Promoting PErsonal Change, Centered on the PErson of Christ through the PErsonal Ministry of the Word
Biblical Counseling Coalition: Grace & Truth
2016 BCC Global Conference: Revive the Nations | June 5th - 7th, Chicago, IL

Weekend Resource: Relationally Wise Pastoral Care

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A Word from Your BCC Team: In connection to this weekend’s post, we invite you to download the one-page resource, Practice the SOG Plan. 

Growing Relationally

Do you want to build stronger relationships? Become a more valued influence in the lives of those you love and shepherd? Be able to navigate the uncomfortable tensions and inevitable conflicts that often occur in pastoral care? In short, would you like to become more skillful in your relationships?

If you’re like me, the answer is a clear and unambiguous “Yes!” But while I know I need more godly skill (wisdom) in all my relationships, it’s often quite hard to translate that desire into real-life relational skills. How do I actually become a wiser counselor, a wiser pastor, and a wiser friend?

Pursuing Relational Wisdom

Of course, at the big-picture level, we know that growth in wisdom is vitally connected to knowing and applying God’s Word. But even as we do that, it can be hard identifying which biblical principle to apply in which situation. And it can be even harder to regularly evaluate whether I am actually growing in relational wisdom.

This is why I am grateful for Ken Sande’s “Relational Wisdom 360” material. Ken has reflected on many years of conflict resolution, counseling, and pastoral leadership, and produced a simple yet profound relationship paradigm.

The big idea of RW360 is fairly simple:

The Bible shows us that relationships have three dimensions—how to know and love God, how to know and engage ourselves, and how to know and love others.

Simply put, the Bible teaches us to be God-aware, self-aware, and others-aware. When I am aware of all three relational dimensions, I am more likely to think and behave in a relationally wise manner. Thus, Ken Sande defines Relational Wisdom as:

“Your ability to discern emotions, interests and abilities in yourself and others, to interpret them in the light of God’s Word, and to use this insight to manage your responses and relationships successfully.

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Applying RW360 to Pastoral Care

But how might one start applying this to a pastoral care situation?

Let’s imagine a church member calls you in a panic: he’s just lost his job, and he is worried about his finances, as well as his family finding out. As he goes into detail, you find yourself also becoming anxious for him! Knowing that a personal conversation will be more effective, you schedule to meet with him that evening. He is anxious and fearful, and you find yourself sharing in his worry. How might the RW360 paradigm be helpful?

Revisit the three dimensions of relationship: self, others, and God. In preparation for your evening meeting, you could prayerfully work through each dimension.

Firstly, be self-aware: how am I thinking, feeling and behaving? This slows me down, and helps me recognize some of my own anxieties and fears. It also helps me see how I might be behaving, based on those fears. Am I tempted to do or say something rash? This enables me to evaluate my heart, and what might be potentially displacing Christ at the center of my heart.

Secondly, be other-aware: how is this church member feeling and behaving? What might be going on in his heart? What might the implications of this retrenchment be for family dynamics and his family’s financial situation? This step helps me to compassionately explore and empathize with the struggles of others. I am then better able to wisely serve and counsel, because I have more deeply understood the thoughts and experiences of others.

Thirdly, be God-aware: how does God’s truth and grace connect to this situation? What might He be up to in this, and how does knowing Him bring help and hope? This final step helps me turn my gaze to God and His Word. I seek Him in prayer, and resolve to glorify Him in the midst of a difficult situation.

Of course, these relational skills reinforce one another—so the better we relate to God, the better we will relate to ourselves, and the better we will relate to others. So relational wisdom is a set of connected skills that continually reinforce one another, helping me to love God and neighbor.

Ken Sande calls this the “SOG Plan”—a simple acrostic that we can use to help us become more Self-aware, Other-aware, and God-aware in any given situation. It helps me to slow down, and thoughtfully process what might be happening in each of the relational dimensions (it helps me do a “relational 360″). It helps me with perspective, because I am able to consider which biblical passages might apply in each dimension. It also helps me with humility, because it helps me to see how often I get in the way of fruitful ministry opportunities. And so, ultimately, it helps me to approach the situation with greater wisdom, so that I can counsel and serve with far greater thoughtfulness and skill.  

Using the SOG Plan in Everyday Life and Ministry

Can I encourage you to start using the SOG plan today? Perhaps you can apply it to a friendship at work, with a counselee, or even with a member of your family. It’s really simple: in any given situation, or even in preparation for a counseling session, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Self-aware: How am I thinking, feeling and acting?
  • Other-aware: How are others thinking and feeling? How am I affecting them?
  • God-aware: What is God up to? How does His truth and grace bring help and hope?

I can personally testify that if you start practicing this simple plan in the ordinary interactions of life, you can improve your ability to know and follow God, to read and discipline yourself, and to understand and serve other people. Of course, the RW360 material is far more detailed than this, so please do explore that further. But in the meantime, start using the SOG plan as you seek to pursue relationally wise pastoral care and counseling.

Topics: BCC Exclusive, Biblical Counseling, Friendships, Megaphone Post, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Relationships | 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.

Satan and Sodomy

At Desiring God, John Piper links Satan and Sodomy.

Dear Post-Abortive Woman

Julie Ganschow writes words of truth, love, comfort, and compassion in Dear Post-Abortive Woman.

Should I Leave an Inheritance to My Children?

Randy Alcorn addresses the questions, Should I Leave an Inheritance to My Children?

When Is a Church Not a Church?

R.C. Sproul at Ligonier Ministries addresses the question, When Is a Church Not a Church?

Urban Legends of the New Testament

Learn about a new book, Urban Legends of the New Testament: 40 Common Misconceptions.

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: Abortion, BCC Exclusive, Biblical Counseling, Five To Live By, Local Church Ministry, Parenting, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Musings of a French-Canadian Biblical Counselor: Biblical Counseling and the Concept of Integration

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As a biblical counselor in the French-speaking province of Québec, I don’t often have the opportunity to discuss the issue of integration with other Christian counselors. The reason is simple. With less than 1% of Evangelicals in the population of 6 million French Canadians, we are just a handful of Christians who counsel in the province and rarely stomp on each other’s feet! For us, in this very atheistic mission field (a microcosm of France), academic dispute has a low place in our “to-do list.”

