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

Restoring the Gospel to a Place of Primacy in Pastoral Counselling: Biblical Counselling in South Africa

South Africa with revised text

A Word from Your BCC Team: You’re reading the first of a multipart BCC Grace & Truth blog miniseries on International Biblical Counseling. Sometimes, because it is international, it will even be spelled with two L’s like this: International Biblical Counselling. That’s the case today as we launch this series with a post by Kyle Johnston about Biblical Counselling in South Africa.

The Current Landscape

What is the state of biblical counselling in South Africa? The answer to this is more complex than a brief blog post can articulate, but I’ll try to give you the big picture—before ending with some prayer requests.

South African churches urgently need to recover a confidence in the gospel for their pastoral care. Although there is much to be concerned about in the local church scene, South Africa does have a number of fantastic churches doing a variety of excellent ministries. However, even within these evangelical churches, there is a noticeable lack of wise soul care. Therefore, even in healthy churches, there seems to be a lack of “gospel congruency”: the gospel is proclaimed as sufficient from the pulpit, but the gospel is not used in counselling; the gospel is central for public ministry, but its relevance is not always seen in interpersonal ministry.

Sadly, this disconnect is common. Even in our stronger evangelical churches, care and counselling (especially the harder cases) usually get outsourced. Of course, there is nothing wrong with referring when wise care requires external resources, but the overwhelming trend is that many ministers, elders, and pastoral workers simply do not know how to wisely care for others with the gospel. Furthermore, the vast majority of Christian counsellors have been trained in various integrationist theories, and so there is an urgent and widespread need for the gospel to be restored to a place of primacy in pastoral counselling.

Evidences of Grace and Change

Wonderfully, there are signs of change! Let me mention just two evidences of grace.

  • Wayne Mack’s ministry: Dr. Mack came to South Africa about ten years ago to train a future generation of African biblical counsellors, and (at 80!) he is still currently training biblical counsellors through his SMTI I was introduced to biblical counselling by Dr. Mack, along with hundreds of others over the years. In addition to this, and perhaps even more significantly, Dr. Mack is overseeing the establishment of ACBC Africa. My hope and prayer is that this becomes a catalytic organization in promoting excellence in African biblical counselling.
  • Local Leadership: Through access to great resources via the Internet, through authors such as Timothy Keller and Paul Tripp, through ministries such as CCEF and The Gospel Coalition, there is a growing confidence in local South African church leaders that the gospel needs to be central to pastoral ministry. There is also a corresponding interest and desire to find out more about biblical counselling, and as a result I have a number of friends who lead or serve in other churches who ask me to preach or share something related to gospel-centred counselling. This trend is encouraging, and I am praying that the next generation of South African church leaders enter their ministry vocation with an unshakeable confidence in the power of the gospel for personal change.

Upcoming Challenges

There are many challenges facing the growth of biblical counselling in South Africa, but due to the lack of space I will simply mention three:

  • Robust Theology: Biblical counsellors must develop, personally and corporately, robust theology. One error we could make is liberalism: allowing secular psychology to set the pastoral care agenda and allowing secular categories to dominate our thinking. The other error we could make is to develop an anti-scientific biblicism. But if African biblical counsellors are going to faithfully continue the work of Jay Adams, David Powlison, and others, then we must develop a robust theology and epistemology—worked out in our own context.[1]
  • Case Wisdom: It’s one thing to be committed to the sufficiency of Scripture for the care of the soul. It’s another thing to know how to do it! In humility, we must recognize that the sufficiency of Scripture does not automatically translate into the competency of the counsellor.[2] Therefore, African biblical counsellors are going to have to be both diligent and patient in building up case wisdom. This is going to take training, time, and supervision. We will have to acknowledge our need for help from others.
  • Christian Unity: The biblical counselling movement could give South African churches, networks, and denominations an opportunity to partner together for the sake of promoting gospel-centred pastoral care. There is a wonderful diversity amongst churches that are committed to biblical sufficiency. This diversity is even reflected in the ACBC Africa Steering Committee members. I think that this diversity is important and helpful, but it does require us to be patient and humble. Of course, this doesn’t mean that everyone is going to agree on everything, nor should they. But unnecessary fragmentation could severely impact the growth and impact of biblical counselling in South Africa.

Please Pray!

Can I ask to you please, even briefly, pray for the Biblical Counselling Movement (BCM) in South Africa? Through your prayers, you can serve the BCM in South Africa.

Please pray for: Progress! As mentioned above, there are various ministries doing good work, and there is a growing interest in biblical counselling. But there is a long way to go!

