Let the Sunshine In

I’ve lived in bleak wintry weather in the hills of W. Pennsylvania. I’ve shoveled snow two feet deep in Kirkwood Missouri. I’ve had my fill of strong winds and bitter cold blasts that go right to the bone. I’m thankful that at last I’ve been able to escape those things.

Sure, it can get cold here in South Carolina. In the winter the temperature can drop below freezing many nights—but the days are usually in the 40s and 50s. And then . . . right in the middle of winter . . . there can be one, two—or even a week—of 60-70 degree weather that suddenly descends like a blissful summer day. Plants are deceived into thinking its summer and begin to bloom—only to have their blossoms suddenly destroyed by a hard frost. Sweaters are once more exchanged for coats and jackets: suddenly, it’s winter once again!

But those few days of warmth! How they lighten the load. How they cheer the spirits. How they anticipate things soon to come in February, when the tulips appear and the jonquils grow tall. “Summer,” those days say, “is just around the corner; don’t give up hope!”

How foolish it would be to me to close the shutters when the winter sun shines brightly and warmly, saying, “This isn’t the way winter is supposed to be!” That’s the way that, conceivably, some weird, foolish person who was not raised up in the South might respond. But what foolishness it would be! Let the sun shine in! Enjoy the way it heats the home, driving down heating bills! Fling open a window and breathe the fresh balmy air that fills the house as it replaces that which has become stagnant within.

Let the news reports of blizzards in the North, Midwest, and Northwest have little effect on you. Let the bitter cold freezing TV reporters shivering while muffled from head to toe not squelch your enthusiasm for the relative warmth of your 50 or 60 degree day! Go on outside, work in the garden, get things ready for spring—that long period between winter and summer that corresponds to that equally long span of time and weather that divides summer from winter here in the South.

Summer in winter! Think of it. Unusual? Not at all. That’s the way that it is with God’s providence. Just when the trials that come seem no longer endurable, when cold shivers of doubt begin to run up your back, when frost covers your plans, when heavy clouds of despair gather in mass—just then God sends the warming truths of His Word to dispel the frost, melt the snow, crack the ice. Suddenly, like summer in winter, the sunlight of His truth shines through, breaking the clouds to bits, rescuing you from the desolation you feared looming on the horizon. No! You will not give up! How can you, when God Himself met your greatest need in Christ, surely He can meet even this one-no matter how like hardened ice it may seem.

God does not leave His children in the lurch! They are not “His chosen frozen!” He is always there—even behind the clouds. He is there in the sleets and snows of life; he is there on the frozen tundra. He is there ready to send the warmth of His loving care into your frigid existence. He is there!

That is the message of hope that Christian counselors have to bring to those who come weary from trudging through the drifts of sorrow and pain. Theirs is the work of opening the shutters to drive away the shudders! Are you interested in helping others View the sunlit warmth of God’s Word? Would you like to see the ice melt in the lives of those frozen with despair? Believer, you can do so. There are few things as exciting as seeing lives dreary and cold brighten in the heat of God’s glowing truth. Again and again, the joy of witnessing the melting of marriages grown cold, the thawing of frozen relationships, the softening of frosted souls, is the lot of biblical counselors. What joy to see the sun shine in!

We will be glad to help you enter into this joy. You too can be a counselor bringing the warmth of God’s blessing that alone drives away the chill of life’s winters. You can join those who regularly bring summer to winter as you help desperate believers experience God’s Son-shine!

Think About That

Lots of thoughts occupy the minds of counselees when they come for help. Some are hopeful thoughts; some doubtful. Some are confused; some are harmful, some downright hateful. Unless a counselor is aware of this fact, he will go on talking blissfully as if there were nothing to bother one’s self about. But that isn’t true. Early in counseling, he will want to coax these thoughts out so that he will know which to encourage and which to discourage. Moreover, he may have to deal with them before he can go further. You can’t deal with people abstractly as some, today, try to. Where there is doubt, for instance, he will have to make it clear to his counselee from James 1 that he shouldn’t expect God to answer prayer if it persists. That’s concrete, personal counsel. Faith must replace doubt. He knows that if it doesn’t nothing the counselee does can be expected to last. James also says that the person who doubts is like a wave that continually takes on different formations, the next never really the same as the last. James goes on to explain that a doubtful person is “unstable in all of this ways.” If that is so, nothing he does will be certain to last. Both his words and his ways will fluctuate; he cannot be relied upon.