A Glance at Biblical Counseling and at the Concept of Integration

However, allow me in this blog to share with you some thoughts and pondering about the issue of integration and integrationistic counseling. For the reader who might not be familiar with this philosophical issue, I would define integration as “an effort to redeem psychological systems through the Bible (filter) in order to develop tools (systems and techniques) useful for the Christian who counsels.”

Before going further, allow me to tell you my core values about counseling. As a biblical counselor and also a biblical counseling professor at SEMBEQ Seminary in Montréal, I have 3 very firm beliefs:

  1. That the Bible is sufficient to address any situation in human life on the spectrum of progressive sanctification.
  1. That the gospel should be connected richly and relevantly at the center of every counseling intervention.
  1. That we, as counselors, must as much as possible make the distinction between body issues and sinful patterns of the heart (and, yes, I know there is a very complex overlap here, but that is perhaps the subject of another post).

A Few Practical Observations

With that being said, I made two very practical observations about counseling cases (mine, my student’s cases, and also other colleagues which I will call for the purpose of this blog—“Integrationist Counselors”).

  1. The reality is that sometimes I did observe fruits of spiritual growth in people that consulted those integrationist colleagues.
  1. At other instances, I saw biblical counselors give counseling where I had difficulty seeing the gospel and still I saw some clear spiritual fruits!

My conclusion is that God seems to enjoy using imperfect means to do His work and to advance His Kingdom. Does that mean that I don’t care about integration? No. I believe in striving to provide counseling that will be the most relevant and powerful as is possible. And for me that means striving to give sound gospel-centered biblical counseling. Nevertheless, I think that the gospel is so powerful that God can use it even if it is diluted by adapting secular views.

I could end this post here saying that God can use all kinds of counseling because I think that I didn’t say anything too controversial so far. But, if you want to read the whole of my musings on integration, you and I need to go a bit further as I will tell you another realization I made.

I think that to a certain extent we are all integrationists. Wow! I think I need to explain myself here.

When I had my biblical Greek class at Reformed Theological Seminary under Dr. Miles Van Pelt, he taught us that there was a certain paradigm attached to each language, and that it was why some words were very difficult to translate from biblical Greek to English. He taught that in any given language, there will not only be a value system but also a way of seeing things. We see that even more clearly if we read the poetic books of the Old Testament in biblical Hebrew. We see all the parallelism and idioms that were used by the ancients to communicate their reality. So, in a way, reading the Old Testament in biblical Hebrew gives us a glimpse of how the ancients saw and understood their world. As you are probably well aware, a big part of the exegesis process is being able to extract the true meaning of a text. And for that, we must understand the context and worldview of the original author.

Each of us, like the biblical author, has a worldview, familial values, and cultural influences.

So, whether it pleases us or not to admit it, all of us bring our paradigms and our ways of seeing the world when we approach the biblical text. And all of us bring a diversity of baggage when we connect the Scriptures to people’s lives in counseling. Of course, one can be mindful of his biases, and there are certainly techniques and precautions to minimize the impact of our “glasses” when we study Scriptures and do counseling. But at the end of the day, I think it would be arrogant for any biblical counselor to pretend that our counseling is 100% pure and not integrating any bits of our worldviews, cultural presuppositions, and value systems.

That is the reason why I said that we are all integrationists to a certain extent. So, what is the difference between integrationistic counseling and those like me who use the label of biblical counselor to describe them?

What, Then, Makes Biblical Counseling Truly Biblical?

I like to think of two essentials for one to give himself the right of calling his counseling biblical:

  1. The content of his counseling (both interpretation and intervention).
  1. His intention about the gospel.

For sure, one could hardly call his counseling “biblical counseling” if it is not biblical (and I might add gospel-centered). That would be one very obvious essential. I don’t think I have to write more about that.

The other essential, in my opinion, is one of intention and this has no relation with the type of degree you have or with the school you graduate from (that is not necessarily what makes you a biblical counselor or an integrationist counselor!). When we talk about how intentional a counselor is about the gospel, there are two sides of the coin. Are you, as counselor, very intentional about not only connecting wisely, relevantly, and richly the gospel to the person you are seeing, but also about living it yourself and enjoying to the full extent how much it indeed tastes good? I believe that kind of intentionality is a very important essential.

If what’s exciting you are only integrationist systems because you find it easier and more efficient to do counseling this way, I don’t judge you and even less prophesize that God won’t use you (that is up to Him!).

But if this hat fits you, let me warn you, dear reader, that any system (even our own culture, worldview, education, and even denomination) tends to give us blind spots. And as counselors trying to probe the complexity of the human heart, we certainly want the fewer blind spots that are possible!

So, Where Does This Bring Us?

So, where does that brings us? Can it be useful to read psychology books? I think it can be. Can it be useful to have “psychological” training? I think it can be.

Not to use it integrally for spiritual growth because that is not what psychology is intended for. So, what’s the use? But to better understand the worldview (each secular psychology school of thought is attached to a unique worldview) of the people we counsel—so we can better apply the gospel specifically to their lives.

In the Gospel Coalition this year (2015), Dr. Tim Keller gave a workshop titled “Preaching to the Heart.” In his lecture, he said that he read a lot and made sure that he didn’t only read Christian books. He advised the preachers in the room to read not only their Bible, but also secular philosophy, politics, fiction, biographies, poetry, etc. When asked why he read so much, he said that it was because he is desperate. Desperate to reach the heart. He explained that to preach the gospel in a manner that is relevant to his audience, he needed to understand them. I think that most of the people who know Dr. Keller’s ministry would agree that his ministry is very gospel-centered.

As a biblical counselor, are we desperate to reach the heart with the gospel? I hope we all are!

