Turning a dream into reality

Bob Kellemen has big dreams. In Equipping Counselors for your Church, he envisions churches not only as places with biblical counseling ministries, but as places of biblical counseling. He says, “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” [10].

Although initially skeptical about Bob’s vision (partly because I misunderstood it), his book gradually brought me on board and I’ve been thinking about how to turn Bob’s dream into reality in a local church I’m involved with. Practical man that he is, Bob has already provided lots of tips on realizing the vision. However, he also repeatedly admits that implementation will vary depending on the background and character of the each church. So, here’s my own plan for realizing the vision in the local church I’m working with:

1. Preach on Romans 15:14
Bob’s exposition of this verse was perhaps my favorite section in his book, and powerfully persuaded me of the biblical grounds and realistic possibility of what he was advocating. This verse is a huge encouragement and challenge to the church of Christ.

2. Distinguish between formal and informal counseling
A lot of Christians are turned off or frightened by the term “counseling” and would be horrified at the thought of seeing themselves as a “counselor.” One way to overcome this barrier might be to change the “counseling” terminology to something like “Discipling One Another” (that’s the phrase I use in the course I’ve started teaching) or “Spiritual Friendship” or “Speaking the Truth in Love.” Even if we keep the term “counseling,” it’s vital to communicate the distinction Bob makes between formal and informal counseling:

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 [254].

3. Focus initially on building a culture of informal counseling
If you start by calling for volunteers for “Marriage Guidance / Bereavement / Terminal Illness Counseling Training,” then most folk will run in terror, and those who do volunteer are probably the wrong people. So, instead of rushing to get formal counseling classes off the ground, focus first on building a culture of informal counseling.

Challenge people to multiply the number of relationships they have with others in the church (why not add at least one new relationship each year or month?), and to deepen the nature of the relationships they have with others in the church. “Are they simply family relationships where you focus on sharing the latest family news? Are they business relationships where you usually talk about how your careers are going? Are they leisure/hobby relationships that major in fishing, hunting, shopping? Are they social or cultural relationships with an emphasis on the births, deaths, marriages and gossip in the community? Etc.,”

What we want to do is develop the spiritual quality of these relationships so that eventually Christians casually and easily enquire how others are doing spiritually and what their spiritual needs are, but also ask for, offer, and receive spiritual counsel.

4. Model informal counseling/spiritual friendships
We can encourage people along these lines by giving a good example of what “spiritual friendship” or “informal counseling” means in practice:

  • Tell people what you most recently read from your Bible or a Christian book and how it helped you.
  • Ask people what they have been struggling with and if there is anything you can do or pray for.
  • Educate people in what kinds of things to say/not say in specific situations (e.g. bereavement, depression, miscarriage, etc).
  • Share a meal with a person or a family and guide the conversation to spiritual matters.
  • When you read the Bible with anyone, just speak a few sentences of explanation or application.

5. Encourage people to start with family and friends
As perhaps many Christians have never really shared much from their spiritual experiences, nor felt comfortable asking people about their spiritual lives, maybe the best place to start is at home with family or with friends. Husbands and wives, why not make it a daily practice of sharing with one another at least one thing you read from the Bible each day. Ask your children what they would like you to pray for. Or ask your friends to pray for a specific need you have. Just begin to build confidence, vocabulary, and comfort in speaking about spiritual matters with one another and then gradually venture forth into other people’s lives as well.

6. Anticipate, listen to, and deal with objections
Any changes in churches usually involve some friction. Bob recognizes that and provides some great material in his book on managing change and resolving conflict. Tomorrow I’ll post seven objections that I tried to head off at the pass when introducing this concept to a church.

7. Share “37 Ways to Love One Another
On the subject of answering objections, Paul Tautges has put together a great blog post in which he gathers together 37 passages highlighting the huge biblical emphasis on horizontal relationships and responsibilities in the church. Which Christian can honestly look at these verses and not feel the cumulative pressure of the duty and privilege of ministering God’s Word to one another?

8. Identify and Train for Formal Counseling
As the “informal counseling” culture builds, it will help us to identify some to be equipped and trained for more “formal counseling” roles in specialized subjects. Maybe encourage people to start praying that the Lord would lay a special burden on their hearts for people with particular needs (e.g. depression, miscarriages, substance abuse, marital conflict, bereavement, long-term illness, etc).  Bob’s book provides a helpful template for identifying and training people for specific counseling roles. He also points to numerous teaching and equipping resources.

9. Keep the vision alive
Despite the length of time that all this will take, and despite the difficulties and discouragements that we will inevitably face, let’s try to keep Bob’s vision alive in our minds and in the minds of our congregtion as well. Let’s keep dreaming of a church full of Christians ministering the Word to one another both informally and formally, and then reaching out into the community with God’s healing words for a broken world.

Buy Equipping Counselors for your Church here and watch the book trailer here.

Equipping Counselors for your Church

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.[254]

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 [312].

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.





Buy here and watch book trailer here.


American Optimism v Scottish Skepticism

Bob Kellemen is one of the reasons I love America. In fact, to me he is a classic American  – enthusiastic, energetic, positive, cheerful, encouraging, stimulating, pioneering, and every other good “-ing” you can think of.