So please pray for: church leaders—that they would be willing to explore what biblical counselling is and how to move forward in providing gospel-centred pastoral care in their churches.

Please also pray for: Bible colleges and para-church counselling ministries—that they would start considering the biblical counselling perspective.

Please pray for: Unity! Because of confessional and doctrinal statements, it is possible for Christians from different traditions to work alongside one another in the same organization. Please pray that this fellowship and partnership would continue; please pray for ACBC Africa, as well as for the various churches and para-church ministries practicing biblical counselling.

Ephesians 4:1-6 provides relevant instruction for South African church leaders who are working together for the sake of biblical counselling: pray that we would seek to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Join the Conversation

What information in today’s post about biblical counselling in South Africa surprises you?

How will you begin to pray for biblical counselling in South Africa?

[1]Steve Viars and Rob Green lay out a simple explanation of what Biblical Counsellors mean by the “Sufficiency of Scripture” in Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling (Harvest House, 2013), pp. 89-105. Also see “Scripture is Sufficient, But to Do What?” by Jeremy Pierre in Scripture and Counseling (Zondervan, 2014), pp. 94-108.

[2]See Brad Hambrick’s helpful discussion of the relationship between sufficiency and competency in Scripture and Counseling, chapter 15.

Topics: BCC Exclusive, Biblical Counseling, 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.

Is Mental Illness Actually Biblical?

The need is great. The discussion and debate seems almost endless. How can we compassionately and comprehensively respond to issues related to mental illness and the church? Dr. Bob Kellemen continues his frequent engagement regarding this topic in Is Mental Illness Actually Biblical? 

The Church and Homosexuality: 10 Commitments

At Crossway’s blog site, they’ve adapted material from Kevin DeYoung’s new book, What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality, into the post: The Church and Homosexuality: 10 Commitments.

19 Favorite Posts on the Church and Counseling

Brad Hambrick is a prolific provider of biblical counseling resources and his site is a wonderful hub for resources on biblical counseling. He is categorizing his resources with a “Favorite Posts” series. Today, the BCC highlights Brad’s Favorite Posts on the Church and Counseling.

50/20 Vision

Anne Dryburgh is a guest blogger for Julie Ganschow’s Biblical Counseling for Women site. In this post she highlights a Genesis 50:20 mindset on life’s difficulties, and appropriately entitles her blog 50/20 Vision.

How Does a Busy Pastor Plan His Daily Schedule?

Pastor Brian Croft’s site, Practical Shepherding, provides a wonderful source of practical, biblical insight for local church ministry. Today’s highlighted post is no exception as Pastor Brian addresses the relevant question, “How Does a Busy Pastor Plan His Daily Schedule?

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: , , , , , ,

Depression’s Partnership with Death

A Word from Your BCC Team: You’re reading Part Four in a four-part BCC Grace & Truth blog mini-series. Today in Part Four, Ed Welch examines Depression’s Partnership with Death. You can also read Part One in this series by Paul Tautges: 3 Biblical Journey Markers When Working Through Depression. And you can read Part Two, by Dr. Hodges at: Mood, Medicine, and the Value of Emotions. And you can read Part Three, also by Dr. Hodges, at Vitamin D and Depression.

 The Death Rattles of Depression

 To be depressed is to be entangled by death. That’s why I hate depression. Its victims have found themselves in death’s long shadow and there seems to be no escape. Pain, hopelessness, hellish torments, thoughts of suicide—these are the death rattles that inevitably accompany depression.

But depression can lie. It says that there is no hope, and it is wrong. Jesus has come and has conquered this enemy by facing death and then rising from the dead. We, by faith in Him, join Him in that resurrection. As such, we are people who can look ahead with hope. The challenge is this: if we are going to people of hope, we have no choice but to humble ourselves before the Lord and believe what He says more than believe the myths attached to depression.

A few passages from Hebrews, not typically keyed to depression, can send us in the direction of life.

 Moving in the Direction of Life

“In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death” (Hebrews 5:7). So much is happening in this one verse. Here is our High Priest who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses.

This means that our God is close, and we can approach Him with confidence in the same way that Jesus approached His Father with confidence (Hebrews 4:15-16). We talk to our Lord. We speak from our hearts with tears, and in that we are walking with Him, even imitating Him.

 Moving in the Direction of Faith

“By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible” (Hebrews 11:3). This verse might seem out of place at first, but it is critical. Faith is a way of seeing—or sensing—the invisible realities that stand behind the visible.