So, it will be absolutely essential for your counselee to replace doubt with faith. Of course, the faith we’re speaking about is faith in the promises of God—not faith in the counselor. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. It is, therefore, important to use and fully explain those biblical promises that counter the doubt that fills his mind.

What is true of doubt is true of any and all thoughts that debilitate counselees. These must be countered by God’s unfailing Word. But of course, the Word must be used concretely so that it may be mixed with faith, as we read in Hebrews. So, you will need to pray for your counselee as you open the Scriptures to him. Pray not merely that God will bless him as part of the body of Christ, but that the Spirit will so use His Word and that it will displace whatever it is that stands in the way of belief that leads to biblical action.

Counseling—because it involves concrete thoughts and actions—is perhaps the best antidote to that run-away biblical theology that falsely teaches application is unbiblical. Not only do biblical writers themselves apply Scripture concretely to those to whom they preach and counsel, they do so with great power (Cf. the exemplary application in I Corinthians 10!). What those who only want to talk about the “history of redemption” fail to realize is that there are always two strains running side by side in that history. There is what God is doing in history over the large, long-range scope of things, but there is also what He is doing in the lives of those involved-those who live in the milieu of that history. A clear example of this harmony of the whole with the part is found in the last chapter of Genesis where Joseph speaks of how God ordered his personal history 1) for his good and 2) to save a whole people alive. The theocratic, covenant people from whom the Messiah would come. To fail to recognize God’s hand simultaneously at work in both spheres—the personal and the corporate—is to fail to interpret the Bible correctly. And a failure to help people. Because of this failure on the part of those who see only the larger picture, perhaps there is no greater antidote to falsely using the Scriptures than to be forced to deal with the wayward thinking and living of individual counselees. Moreover, the providential working of God in Joseph’s life, again, points to the way that God deals with individuals. Providence, a principal doctrine daily in use by biblical counselors, shows how God cares and blesses His church as a body, but also every individual in it.

Jesus is not much of a Messiah, if He is viewed only as the One about Whom history speaks. No, He is a Messiah about Whom history speaks as a saving and providentially-working Savior Who changes the lives of His people—even settling their doubts, giving the faith, and enabling them to live for Himself. Just think about that!

Rent – a – Pastor?

One of the greatest challenges of the ministry is that of time management. There are always more things to do each day than there is time to accomplish them. Few pastors have escaped the thought at the end of a busy day that he could have been a better steward of the hours God had entrusted to him that day. In this posting I would like to humbly put forward a proposal that could revolutionize a pastor’s ability to free up time and, if implemented fully, would make the struggle for more time a thing of the past. I know I have set the bar pretty high with such a claim but please, read what I have to propose carefully and don’t turn me off until you have heard me out (and please, read this through to the end to get the full impact of my suggestion).

Let’s begin with one of the most time consuming activities on the pastor’s plate—hospital calling. It often comes as an interruption of the normal schedule. People do not experience serious medical problems on a schedule. Yet, when they experience them, you want to be there to minister the comfort and encouragement that only the Scriptures have to offer. It is important work. Unfortunately, making one’s way to most large hospitals through busy traffic, finding a parking place, navigating the maze of hallways and staircases to find the right room only to find your patient has been taken away for tests can be frustrating. In such cases, it is usually a better investment of time to simply wait until your patient’s tests are completed rather than fight the traffic to return later. After you are finally able to spend ten minutes with your church member you leave to make your way to the room of your only other hospitalized church member, who is in the hospital on the other side of town.

Not only are the logistics a problem, often your people will be experiencing life threatening illnesses. Comforting the family and ministering to the patient can be an emotionally draining experience for the pastor. It is difficult to shut those emotions off after such a visit in order to focus on the other responsibilities of the day. Entire days of the pastoral schedule are easily lost to this one activity.

Here is my proposal. Instead of the pastor making special trips to the hospital to minister to one or two people, the churches in each city should get together and employ one man to do all the hospital calling for each church at once! No wait, hear me out. This one man would only have to make the one trip and could visit 20 patients rather than 20 pastors making 20 trips to visit one patient each.

