Discipleship, pastoral care and counselling

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If you are involved in discipling others then there will be times when you are asked to counsel someone. This might be about helping them to work through a particular issue or decision -whether to go for a job or it could be because they are facing specific circumstances such as marital problems, debt or bereavement.  Sometimes someone will open up to you about other struggles with addictions or with their health.  

As I explain below, I believe Christian/Biblical counselling has its part to play but that this is distinct and not in competition with medical treatment, psychiatric care and therapy.  

My expectation is that if you are seeking to be involved in urban planting and discipleship then some training and experience of pastoral care and counselling is vital.  So, I thought it would be useful to share some material on this over a few posts.  Whilst my first concern in writing is to support people in or planning to enter into urban contexts I hope this is useful for people in other church contexts too.

Who and what are we dealing with?         

When we counsel someone, we are dealing with the whole person and the interaction between thoughts feelings and behaviours.  This is helpfully represented in the following diagram.[1]

This means that we need to be aware of the interaction between their physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. 

-if someone is sad, unwell, tired –it will affect how they think and their spiritual health[2]

-if someone is spiritually in rebellion it can lead to emotional and medical problems

The good news is that God is concerned with the whole person and one of our desires is to see people living healthy lives, simply because a healthy life is better than an unhealthy one.[3]

However, when it comes to our responsibility as Christians, and especially for those of us who are leaders to counsel, we need to remember that we are counselling for a specific purpose and from a specific stand point.  We are not acting primarily as medical doctors, social workers or even therapists although some of us may have skills and training in these areas.  First and foremost, our responsibility is discipleship, in fact Christian counselling is really a subset of this.  We might say that there are proactive parts of discipleship including teaching, example, spiritual disciplines etc and that there are reactive aspects which include counselling and formal church discipline.[4]  When we meet with someone, our aim is to help them glorify God in their lives, worshipping him, trusting him and witnessing about him as they become more Christ-like. 

This may lead to some interesting conflicts and tensions.  Quite often people go to counsellors because they are looking to alleviate their suffering.  Now, it may well be that sometimes we meet people and we are able to give them good biblical advice about how to reduce harm to their lives and a consequence of that is that they are set free from particular pain and suffering.  However, we also know as Christians that sometimes God uses suffering for our good and so the outcome of counselling may not always be that someone “feels better” but that they are better equipped to face pain.

  • Why people end up where they are –a theology of counselling

Mike Ovey (former Principal –Oak Hill) identified the following factors in truthful or faulty doctrinal thinking and I think they are helpful to our thinking about counselling as well as to dealing with false teaching.

God is good and sovereign –transcendent and immanent –he is in control, over everything, knows everything –he is close to us not far off.  He is loving, just, merciful.  He will judge the World, destroy evil, vindicate the righteous and put things to right.

I am made in God’s image.  My life has value.  God knows the very hairs on my head.  He has numbered my days.  But in Adam I have rebelled against God.  This means I have a sinful nature.  Sin affects every aspect of my being –emotions, thoughts, etc. I am spiritually dead, unable to help myself –an enemy of God.

The Gospel tells me that God intervened in the person of Jesus, who took my place, bearing the penalty of sin.  This means I can be justified (declared righteous by receiving Jesus’ imputed righteousness) and reconciled to God

This World was made by the God who is good and sovereign. Physical creation is good.  However, the world is corrupted by The Fall – suffering is present because of sin.   The good and sovereign God who made the World will put it to rights – suffering is temporary and the pleasures of this world are temporary too.

There will be a new creation –it will be physical too.  God’s people will be there and God will be present with his people.  Sin will be dealt with. Evil will have been destroyed.                              

Biblical Counselling recognises that distorted views of any of these will lead to problems and need to be corrected.

  1. So we do start from the point of view that sin and rebellion is the underlying issue –this does not mean that we simplistically suggest that every time someone comes to us with a problem that it is because of their own sin.[5]
  2. The issue is sometimes a direct consequence of sin –things said/thought/done and things not said/thought/done are at root of the problem.  This may be either by the counselee or to the counselee
  3. The issue is sometimes an indirect consequence of sin –things that happen because we live in a fallen world –how the counselee responds to suffering, illness, poverty, death
  4. The key then is how they will respond to the situation –we can respond in a godly way or an ungodly way.