We all gather data about our world and ourselves from our five senses. Through these we can identify the material universe. We can identify what is seen, though we need help to see things unseen. Those who are depressed also gather data through their senses, and that data says that life is merely a step toward death and nothingness. But as we hear God’s words and trust Him, we begin to see beyond things seen and felt to the realities that are invisible and certain. By faith, we believe that we are forgiven, brought into Christ, and are given fellowship with Him, which will be all the richer when we see Him face to face. If you are depressed, ask for help to see the invisible God who is closer and different than you might think.

 Moving in the Direction of Seeking God

 “Whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). This passage reminds us of the interplay between the holy God and us. He initiates, pursues, makes promises, keeps promises, loves with grace and mercy, and says so much to us.

We, in response, can’t be inert or indifferent. We can say amen to all He says and does: we can believe Him and believe in Him. A concrete expression of this belief is to say, “Lord, I believe that You are, and I believe that You give me strength to seek You, and You even bless me as I seek You.”

 Walking by Faith

 Yes, these verses might seem remote, but we expect that. Everything good seems remote when we live only by what we see and feel. From that limited and distorted vantage point, death overpowers life. So we consider God’s revelation and look further into spiritual realities. Then together, we learn to walk by faith rather than by sight, and we behold Jesus.

 Join the Conversation

 In the midst of the sadness of life, how do you choose to walk by faith?

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

Vitamin D and Depression: New Research

A Word from Your BCC Team: You’re reading Part Three in a four-part BCC Grace & Truth blog mini-series. Today in Part Three, Charles Hodges, MD, explores new research into Vitamin D and Depression. You can also read Part One in this series by Paul Tautges: 3 Biblical Journey Markers When Working Through Depression.  And you can read Part Two, also by Dr. Hodges at: Mood, Medicine, and the Value of Emotions.

New Research

I am always interested in research that has anything new to say about depression. Millions of Americans have been diagnosed with depression, and billions of dollars are spent each year to treat it. It is always encouraging when researchers are looking for a better answer than the time honored but unproven chemical imbalance theory.

For at least the last decade, a discussion has been going on about the role of Vitamin D in depression. Some of the studies have shown that a lack of the vitamin could be involved and others have not. It has long been noticed that people who live in the northern parts of the country that do not get a lot of sunlight in the winter also seem to struggle more with sadness. The increase in winter depression in northern states has been large enough to get its own diagnostic category: Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

The connection between long dark nights and short days with depression in January has led more than a few observers to wonder what the sun does for us that helps depression in June. Since it is well known that sunlight stimulates the formation of vitamin D in our skin, researchers have looked one more time at the relationship between vitamin D levels and the sadness of depression.

Researchers at Oregon State University conducted a study that looked at vitamin D levels and depression[i] in 185 female college students in a 5-week study. The students had their blood tested for vitamin D levels. They also took a depression survey every week for five weeks. The results showed that the women with low vitamin D levels were more likely to have clinically significant symptoms of depression.

“Significant symptoms and vitamin D insufficiency were common and differed by season…low vitamin D levels were associated with clinically significant depressive symptoms.” They also noted the differences between the women in depression could be explained in part by the seasonal changes in their vitamin D levels.[ii]

The researchers did not believe that the results of the study conclusively proved that a lack of vitamin D would cause depression. Nor did they believe that we all ought to run out and buy a bottle of vitamin D caplets to ward off depression. They did think that they needed to do more research.

The lead author David Kerr said, “Depression has multiple powerful causes, and if vitamin D is part of the picture, it is just a small part. But, given how many people are affected by depression, any little inroad we can find could have an important impact on public health.”[1] While the researchers stopped short of recommending anyone take vitamin D for depression, they did note that anyone at risk for vitamin D deficiency should talk with their doctor about taking it.

The Take-Away for Biblical Counselors

So what is the take-away for biblical counselors who are counseling people who struggle with depression? The most important first assignment I give any individual struggling with sadness is a trip to their doctor for a complete history and thorough physical exam. And, yes, that would include blood tests that could include a vitamin D level along with other important levels.

The really good news in this study is that once again someone is doing real research that is looking for a better explanation of the cause for depression. The medical concept of depression has been stuck in the 1980s for 35 years. And now medical research appears to be moving forward.

I have often quoted statistics that would tell us that 90% of those labeled with depression do not have a disease but are dealing with normal sadness. But, that still leaves 10% who struggle with depression and need a better explanation. Vitamin D may not be the entire answer, but it is a place to start.

 Join the Conversation

 What do you believe is the role of biology/chemistry, including Vitamin D, in depression?