There are a number of benefits to this arrangement. First, your church member would receive wonderful, expert care. Think about it. You only visit two or three patients each week but this “hospital services provider” would be visiting scores. Such a man would soon gain a significant amount of experience and expertise and would become quite proficient at knowing just what words to use, what Scriptures to turn to, and what kind of demeanor to employ in the various circumstances he encounters. You want your people to receive the very best care possible don’t you? How much better to have them ministered to by an experienced veteran of hospital calling than by someone like yourself who would only be doing it several times a week?

Second, this would not only relieve you of a great deal of lost time, but also of a large measure of pastoral angst. Why should twenty pastors in one city go away from hospitals with heavy hearts over the sorrow and grief his people are experiencing when all that can be placed on the shoulders of one man who has experience coping with that kind of heartache? Pastors could go about their other activities without having to carry with them the burdens of their church members.

I know, I know, you are thinking, “Our church struggles to meet the budget each month now, how can we afford to take on the additional expense of a part time ‘hospital services provider?'” Ah, this is the genius of my plan. It would not have to cost the church anything for this service! Since it is the individual church member, and not the congregation as a whole, who is consuming this service you simply charge each patient for the hospital call along with his other hospital expenses. This does two things, it puts the hired minister on piece work, thus motivating him to make as many hospital calls as possible each day, and it enables the church to accomplish this ministry without any added expense to the overall church budget.

“But doesn’t that just add an additional financial burden to those your sick church member is already shouldering?” Not necessarily. In many cases, if you can list a medical code on the patient’s chart that describes what was accomplished during the visit, you can trick . . . er, I mean persuade the insurance company to pick up the tab. It is a win/win arrangement for all involved.

This arrangement does not have to be limited to hospital calling. How about funerals? Death often intrudes upon a pastor’s time without warning. Good and profitable activity often has to be set aside to deal with an unexpected death. Again, why not partner with an outside “funeral ministry provider” who can stand ready to deal with deaths in all the churches in town? Again, this man, because of his experience, would be much better at providing comfort to a family than you—and you would not have to interrupt your carefully arranged schedule to deal with it. You would know your people were receiving the very best care and you would be free to keep to your prearranged schedule. Furthermore, since this is a service that is provided to just one family and not the church as a whole, the family consuming the services would be asked to pick up the tab for these services. It could simply be added to the bill the funeral home presents to the family.

How about weddings? Dogpatch had a colorful character by the name of Marryin’ Sam. Why shouldn’t every city have a “wedding services provider?”

In fact, this paradigm can be applied to the chief pastoral time consumer of all—sermon preparation. Why should every pastor in town spend countless hours pouring over books week after week preparing sermons that will only be preached once? As a conscientious pastor you want your people to be as well fed from the Word of God as is humanly possible. Are you really the best person to be preaching to your people? Most churches now have video projectors installed in the auditorium. Why not obtain video taped sermons preached by the very best preachers in the land, a “preaching services provider,” and present them to your people? John MacArthur is a better preacher than you are. Why not have him preach to your people each week? This will insure that your people are receiving the very best instruction from the Word and will free up countless hours for the pastor during the week.

OK, by this point you are either too angry with me to proceed or (more likely) you have figured out that all this has been tongue-in-cheek . . . sort of. But let me pull my tongue from my cheek and propose one more pastoral responsibility for this paradigm—counseling. I propose that all the churches in town band together to support a “counseling services provider” where all their people could be sent who are in need of counseling. It would save each individual pastor countless hours and the counselee would be better served by going to someone who is an expert. This “adjunct” minister would then charge the counselee for his services and the pastor (and church budget) would be free from such a burden.

But wait, you probably recognize that this is not a new idea at all. It is, instead, a common practice. Does it really differ from my other proposed applications of the paradigm?

One question that arises pertains to the name and identity of these “counseling services providers.” One such “counseling services provider,” makes this suggestion:

“Rent-a-pastor” (is) a possibility but it certainly lacks gravitas. Pastoral “partner” is ambiguous. Academia has a position called “adjunct,” which might capture the relationship . . . (These) independent counselors could function as adjunct ministers . . . They may not be full-time members of a counselee’s local church, but in essence, they are temporarily secunded to the church staff. Whatever the designation, independent counselors could be seen to function as part-time ministers hired by your church.