I think that the same principles explained by Dr. Keller for pastors and preachers can be applied to biblical counselors. We need to read a lot, not to dilute to gospel, but rather “to connect” it in a more relevant way in a manner that will make sense to people.

Don’t get me wrong, the gospel remains the real thing (the only thing that will make you move ahead, by God’s grace, in the progressive sanctification spectrum), and this is where I want to be primarily fed. But there are at least two reasons for being educated about secular or integrationist psychology.

  1. Sometimes, because of God’s common grace and God’s imprint still being in them (don’t worry here, I am Reformed and believe in man’s total depravation), we see unbelievers articulate compassion related to specific areas of suffering and share some observational insights about common human experiences.
  1. As I said in my 3 core beliefs in the beginning of the blog, I think that it’s crucial to situate ourselves on the spectrum of progressive sanctification and be discerning of body issues and medical conditions. Gaining an understanding of those disorders is an asset. I humbly believe that we, as biblical counselors, have some things to learn from psychiatry and psychology. Of course, it is not to find in their field of studies the solution for growing in Christ. But it allows us to have a clearer understanding of the scope of our practice and also of how efficient teamwork with psychiatrists and psychologists can take place. The acquisition of relevant scientific data can be helpful. Will there still be overlap and differences of opinions between psychology and biblical counseling? Yes.

Now, I could reverse the question for the biblical counselor and ask, “Is it useful to study the Scriptures and theology?” Yes! Extremely useful because that is the most important knowledge, especially for us to carry out our mandate. A good knowledge of sciences and of worldviews can be an asset, but the knowledge of Scripture is essential. I believe that a biblical counselor should pursue serious and rigorous study of the Bible, and I am not only speaking about getting a theological degree but also about lifelong learning. As you see, there is a question not only of attitude but also of balance.

I hope I did not offend anyone with my musings! May God bless you richly as you incarnate His love based upon His truth in your counseling.

Join the Conversation

Do you believe that any counseling is free from all integration from the counselor’s worldview and culture?

What do you believe are the essentials that make one’s counseling truly biblical counseling?

 

 

Topics: BCC Exclusive, Biblical Counseling, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Psychology and Christianity | Tags: , , ,

The Counselor’s Vulnerability

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The counselor’s relationship with his or her counselee is a central element for the spiritual work done in biblical counseling. The counselor, because of love for Christ and His people, is motivated from genuine concern and care that develops vulnerable relationships while dealing with other people’s problems. However, there lurks the subtle hazard of becoming problem-oriented rather than people-oriented. Many discover that sharp distinction between knowledge of how to minister the Word of God versus actually having a ministry from the Word of God.

Practically, that distinction is between the manifestation and absence of Christian love, love which Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13, is the basis for any genuine ministry work, whether large or small. As we can see from the testimony of Paul’s life, biblical love is not dependent on the other person, but upon the source from which one draws that love, namely Christ. Such unhindered love is intimate, affectionate, sacrificial, God focused, and—the real stumbling block for many—it makes one vulnerable.

Vulnerability is not the act of “baring your soul.” Far more than revealing information about yourself, it is mourning with those who mourn and rejoicing with those who rejoice, even when you are not wanted or invited! A mother’s love is most real and most painful when her rebellious child turns from her. Similarly in the case of Paul, he and the Corinthian church had a tumultuous relationship and, believing lies, the church had dismissed both Paul and much of his ministry. In 2 Corinthians 6:11-13, Paul makes a passionate plea for this flock, revealing his heartfelt intention and fervor for their love, and from this passage, we learn three important lessons to cultivate true affection and vulnerability for those we care for in our ministry and life.

Genuinely Love the Flock

“We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open” (2 Corinthians 6:11). 

The Corinthian church had dismissed Paul from their lives; however, Paul continued to pursue them out of love. He clearly stated his intention with the church in 2 Corinthians 12:14, “For I do not seek what is yours, but you.” He wasn’t looking for their financial or prayer support, but rather, he desired them and to re-establish genuine fellowship. As such, Paul’s love for the church was real, self-sacrificing, and not at all dependent on the Corinthians’ response.

Paul assures the Corinthians he truly loves them with a heart that is “wide open,” that he has bared all from the deepest part of himself. Paul’s zeal to minister to them was fueled by his love for God (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20). Likewise, in pursuing a relationship with a counselee, the counselor needs to look to the Source of their love for the counselee in Christ and find satisfaction in serving Christ through the relationship with the counselee.

Unrestrained Affections

“You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections” (2 Corinthians 6:12).

Paul rejects the Corinthian’s assertion that he was to blame for the rift and instead turns the finger on them, accusing them of restricting their own affections towards him. This is not so much a reference to physical affection but rather to the heartfelt affection or desire to commune with the other person. While Paul’s desire to serve the Corinthians was pure and his heart was wide open, the Corinthians lacked in their love towards him by withholding their love, just as it happens when you place your thumb over the end of a garden hose. For fear of losing “their affections,” they prevented themselves from being open and free with Paul.

Likewise, in dealing with the sins of another, at times counselors will find themselves in places where the counselee has withdrawn from the relationship, sometimes even aggressively. Take heart, you are following Paul’s example as a caring shepherd who lovingly goes after the lost and gently exhorts them to take a sober look at the cause of the disunity. And in return, as counselor, ensure that your own affection for your counselee is not restricted by their words or actions. In Christ, we have the best of examples when it comes to long-suffering and constant love, even in the face of painful rejection.

Christian Vulnerability

“In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts also” (2 Corinthians 6:13).

Despite their hostility toward him, Paul, like a mother with her rebellious child, begs the Corinthians to reconsider their position with him. The Corinthians had bought into the lies the false teachers used to discredit Paul, straining the relationship. However, Paul appealed through the pain of unrequited love, motivated for their good, but not for what he would receive from them. Paul genuinely loved them and was deeply grieved about their alienation from him but refused “to narrow” his affection to them. He loved them and humbly asked for a restored fellowship.