There are a number of factors that may lead to the distorted situation

a. A rebellious and deceitful heart –that is what sin does –sometimes people choose a way of life that leads to problems and they want to believe the lie

b. The worldview they grew up in –religious/philosophical outlook –or that they adopted later in life

c. Specific things that others they listen to have told them about themselves.  E.g. Parents.  As well as literal parents Transactional Analysis talks more metaphorically about relationships that are “parent-child” –where things are accepted without being processed (this may include the prevailing wisdom of our culture, specific teachers/preachers, books we have read etc).

d. Experiences they have come through in life. The experience may not on its own lead to the distortion but coupled with other factors may lead to the conclusion that the experience has universal application.  For example, if I was told as a child that I was wonderful and special and I have experienced getting my own way on numerous occasions then that will encourage the lie that the world revolves around me.  If however, I was often told that I was bad, horrible, a waste of space, ugly and I experience bullying or abuse then that will feed distortions in the opposite direction.

e. A medical condition that affects cognition

  • Starting points

Who is responsible for counselling?

  1. We should be very grateful to Jay Adams, an American pastor and founder of the Biblical Counselling movement in the US.  Adams has received his fair share of criticism – and some of it is deserved – but what he did do was recover the concept of counselling and affirmed that it belonged neither to a professional, secular counselling body, nor to a professional clergy.  Rather every Christian has a responsibility and the potential competency to counsel.[6]
  2. Some Christians may not yet be competent to counsel because they are themselves facing issues so significant in their life that the temptation to transfer their issues onto another is severe.  We should never treat counselling another as therapy for ourselves.[7]
  3. Some Christians are not yet competent to counsel because they are not yet ready to listen to and speak God’s word themselves.
  4. However, even a Christian who only knows a little scripture but whose heart is right may be better placed to offer counsel to another than someone with a PHD in theology or who is accredited by a professional counselling body.
  5. Not every Christian is competent to counsel in every area.  Some Christians have greater experience or expertise in particular areas.  This may especially be true where there is a medical cross-over.  We should never be afraid to go to someone else for advice.  Even pastors get help from medical experts, more experienced pastors or those specialising in a particular area of counselling.[8]
  6. Some pastors specialise in particular areas just as you have GPs and consultants in medicine.  For example some pastors specialise in theological training.  Some pastors specialise in particular areas of counselling.[9]
  7. I think Adams is right to distinguish between the role of pastors and elders in proactively identify areas where they need to step in and other church members who respond to specific needs arising.[10]

Some important Assumptions that the Counsellor comes in with

  1. We believe in revelation as the source of all knowledge about God, the World and ourselves.  The Christian counsellor may offer wise advice but we are not in the business of offering human wisdom.  The counselee needs to hear God speak into their situation. So our aim is to help them hear what Scripture has to say about their problem.
  2. We believe that God really is able to change people in his time and his way.  We wouldn’t be doing this otherwise
  3.     We are aware that we cannot guarantee or engineer the pace of change.  Some people just will not be ready yet to move forward in discipleship as much as we might prefer.  We would love to address the root causes but at the moment we get as far as dealing with the symptoms. In this respect I find a metaphor used by a previous boss of mine (in a different context) helpful.  We are like surfers; we have to be ready and waiting to catch the right wave.
  4. We are aware of the relationship to physical health.  Sometimes the best advice we can give to someone is to get a good meal inside them and a good night’s rest.  If they are unwell, they should see a doctor and receive treatment.
  5. These correctives are helpful for when we see success. We need to remember that it is God’s work.  We rejoice at a transformed life but we do not take the credit.

Agreeing expectations, goals, a framework

Most counselling approaches encourage some form of agreement or contract between counsellor and counselee at the outset.

  1. Agreement of expectations
    • What is the counselee expecting to get from this?
      • A willingness to change?
      • A desire to hear what God has to say to them and about their situation
    • How will the counsellor approach things
      • Bible based
      • Aim is growth towards Christlikeness
      • Will speak the truth in love (non-judgmental in the sense of “condemnation” –but clarity about objective truth and what God’s Word says as right and wrong

Note, we have a very interesting perspective on things.  Some counselling approaches are highly directional or prescriptive in telling the counselee what they need to do (even if they do it subtly in a way that encourages them to see themselves as the author of the solution).  Other approaches insist that the counsellor should be non-judgemental and non-prescriptive, at its most extreme simply providing space for them to talk and to perhaps act as a reflector back to them.