For this free lance counselor, the term “rent-a-pastor” well describes such an individual and is rejected only because it is not sufficiently weighty. The problem with recognizing a “counseling services provider” as an “adjunct” minister is that he is no such thing! It is correct to note it is an academic model, but it certainly is not a biblical one. The biblical model is one of a shepherd who cares for the sheep that have been entrusted to his care, sheep for whom the shepherd must give account (Hebrews 13:17; 1 Peter 5:2). Tragedy often ensues when others, who do not own the sheep, are hired to care for them (John 10:12-13).

“But there are some very real problems that hiring a ‘counseling services provider’ does solve,” you say.

Well, let’s look at some of those problems. First is the problem of time. Counseling does take time, lots of it. But it is the ministry of the Word of God, the very thing the pastor has been called to do. Why would he choose to farm it out and not hospital calling, preaching, or funerals? Is the ministry of the Word of God to individuals across a desk a lesser important task than these others? We all have the time to do what is important to us. If the ministry of the Word of God to the flock God has entrusted to you does not rise to the top of the pile what does? What exactly are your priorities, Pastor?

“But I am not sufficiently trained for counseling. A ‘counseling services provider’ is better trained and has more experience.”

I have two responses when I hear such talk. My first is, “Well, why aren’t you sufficiently trained? You invested years in seminary education as well as thousands of dollars to learn to preach and pastor a church. Why did you not prepare yourself to counsel as well? What exactly did you think you would be doing as a pastor?”

My second response, when I hear pastors protest that they are not sufficiently trained, is “Oh yes you are!” Any pastor with solid biblical/theological/exegetical training is 97% of the way there. He is already miles ahead of anyone whose qualifications consist of a psychological degree or a license from the state to do counseling or social work. In addition to a theological education, well prepared pastors also took courses in homiletics in order to better prepare themselves to minister the Word from behind a pulpit. In the same way, a bit of additional training in how to minister the Word from behind the counselor’s desk is also in order. If this training was not obtained in seminary it can easily be secured from other sources these days.

Counseling is the ministry of the Word of God. It is pastoral ministry. Would you consider contracting others to do your praying for you, your Bible study, your preaching, your comforting, or your oversight of the flock? Then why would you be willing to forsake your God given responsibility to minister the Word of God in the counseling room and farm it out to others?

Reasons

There are always reasons behind every action. What they are and how they impact Christian counseling is important to understand. That is why so many counselors attempt to “dig out” these reasons. But the task isn’t always quite so simple as some suppose. The first reason why is because we cannot know what is in another’s heart (the inner source of outer actions). That is clear from such passages as 2 Chronicles 6:30 and the like. So, what can a counselor do to discover (as fully as possible) what it is that motivates a counselee?

First, we can ask him. Biblical counselors are not Freudians. Freudians always suspect a wrong answer to any such question asked of the counselee. They believe that down deep inside, in the unconscious, lies the true answer—and it is unknown to the counselee, who will answer by rationalizing his words and actions. Since we believe that we ought to “believe all things” as Paul instructed in his hymn on love, we begin by asking, and then trusting, the counselee. More often than you might suppose, he will hit the nail on the head. When he has difficulty getting it out, we may need to help him do so. Of course, in bringing forth the truth we must always be careful not to “feed” him suggestions of our own which will shape his answer. Before all else, check the first answer on his PDI (Personal Data Inventory) before you attempt any other ways of obtaining the answer you are looking for. You may have to ask further questions about what he has written there, if it isn’t altogether clear but. Again, you should be careful not to add your own ideas to his answers.

But what if he lies? Counselees sometimes do. How do you discover the truth? One way, which presupposes that you take his word for the truth, is to assign homework that is based upon his answers. If he has lied, and your homework is to the point, at the following session, you will discover that he has either done incomplete, poor, or otherwise inadequate homework . In investigating “What went wrong that this wasn’t done properly?” you will often uncover the truth. Homework built on erroneous assumptions will fail. That is the reason you will soon be able to uncover either the lie or the truth (since the lie doesn’t work). Both pieces of information will give you a good beginning from which to move.