The Corinthian church had shunned Paul, yet Paul responded in love, desiring sweet fellowship with those who remained. This is Christian vulnerability, where the personal and deep pain caused by the sinful behaviors of the flock is endured, rather than retaliated. Such vulnerability requires us to sacrifice our time, energy, and resources even in the midst of great disappointment. There are seasons in which a counselee may refuse counsel or even actively seek the counselor’s harm, which makes it all the more important to remember to serve vulnerably, relying on the hand of the Lord to preserve and protect.

Conclusion

Paul’s affectionate response to the Corinthian church would have been humiliating had he not died to self and put on God’s perspective of ministry. Paul genuinely loved the people in this church and sacrificially gave of himself for their benefit. As such, he showed an unrestrained love for the Corinthians and a willingness to serve to the point of being hurt by the church. This is difficult, as it requires humility and gentleness—qualities the world belittles and sees these characteristics as self-defeating.

The biblical counselor, however, understands and is motivated by our debt to God, the love Christ showed us, and therefore we show that love to those God appoints for us to serve and counsel. Christian vulnerability is the willingness to die to self for the sake of others, while desiring a reciprocated love but with no guarantee of the same. But as we live it through a relational ministry, it may more easily be reduced to the idea of just being a spiritually minded friend in the Lord.

Join the Conversation

What is the role of vulnerability in your approach to people as a biblical counselor?

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

How to Pursue Friendships through Hardships

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Our friendships can be the most blessed thing in the world to us, but at the same time can be the most difficult and painful. Anger, embarrassment, shame, awkwardness, and fear can all relate to our friendships. There is a blessedness for those who pursue each other through these hardships, and I can honestly say that my dearest and most beloved friends in life have all had difficult seasons. When life gets hard in our friendships, what are some biblical principles that can help us move towards one another instead of moving away from one another?

Why should we pursue friendships through hardships? Here are some biblical principles to guide our hearts as we navigate the waters of friendship when it’s hard to do so.

The Provision of the New Creation: Romans 6:6-14; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15; 2 Peter 1:3-8

Even in the most difficult of friendships, we have been enabled by the gracious work of the Holy Spirit to live and love differently, and not according to our sinful desires. This gives us hope and courage that we don’t have to muster up the ability to love our friends when it is hard, but rather rely upon the enabling to love our enemies from the new heart that was given to us at redemption. The new creation not only brings provision, but guides the process of how we relate to and work through hardships with our friends. There are so many popular opinions on how to make and keep friends today, but the only method to work through hard friendships is according to the wisdom found in God’s Word.

Many friendships dissolve simply because those involved do not feel they have the ability or understand how to move towards one another. As believers, we are compelled to move toward one another, because Christ in His lovingkindness moved toward us first.

The Promise of Sanctification: 2 Corinthians 4:16-18; James 1:2-8; Hebrews 3:12-13

Hardships in friendships heightens our awareness of the actions upon us and heightens the awareness of ourselves. The inevitable self-introspection that comes from painful interpersonal relationships gives us the opportunity to interpret (and/or re-interpret) our thoughts, words, and actions biblically. This gives us the place to identify and deal with sinful desires and address those expressed in our actions. The goal in these challenging times is not simply to solve some difficult interpersonal issue, but an opportunity to grow personally and spiritually. Since friendships are mutually interrelated by definition, the opportunity to grow through this season of hardship applies to our friendships as well. It is mutual progressive sanctification.

The promise of sanctification in your life and in the life of your friend should bring hope when there are challenges between you. As you both are committed to grow in spiritual maturity, so will your friendship.

The Proclamation of the Gospel: 1 John 4:11-12; Matthew 5:9, 14; 1 Peter 2:12

When believers pursue one another out of a genuine love in the midst of hurt and hardships, it gives a visible illustration of the gospel work of reconciliation. The world knows us by our love, and love is most on display when it is being challenged through hardships. We are most to be blessed as we pursue peace in an unpeaceful world and shine as a light unto a dark world in need of redemption.

Honestly, the goal of comfort and personal sense of peace is not valuable enough to help us pursue through hardships in relationships. It is our defining responsibility as a believer to live differently as a witness of the Gospel. This reality gives us perseverance and hope to lovingly pursue our friends through hard times because there is something bigger at play.

This leads to a follow-up question. How can we pursue friendship through hardships?

Taking Yourself Out of the Equation: Philippians 2:1-11; Colossians 3:13; Romans 5:1-5

Pride and self-promotion do not cultivate friendships, especially during times of hardships. Looking to prefer your friend as more important than yourself is the right context to live out the Truth. Be quick to overlook offenses and forgive sinful actions against you.

In the end, we do not need to be the judge of every wrong or try to solve every unmet expectation. It is our identity in Christ and not in other things or people that produces a humility that binds our friendships even in the midst of the hardest of times.

Letting Love Abound: 1 John 3:16-18; 1 Peter 1:22; Proverbs 17:17

Let your love be genuine and guide your interactions with your friend during hard times. To intentionally have love be the primary motivator and initiator of thoughtful actions toward your friend insulates you from the pain of false accusations and strengthens your integrity. This is not to say that you ignore sin and hurt, but rather to deal with it truthfully according to the work and provision of Jesus Christ.

It is usually in the everyday ordinary moments and simple actions that genuine love is best expressed when relationships are strained. Above all, when times are hard in friendships, pray for them. It is hard to foster a hardened heart against another when you are praying for them in love.

Being Faithful and Patient: Romans 12:16-18; Galatians 6:9-10; 1 Thessalonians 5:14

Friendship is reciprocal. It might take some time for the relationship to experience mutual expressions of care and affection again. It is important during times of difficulty within friendships to be faithful to cultivate a welcoming and available context.

Be faithful to seek opportunities to do good by following up on meaningful events, requests, and memories. This is the patient work of friendship, waiting for the spiritual fruit from genuine loving pursuit to develop.

Join the Conversation

What are some common temptations not to pursue hard friendships? How do the provisions and promises of the new creation help encourage your pursuit?

What does it look like to be disappointed in friendships but not despaired?