As Christians, we stand alongside the counselee as we come to hear God’s word together.  That means that in a sense we are non-prescriptive, it isn’t really our place to impose solutions.  However, we believe firmly that God’s Word is truth and that he has given us objective revelation about how to live lives pleasing to Him.  That means that our counselling will be very directional in terms of its outcome!


Like Doctors and repair men our first priority is to get a correct diagnosis.  A significant proportion of time in the repair process often is the diagnostic.

-We will spend time with them –listening/observing

-We will pick up on the observations of others

-Scripture is itself the best diagnostic as the Holy Spirit uses it to illuminate lives and convict people.  So we will also observe how  they respond to Scripture.

In that sense, it is the Holy Spirit through Scripture who does the diagnosis.  It isn’t about us actively finding out and the person as a patient passively receiving out diagnosis.  In fact, we yearn for the “aha” moment when they say “That’s it, I can see it now.”  Rather than the “Yes pastor if that’s what you think the problem is then I accept your judgement.”

A correct diagnosis includes the ability to name the problem properly and to have the right perspective on it, in other words, telling yourself the truth.

For example:

“What I did was sin –it was displeasing to God, deserving wrath and caused hurt and harm to others as well as myself.  It was not just a mistake.”

“What they said to me was sinful.  It hurt, but it did not destroy me and it is not the final verdict on my life.”

“What they said to me was true, it hurt but it was necessary to hear it.”

“What they did was accidental –it was not intended to hurt and although I felt hurt by it, I did not have to be.  The reason I found it hurtful was …. (or I don’t know why it hurt –it may be helpful to try and understand why…”

By the way I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that there is a sort of pre-diagnostic which is to do with where the person is at –are they willing to open up their life to God and listen to him or do they still want to hide, make excuses etc.  This tells me how much time to spend with them.  I will give more time to the person who is saying “God has challenged me and I want to know what he has to say.”  With the other type of person we perhaps have to wait and pray for the Holy Spirit to work –whilst we keep on loving them. 

Some people think of this diagnosis simply in terms of identifying the specific problem and sorting that out.  That is fair enough in itself but:

  1. Actually our desire as Christians is primarily to help that person grow as a Christian
  2. If I’m right about people’s underlying views then I want to go back a bit further to identify root causes not just symptoms

So for me, we are looking at not just the presenting problem but the bigger picture of where the person is at in their relationship with God 

Causes and Symptoms

We are still really at the diagnosis stage.  We start to talk about underlying presuppositions

Of course, when you talk to a Christian, they may well have a doctrinal position that is explicitly orthodox but their actions are inconsistent with it.  That isn’t surprising, secular psychologists talk about dual systems –the way that we process things that we are aware of and the part of the cognitive process that we are unaware of/ unable to describe.[11]  Part of the process might be about seeing where those sorts of things come from.

For example you may believe that eternal life is a free gift –not by works but imagine if you became a Christian as a child and every time you sinned as a child, your parents during the discipline process would say “How can you do that when you’re meant to be a Christian now.”  You might say you believe in grace but lots of clues in your behaviour suggest that you don’t.

Wrong views about God

Even an avowed atheist has some sort of god.  It might be impersonal –an ideal or matter itself –but there is something that has always been, that they believe in and which shapes and determines who they are.  So, our starting point even when talking to non-Christians is to see if there are lies about God that they are believing and which are affecting their lives now.

To the extent someone’s view of God is distorted there is idolatry in their life.  They may think that:

-God is impersonal –a belief in a God who is distant, unloving, -Fate. 

-God is arbitrary or capricious,

-God is malign, unloving

-God is weak, limited, not in control

A false view of God will lead to a lack of confidence in their circumstances and a tendency to put their trust in other things (the Bible talks about “near idols” and “far idols”).  They may become attached to them and this may lead to compulsions, dependency, inconsolable grief at their loss etc.

Wrong views about me/humanity

Two wrong turnings

  1. To forget that we were made in God’s image, valuable to him, that God loved us enough to send his son and that he freely offers eternal life, forgiveness of sin and imputed righteousness.
  2. To forget that we are fallen, that sin affects every part of us distorting our thinking, our feelings our actions and that without Christ we are dead in our sins, enemies to God, hopeless and helpless so that we need God’s Son to have died and risen in our place and to freely offer eternal life, forgiveness of sin and imputed righteousness.

