The local church does not get to choose whether or not it will have a ministry of counseling. Churches are made up of people, and people will always be encountering situations that require biblical direction and guidance. How effective we are in counseling is our choice, however; and with souls in the balance, families at risk, and individuals with complex issues, it behooves us to develop an approach to this ministry that is scriptural in nature and guided by the Holy Spirit.
One does not have to be in the ministry very long to come to the realization that we do not have all the answers! (We probably could come up with them eventually, but the questions keep changing!) Our human inadequacies often leave us gun shy when it comes to truly helping people one on one. I love what the Bible says in 2 Samuel 16:23, “And the counsel of Ahithophel, which he counselled in those days, was as if a man had enquired at the oracle of God: so was all the counsel of Ahithophel both with David and with Absalom.” Ahithopel was a mere human being. In fact, later he would become a disappointment and end his life tragically. But in the verse above, “in those days,” his counsel was as if a person was hearing from God Himself!
All of us who genuinely desire to help would love to have people walk out of our church services or away from a counseling session believing that they had gotten answers from God Himself. We all want simply to be a conduit through which God’s Word can flow and impact lives. While many issues today are indeed complex and difficult, for us to be effective in our churches through counseling, we must start with three basic presuppositions.
It Must Give Hope
Biblical counseling must start with hope. One of the greatest threats to Christianity today is fatalism. In many instances God’s people have allowed Satan to convince them that nothing can be done about their situation. It is beyond resolution; they are too far gone; the problem is too complex, etc. In essence they have decided that their problem is bigger than God. They believe that they have tried everything that God offers and have failed. Recently, I had been meeting with one of our college students on a regular basis, offering counsel in a particular battle that had been ongoing for some time. There had been periods of victory followed by defeat over and over again which had left this student confused and frustrated. At one point, after continuing to emphasize biblical principles, the young person said, “You really believe this will work, don’t you?”
Hope in the Bible is defined as “a confident expectation.” It is not the kind of hope that we speak of here in Lancaster when we say “I hope it’s not windy today.” Those of us who make this place our home know that we don’t have a whole lot of confidence in that kind of hope! When Paul spoke of “looking for that blessed hope,” he was not unsure about the return of Christ. He was absolutely positive it would take place because God said it would! We must possess and communicate this kind of confidence when applying the Word of God to people’s problems and needs. We may not always have an immediate answer to give, but we can assure every person that there is indeed an answer which leads us to a second very important presupposition.
It Must Help
Counseling must help. That may seem to be an oversimplification, but to be effective in this ministry we cannot merely visit with people about the problem. Listening to them is necessary and learning as much as we can about the situation is a must, but eventually we must lead them to a biblical solution. While we must take time to earn the counselee’s trust and show that we genuinely care, we must understand that this is ultimately a battle between God and Satan! Our weapons in that warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds (see 2 Corinthians 10:4). My hope in any given situation is not in what I have to offer through my experience or expertise. The battlefield of counseling requires that we be armed with the sword of the Spirit. In his Advanced Counseling Manual, Jay Adams suggests that if you desire to counsel, don’t bother getting a psychology degree. Rather, he suggests getting Bible training; for it is only God’s Word that has the answers.
I have hope and believe that I can help because the Bible works! God Himself promises us that. “Seek ye out of the book of the LORD, and read: no one of these shall fail” (Isaiah 34:16a). “For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10–11). God has not left us without answers. Yes, the questions are changing and we must continue to search the Scriptures so that we can rightly appropriate them to each individual case, but the principles of God’s Word work.
It Must Come from the Heart
Effective counseling must have hope and it must help, but the entire process must come from the heart. Our ministry to people cannot simply be “head-to-head.” It must be “heart-to-heart” and “life-to-life.” In the ministry, the problems come over and over. Oh, the names change and the circumstances are slightly different, but the devil isn’t inventing many new tactics. The world, the flesh, and the devil haven’t changed much in six thousand years. As we deal with these same devices of the wicked one over and over again, we must guard against a clinical or professional approach. These are real people with critical problems, and we must treat each one with utmost care.
A medical doctor or nurse treats thousands of patients, many with similar symptoms and ailments. As a patient, however, we want them to take an interest in us! We don’t want to just be a number on a chart—we’re hurting and we need help. The Apostle Paul speaks of this empathy that is so necessary to our ministry with people. “But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children: So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us” (1 Thessalonians 2:7–8). We must pray daily for that kind of concern and compassion because it is not natural. Ministry can harden us to the problems of others and make us cynical and cold. You’ll never convey hope, and I doubt that you’ll be much help if your heart isn’t in the ministry of counseling.
Counseling is not a choice. Someone no doubt will approach you this week and say something like, “Can I talk to you?” At that moment, God commands us: “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). The choice you must now make is whether or not you will counsel effectively. With a brimming hope, biblical help, and a broken heart, you can help someone today.