Can you stop being a friend with someone? What biblical principles guide your answers?

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

15 Wisdom Principles on Deciding When to Stop Having Children

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When our fourth child was a toddler, my wife looked at me and said, “I think we should have one more child.” I thought, “Really? We’re exhausted and maxed out with four children. And you want one more?”

How do parents decide when to finish having children? As a pastor and father of five children, I’ve been asked this question often. What would you say?

Consider 15 wisdom principles and questions on deciding when to stop having children…

  1. It is clear from Scripture that children are loved and cherished by God; and so also, they should be loved and cared for by Christians. The Bible describes kids as a “heritage” and a “reward” (Psalm 127:3). Blessed are those who have many children (Psalm 127:5). One of the many purposes of marriage is to have godly offspring (Malachi 2:15). Jesus welcomed the little children (Mark 10:13-16). He held up children as an example of how to enter the kingdom of God (Mark 10:15). God consistently demonstrates His care for the young, the weak, and vulnerable in society (1 Kings 17:9-24; Isaiah 1:17; Jeremiah 7:5-7; James 1:17). Is there any doubt that Christians, especially Christian parents, should cherish God’s good gift of children? A godly attitude about children—that they are a blessing—is an important precursor to making the decision to one day stop having kids.
  1. In Genesis 1:28, God says to Adam and Eve: “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.” God commands us to have children. And He does so because it is a good thing. There are many wonderful parts to marriage, one of which is raising kids.

But there are some Christians who take Genesis 1:28 as an absolute or supreme command—they use this verse to override other guiding principles from Scripture. A flat reading of Genesis 1:28 makes some think, “To be obedient, I need to keep having kids.” Regardless of income, or the wife’s health, or space restrictions, or ability to provide for the future, a husband and wife keep having children. This is a poor reading of this text—the verse does not tell us that we need to have children in perpetuity. It doesn’t preclude reasonable limits on our families. And also, this can lead to a very unbiblical notion that somehow a larger family is a mark of godliness, when in fact, for some families, having fewer children might be a wiser thing.

Someone might say to me: “You just don’t have enough faith. Just do what God commands and He’ll take care of you.” I would say in response: “This is not a matter for having enough faith. We need to be careful to know what God has promised, and what He hasn’t.”

God has promised that if we repent and trust in Him, we will find mercy (Proverbs 28:13) peace, love, joy (Romans 8:31-38; Galatians 5:22), and forgiveness (1 John 1:9). He promises that His Son will come back one day (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18), that we won’t succumb to the second death (Revelation 2:11; Romans 8:1), and that He will finish off what He began within us (Philippians 1:6).

Based on our limitations spiritually, emotionally, financially, or physically, it might actually be irresponsible for me to have more children. So I can’t presume on God. He does not promise a never-ending supply of food to feed your family or money to pay the bills.

  1. The Bible never encourages deliberate childlessness within marriage. That means a couple should not get married unless they are open to having children. God places a high value on children. None of the principles in this article should ever be used as an excuse to avoid having children.
  1. Every family has to make its own decision about what is right for them. What is good for one family (two kids) will be different from another (four kids) and yet still another (six kids). We should be very careful to not conform all families to one mold, or to make others think what is good for us must also be good for them. There is freedom in Christ to make this decision (Romans 14:5), and we need to resist the pressure that comes from watching other families (Exodus 20:17) or feeling judged by others (Matthew 7:1-5).

A few questions to consider as you try to decide whether or not to have more children…

  1. Can you adequately provide? (Ephesians 4:28; Proverbs 14:23; 21:25; 22:29; 28:19) Maybe you can’t adequately provide for the wife and kids you already have, so why add more? Consider your basic income as a family. If you are struggling to put food on the table, maintain a roof over your head, can’t consistently pay your bills, or can’t pay for the basic costs of raising a child, you should not add more financial burden to your life. One father confessed to me that he wasn’t able to pay all of his bills, “robbing one hand to pay the other,” as he said. Yet he and his wife continue to have children.
  1. Can your wife continue to have children? A husband has a fundamental responsibility to steward the good gift of his wife, and a part of his leadership is deciding when having more children might be too much for her (and for the family as a whole). The easy way to see this is in issues of life and death—if having another biological child will jeopardize the wife’s life then a husband and wife have no choice but to stop having children. Less clear, but also important: has your wife’s health deteriorated such that having more children would be unwisely hard on her? For example, maybe more children would compound her already difficult back problems, and make it harder for her to care for the children you already have.
  1. What is your logistical, emotional, and spiritual capacity as parents? Some parents might have two kids and feel maxed out. Others might have four kids and feel like they are at their limit. Every set of parents has a different capacity for having children. Logistics that my wife and I could get done with two children (cleaning, cooking, finances, etc.) are now much harder to get done with five children. The reality is: bills need to still be paid on time, young kids need to be helped in the morning to get ready, children need to be picked up and dropped off at school or extracurricular activities, your emails need to be answered, and the house needs to be cleaned. Emotionally, having two or three children with temper tantrums might be hard enough. If you can’t handle two or three, it doesn’t seem wise for you to add more emotional freight to your family’s life. Or what about spiritually—if you are not having personal time in God’s Word, or not consistently making it to church, or unable to focus on spiritual things because of your sheer exhaustion of raising children, maybe you should stop so you can get your spiritual life in order? With each child, your capacity to handle the rest of life becomes more difficult, so at some point you need to stop having children so you can stay responsible with everything else in life.
  1. Do you have practical limitations? I’ve known several families who like to do a lot of travel, often because of the husband’s job. Traveling with six kids is much more difficult compared to two or three. Or what about the size of your house? Maybe you can ideally fit two or three kids into bedrooms, but four, five, seven, or nine, would be hard to do. There are often practical limitations that put realistic limits on the size of your family.
  1. Are you being responsible to serve and disciple your spouse and children? In regards to your spouse, are you being responsible to love, serve, and care for him or her (Ephesians 21-33; 1 Peter 3:1-7)? Or is having more children going to inhibit you from investing in your first priority—your marriage? Maybe the Lord has already entrusted you with several children. Are you discipling and investing in them (Deuteronomy 6:4-8)? Maybe you feel you’ve got lots of ways you need to grow as a parent. We all do. But, even with your parenting deficiencies, are you being a good steward of the children the Lord has already given you? Much more than feeding and clothing them—do you disciple your kids? Do you invest in their character? Are you helping them by teaching them Scripture or teaching them about life? Are you doing what you need to survive, or are you doing everything you can to help them thrive? Rather than having more children, maybe you need to invest more in the ones you already have. Be responsible with them first before you add more.

