded’ by my mother’s rejection of me.”

Still others seem to use “brokenness” to describe the result of enduring suffering. Such as, “Failing in three business ventures left me dealing with ‘brokenness’ and battered self-confidence.”

First, Empathy for These Usages of “Brokenness”

Anyone who has ever read any of my blog posts, any of my books, or heard any of my lectures, seminar presentations, or messages knows that I teach that God calls us to empathize with one another in suffering. Biblical counseling is not only about confronting heart sin; it is also about comforting those who have been sinned against, those who have endured great suffering in a fallen world.

As I like to say, “We live in a fallen world and it often falls on us.” When it does, it can “break” us—it beats us up and beats us down. The great apostle Paul candidly admitted that when life knocked him down, he despaired even of life and felt the sentence of death (2 Corinthians 1:8-9). That’s pretty “broken.”

Second, Caution about These Usages of “Brokenness”

I don’t have a lot of problem with calling the result of being sinned against and the result of facing suffering “brokenness.” Unless, in doing so, we think our number one issue or problem is our brokenness or woundedness from suffering.

Our number one problem is our sinfulness—having sinned against God. Our number one problem is not our brokenness—others having sinned against us or facing suffering because of living in a fallen world.

That’s why I have a significant problem with the first use of “brokenness”—where we use it to describe the underlying reason we sin.

Think about Job and Job’s wife. They both faced the same horrific suffering. Job’s wife responded by telling Job to “curse God and die”—give up on God and give up on life, yourself, and others.” Job responded by saying, “Blessed be His name—the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.”

Their “brokenness”—their suffering—was staggering beyond imagination. But their brokenness did not cause their sin.

If I were counseling Job and Job’s wife, yes, it would be helpful for me to understand the personal reasons they each might struggle with a particular temptation to sin. Just like it would be helpful for me to understand that the man I’m counseling about a pornography problem had a father who objectified women. That’s helpful in understanding his particular temptation, but it is not causative. His history and upbringing and broken family life does not demand that he give into that sin. Nor does it robustly explain why he gives into that sin.

There is a fine line between seeking to understand helpful personal history and turning that personal history into an unhelpful excuse for surrendering to temptation.

Third, How the Bible Uses “Brokenness” in Suffering

In the psalms of lament, David and other psalmists candidly talked about their suffering and having been sinned against. In these lament psalms (such as Psalm 13, Psalm 88, and many more), the psalmists clung to God’s in their suffering.

That was also the apostle Paul’s response to his suffering. After admitting that he despaired of life, he explained that this brokenness happened to him so that he would not rely on himself, but on God who raises the dead (2 Corinthians 1:8-9).

Thus there is a biblical way to talk about being “broken” in suffering. It is biblical to use “brokenness” to mean that life has so beaten us down that I turn to God in utter desperation. When we are beaten down by life, biblical brokenness directs us to God as our only source of help, hope, and healing.

Fourth, How the Bible Uses “Brokenness” in Sin

In confessing his sinfulness, David said to God, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart” (Psalm 51:17).

This is the primary way that God’s Word uses “brokenness”—being broken over our sin against God and others.

If anyone could have used their past suffering and woundedness to excuse or explain their sin, it would have been David. David could have used his life story to say:

“Saul, my father-figure—his horrible mistreatment of me, that woundedness explains why I committed adultery and murder.” David could have said, “The despicable way that my very own son betrayed me left me so broken that in my emptiness I committed adultery and murder.”

But David didn’t. He came clean. He confessed. Without excuse.

And everything in David’s confession moved toward his biblical use of “brokenness.” In Psalm 51:17 we saw that David used “broken spirit” as a parallel for a “contrite heart.” “Contrite” means humbled, remorseful, repentant, penitent. It is the picture of the Prodigal Son coming home to his father in spiritual brokenness—desperate for grace, throwing himself at his father’s mercy.

Both David and the Prodigal Son are broken over their sin against God, rather than being broken over being sinned against. In their brokenness, they both throw themselves at the mercy of God. “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love, according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin” (Psalm 51:1-2).