Problems can on the one hand be those we might associate with self-loathing and self-pity, lack of confidence etc.  On the other hand they may be associated with pride, self-confidence etc.  In fact, it has been argued that self-pity and pride are related they are both versions of “Love turned in on itself” my focus is on me and not on others. Self-pity can be a form of pride as I think that I am the only one who knows about and cares about me.[12]

Issues arising include

  1. Belief that I don’t need to change –the problem is with everyone else not me
  2. Belief that I cannot change
  3. Wrong reasons for changing –to make God or others accept me
  4. Find it difficult to hear truth in particular mishear it as accusation/law and either
    • Resistance and hostility to what they need to hear and the person saying it
    • Attempt to comply with what is said in a legalistic/mechanistic way

Wrong views about Creation

Again we can identify two wrong turnings:

  1. Seeing matter as wholly evil as in gnostic type approaches –the world around me is to be distrusted and feared.
  2. Seeing matter as wholly good –failing to recognise the consequences of the Fall leading to
    • Hedonism –chasing pleasure from the World
    • Imitating/copying/following what I assume are “natural tendencies because I observe behaviours in other people and creatures.

Wrong views about the New Creation

  1. Living without hope, not having the confidence that there will be a new heavens and a new earth and/or that it is not worth looking forward to.  Leads to
    • Despair –nothing to hope for/look forward to -suicidal
    • Living for now –just seeking what pleasures I can gain now
    • Fear of death and dying –and a fight for health –of course death is unnatural/an enemy and it is quite right for Christians within context to look after their lives, keep healthy pray for God to preserve them through danger, ask for healing, seek treatment –but this can become all consuming
    • Seeking status and reward now for me and my children
  2. Over-realised Eschatology –expecting all the benefits of the New Creation now –e.g. prosperity Gospel. In practise can look like the same as above but with a spiritual justification and crushing disappointment when it goes wrong.

This type of counselling will need to be aware of the whole big picture of Biblical teaching.  It is not as simple as the Gideon’s approach of “Here are a few verses to help you when depressed, ill, grieving etc.”  (though I am not denying that some passages are  directly relevant and helpful) but it may also mean that Scripture we thought wasn’t directly relevant is after all.  Who would have thought that the passage around Romans 1:18 might be a wonderfully encouraging counselling passage?  Yet that passage underpins more or less everything we have looked at here?  The sovereign, righteous God reveals himself but we exchange his truth for a lie

  • Engaging with truth

One of the issues we have as we begin to engage with people about sin is the question of how they relate to truth.  There are a couple of issues here.

The Ability to tell ourselves the truth

When we engage with sin, we are putting ourselves under the influence of the Father of Lies.  The devil is a liar from the beginning.  His tactic is to replace the truth with error.  He will encourage us to replace God’s truth with lies.  As we have already considered, we begin to believe lies about God, Creation, Ourselves and the New Creation.  These lies are used to justify our behaviour.

Some of the lies we begin to believe include

  1. It wasn’t really sin
  2. It wasn’t that serious
  3. I had no other choice
  4. Others are to blame
  5. I can’t stop it now
  6. I will stop soon –just one more time…

The Ability to tell others the truth

As a pattern of untruth begins to take hold of our thinking, it becomes increasingly difficult to speak truthfully to others.  Sin encourages secretive behaviour (“men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil.”).  We may even believe the web of deceit which we begin to create –after all, we have begun to listen to the Father of lies.

The problem for the counsellor is that as we learn to tell lies, we learn to tell a good story.  Often there is a good percentage of truth in the story.  In the BBC series “Spooks” the spy Lucas North has “gone rogue” he is running to his own agenda which is at odds with MI5. Sir Harry Pearce, his boss calls him in for questioning.  North, explains what has happened and Harry believes him.  But North has deceived him.  As another spy explains “A liar will be very persuasive.  They will tell you a plausible story.  It will contain enough elements of the truth in it. It will even contain elements which show them in a bad light.

We need to be self-aware of this tendency in our own lives.  We also need to be aware and discerning as we seek to counsel. 

This means

  • We need to be very patient as we talk to people. It is easy to assume that we have got to the bottom of something, that the person has told us everything.  We can rush to accept the “confession” and to act on it.  We should not rush to act but wait to see what comes out.
    • We should be alert and aware to other pieces of the jigsaw as they emerge and also to what the missing pieces are.  That means taking time to hear what others have to say and also watching and observing how someone reacts.
      • We should think carefully about the questions we ask.  We should take time to ask diagnostic questions and clarifying questions.  Be prepared to ask about details –don’t accept gloss.  Ask similar questions again –watch out for changes in the story.
      • We should pray.  Actually no amount of human skill can solve this one.  We will need to spend time praying that the Spirit of truth will act in someone’s life.