Consider also some things that parents commonly face—maybe a strong-willed or particularly rebellious child, or one who has some special needs or learning disabilities. Maybe you need to have fewer kids in order to faithfully care for your more needy children?

  1. Are you stopping for selfish motives? What I don’t want to do is provide you safe reasons for you to decide to stop having children, only to find out the real reasons you stopped are more selfish (James 3:16)—like you want a really nice vacation, or you want to buy nice things for yourself, or you want to put your career ahead of your family, or you’re afraid that children will hinder your goals and dreams. If your reasons to stop are fundamentally selfish, that’s not a good excuse to stop having children. Your motives matter, so examine them to be sure you are not stopping for selfish reasons. 
  1. Are you stopping because you want to do more for the children you already have? Maybe you want to send your two kids to a great school, but won’t be able to afford it if you have five kids? You want to buy or do certain things with your kids, but you won’t be able to do what you want if you have too large of a family? You want to stop now because you have dreams and hopes for the kids you already have. Providing a certain kind of lifestyle for your current kids matters more than having additional children. Be warned though—this eleventh principle (the desire to provide well for the children you already have) can be misapplied. Maybe your desire as parents is for your kids to be at the high-end private school or to wear certain kinds of clothes or to participate in certain activities—none of which is essential. As parents, distinguish between what your kids need and what you want, so this doesn’t become an excuse for you to have a fancy lifestyle.
  1. Are you being conformed to the world? Are you scared to stand out? It is easy to be conformed to patterns of the world (Romans 12:2). Yet, Christians should not be scared to be distinct (Proverbs 29:25) because what God cherishes is different from the world.

Consider the plight of being a large family in a culture where families are usually small. My wife often gets the comment, “Are these children all yours?” We’re not as big as the Brady bunch, but we do have five kids. Some people are dumbfounded that we would choose to have more than two. The world doesn’t make it easy to have more children—minivans max out at a family of six. A typical restaurant seats mostly tables of four.

Maybe you are in a setting where you are surrounded by large families, and the wise choice for you is to have a smaller family. You should ask yourself, “Am I scared to look different from others?” If so, you are probably being conformed to the pressures of your culture rather than thinking what is wisest for your own family.

  1. Are you willing to stretch yourself? Did you make the decision to stop having kids because your family size will be easier to manage? Or because it would be convenient for you? Or because comfort and convenience matter more than having more children? Or are you willing to stretch yourself to have more?
  1. Is your default position to stop or to have more children? I think our default position should be to have another child. Why?

Because the Bible is enthusiastic about children. God loves, cherishes, protects and honors children. He values children much more than the world.

Because most of us have a natural bias to not having more kids. God has already given you kids, and frankly, you’re overwhelmed many days, or at the very least, exhausted. This applies especially to parents of preschoolers, who day-in-and-day-out are in the midst of constant mental, physical and emotional toil. (The preschool years are clearly the most physically demanding stage, which adds to the mental and emotional toil.) If you can’t get your kid to obey you, or you are constantly dealing with squabbling children or you feel like a chauffeur racing your kids around to their many activities or you feel like you are barely holding things together—why add more? When you have young children, your natural bias is to say “no, I can’t do this anymore.” Maybe you shouldn’t for many of the reasons listed in this article. Or maybe you should despite how hard things are already. Don’t let the difficulties of juggling your current kids make you automatically biased to saying “no” to any more.

I have friends who had two children early in marriage, and when they hit their mid-forties, they found themselves becoming empty nesters. The dad said to me, “I wish we had more. We still have time and energy to parent.” He was in good health, at the peek of his career, and he’d grown in wisdom and godliness. But when their kids were young, it was a lot of work, and they assumed they should stop. Their natural bias was to say “we’re done,” but now he wished they hadn’t. Could that be you twenty years from now?

  1. Are you making this decision in isolation? One of the things that has surprised me the most about being a pastor is how often believers make major life decisions in isolation. The Bible does not ever encourage us to live the Christian life on our own. Individual Christianity is an oxymoron (Proverbs 18:1). There is no such thing. People are more accustomed to making major decisions on their own rather than asking for help. Maybe it is our pride that makes us do this. Maybe it is our sense of personal privacy, i.e., this isn’t anyone’s business apart from my own.

The most important thing you can do as a Christian is be a part of a local church where you can walk side-by-side with other Christians who will help you figure out what it means to follow Christ (Hebrews 10:25; 13:13). And in this context, they can help you sort through important life decisions, so you never have to do this alone.

Deciding when to stop having children is an important decision for every family. Godly wisdom is needed to make this crucial decision. Pray and ask the Lord to give you wisdom, for He very kindly grants wisdom to those who ask (James 1:5-8).

Topics: BCC Exclusive, Biblical Counseling, Marriage & Family, Parenting, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers | Tags: , , , ,

BCC Weekend Resource: Gospel-Driven Counseling for Suffering

 

Gospel-DrivenSuffering

A Word from Your BCC Team: Often on weekends we like to highlight and link back to one of our many free resources. Today, we link back to a resource produced by The Summit Church and authored by Brad Hambrick: Gospel-Driven Counseling for Suffering. In addition to finding this resource at our BCC site (with Brad’s permission), you can read the original resource at Brad’s blog site here.