So, how could the man struggling with pornography apply this biblical use of the word “brokenness”? Perhaps he would say:

“While acknowledging that my father sinfully objectified women helps me to understand the direction of my sin, it does not explain or excuse my sin. Father, I sin against you, I sin against my wife and my children, and I sin against all women when I look at pornography. Give me a broken and a contrite heart. Help me to see the evil of my sin. Expose the heart causes, the idols of the heart, the false cisterns that I dig when I commit this sin. I confess my sin to You and I ask You to have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love.”

So…”

When speaking of “brokenness” and suffering, my “brokenness” motivates me to turn to God as my only source of hope.

When speaking of “brokenness” and sin, my “brokenness” motivates me to confess my sin to God and turn to Him as my only hope of forgiveness, cleansing, and victory over my sin.

Biblical brokenness always leads us to cling to Christ.

Join the Conversation

What do you think? Are we using the word “brokenness” biblically?

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

BCC Weekend Resource: Counseling After a Suicide

The BCC Weekend Resource

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

In this resource, Jim Newheiser addresses the issue of Counseling After a Suicide. Many have been touched by the tragedy of having a loved one take his or her own life. How can we help those left behind deal with the emotions and the questions which come in the aftermath of suicide?  Why do people make this awful choice?  Can a real believer do this? What are the indicators that a suicide attempt may be imminent and what can be done to help?

Popout Audio Player

Topics: Audio, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Suicide | 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.

10 Marks of True Happiness

Paul Tautges notes that:

“One of the most famous portions of the Bible is Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, which begins with what have become known as The Beatitudes. Each of these snippets of divine wisdom begins with the word, ‘Blessed,’ which actually means happy. So, ‘Blessed are you when…’ can also be read, ‘Happy are you when…’ Therefore, these verses contain a description of true happiness. In Matthew 5:1-12 we learn of ten marks of those who experience true happiness.”

Learn all 10 marks of true happiness in Happy Are Those…

Time Is Fleeting

Tim Challies reflects on competing priorities and using our time wisely. In part, he says:

“The call, then, is to find the best things I can do with the time allotted to me, while waiting for the great day when time will no longer be finite, when opportunities will no longer be limited. It is to prioritize those few things I can actually accomplish, and to learn to let go of the rest. It is to live the life God has for me, and not to attempt to live a different life altogether. It is to obey the words of God: ‘Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil’ (Ephesians 5:15-16).”

Read all of Tim’s thoughts in All These Things I Will Leave Undone.

What to Do When Downcast

Ray Ortlund quotes from Martin Luther’s self-counsel in What to Do When Downcast.

6 Reasons to Live More Simply

Randy Alcorn shares 6 Reasons to Live More Simply and Give More Generously.

The Logs in My Eye

Julie Ganschow acknowledges what is true for all of us. “I find the most difficult aspect of peacemaking is examining my own heart, and asking God to search me.” Julie then applies Matthew 7:5 to our personal relationships. Read her thoughts in The Logs in My Eye.

Join the Conversation

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

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

The Chief End of Man Is the Beginning of Biblical Counseling

The Chief End of Man Is the Beginning of Biblical Counseling

A man and his wife, seeking help for their troubled marriage, sat down with me in my office recently. Both of them were intent on sharing with me a litany of complaints about the other.

“Why Are You Here?”

I was glad they came, but my opening question to the man caught him off-guard. “Why are you here?” I asked.

Having already delivered to me his Intake Form, and in light of the obvious, he wasn’t sure what I was asking him; so he began to tell me about his problems, the majority of which were focused on his wife’s alleged failures.

I stopped the man mid-sentence, and asked him to think about the question again, keeping his profession of faith in Christ in full view. Seeing that the man wasn’t prepared for my ambush, I began to explain what I meant.

Together, we agreed that he was all of the following:

1) A man created in the image of God

2) A professing Christian

3) A husband, and

4) A father

Each of these realities, I explained, were created, given, and sustained for him by God.

These truths carried with them unique responsibilities that were supernaturally bound together for one overarching purpose. But, before I led him in that discussion, I wanted him to know that this purpose would be the plumb line by which we would judge any, and all potential solutions to the marital struggles they’d been experiencing.

When people arrive at that place where they’re emotionally ready for counseling, they’re often at “situation critical,” and simply want the hurt to stop. And, that’s understandable.

The trouble is, in that place, utilitarian ethics can rule the day, which is to say that when our pain is at its worst, the ends often justify the means, or so we feel.