Objections to Biblical Counseling

Be prepared to receive them! You can be sure that they’ll come. There are so many out there that have been brainwashed into thinking that counseling must be done by a “professional” psychologist or psychiatrist that they rebel when they’re told that a preacher or laymen is doing counseling. You can understand their objections, and you should respect them for voicing them. At least they‘re concerned! You should have less respect for those who talk behind your back and are not man or woman enough to come out and challenge you. It’s the “Sauls” of Tarsus who, when converted, turn out to be “Pauls.” Learn to respond, cheerfully, cogently and challengingly. Those are the people we are especially concerned to win over to the truth.

Objections will come. You should become prepared to meet them. Most objections will take the form of “Who do you think you are to be doing counseling?” Your answer, of course, is that you are a child of God; that He has commanded to do so. The Galatians 1 passage, along with Colossians 3:16, along with Romans 15:14 are warrant enough for you to respond to a fellow believer. Learn all you can about those passages in order to be able to satisfy those who want a reason for the ministry you’re engaged in. Of course there are other passages such as 2 Timothy 3:15ff, and 1 Thessalonians 5:14 to which you might also wish to turn as well. But don’t confuse the discussion by citing too many passages. Know a few well, and indelibly impress them upon your listener’s thinking. Remember, in all of those passages the noun “nouthesia” or the verb “noutheteo” is used. And don’t forget that the word has the three elements: loving Confrontation, out of familial Concern, in order to bring about God-pleasing Change.

The object isn’t always to win the objector. Rarely, will you “convert” anyone to biblical counseling on the spot. But get them thinking biblically. Urge them to study the passages you’ve mentioned. Try to set up another time for further discussion. That, of course, is what you do with believers. So far as unbelievers are concerned, you will want to explain that you don’t knowingly counsel unbelievers, so he has nothing to worry about! But you might tell also him that you do pre-counsel [evangelize] people like him. Then, go ahead and do so. In all cases, you need to be able to give a thorough, reasoned response to objectors. Remember II Peter 3:15, 16.

As you do more and more counseling, you will eventually have people who can testify to the effectiveness of God’s word in their lives. Many of the people you have counseled will be willing to testify to the facts should you need them to do so. But never appeal to their testimony as the fundamental reason for doing Nouthetic Counseling. Always rest your case on Scriptural authority. Their testimony is merely illustrative; God’s Word needs no corroboration. And never ask anyone to testify unless he has agreed to do so beforehand.

My hope is that many people will object to your counseling. Not because I wish for difficulty to come your way. But because I hope you will make such an impact upon those around you that they can’t keep still about it. When people object, it’s usually because something is happening. Actually, many object because they are interested and want to understand. “There’s no better way to find out whether there’s anything to this Nouthetic stuff,” they assume, than to put some hard questions to its adherents. That’s good. And when you’re prepared to meet all of their objections, that’s very good!

Nouthetic counselors ought to be savvy about what they are doing, and why they do it. But they will not get that wisdom and knowledge apart from study. There are plenty of books to help. And that’s one reason why the Institute for Nouthetic Studies exists. If we can help you to be able to give a reasoned response to objectors by offering training in Nouthetic Counseling, please let us do so.

Mental Illness

Folks let’s get this straight. The mind is not a physical organ. It cannot have a disease, illness, or injury in anything other than a metaphorical sense such as a sick economy or a sick joke.

Typhoid fever — disease
Spring fever — not a disease
Scarlet fever — disease
Bieber fever — not a disease

Two Failures

There are two outstanding failures that one can detect in counseling when he has an opportunity to watch it.

  1. Many counselors use too much Scripture.  They throw verse after verse at counselees, piling them up for him, presumably to take home. A person can digest only so much material in a counseling session or during the week following. He needs to drive home one or two verses, plainly explained, if he wants to see biblical results.
  2. Not any verse will do.  Not only must a verse be explained as to its meaning, but also counselors must show how it is appropriate to the counselee, and how he may apply it to his situation. These are key factors at which one must not fail!

Tell Me What to Do

“Tell me what to do when I counsel a person.”