Having been involved in counseling for almost 30 years, Bob has a tremendous passion to see biblical counseling embedded in the life of the church. His own website and books have massively helped my own counseling education, teaching, and practice.

I deeply appreciate Bob’s brief, clear, and no-nonsense style of writing. He doesn’t waste words in pointless theorizing, but is always aiming at the practical and the helpful. It’s not often you find such fine balance and fervent passion combined in one person!

Two developments in the past year have led to Bob’s work getting the wider recognition it deserves: first there was his appointment as Executive Director of the Biblical Counseling Coalition, together with his lively participation on the Coalition’s blog.

Second, there was P&R’s recent publication of Bob’s long-awaited Equipping Counselors for Your Church. Perhaps this book more than any of his others gets closest to expressing the passion of Bob’s heart – to see biblical counseling not just as part of a church’s life but suffusing the whole life of the church. This is how he puts it in the introduction:

[The book] 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.

I have to be honest, and say that I’ve been quite skeptical about Bob’s vision of every-member-counseling ever being realized to much extent in the church. We’ve regularly corresponded and chatted about it, but I’ve remained hesitant to embrace this worthy vision. My skepticism has had six major roots.

First, I’ve questioned the desire of many in the church to get involved in other people’s lives. The majority of people come to church and leave church without saying much more than “Hello,” “How are you?” “Good,” “We need to catch up.” It seemed to me like a quantum leap to not only get past small talk, but into the deepest and most personal kind of talk.

Second, I’ve doubted the ability of most Christians to speak wisely into other Christian’s lives. I’ve had a number of years of training and practice, and yet I still feel so ignorant of the Bible and very ill-equipped to deal with even the most simple problems in other people’s lives. What hope then for Christians with only a few classes on “Counseling” under their belt?”

Third, I’ve seen so many Christians speak so inappropriately into others lives, that I’ve been very afraid of the damage they could do to vulnerable people. I’m thinking here especially of the foolish unthinking repetition of common cliches that many use when speaking to depressed Christians. Do we really want to expose vulnerable believers to that kind of danger?

Fourth, even if good counsel would be given, I’ve been unsure about the willingness of most Christians to receive counsel from other Christians. When most Christians want counsel, they want to speak to the “professional” – the pastor, the psychologist or the qualified counselor. Are they really going to give much credibility to Mrs Ordinary Christian’s words of wisdom?

Fifth, I’ve been increasingly worried about pastors and biblical counselors over-estimating their abilities to deal with some of the most complicated human problems, especially in the mysterious interplay between the physical and the spiritual realms. Over-reacting to the past exclusion of Christians from the caring process by “professional” counselors, too many Christians have over-jealously reclaimed the whole territory and over-excluded others who could contribute to the care of hurting people. I was worried that this book would reflect that common and damaging approach.

Sixth, there’s just the whole problem of inertia. How do you introduce such radical change into the church? Is it worth the hassle, frustration and disappointment? Why not just go with the status quo?

So, I approached Bob’s book with considerable skepticism and doubt. But knowing and admiring Bob as I do, I really tried reading it with as open and persuadable a mind as I could.

Tune in tomorrow to see if he won this Scottish skeptic over to his American optimism!

Or share your own thoughts as to how practical, achievable, or even desirable Bob’s vision is.

Pastoral Picks (11/4)

Pre-marital counseling
Ron Edmondson suggests seven areas to address in pre-marital counseling.

93% of Protestant pastors feel privileged to be in their positions
Ed Stetzer at LIfeway has some (surprising?) new research on how pastors view themselves, their callings, and their relationships.

A pause for thought
Jeremy Walker persuasively argues for more pauses and less instants in our lives

Caring for a loved one with cancer? Don’t forget about the kids
Crossway posted this helpful advice from June Hunt’s book: Caring for a loved one with cancer

Mentoring future leaders
Chris Bass calls pastors to push mentoring up to the top of their to-do list.

An A Capella Fella
As one these kind of fellas myself, I enjoyed Barry York’s brief and positive post on the subject.

Conformity for diversity’s sake

George Will has an important article on Vanderbilt University’s decision to forbid certain student groups, including Christian ones, from precluding someone from leadership positions based on their religious belief. As Will puts it: “To ensure diversity of thought and opinion, we require certain student groups, including five religious ones, to conform to the university’s policy that forbids the groups from protecting the characterisitics that contribute to diversity.”

Will surveys the historical momentum behind these increasingly common moves to limit freedom of association, and traces it to progressivism’s convenient abolition of the public-private distinction:

First, a human right — to, say, engage in homosexual practices — is deemed so personal that government should have no jurisdiction over it. Next, this right breeds another right, to the support or approval of others. Finally, those who disapprove of it must be coerced.

Sound familiar? It should. First, abortion should be an individual’s choice. Then, abortion should be subsidized by government. Next, pro-life pharmacists who object to prescribing abortifacients should lose their licenses. Thus do rights shrink to privileges reserved for those with government-approved opinions.

Will argues that Vanderbilt’s concern should not be whether a particular religious viewpoint is right, but whether people have the freedom to associate and believe such things. He concludes.

Vanderbilt’s policy, formulated in the name of enlarging rights, is another skirmish in the progressives’ struggle to deny more and more social entities the right to deviate from government-promoted homogeneity of belief. Such compulsory conformity is, of course, enforced in the name of diversity.

Read the whole article here.