Our Plumb Line

In biblical counseling, we’re guided by something that transcends the mere alleviation of symptoms or the modification of behavioral problems, even as important as those goals may be. The plumb line in biblical counseling and all forms of discipleship is found in God’s purposes for creating humanity, which is according to Scripture, His eternal glory (Psalm 19:1; Isaiah 42:8; 48:9-11; Romans 1:20-21).

A popular, evangelical pastor recently tweeted, “God didn’t put you on earth to judge you, but to enjoy you.” On the surface of it, and in a culture that exalts happiness above holiness, this sentiment feels good. To the untrained ear, it seems to ring true.

Unfortunately, this thought is painfully short of a biblical understanding of God’s purposes for us (and the rest of creation), and therefore is of little use in biblical counseling and discipleship. It asks the right question (i.e. Why did God create us?), but arrives at the wrong conclusion (i.e. God created us for His enjoyment). It elevates God’s pleasure in extending us grace (i.e. enjoyment), at the expense of His justice (i.e. judgment). There’s no biblical warrant for this.

This is no trite matter. It’s not akin to engaging in “ignorant controversies” (2 Timothy 2:23).

Pastor John Piper, in a sermon preached on September 12, 2012, said this:

“This world—this history as it is unfolding—was created and is guided and sustained by God so that the grace of God, supremely displayed in the death and resurrection of Jesus for sinners would be glorified throughout all eternity in the Christ-exalting joys of the redeemed.”

Unlike the former quote, Piper’s statement clearly calls us to consider the creative power, sustaining work, and magnificent grace of God for His glory, and the joy of Christ followers.

In fairness, Piper’s thought is greater than the 140 characters allowed by Twitter, but if it can’t be said with some manner of theological precision, then perhaps it shouldn’t be said at all.

Why God created humanity and what we say about our attending responsibilities carry the weight of eternity. We must handle our words with care.

If I understand that God merely intends to “enjoy” me, the choices I make in response to the difficulties of life might look entirely different than if I understand that the glory of the living God is somehow at stake in my life.

In short, the idea that God intends not to “judge” me, but “enjoy” me, may make me feel good, but not in any way call me toward repentance and faith. These are irreplaceable components of biblical counseling and discipleship (Mark 1:15).

Implications for Counseling

By the conclusion of my session with the couple mentioned above, the husband knew that his role in the counseling process was deeply connected to God’s purposes for his life. The difficult circumstances he was facing could in no way be divorced from this truth.

He understood that the decisions he would make in the sessions to come would speak to the truth of his profession of faith, his love for Jesus, and commitment to his marriage. His entire view of marriage counseling changed as God’s purposes for his life came into view.

Reflecting on this counseling case and the associated Scriptures, I’m persuaded that when the purposes and glory of God are the non-negotiables of discipleship, we avail ourselves of His power, hope, and promises.

In very meaningful ways, “What must I do to make the pain go away?” becomes, “What must I do to please God?”

Join the Conversation

How do these two questions alter the focus of counseling?

  1. “What must I do to make the pain go away?”
  1. “What must I do to please God?”
Topics: Biblical Counseling, Faith, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Theology | Tags: , ,

Leaving My First Love

Leaving My First Love

A Health Scare

A few months ago, at the end of a long week, I briefly experienced some very unique health-related issues that immediately got my attention. I forgot the names of multiple people I’ve known for years (though I was looking right at them), and my vision was impaired for a short time. Fortunately, those troubling symptoms subsided rather quickly, but they were followed by a low-grade headache and major fatigue that lasted for a week. All of this woke me up to the fact that I had not been feeling quite right for some time. I’d been blind to the most troubling symptom of all, a lack of passion for serving Jesus.

I believe the Father graciously allowed me to go through this small health scare in order to get my attention. To be clear, He was not punishing me, but allowing me to experience the natural consequences of my disobedience. As I was reflecting on this incident recently, and asking the Holy Spirit to help me get to the bottom of the cause, He gently reminded me of Jesus’ words to the church at Ephesus in Revelation 2.

“I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first” (Revelation 2:2-4).

“You’ve left your first love.”