[i]Oregon State University. “Low vitamin D levels, depression linked in young women, new study shows.” ScienceDaily, 18 March 2015.  www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/03/150318145501.htm

[ii]David C.R. Kerr, David T. Zava, Walter T. Piper, Sarina R. Saturn, Balz Frei, Adrian F. Gombart. “Associations between vitamin D levels and depressive Symptoms in healthy young adult women.” Psychiatry Research, 2015; DOI: 10.1016/j.psychres.2015.02.016

 

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

Mood, Medicine, and the Value of Emotions

A Word from Your BCC Team: You’re reading Part Two in a four-part BCC Grace & Truth blog mini-series. Today in Part Two, Charles Hodges, MD, interacts with a recent New York Times opinion piece written by Dr. Julie Holland (Medicating Women’s Feelings). You can also read Part One in this series by Paul Tautges: 3 Biblical Journey Markers When Working Through Depression.

Pressured to Apologize for Our Tears

“Women are moody.” Those are words that only psychiatrist Julie Holland could say and survive! In our age of politically correct speech, such ideas are nearly forbidden. And, it is a great loss for women because as Dr. Holland said women are moody by “evolutionary design.” She also said that it is important to them and to all of us.

In an opinion piece written for the New York Times recently, Dr. Holland said women are made to be empathetic and intuitive and that this design is needed for our survival. Instead of seeing a woman’s emotions as a disease, they need to be seen as a great source of strength.[i]

Dr. Holland notes that great pressure has been and is being brought to bear on women to “apologize for our tears, to suppress our anger and to fear being called hysterical.” As if that were not enough, she notes that the “pharmaceutical industry plays on that fear.”

As a result, sales of antidepressants and antianxiety drugs have exploded. One in four women is now taking a psychiatric medication (compared to one in seven for men). This does not mean that Dr. Holland thinks that no one needs to take medicine. But, in her own words, “As a psychiatrist practicing for 20 years, I must tell you this is insane.”

Normal Sadness

So, how have we managed to get ourselves to this point in America where normal human emotions have now been declared to be disease that requires medical treatment? It is a complicated question, so let’s look at one part of the problem where it is possible to do the most good.

Sometime in the 1980s the criteria for depression was changed so that normal sadness over loss became identified as depression.[ii] In as little as 2 weeks an individual grieving the loss of anything important can be diagnosed with depression. This coupled with the arrival of Prozac in 1988 set the stage for an enormous change in the way most of us view emotions. Instead of being a useful tool to drive us to change, sadness and eventually worry would become symptoms of disease.

The good news is that there is a revolt growing in psychiatry and psychology against turning normal emotions into disease as evidenced by Dr. Holland’s article. She is not alone. Alan Horwitz and Jerome Wakefield said much the same thing in their book, The Loss of Sadness.

Their research and research of others would tell us that perhaps up to 90% of those diagnosed with depression today are simply normally sad over loss.[iii] This “normal sadness” fits right in with Dr. Holland’s view that emotions, even unhappy ones, are a normal part of our being.

Implications for Biblical Counselors

 What then does this mean to those in biblical counseling? I think it is a great opportunity to help those who struggle with sadness and worry.

The Apostle Paul was a man who was very acquainted with suffering. He suffered beatings, stoning, and shipwreck. At times he struggled under the weight of the problems that existed in the church. It was very true of the church at Corinth. The troubles that caused Paul to write the first letter to Corinth simply made him sad.

In his own words, For even when we came into Macedonia our flesh had no rest, but we were afflicted on every side: conflicts without, fears within. But God, who comforts the depressed, comforted us by the coming of Titus…” (2 Corinthians 7:5-6, NASB). Titus brought the news that the church had repented. The letter Paul wrote made them sorrow and that sorrow drove them to change.

Like Dr. Holland, Paul believed that emotions like sorrow were useful, although he would have said they were created in us by God and not biology. Paul would say, “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:10, NASB).

The sorrow at Corinth drove that church and its members to change. Our society does not see sorrow that way, and we miss the benefit of it. As Dr. Holland said, when women feel irritable or dissatisfied at certain times in the month, they need to see these feelings as genuine and “re-evaluate what they put up with the rest of the month.”[iv]

A dear friend once told me something very similar. I was struggling with a major problem that made me sad and angry. My friend said, “Well, Charlie, why has the sovereign God of the universe let this come into your life now? What does He want to change about you to make you more like Christ?”

I then began to understand in a real sense the purpose of suffering and sadness that day. As Paul would say in Romans, I was suffering so that I could be “conformed to the image of His Son.”