Pastor Hambrick introduces the resource with these words:

If we are honest, it is much easier (in the sense of being straight-forward) to counsel sin than it is to counsel suffering. And in reality, those are the only two kinds of counseling that exist. When someone comes to us seeking perspective, guidance, or hope because their life is hard, either they are facing the consequences of their own sin or they are facing the consequences of living in a broken world. If it were not for sin and suffering, there would be no counseling.

You can read the rest of this resource at our BCC Free Resource site here.

Topics: BCC Exclusive, Biblical Counseling, Christian Living, Faith, Gospel-Centered Ministry, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Suffering | 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.

When Our Sufferings Feel Like Too Much

At Pastor Scotty Smith’s Heavenward blog, he offers biblical counsel When Our Sufferings Feel Like Too Much: Praying through Psalm 13.

The True Saint Abhors All Sin

Tim Challies writes:

‘Sometimes I just need to be reminded about the seriousness of sin. And sometimes I just need to be reminded off the slipperiness of sin. Those reminders came this week through Charles Spurgeon and a sermon he preached on June 29, 1890.”

Read Tim’s convicting quote from Spurgeon in The True Saint Abhors All Sin.

Should We Pray for God to Punish Our Enemies?

Johnathon Bowers at Desiring God addresses the question, Should We Pray for God to Punish Our Enemies? 

When Christian Kids Reveal They Aren’t

Julie Ganschow candidly addresses the painful reality that many Christian parents face—prodigal children. Read Julie’s biblical counsel for parents in When Christian Kids Reveal They Aren’t.

Trinitarian Sanctification

Pastor Paul Tautges writes:

“All three members of the divine Godhead are involved in the work of rescuing sinners like you and me and gradually fashioning us into the image of Jesus. The Father called us in Christ; the Son redeemed and keeps us; and the Spirit transforms us into His image as we grow in submission to His written Word.”

Read the rest of Paul’s reflections in Trinitarian Sanctification.

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, Biblical Counseling, Five To Live By, Parenting, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Prayer, Sanctification, Suffering, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

What Makes Your Counseling Model Different from Anyone Else’s?

WhatMakesYourCounselingModelDifferent

The Apostle Peter writes:

“Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15, HCSB).

As a biblical counselor, I am always appreciative of counselees who take their counseling process seriously. Recently, I had a potential counselee ask a provocative question:

What makes your counseling model different from anyone else’s?

Biblical Counseling: Our Difference Is in Our Distinctives

My first instinct was to revert to a simple definition of what biblical counseling is, rather than offering up examples of what makes it distinct. My answer probably sounded something like:

We will hold an ongoing conversation focused upon the concerns that brought you in, and seek to apply biblical wisdom toward a successful, gospel-centered resolution.

This was not a bad answer, but I could tell that this counselee wanted more. Frankly, I believed that they deserved more and that as a biblical counselor I should be prepared to offer it.

Be Prepared to Give a Humble Defense

Our conversation led me to this idea:

Biblical counselors must be prepared to give a defense for the hope they have in a counseling ministry of the Word—especially when working in communities not familiar with the model.

In response, I began thinking critically about the building blocks that make biblical counseling both biblical and hopeful. While I do not intend to make a habit of engaging in comparative discussions about why I disagree with secular counseling theory, some amount of conflict on this level is both inevitable (there are real differences) and necessary (people want answers).

As biblical counseling has the Great Commission and disciple-making in view, I recognized that I would have to be willing to do the work of an apologist in order to win pastors, ministry leaders, and future counselees who, in my particular metropolitan context, are largely unfamiliar with the biblical counseling movement.

5 Distinctives

While an Internet search will provide a variety of definitions for biblical counseling, I want to go a step further by sharing five distinctives that I believe will help engender the confidence of those who are investigating biblical counseling.

1. Biblical Worldview vs. Secular Worldview

It is no secret that biblical counseling uses the Bible as its source for wisdom and truth. But, biblical counseling does not merely use the Bible for this purpose, as if it were the best option among many. Every counselor and counseling theory comes packed with presuppositions of the nature of man and the nature and existence (or non-existence) of God.

Biblical counseling uniquely draws its view of these foundational matters from the inerrant, authoritative, and sufficient Word of God. All that biblical counseling is and seeks to accomplish flows from this deep well, and in the end forms a worldview that is Theo-centric. By comparison, secular counseling theory is undeniably anthropocentric (Matthew 22:37; 2 Corinthians 10:5; Colossians 1:15-20).

2. Redemptive Relationships vs. Professional Relationships

While maintaining appropriate emotional boundaries, the biblical counselor does not present as the classical, dispassionate therapist who is somehow super-human. Instead, the biblical counselor functions according to the “one-another” passages of Scripture, keenly aware of their own sinfulness and need of the same Gospel they preach. Biblical counselors are called of God to guide, instruct, and even admonish when necessary—all for the glory of God and the joy of the counselee (Matthew 22:39; John 13:34; Galatians 6:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:14).

3. Transformative Outcomes vs. Prescribed Outcomes

Cultural Christianity in America has come to be identified with, among other things, what sociologist Christian Smith calls “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.” This speaks to that trend in the church to pursue good, virtuous morals above God’s call to holiness. Similarly, secular counseling, devoid of the gospel, ultimately calls people to a subjective pattern of behavior modification. Biblical counseling’s aim is not to merely help people “pull themselves up by their bootstraps,” but to point them to the living God so that through a saving relationship with Him, they might experience true and lasting heart transformation (Romans 12:2; 1 Peter 1:16; 2 Corinthians 5:20; 1 Thessalonians 4:3).

4. Biblical Comprehensiveness vs. Philosophical Eclecticism

This is a category that I am describing here in response to my study of secular counseling theory known as the “Integrative Perspective.” Many counselees are unaware that on the secular side of things, there is not one “psychology,” but many. Over time, secular therapists have grown accustomed to blending their favorite techniques from these ever evolving disciplines into one “integrated approach.” By comparison, there is just one gospel, but that gospel is as diverse as the problems faced by humanity. Even the Bible itself is comprised of various types of literature, written by a multitude of authors with distinct personalities. (Psalm 119:105; Galatians 1:6-7; Hebrews 1:1-2; 13:9).