At our church’s Sunday gathering as one of our elders was preaching, the Holy Spirit convicted me with those words: “You’ve left your first love.” I was immediately cut to the heart. I knew it was true. I was deeply convicted by how far I’d allowed myself to slip, by how numb I’d been to the Holy Spirit’s ongoing promptings in my life.

The bottom line was that I’d lost my passion for serving Jesus because I had lost my passion for Jesus Himself. As I turned back the pages of my life over the preceding months, I knew that I’d neglected intimacy with Jesus. To reference another of Jesus’ letters in Revelation, I knew that He had been standing at the door and knocking, wanting only to come in and eat together (Revelation 3:20), but I’d mostly left Him out on the street. While I had not ignored Him completely—times of reading the Bible and prayer were still somewhat regular—I knew He had been calling me to a deeper level of intimacy since January, and I had simply not obeyed. My desire to be my own god, to call the shots, had led me to disobey the One who loved me enough to lay down His life for me. How could I fail to do the same?

Remember, Repent, and Do

The Holy Spirit’s diagnosis was spot on. But He was also faithful to bring an equally accurate prescription, found right in the same Revelation 2 passage. He continued by reminding me of the next words of Jesus to the church at Ephesus: “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first” (Revelation 2:5).

By God’s grace, I have pursued and enjoyed intimacy with Jesus for many years. The Holy Spirit was calling me to remember the closeness we’d enjoyed, and to hunger for it again.

Though some times of repentance had occurred in the weeks prior, this new clarity around the nature of my sin prompted a deeper kind of repentance. With my very life, I had made much of myself and little of Jesus! God was quick to swoop in with grace, assuring me of His unfailing love and forgiveness, despite my sin and my cold heart towards His Son.

Finally, the Spirit called me to do some of the very things that fostered intimacy with Jesus in the past—an unyielding commitment to prayer, regular exercise, getting adequate rest, and reading the Bible and books by wise, godly leaders. Practicing these habits in the power of the Holy Spirit would be the way to rekindle my love for the most important Person in my life.

Forgiveness and Cleansing

Every Sunday at the end of our church’s gathering, we remember Jesus together through communion. On that particular Sunday, it was especially comforting to contemplate the body of Jesus broken for me, and the blood of Jesus shed for me, together with my brothers and sisters. The Holy Spirit reminded me of 1 John 1:9. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Having been cleansed and forgiven by Jesus, by God’s grace I am now walking forward in faith, pursing intimacy with the Person who saved me as a four-year-old boy. He is my first love. Passion for Him is returning, and thus, passion for serving Him.

Join the Conversation

How is God, through His Word, His Spirit, and His people, calling you to remember, return, and do—to love Jesus with your whole heart?

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

Parenting Adult Children

Parenting Adult Children

BCC Note: Today’s blog was first posted at Julie Ganschow’s Biblical Counseling for Women blog site. The BCC is re-posting it with Julie’s permission. You can also read the original post here.

Making Their Faith Their Own

I am at a wonderful stage of life. My children are all adults, two are married and our first grandbaby is on the way! One of our sons is a full time college student and lives at home with us to save money. I like to think I have good relationships with all my kids, and admittedly I am closer to some than others due to geography and interests we share.

Recently, my youngest son and I have been banging heads over a variety of spiritual issues. While he is a believer, it is clear that on some matters of faith we do not agree. This is distressing for both of us. I want to be sure his faith is not being shipwrecked by what he is learning in college, and he wants me to give him the freedom to be himself, to think for himself, and to draw his own conclusions on matters of his faith.

After our most recent trip around the mulberry bush, I decided that somewhere along the way I forgot that lesson. What’s the matter with me? I have parented other children and accepted their walk of faith as their own, even if for a time it was polar opposite of where I wanted them to be! What is the reason I am struggling so hard with this last child of mine? Because he is my “last” and I want to finish well.

It’s All About Him

Therein lies my error; his faith and journey with Christ is not about me, it is about him and Him.

I have always believed (and teach) that our children have to decide what theological truths they will embrace. Will they believe in a literal 7-day creation and young earth, or will they believe in theistic evolution (evolutionary creation)?  Will they stick with the tradition they were raised in (Baptist, Reformed, Lutheran) or will they wander over to another camp? Will they choose to believe sign gifts ceased or continue today? Most parents don’t like to watch this process. Our great desire is they will just accept what we have taught them and never question. Let’s face it, we are terrified they will walk away from God and become total apostates.