The Ability to hear the truth from others

If we have become comfortable within a world of deceit, then the truth will be painful.  We will shy away from the light as it shines in.  When truth is spoken into a situation, then it is competing with the lies that the devil is continuing to tell/encouraging the person to tell themselves.

A big part of this involves doubt about your motives.  This is no surprise; the devil’s original tactic was to get Adam and Eve to doubt God’s motives. They will assume that you are trying to catch them out to trip them up.  They will think that you are condemning them.  They will see you as thinking yourself better than them.  They will believe that if you find out the worst about them, then you will give up on them.

  • The Gospel and Counselling

Counselling then is really about helping people apply the Gospel to their life situations.  Too often, we treat the Gospel as being something we tell people to become Christians and then something else like “discipleship” happens as a second process.  Really, the Gospel is the message which enables discipleship to happen all through life.

One particular problem I’ve noticed is that people see a perceived tension between Law and Grace.  They believe a lie about God, that there are two gods.  The Old Testament God is a God of Law who is angry at sin, demands our good works and punishes us.  The New Testament God is a merciful God who loves us, forgives us and says nice things to us about who we are.

The result of this understanding can be that when people are confronted with the Gospel, they think that they are hearing “Law” and condemnation.  So they close up against what is being said.  They respond by asking, am I not under grace now?   In their mind, they picture God speaking to the person under Law and saying “I am angry with you and don’t like you.” Then God turns to the person under Grace and says “I like you.”

In fact when we read the Old Testament, we discover that when God gives the Law, he does so in the context of grace.  He tells the Israelites to obey his Law because he has rescued them from slavery (Deuteronomy 5). 

God does not change and so Grace is a way that God consistently acts through history. Nor does God in the New Testament forget about his Law –Jesus came to fulfil the Law.  Rather, the point is that Grace tells us that Jesus has perfectly kept God’s Law on our behalf.[13]

So the Gospel is vital because

  1. It enables us to confront our sin honestly –naming it for what it is, recognising the damage it has caused, realising its seriousness.
  2. We see that our relationship with God is based on Grace.  –We know that we are forgiven and justified.  The penalty has been taken, we are reconciled.  The Gospel then gives us space to be honest and recognise the issues in our life.
  3. The Gospel gives us hope –that God uses our circumstances for good, taking away despair.  We know that our circumstances are temporary and the discipline of a loving father not the punishment of an angry tyrant.
  4. The Gospel gives us a right motivation.  We seek sanctification because we look forward to being with Jesus and because of the thankfulness that overflows from our hearts, not because we think we need to earn God’s or anyone’s favour.
  • Counselling and Repentance

One of the aims of counselling is to help a believer to repent from sin.  The Puritan, Thomas Watson identifies six stages in repentance.[14]

  1. Sight of sin
    • Sorrow for sin
    • Confession of sin
    • Shame for sin
    • Hatred of sin
    • Turning from sin

So repentance means rejecting the lies that the devil has told us and we have told ourselves, that our sin doesn’t matter that much or that there is no way out.  We learn to see sin for what it is, in all its ugliness, to hate it and to flee from it.

Watson was writing in 1668 but his insights are still valid today.  Tim Chester of the Crowded House Network has recently published a book on the Christian and Pornography.[15]    He provides a list of stages in turning from Pornography which broadly reflects Watson’s.[16]

  1. Abhorrence of Porn
  2. Adoration of God
  3. Assurance of Grace
  4. Avoidance of Temptation
  5. Accountability to Others.

In Chester’s list, Watson’s first 5 steps are covered under the first heading, Abhorrence.  Chester breaks down Watson’s final step of turning from sin into avoidance and accountability.  Chester also shows us that repentance and turning from sin cannot be achieved simply by focusing on the sin itself.  It is only when we focus on who God is, his beautiful character and his love and grace towards us that we can move to be free from sin.  We reject the Devil’s lies that God is weak, capricious, unsatisfying and believe in the truth that God is sovereign, gracious, all together lovely, all that we need.  Whilst Chester has written specifically about porn, his approach will apply to all areas of our lives.

