In American Optimism v Scottish Skepticism, I highlighted the huge but worthy aim of Bob Kellemen’s new book:
[Equipping Counselors for your Church] assists churches to become places not simply with biblical counseling ministries, but of biblical counseling. My goal is not the production of yet another program or yet another ministry on the sidelines. My goal is the promotion of a congregation-saturated mindset of every-member ministry with an entire congregation passionate about and equipped to make disciples.
And although I recorded six reservations about Bob’s vision as I opened the book, I also expressed my determination to read it with as open a mind as possible. So what won out? American optimism or Scottish Skepticism? Well, I’m glad to say that the American won over this grouchy Scot, and here’s why.
The first encouraging sign for me was that Bob himself recognized the scale of the task he is facing in advancing and implementing this vision. He devotes a full half of the book to explaining numerous ways of getting a congregation on board in the envisioning and enlisting process. He anticipates and answers objections and opposition, and suggests many practical ways of managing change and resolving conflict.
Second, he widens the definition of counseling to much more than problem-solving and reacting to difficulties. His vision of church-wide, every-member counseling includes the whole area of discipleship, in which Christians regularly and informally encourage each other to live more in conformity to Christ and more in communion with Christ. That much wider (and more positive) definition of counseling (see #5 below) definitely opens the way to wider participation. It also reserves serious problem-solving to better-trained and more experienced counselors.
Third, Bob does not just dream big, he details small. He gets into the detailed practical steps that have to be taken. We’re not left with, “Great idea but how do we do it?” The book is full of bullet points, step-by-step guides, tabulated information, checklists, appendices and real-life case studies. And that practicality is maybe what gives the book so much credibility and persuasiveness. Bob not only draws from almost 30 years of counseling experiences in congregational settings, but has gathered together a ton of “best-practice” ideas from other pastors and churches as well.
Fourth, Bob recognizes that this will look different in every congregation. Having been a pastor of three different churches ranging from 100 to 3000, Bob clearly understand that the counseling ministry of each church will vary depending on the church’s culture, size, assets, etc. And whatever the size of the congregation. He also stresses that we should never see personal counseling as taking over from the pulpit ministry of the Word, but rather supplementing, advancing, widening, and deepening it.
Fifth, Bob acknowledges that not everyone will have the same role in this counseling ministry. It’s always tempting when we are passionate about something to re-make everyone into our image. Also, when correcting a fault on one side (general lack of personal ministry of the Word) we always have a tendency to run too far to the other extreme. Bob avoids both dangers. While he definitely argues (and I agree) that all Christians should be ministering the Word to each other as they have opportunity, he is not saying that we should all become full-time counselors! Here’s how he puts it:
Every member of every church should be equipped to speak the truth in love in small groups, in the foyer, over the backyard fence, at the dinner table, and at the diner—the informal model. Additionally, some members with gifting, passion, calling, and commitment may focus their ministry on intentional and intensive ongoing biblical counseling—the formal model.
We all have different gifts, personalities, opportunities, and life-phases that will be reflected in the way and extent we minister God’s Word to others. I think this important formal/informal distinction will help avoid heaping false guilt on many Christians who don’t see formal counseling as a large part of their lives at present.
Sixth, and maybe most importantly, Bob argues for careful selection, rigorous training, and constant evaluation of counselors. This part of the book was perhaps where I really began to relax and open my mind and heart to Bob’s vision. I suppose I had imagined lots of well-intentioned but ill-equipped Christians leaving a trail of destruction behind them as they waded into people’s lives with inappropriate and simplistic Bible quotations. But no, while Bob advocates much more training for all Christians in informal counseling (I agree), he also urges churches to carefully select some people for more intensive, concentrated, and systematic training. And again, in the third and strongest section of the book, he outlines how to go about this with lots of resource lists to assist in the training of Christians in the 4C’s:
- Biblical Content
- Christ-like Character
- Counseling Competence
- Christian Community
Seventh, (and this was another “Hurrah!” moment for me), Bob highlights the importance of biblical counselors recognizing their limitations and weaknesses, and seeking outside help. Bob’s model “Counseling Consent Form” clearly distinguishes between what is offered and what is not offered, what the biblical counselor/spiritual friend is and is not qualified to do.
Biblical counselors offer to provide biblical encouragement and discipleship on personal and relational matters from a spiritual perspective guided by biblical principles. They are not trained, authorized, or licensed to provide professional counseling, psychological treatment, or psychological diagnosis .
Bob goes on to explain the need for us all to demonstrate humility in biblical counseling:
God’s Word commands us not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought, but rather to think of ourselves with sober judgment, according to our gifting and training. We all have limits and limitations. Thus, we should never allow any of our graduates (or ourselves) to counsel beyond their competence, ability, or training….
We should never give cross-disciplinary advice (advice related to any profession for which we are not trained, such as law, medicine, or psychiatry). Regarding medications or physical issues, defer and refer to qualified medical personnel. It is wise best practice to maintain a consulting relationship with trusted medical professionals…It is imperative that your ministry identify professional resources to refer people to when issues arise beyond the competency of your team [315-316].
It’s perhaps in this last area of referral that Pastors and Biblical Counselors need to devote a lot more attention. I’m afraid that for too long some Biblical counselors have lobbed so many grenades at other caring professions, often misrepresenting them and their work in the process, that a huge amount of fear, mistrust and suspicion has been built up. I’d like to see Biblical counselors demonstrating a much greater willingness to learn from other professionals, especially Christian professionals, who have devoted their lives and talents to learning about people’s problems and how to help them.
So having once again been enjoyably conquered by American optimism, tomorrow I’ll add my own thoughts on how to advance the realization of Bob’s vision in a local congregation.