It is important to understand your beliefs may not end up being their beliefs.

Faith is personal and as parents we have to accept that while our faith guides and directs our children when they are young, there comes a time when that is not enough. They have to wrestle with their own thoughts about spiritual matters and form their own conclusions. Then they have to grab their faith and embrace it; their faith has to become their own.

I don’t like to watch my kids struggle with doubt, reason, and faith. I wish they would all have simply accepted our words and beliefs and never questioned. Some of their spiritual wanderings brought them hardships from which I would have wanted them to be spared. The journey has occasionally led to very dark and lonely places for my sons. However, looking back I can see the very trials and questions of faith taught them to trust Him more.

So, I am faced with practicing what I believe. I must let go. I must entrust him to the Lord and believe what Jude 1:24 says is true. God is able and will keep him from stumbling and will make him stand blameless in the presence of His glory with great joy.

Topics: Faith, Parenting, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Women/Wives | Tags: , , ,

How Do We Know Whether People Are Truly Changing?

How Do We Know Whether People Are Truly Changing

The Goal of the Counselor

One of my goals as a pastor and biblical counselor is to assess the progress of those I am counseling.  This is the goal of any counselor. Counselors have chosen this line of work because they are interested in seeing people change. And because they desire to see people change, they are trying to evaluate the progress of those they are counseling; they are looking for evidence of progress and change.

Unique to our role as biblical counselors is the fact that we do not simply want to see them only change in their behavior. We have a specific and unique goal in mind. We want to see if there is any measurable difference in their walk with Christ and their relationship with others since they began the counseling process. We deeply care about the impact and transformation that God’s Word is having on them.

The Proverbs Assessment: Wise or Foolish?

Now, there are many tools and methods that are being used by those outside of biblical counseling to measure the success and growth of those to whom they are offering help. And within the biblical counseling arena we have been given plenty of good tools and resources to help us evaluate the progress of those we are counseling. I’ve used those resources and found them to be of great help over the years.

However, what I’ve recently begun using to help me measure whether change in the right direction is taking place is the book of Proverbs. As I think about each of my counselees, I want to observe, by using the language of the Proverbs, if they are moving in the direction of becoming “wise” or are they remaining “foolish.” Are they just learning more truths, even sound and theologically accurate truths, but still not becoming wise? Are they developing new and biblical methods and techniques, but still continuing to be “foolish?”

The Rise of Knowledge

So, how would I recognize, based on the book of Proverbs, if the right growth and solid steps of change are taking place in the life of the person I am counseling? From the book of Proverbs, it is very clear that it definitely is not based on the “knowledge” they have obtained. Even the hearing of good and sound truth from God’s Word will not change a person. The message of Proverbs is clear:

“Knowledge does not make you a better person.”

The reality that knowledge alone does not change your life is not hard to see. Years of research and statistics have observed that the rate of knowledge in the world is rapidly increasing. Until the 1900’s, knowledge doubled every one-hundred years. By the end of World War II, knowledge began to double every twenty-five years. In 1955, sheer factual knowledge began to double every five years. In 2007, technical knowledge alone started doubling every two years. The most recent studies have shown that “nanotechnology” (the study of extremely small things such as atoms and molecules) is now changing every two years and “clinical knowledge” every eighteen months. Some observers have said that on average human knowledge is doubling every thirteen months.

The obvious conclusions:

  • We are becoming smarter in many ways while at the same time never learning how to do life.  
  • It would be safe to say that we are surrounded by the rise of knowledge and at the same time a bumper crop of brilliant failures.
  • Knowledge may rapidly change the conditions of the human experience and life, but it can never change the condition of the human heart.

This is why a person can graduate at the top of their class and be at the bottom on the issues related to life. The problem is not mental, but spiritual.  As Paul reminded Timothy, they are “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (II Timothy 3:7).

Distinguishing Between a Wise and Foolish Counselee

So from God’s Word, and specifically from the book of Proverbs, let me encourage you to think of how you measure the progress and growth of those you counsel by thinking of the contrast between the “wise” and “foolish” counselee.