5. Christ-Centered Confidence vs. Statistical Confidence

If there is one area I admire in secular counseling, it is in the plethora of statistics—both compiled and analyzed. I make use of this data in my own counseling whenever the data appears to be biblically faithful, at least in how it was collected and presented.

The trouble is that the presence of statistics alone gives the appearance of authority in the eyes of many. Some in the church are carried away by arguments rooted in numbers, without any thought given to Scripture. Christians cannot live or counsel in this way. After all, we follow a Savior who defeated the 1:1 ratio of deaths per person. While we applaud good statistics and learn from them, our confidence is ultimately in Christ and the power of His Word (Jeremiah 9:23-24; 2 Corinthians 3:4-6; Hebrews 4:12).

Join the Discussion

As you consider the many ways in which biblical counseling offers real hope to the hurting, can you think of any other distinctives that counselors can share with counselees to build trust and confidence?

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

Reflections on 40 Years of Life

Reflectionson40YrsofLife

As I write, today happens to be my 40th birthday. If I live to see 80, then I’m exactly halfway. More or less, I’ve reached the midpoint of my life. In anticipation of this day, I’ve been reflecting quite a bit over the past year about my life, and about some of the major lessons I’ve learned. A few weeks ago, I began jotting some of them down. As I looked over the first few, it occurred to me that these lessons form the foundation for my approach to counseling and shepherding. It was encouraging to note that in my day-to-day labor, I get to live out of some deeply held convictions that have been 40 years in the making.

The Centrality of the Bible

I was greatly blessed to have parents who started following Jesus before I was born. They have loved God’s Word for as long as I can remember. They endeavored to instill that same love for the Bible in my siblings and me. I recall seeing them read the Bible on a regular basis. We often talked about the stories in the Bible. My dad preached verse-by-verse through the Bible. And the Holy Spirit was gracious to give me a love for His Word as well.

By God’s grace, since I was 16, I’ve spent time reading the Bible almost daily. I’ve memorized hundreds of verses. There is no single practice that has shaped my life more than devotion to the Scriptures.

The Bible is central not merely because it is a guidebook for life and an incredible source of practical wisdom. While it is “the only rule for faith and practice,” it is worth devoting our time to reading it, studying it, memorizing it, meditating on it, and obeying it because it reveals the character and nature of God!

The Bible is not about information; the Bible is about transformation. The Bible is meant to foster a relational encounter with the living God. It’s meant to foster worship. If, while reading the Bible, we do not end up with a vertical heart posture, with “our eyes fixed on Jesus,” we have missed the point, and we will not experience transformation. We are changed when we experience the living, glorious God (see 2 Corinthians 3:18).

And all of this matters greatly in counseling because we cannot simply apply the wisdom of the Scriptures to hurting people. We cannot use the Bible as a rule book or a handbook. We must use the Scriptures to help lead people to an encounter with Jesus, who is the Hero of the Bible.

Identity in Christ

There was a season in college when I struggled to find real purpose in my life. I was involved in all kinds of Christian activity and experienced healthy relationships with people, but it all felt like meaningless repetition. The Holy Spirit met me during those days, impressing on me the importance of both purpose and identity. He showed me that purpose can only flow out of identity—that we must know who we are before we can know why we are here.

God provided Galatians 2:20 as a simple, clear declaration of my identity.

“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”

As one who’d placed my faith in Jesus as a young child, my identity was now “follower of Jesus.” Jesus lived in me, making me one with Him and the Father, and all of my worth and value was based on that fact alone. Any effort to define myself by my accomplishments was futile.

My life has never been the same since. I have meditated almost every day on Galatians 2:20. The truth of my identity in Christ has guided me through many major transitions, emboldened me in major conflicts, lifted my spirits in times of suffering, and provided a deep well of good news from which to draw for other fellow strugglers.

And all of this matters greatly in counseling because so many of the challenges people face are identity issues. I believe that every human wakes up every day asking the question, “Who am I?” and the gospel alone provides an answer sufficient to steady us through the inevitable storms of life. Our worth and value is always in question, and we must lead people to the refuge of identity in Christ.

All of Life Is Worship

The second question that I believe all humans wake up every day asking is, “Why am I here?” During that same season in college, the Holy Spirit also provided a succinct answer to this question of purpose. In 2 Corinthians 5:8, Paul is describing the desire believers have to be “absent from the body and at home with the Lord.” Then, in verse 9, he says, “Therefore, also, we have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to him.”

The Holy Spirit used this passage to help me understand that the goal of my life is to live a life that’s pleasing to God. Because Hebrews 11:6 says “without faith it is impossible to please him,” we know that this purpose for our lives is not primarily about our works, about what we do. Rather, purposeful living is about living all of life by faith. 1 Corinthians 10:31 states our purpose in these terms:

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

So when we live all of life by faith (work, rest, play, eat, learn, serve, talk, create, etc.), God is pleased and God is glorified. In this way, all of life becomes worship!

This reality has impacted my life as much as the truth about my identity. I have meditated almost every day on 2 Corinthians 5:9. Despite my persistent desire to live for myself, I continue to learn how to make everything about God and His glory, to walk by faith in all of the mundane aspects of life, and to worship Him in joy and in suffering. Because Jesus lives in me (my identity), and because He glorified the Father in all of His life (John 17:4), I can now pursue the same purpose for my life.

And all of this matters greatly in counseling because one of the biggest challenges I see in hurting people is radical self-focus. We are utterly convinced that life is about us. Jesus said this perspective leads to death (Matthew 16:25). His life was all about the Father, and He now lives His life through us. A God-centered purpose for our existence pulls our gaze upward, off the trouble and turmoil of our circumstances, and onto the beauty of the living God.

Join the Conversation

How often does the Bible lead you to worship, to a vertical heart posture?

Other than connection with Jesus, what things define you, give you a sense of worth and value?

Practically, what does it look like to worship God in all of life?

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