The opportunity we have in biblical counseling today is to help strugglers see adverse emotions a little like Dr. Holland, but more like Paul saw them. They are a tool that God wants to use to draw us to Himself. And in that sense, they are very valuable.

Join the Conversation

 How does God want to use emotions and mood in your life?

[i]New York Times, NYTimes.com Julie Holland 2/28/2015: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/01/opinion/sunday/medicating-womens-feelings.html?_r=0

[ii]Good Mood Bad Mood, Charles Hodges, Shepherd Press, Wapwallopen, PA, 2013.

[iii]The Loss of Sadness, Alan Horwitz, Jerome Wakefield, Oxford University Press, New York. 2007.

[iv]NYTimes.com, Holland.

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

3 Biblical Journey Markers When Working Through Depression

3 Biblical Journey Markers When Working Through Depression

A Word from Your BCC Team: You’re reading Part One in a four-part BCC Grace & Truth blog mini-series. Today in Part One, Paul Tautges shares 3 Biblical Journey Markers When Working Through Depression.

Identifying with the Psalmist

“My soul clings to the dust; revive me according to Your word. I have declared my ways, and You answered me; teach me Your statutes. Make me understand the way of Your precepts; so shall I meditate on Your wonderful works. My soul melts from heaviness; strengthen me according to Your word. Remove from me the way of lying, and grant me Your law graciously. I have chosen the way of truth; Your judgments I have laid before me. I cling to Your testimonies; O Lord, do not put me to shame! I will run the course of Your commandments, for You shall enlarge my heart” (Psalm 119:25–32).

Depression can be debilitating; it may leave you unwilling to function normally and, sometimes, not even caring that it is so. You may feel sad. You may feel angry. You may not feel at all. You may simply be numb.

It may surprise you to know that the man who wrote the greatest poem exalting the beauties of the Word of God, Psalm 119, had to learn how to fight through times of deep grief, a form of suffering the Bible is not at all silent about. So saddened was he at one point that he said, “My soul clings to the dust” (v. 25), but just eight verses later he was able to shout, “I will run the course of Your commandments, for You shall enlarge my heart” (v. 32). How did he get from lying in the dirt to running in the race?

He worked through depression by faith in God and renewing his mind according to the Word. That, I believe, is the key. When we are depressed, we sometimes just want to sit and wait for it to go away, but it does not resolve itself.

The most difficult part of being depressed is that you must continue to live. But how? How do you go on with your life? How do you go to work tomorrow? How will you get out of bed? How will you preach next Sunday? The answer is: You must begin to take small steps of faith through the fog. Three clues are given in the Scripture portion cited above.

Journey Marker #1: Identify the Cause of Your Depression—Psalm 119:25–29

First, if possible, you need to discern what has led you to this point. I say “if possible” because there are times in which the cause of a deep, lasting time of feeling down and out is unknown, undiscernible, and not necessarily singular (Ed Welch mentions five in his very helpful book on depression). Nonetheless, the following spiritual exercises are important for the health of your soul even when understanding eludes you.

Begin with prayer: Psalm 119:25.

Notice that immediately after his admission of his suffering: “My soul clings to the dust,” David cried out to God for help: “Revive me according to Your word.” God must be the one whom we run to first when we are depressed. If you do not know what to say to Him, pray something like this: “For [my] soul is bowed down to the dust; [my] body clings to the ground. Arise for [my] help, and redeem [me] for Your mercies’ sake” (Psalm 44:25, 26).

Evaluate your life: Psalm 119:26.

The next step this man took was to examine his life with God’s help. “I have declared my ways, and You answered me; teach me Your statutes.” As he rehearsed his heart attitudes and actions before God, the Holy Spirit gave him insight into potential causes of his depression. Renewing his mind with Scripture often results in a renewed desire to correct errant thinking patterns, or ungodly ways, and adhere to God’s truth.

Plead for understanding: Psalm 119:27.

“Make me understand the way of Your precepts; so shall I meditate on Your wonderful works.” It is impossible to see through the dark clouds of depression without the light of God’s truth. Meditate on the wonderful works of God displayed on the pages of Scripture which bring understanding and hope. Intentional thinking about the wonderful works of God must take priority over dwelling upon your feelings or dire circumstances.

Admit you have no strength: Psalm 119:28.

Oddly enough, when we are depressed, we may sometimes find it hard to admit just how helpless we really are. If you are depressed, admit your weakness to God. He is already aware of it. “My soul melts from heaviness; strengthen me according to Your word.” Humble yourself before Him and seek encouragement from His Word. Ultimately, that is how your inner man will be renewed. Also, lean on a faithful friend who will walk with you through the valley, praying with you, not merely for you. Isolation is the bedfellow of depression.