What, in particular, do you want to know?

“Oh, you know—just what you do when you counsel someone.”

Well, I’m afraid I don’t know how to answer that question. There is a lot to counseling—one way of approaching people will not do—one size simply doesn’t fit all.

“Yeah, but what do you do?”

The fact is I do all sorts of things—a lot more than I could begin to mention in this Q&A session.

“Let’s say the person is considering getting a divorce. How do you handle that—do you tell his wife or not?”

Well, since I’d have both of them present [if possible], I wouldn’t have to tell her. Counseling people who are both involved in a problem apart from one another is foolish; you don’t bring people together by taking them apart.

“Yeah, but what do you say? How do you go about the counseling itself?”

Listen, friend, you don’t seem to understand how much goes into counseling or I expect you’d get more specific in your questions. I say all sorts of things depending on the situation. They just have to be biblically based.

“But counseling is so much easier than preaching–you ought to be able to tell me what to do.”

I guess this has gone far enough. Let me suggest a few things at the outset:

  1. Counseling is much tougher than preaching. A preacher knows what he is going too talk about (at least, he ought to). On the other hand, the counselor never knows what will come up in a session–so he has to be ready to handle anything—indeed, everything!

“Oh—I never thought about that!”

  1. A counselor also has to gather lots of information before he is able to begin following a particular course of counsel. That’s why I can’t answer the sorts of questions that you’ve been flinging at me. I believe in serious data-gathering. Sometime, read and consider Proverbs 18: 13, 15, 17 and I think you’ll see what I mean.

“Hmm . . .I’ll have to do that.”

  1. Let me just mention one more thing (I could go on listing lots of other points): But consider this: before I can really begin (assuming the person is a Christian) I will want to know whether or not he is interested in getting relief from his problem(s) or (at bottom) he is interested in learning how to please God in his handling of the problem—whether he gets relief or not.

“I never thought of that.”

And I can tell you there probably are many other things that I can see you haven’t thought about as well.

“Yeah—probably there are.”

Let me suggest that you take our course in nouthetic counseling and systematically learn about some of them.

“How do I do that?”

Thought you’d never ask—the answer is contact Donn Arms at donnarms@nouthetic.org. He’ll lead you the right way.

“Thanks.”

Why Do You Want to Counsel?

Is it because you see the need in the church today? Is it because of some situation that you were involved in where you saw that counseling was not provided when it ought to have been? Is it because you have always had a desire to minister to others? Is it because you like to be authoritative and tell others what to do? Even from these few suggestions, obviously, you can see that there are many reasons why someone might want to counsel; some laudable, some not. What are yours?

Perhaps you don’t even know why you are becoming interested—couldn’t spell out the reasons out if you were forced to do so at gun point. There simply may be something about counseling that entices you that you are unable to articulate. Perhaps you believe that you have gifts that seem to point you toward counseling. Whatever the reason—or reasons—you ought to sort them out. Why? Because the time will come when you will have to ask yourself whether or not your reasons are sufficient to sustain your interest in counseling. Counseling can get wearisome at times. It can become demanding, discouraging and time-consuming. It is in times like those that a proper, biblical motivation will enable you to endure.

If you are a minister of the Gospel, you have a flock and, of course, your motivation ought to be to fulfill your responsibilities to the flock—many of which will involve both informal and formal counseling as a part of the office to which you were ordained. If you are called by the church of Christ to minister; you are called to counsel. It goes with the territory.

What of you—a layman who has no flock, who is not ordained to a shepherding ministry? You too are required to counsel—informally. Galatians 6 puts you in the business of doing such counseling. If after reading the first verses of that chapter you don’t understand your place in counseling, you might want to read my explanation of it in the book, Ready to Restore.

All I’m saying is if you are going to counsel it ought to be

  1. because God requires it of you
  2. because you care about your hurting brothers and sisters.

Any lesser motives ought to be expunged from your thinking and, instead, the proper ones must take their place. Otherwise, your counsel is likely to falter, fail, or be seriously flawed. Why not take time to think these things through, pray about them, read again Acts 20, Galatians 6?

Is it time for you to check out your motives? Then, to do so, without distraction. In the long run, you will be glad that you did—and so will your counselees.