7. Moving Forwarding

Most of what we have been looking at so far has really been about diagnosis but how do we help someone to move forward in life, to face the issue and to live a Christian life that brings glory to God.  For many people, that will mean living with the fall-out from whatever brought them to see us in the first place.  It may mean facing life without a close relative because of bereavement or separation.  It may mean living with chronic physical pain.  It may mean that they are no longer able to do certain things that they used to do, even some areas of ministry may be closed off to them either permanently or for a long period of time.  It may mean that they are left fighting a constant battle against a particular temptation which they have entertained in the past and have left themselves vulnerable to.

Living in a world of pain

An important part of their ability to cope will be a right understanding of what life in this world is going to be like.  It might be helpful to return to the two important loci of Creation and New Creation as we help them see what it means to live between Christ’s first and second coming.

Key lessons that we will want them to learn are:

               -God made a good world.  Suffering, pain, conflict, death, evil are consequences of the Fall

-Troubles and suffering are temporary –God’s plan is for a new/renewed Creation from which evil and pain will be banished.

-Although our present situation is temporary, it matters.  Physical life is not inconsequential.  It is part of God’s plan.  God cares about what happens here and will give us the strength and resources we need to live in the situation that he has placed us in.

-God intentionally uses our circumstances for good.  The Bible tells us not to despise discipline because loving parents discipline their children.  God is not vindictively punishing the believer but using their circumstances to draw them closer to himself, to bring about sanctification and to prepare them for future glory.

A Christ-centred life

The Apostle Paul claimed to have discovered the secret of contentment.  He said that “Christ is gain.”  What is the secret to moving forward?  It is Christ centred-ness.  That isn’t something that we can go through some mechanistic steps to create, so how can we help someone to move to a Christ-centred life?

Here are some thoughts

-We will want to encourage them to keep telling themselves the Gospel.  To remind themselves of what Christ has done for them.  One benefit of this is that Christ gives us an example and puts our own suffering into perspective.  We learn that it is actually a privilege to suffer.

-Tell stories from the Bible.  Remind them about how God has been with people through troubles.  Remind them especially of Christ’s love and compassion, how it is possible to find peace in the midst of the storm when Christ is with us.

-Encourage them to pray.  Pray with them.  Teach them to pray again.  They may not find it easy to pray on their own and at the moment this isn’t the important thing.  The important thing is for them to be taking part in prayer.  Use Biblical models of prayer, The Lord’s Prayer, Psalms, Paul’s prayers.

Disciplines for a Christ-centred life

We are rightly wary of simplistic behaviourist responses.  It is easy to simply give someone a programme of activities to do in order to keep them busy and distract them from the problem.  That way, the programme and not Christ becomes the centre of their life.

However, it may well be that introducing some form of discipline into someone’s life may help them to move from chaos to order and to put things into perspective as they learn to live with Christ as their Lord.  So for example we might want to encourage some very practical disciplines

-Rest: are they taking time off to relax?  Is the computer always on?  Do they get to bed at a sensible time?

-Budgeting: are their finances under control?

-Work:  Do they get up at a regular time?  Are they just wasting the day away or is their meaningful, purposeful activity.  This isn’t just about paid work but may include exercise, house-work, helping others, pursuit of a hobby, sport or interest, art etc.

-Food:  Are they eating at regular meal times?  Do they have a healthy diet?

These things will have a major impact.  We will also want to talk to them about spiritual disciplines, prayer life, spending time with God’s people, reading the Bible, hearing God’s Word taught.  A healthy diet is important here.  We will want to make sure that the teaching they are receiving is healthy that they are not hearing false or unbalanced teaching and that they are receiving what is appropriate to them.  There is no point running around to different Bible teaching events dealing with complex theological matters or reading heavy books if you are not able to digest it.

What we are doing here is helping them to avoid the mistake that Peter made when he got out of the boat to walk towards Jesus in the storm.[17]  Peter responded in faith to Jesus’ call.  However, once on the sea, he looked around him at the storm and losing faith began to sink.  Martyn Lloyd Jones says that Peter’s problem is that “he does not think things right through.  He does not work them right out.”[18]  We help the believer plan for the future, not naive about the circumstances, but knowing that Christ is with them in those circumstances.[19]

Fruitfulness:  From survivors to “more than conquerors.”

The end goal is that we want people to see that they don’t just have to survive and live with their circumstances.  We will want to help them discover over the long term how God can use their present circumstances for their growth and fruitfulness.

