Building “Relationship”

During the latter part of the 19th century a handful of seminary professors took a summer sabbatical together to tour England and hear as many of the great English preachers as possible. During that summer these men were able to hear Henry Parry Liddon, Alexander Maclaren, J C Ryle, R W Dale, Robert S Candlish, and Alexander Whyte. After hearing each preacher the men would gather outside the church and discuss what they had heard.

They spent the final Sunday of their tour in London where, in the morning, they attended the City Temple and heard Joseph Parker preach. In the evening they crossed the Thames to Elephant and Castle where they heard C H Spurgeon preach at the Metropolitan Tabernacle. That morning in London they assembled on the front steps of the City Temple and all concurred with the first man to speak who proclaimed excitedly, “Joseph Parker is a wonderful preacher.” Upon exiting the Metropolitan Tabernacle that evening the entire group fell to their knees on the church steps as the same spokesman quietly said, “Jesus Christ is a wonderful Savior.”

Of course, Spurgeon was indeed a wonderful preacher—probably the greatest English speaking preacher in history. But Spurgeon understood that it was his responsibility to point his listeners to Christ and not allow himself to become the focus of attention. Sure, he used illustrations from his own life and had a delightful, self-deprecating sense of humor in the pulpit, but these were employed only to illustrate truth and were a means to the end of preaching Christ.

Biblical counselors would do well to take a similar stance in the counseling room. There has arisen a school of thought these days that teaches counselors to focus first on relationship building with counselees and to hold off offering any sort of directive counsel until the counselor has brought his counselee to the place where he is “ready to receive” instruction and help from his counselor.

Now, of course nouthetic counselors understand the importance of building involvement with counselees. In Competent to Counsel Jay Adams confronted the prevalent notion of the day that counselors should take a stoic, detached stance toward counselees. He pointed out that Paul counseled “with tears” (Acts 20:31) and “intense concern” (2 Cor. 11:29) (CTC pp. 52-54). But involvement or relationship building is never a prerequisite to biblical counseling, it is the result!

I recently heard a “biblical” counselor describe one of his cases in which a young woman had come to him seeking help with a problem. After several sessions of relationship building and “getting to know her” the woman finally asked her counselor, “Don’t you have any guidance for me?” The counselor replied, “Yes, I have some thoughts about your problem but I am not sure you are ready to hear them yet.”

Nouthetic counselors are horrified upon hearing such things. When believers come to us for help we believe in helping them—as quickly as possible. This woman had come seeking help in session one but the counselor had decided to assume the Holy Spirit’s role and decide himself whether or not she was ready to hear.

Another counselor once told me that many of his counseling cases go on for over a year and that he has counselees he has been working with for several years. As he waxed eloquent about the need for relationship building he informed me that often counseling is simply building a friendship with people. He was not as amused as I was when I asked him how much he charged people to be their friend (in his case it was $95 per session).

Consider this from a recent blog over at the Biblical Counseling Coalition website:

In counseling, I have found building relationships for the long-haul is key if any person, regardless of sexual orientation, is to experience true, biblical change. In the instances I have had the joy to observe, change in the area of sexuality has been slow, incremental, and at times painful; yet through all of it, our God is faithful and true.

For this author, “Relationships Are Key.” For the nouthetic counselor, the ministry of the Word is key and relationships, while important, are secondary—perhaps even tertiary. Counselees do not change as a result of a relationship with the counselor, they change because of a relationship to Christ and through obedience to His Word.

It is especially tragic to hear this author’s expectation that “true, biblical change” is “slow” and “incremental.” If change is dependent upon a relationship with the counselor perhaps that expectation is justified. Nouthetic counselors do not seek to wean counselees from their sin. Because counselees draw on the power of the Holy Spirit Who wields the Word of God as His sword we expect significant change from week to week and victory over sin in a relatively short period of time as old habits are put off and new ones are put on.

Picture a man working under the hood of his car in his driveway. Along comes a relationship guy who stops and engages the shade tree mechanic with questions about the car, the problem, his job, his family, his health, his lawn, his pets, his longings and desires. The relationship guy shares stories of his own struggles with dysfunctional automobiles and communicates how sorry he is that this car has broken down and that his friend has to deal with the problem. Finally, he promises to return later to check on his new mechanic friend and encourage him in his journey toward resolution.

The nouthetic guy, however, upon encountering this mechanic takes off his coat, rolls up his sleeves, and crawls under the car.

“I see the problem,” he calls up to his neighbor. “The starter is not aligned properly. Raise it up a bit and I will put the bolt in from here.”

From under the car the nouthetic guy guides the socket onto the nut and holds it in place while the mechanic turns the wrench above until it is tight.

Now, which one has built involvement with his neighbor?

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