Confess sin and be cleansed: Psalm 119:29.

It appears God answered this man’s prayer for understanding by opening his eyes to at least one area of his life where he needed to repent. “Remove from me the way of lying, and grant me Your law graciously.”

Sometimes (certainly not always) depression is the result of personal sin, and the saddened state is evidence of the Holy Spirit’s conviction and grief. Consequently, deep sadness may be the tool God uses to put His finger on something in your heart or life that you may be blind to. When this occurs, honest self-examination and confession cleanses and puts you back on the road to rehabilitation.

Be careful, however, that your sincere self-examination does not turn to morbid introspection; the line is thin between the two. Even if the Lord does not reveal a relationship between specific sin(s) and your depression, be on guard against sinful responses to grief which prolong it. Anger at man or God, chaffing against the sovereign ways of God, self-pity, and laziness—to name a few—may result in your dark valley becoming longer and deeper.

Journey Marker #2: Decide to Let God Rehabilitate You—Psalm 119:30-31

Second, you must make a conscious choice to apply God’s remedy.

Choose to follow God’s Word: Psalm 119:30.

In order to reap the benefits of God’s rehabilitation program you must make a decision to obey God by being a doer of the Word and not a hearer only (James 1:22). “I have chosen the way of truth; Your judgments I have laid before me.” This man made such encouraging progress in the countenance of his soul because he was serious about delighting in Scripture. If God has revealed areas of disobedience, then you need to consciously turn away from them and move toward the way of truth. “Happy is he who keeps the law” (Proverbs 29:18).

Cling to the hope found in God’s Word: Psalm 119:31.

When you are depressed, hope seems impossibly far away. That is the time to bypass your emotions and, like a child, simply believe what God’s Word says. By bypassing your emotions, I do not mean pretending they are not real but that you consciously subject them to the higher authority and trustworthiness of the Word. The Bible is the only reliable, rock-solid source of hope. Hang on to simple truth, even if you feel it is by your fingernails, most of which are already bitten off! “I cling to Your testimonies; O Lord, do not put me to shame!”

Journey Marker #3: Rededicate Yourself to Running the Race of Faith—Psalm 119:32

Thirdly, when God renews your spirit through His life-giving Word, recommit yourself to living a life of persevering faith, trust, and obedience—a life pleasing to Him. Regardless of the events that God’s providence has allowed into your life, which may have legitimately contributed to your depressed state, the time is always appropriate to say to the Lord, by faith, “I will run the course of Your commandments, for You shall enlarge my heart.” Remember, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).

Join the Conversation

What biblical wisdom principles give you hope on your faith journey as you work through depression?

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

BCC Weekend Resource: Premarital Counseling Session 3: A Theology of Sex

The BCC Weekend Resource

A Word from Your BCC Team: On weekends, we like to highlight biblical counseling resources from our growing library of free resources. This weekend, we’re highlighting a new resource by Dr. Deepak Reju— Premarital Counseling Session 3: A Theology of Sex. This is part of a multipart resource series that Deepak, Pastor of Biblical Counseling and Families at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC, has made available to you through the BCC.

You can download the full resource for free here.

Topics: Intimacy, Men/Husbands, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Women/Wives | Tags: , ,

Friday’s 5 to Live By

Friday's 5 To Live By

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

Easter Reflections

On this Good Friday, Pastor Kevin Carson provides Easter Reflections to Help Us to Prepare for Easter.

My Journey Out of Anorexia

Rebecca Maketansky writes at the ACBC’s blog site about her Journey Out of Anorexia

Biblical Counseling: A Growing Movement in Surprising Places

Over at CCEF, Matthieu Caron, a biblical counselor in Canada, writes about the growth of biblical counseling in French-speaking Quebec. Read his summary in Biblical Counseling: A Growing Movement in Surprising Places.

You Matter

When you face problems, do you and your experiences of suffering matter to anyone? Julie Ganschow addresses this personal question with compassion in You Matter.

4 Pastoral Ministry Lessons

At Practical Shepherding, Pastor Brian Croft reflects on Pastoral Lessons He Learned Caring for a 106-Year-Old Widow.