A foolish counselee:

  1. Is unaccountable and arrogantly answers to no one (Proverbs 12:15).
  1. Is unruly and has no control over what he says (Proverbs 12:16).
  1. Is unteachable and cannot imagine being mistaken (Proverbs 15:5).
  1. Is uncontainable in his emotions and loves to argue and set others straight (Proverbs 15:18; 20:3).
  1. Is incorrigible and his foolishness cannot even be pounded out of him (Proverbs 27:22).
  1. Is unholy as he takes lightly and even mocks at sin (Proverbs 14:9; cf. Psalm 14:1).

A wise counselee:

  1. “Fears” the Lord by highly valuing what God has to say (Proverbs 1:7).
  1. Shows he values God’s Word as he “joyfully” delights in reading and loving it (Psalms 112:1).
  1. “Passionately” applies what he reads and loves from the Word (Proverbs 14:2; cf. Psalm 128:1).
  1. “Confidently” depends on the promises of God (Psalm 147:11).

Developing a Wise Counselee

Consider a few ways we can encourage our counselees to grow and change and how we can evaluate if they are developing the type of “fear” that Proverbs says is the beginning of true “knowledge” and “wisdom”:

  • If “fearing the Lord” is what brings true “knowledge” and “wisdom”, we should evaluate how consistently our counselee is being exposed to the Word of God through individual Bible reading, group Bible study, and weekly congregational worship. If they are not around the Word of God, they will not experience consistent change in their life (Psalm 119:38).
  • In addition to a consistent exposure to the Word of God, we should help them evaluate their prayer life (Psalm 119:33-40). If they are praying this type of consuming prayer, they will develop a deep fear of the Lord and growth will be evident.
  • Added to a constant exposure to the Word and consuming prayer, we should help them evaluate their commitment to pursue wise counsel (Proverbs 11:14). Who our counselee listens to after they leave their session is critical. Growth is either helped or hindered depending on who they listen to after they end their counseling session with you.

The Proverbs have become helpful to me in my pastoral counseling ministry and insightful when determining if those I’m counseling are headed in the right direction.

Join the Conversation

How has today’s post challenged you to better evaluate those you are counseling?

What are some of the practical ways you could apply these principles from Proverbs to your assessment of counselee growth in grace?

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

BCC Weekend Resource: Helping People with a Difficult Financial Past

The BCC Weekend Resource

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

In this resource, Jim Newheiser addresses the issue of Helping People with a Difficult Financial Past. We live in challenging economic times. How do we counsel people who can’t make ends meet, have lost their jobs, or are overwhelmed with debt? Is it ever right to borrow money? Is it ever justified to not repay a loan? What preparations should we make for the future? How can we deal with the tension between spending/lifestyle, saving and giving?

Popout Audio Player

Topics: Audio, Biblical Counseling, 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.

2 Fruits of True Forgiveness

Pastor J.D. Greear explains that:

“What makes forgiveness so life changing isn’t simply that it makes us ‘guilt-free.’ It’s that forgiveness reconciles us to God. The world’s best imitation of forgiveness can only say, ‘You may go.’ But God’s forgiveness says, ‘Please come near.’ The gospel is a message of reconciliation, releasing us from our sin so that we can come close to God, the sole source of all joy, once again.”

Read the rest of Pastor Greear’s perspective in 2 Fruits of True Forgiveness.

The Big God in Your Small Group

At the Desiring God site, Marshall Segal asks, “What do you want from your small group?” He suggests that Acts 2:42-47 provides an outline of what every small group should be focused on. Enjoy his thoughts at The Big God in Your Small Group.

The Dangerous Deceptions of the Heart

Julie Ganschow begins her post by quoting John Calvin.

“The human heart has so many crannies where vanity hides, so many holes where falsehood lurks, is so decked out with deceiving hypocrisy, that it often dupes itself” (John Calvin).

Read the rest of Julie’s thoughts on The Dangerous Deceptions of the Heart.

Pastoral Integrity in Sermon Prep and Blog Writing

Randy Alcorn candidly, compassionately, and comprehensively addresses the growing issue of pastors plagiarizing large parts of their sermons or blog posts from the messages and writings of others. His thoughts are worthy of reflection, which you can read in The Problem of Plagiarizing by Pastors.

More Evidence That Scripture Is of Divine Origin

Ed Welch of CCEF shares More Evidence That Scripture Is of Divine Origin.

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.