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: , , , , , ,

Listening and Speaking Gospel Truth in Small Group Relationships

Biblical Counseling and Small Group Ministry--Listening and Speaking Gospel Truth in Small Group Relationships

A Word from Your BCC Team: You’re reading Part Four in a four-part BCC Grace & Truth blog mini-series on biblical counseling and small group ministry. In today’s post, Pastor Lee Lewis shows that small group relationships must embrace both listening to one another and speaking gospel truth to each other. You can read Part One in this series by Garrett Higbee at: 3 Functions of the Small Group Coach. You can also read Part Two by Ken Long at: 3 Cross-Training Exercises for Small Group Leaders. And you can read Part Three by Abe Meysenbrug at Preaching the Gospel to One Another.

When Fear Lends an Ear

You may have heard the phrase “lend me your ear.” I believe this speaks toward a desire that people have for a voice to be heard. There are dangers that can be encountered here. One such danger is when a premium is placed on being heard. This often is driven by demand or entitlement and does not want any type of rebuttal. It strictly demands an audience. Also, there is the neglect of hearing someone. This can take the form of aloofness towards the needs of others or being abrasively apathetic to the need for space to hear people’s thoughts. For the purpose of this blog, I will touch on a third danger. This one listens intently and extensively but struggles to engage with Truth.

Proverbs 18:13 speaks directly to the importance of listening to someone. “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” Faithful shepherding of people requires the Body of Christ to be quick to listen.

Jay Adams, in his work Fifty Failure Factors in The Christian Counselor’s Manual, describes the importance of carefully listening and discerning the counselee’s attitude in his or her own language. This leads me to consider what I have noticed as a common (and unfortunate) misunderstanding of what biblical counseling is. The technique of therapy (like careful listening and analyzing) is thought to have skipped over biblical counseling, one-another ministry, and small group ministry. This is quite far from the truth, but there is merit as to why some might think listening is not a strong suit in our ministries. God has set the church up in such a way for it to be a refuge full of people aided by the Spirit to listen to the burdens and cares of hurting people.

The reality is that God has placed a responsibility on the believer to be one that earnestly listens with ears of compassion. We are called to be a people that lend their ears early and often. A neglect of this reveals a self-centeredness that is more concerned with self than the other person. Christ consistently calls us to look to the needs of others before self.

Our Challenge

There is a challenge here though. Especially in ministry/church settings that have infused a biblical counseling philosophy into their DNA—including one-another ministries that occur in small groups. As a pastor, something I have noticed is when too much listening is taking place due to a fear of engaging a difficult person. This is often due to the reality that the close proximity of the relationship creates a complexity in delivering directive truth or counsel. Over the course of the relationship there has been extensive listening back and forth, but it is usually far easier to share a straightforward truth to someone you do not know very well. Likewise, it is usually far more difficult to speak a direct truth to someone you have an established relationship with.

So, the difficulty lies in balancing careful listening and gracious but truthful delivery of what a person needs to hear. When fear lends an ear, we err on the side of listening too much. When truth without listening speaks, we err on the side of speaking before we heard.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:14, Paul says, “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.” This verse has always been a great help for me in discerning how best to counsel different people. It obviously doesn’t speak specifically to listening, but it is pointing out the need to observe, consider, and discern before engaging. If listening is an aid in discernment, then it becomes very important to lend an ear as part of discerning the state of a person. This then allows for a person to biblically engage.

God’s Calling

The opportunity at hand is to consider the great lengths and detail God goes to in leading His children into life. God perfectly knows the heart, and in His knowledge He calls us into the lives and hearts of His people to minister by Him and through Him.

Throughout Scripture, there is reference of God listening to and hearing the prayers of His people. What a gracious reminder from the Lord as how to love as those who are perfectly loved.

Also, we should pause and consider relationships God has given us to steward. Ask yourself if there are areas of fear in them where listening is taking priority over loving engagement. Then examine the type of selfishness involved. It could be something as simple as the inconvenience of getting into a difficult truth with someone, therefore making listening easier. It could be a selfishness that wants to avoid awkward conversations so listening becomes a way to hide. Whatever the case, it is important to recognize the unloving selfishness tied to the fear. Ask the Lord for strength and compassion while leading into faithful ministering of the gospel.

Join the Conversation

How would the one-another relationships in your small group be impacted if members both listened well to one another and spoke gospel truth to each other?

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

Preaching the Gospel to One Another: The Power of Small Group Relationships

Biblical Counseling and Small Group Ministry--Preaching the Gospel to One Another--The Power of Small Group Relationships

A Word from Your BCC Team: You’re reading Part Three in a four-part BCC Grace & Truth blog mini-series on biblical counseling and small group ministry. In today’s post, Pastor Abe Meysenburg demonstrates the power of preaching the gospel to one another in our small group ministries. You can read Part One in this series by Garrett Higbee at: 3 Functions of the Small Group Coach. And you can read Part Two by Ken Long at: 3 Cross-Training Exercises for Small Group Leaders.

A Timely Question in a Tough Moment

I can’t remember exactly why I was so angry, but I still remember standing outside in the warm summer air with my friend only a few feet away from my face. I had spent the evening with 12-15 elementary school-aged children, as it was my turn to keep an eye on the kids during our weekly missional community gathering. Something had gone awry, and I was not happy. The meeting had ended, and the kids were either back with their parents or running around in the large yard, but my friend rightly perceived that my anger had not passed.

Though the memory of the cause of my angst has faded with time, the way in which my friend addressed me in that moment is burned on my mind. He pulled me aside and said, “How are you doing? Where is your understanding of God’s grace right now?”

Honestly, I wanted to push him away or maybe even punch him in the face! I felt I had good reason for being mad, and he wanted to ask me about God’s grace?!

I think I responded to his question by saying something like, “It’s not very present! I’m pretty upset!”

But I instantly knew he was right: I needed a reminder, in that very moment, of the grace of God. The question, and the gentle, compassionate way in which he asked it, proved to be a helpful light shone on the darkness of my heart. I was not entitled to being treated a certain way, nor could I rightly make demands of others. My friend’s pursuit of me was the beginning of the Spirit breaking in and leading me to repentance. God’s grace was exactly what I needed.

Encourage One Another Daily

In his helpful book, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, Paul Tripp points to Hebrews 3:12-14 as a scriptural basis for the kind of care I received from my friend that night; a care that is imperative for all small groups of believers to offer one another.

“See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.”

This passage and many experiences like the one I described have helped shape my thinking on care in community. The New Testament paints a clear picture of the need for small bands of believers to speak the truth of the gospel to one another on a regular basis. Within the context of a small group, stories are shared and trust is built. The people in a small group can begin to speak the truth in love to one another in ways that comfort and challenge. These small groups should be more than a once-a-week meeting, but rather like a life that’s lived together as a family. This passage speaks directly into that daily life-on-life reality.

The book of Hebrews was written to Jewish believers who were tempted to abandon their faith in the face of persecution. The author’s primary concern is that they endure and that they “hold fast,” a phrase used four times throughout the book.

And in chapter 3, he identifies the main threat to this life of endurance. Somewhat surprisingly, the threat is not an external threat, which would have made sense in light of the persecution they faced. Rather, the primary threat to these believers teetering on the edge of apostasy was “an evil, unbelieving heart,” a heart “hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” This threat is internal, aimed straight at our hearts.

The author calls his readers to “see to it,” that is, “watch out!” lest they fall into this trap. If the ship of their faith was going to go down, it would be lies and unbelief that sank her.

Preach the Gospel to Yourself…and to One Another!

Lies and unbelief are poisonous to our faith. But sandwiched in between these two killers is the antidote: “encourage one another daily.”

Regular encouragement from our brothers and sister is a vital weapon against the onslaught of lies and unbelief with which we are assaulted. And note the content of the encouragement in Hebrews 3:14. “For we have come to share in Christ…” We need daily gospel encouragement from one another. We need reminders of the truth of…

  • Who Jesus is: The Messiah, the God-man, our Savior!
  • What He has done for us through His life, death, and resurrection: Justified, brought us into the Father’s family, and indwelt us with His Spirit!
  • Who we are: United with Him as children of our Father!

Recently in the church, we have been trained to “preach the gospel to ourselves,” a practice that is good and helpful. However, given the enemy’s goals—to steal, kill, and destroy—and how effective he is at isolating humans, wouldn’t it be at least equally important that we learn how to preach the gospel daily to one another?

When I am struggling, I need to hear from the Holy Spirit. I need to be reminded of the truth of who God is, what He’s done, and who I am as a beloved, adopted son. And often, the Holy Spirit uses other people to communicate these truths that combat lies and unbelief head on. I am so thankful for my friend who had the boldness to provide some gospel exhortation that day. I’ve had innumerable conversations like that one, and I’ve received countless similar emails, texts, and phone calls from others in my missional community over the years. May the Holy Spirit teach us how to “encourage one another daily” as friends and fellow followers of Jesus.

Join the Conversation

How has the Holy Spirit used other followers of Jesus to encourage you?

How has that encouragement helped you combat lies and unbelief in your heart?

How might the Holy Spirit use you to provide gospel encouragement to others in your small group on a regular basis?

Topics: BCC Exclusive, Biblical Counseling, Gospel-Centered Ministry, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Small Group Ministry | 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.