Conquering is not necessarily about grand victories but more often than not is about small steps.  When they learn to say no to temptation, they are bearing the fruit of self-control.  When they do not complain, even in the face of severe pain they are showing patience.  When they return a harsh word with a soft one to the person at work who causes them no end of trouble and heart-ache, they are displaying love and kindness.

Fruitfulness means that God is glorified in our lives.  This is important because God’s purpose is his own glory, so he will give us everything we need to live for his glory.  As we learn to praise God, even in times of trouble, we are conquerors.  Fruitfulness will mean that others will be able to see God at work in our lives and we will be able to talk to them about the Gospel.


Every Christian should be expected and prepared to have some involvement in counselling others.  That may take place in a number of contexts ranging from a quick conversation over coffee at the end of the morning service through to a more formal, planned counselling context.

The best way to be prepared to counsel is to have a good, practical understanding of God’s word and a compassionate spirit towards fellow believers.

Some Further Reading from a Christian perspective

Jay E Adams, Competent to Counsel (Presbyterian and Reformed, 1976).

Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor (1656.  Rpr. Puritan Paperbacks, Edinburgh, Banner of Truth, 2007).

Larry Crabb, Inside Out (Amersham on the Hill, Bucks.: Scripture Press, 1988).

D Martyn Lloyd Jones, Spiritual Depression 1965 Rpr.  Glasgow: Pickering and Inglis, 1972).

Timothy S  Lane and Paul David Tripp, How People Change (Greensboro, NC.: New Growth Press, 2008).

Thomas Watson, The Doctrine of Repentance (Rpr. Puritan Paperbacks.  Edinburgh. Banner of Truth 1987).

John White, The Masks of Melancholy.  A Christian psychiatrist looks at depression and suicide (Leicester. IVP, 1982).

[1] Based on diagram at David Westbrook, Helen Kennedy and Joan Kirk,  An Introduction to Cognitive Behaviour Therapy.  Skills and Applications (London.  Sage, 2007), 6.

[2] See D Martyn Lloyd Jones, Spiritual Depression (Rpr. Glasgow: Pickering and Inglis, 1972), 14-19. (See especially page 18).

[3] Cf 3 John:2

[4] See e.g. Mark Dever and Paul Alexander, The Deliberate Church (Wheaton, Il.: Crossway, 2005), 67-68.

[5] Contra the position that Jay Adams at times appears to come close to articulating.  See e.g. Jay E Adams, Competent to Counsel (Presbyterian and Reformed, 1976), 28-35.

[6] Gal 6:1-2 and Rom 15:14 See especially Jay E Adams, Competent to Counsel 60 and Jay E Adams, Ready to Restore –also Scripture references Gal 6:1-2.

[7] So as Adams points out, Rom 15:14 gives certain qualifications that counsellors need including goodness and knowledge.  Adams, Competent to Counsel, 60.

[8] John White is helpful in acknowledging the place of professional counsellors and psychologists whilst also insisting that we often expect too much of psychology.  “Consequently, we are too prone to pass on difficult cases to obliging counsellors, social workers without carefully considering whether we are doing so merely to get rid of a problem we ought to have been able to solve.”  John White, The Masks of Melancholy.  A Christian psychiatrist looks at depression and suicide (Leicester. IVP, 1982), 59.

[9] Though we need to carefully check out the presuppositions on which a counselling method is based noting that in some cases, the aim if the underpinning psychological theory was to provide spiritual answers without needing to resort to the Christian God.  See for example Carl Gustav Jung. Modern Man in Search of a Soul (Translated by WS Dell  & Carl Henry Baynes, Repr. London Routledge Classics, 2001).

[10] See Ready to Restore…

[11] See Anthony C Moss and Kyle R Dyer, Psychology of Addictive Behaviour (Palgrave Insights In Psychology.  Basingstoke.  Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), 83-91.

[12] See Augustine, City of God XIV.6, 10, 28.  See also, Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV/2, 404-407.

[13] On Law and Grace and also Law and Love, See John M Frame, The Doctrine of the Word of God (A Theology o Lordship Volume 4.  Presbyterian & Reformed, Phillipsburg, NJ.: 2010), 155-157.

[14] Thomas Watson, The Doctrine of Repentance (Puritan Paperbacks.  Edinburgh. Banner of Truth, 1987), 18.

[15] Tim Chester, Captured by a Better Vision: Living a Porn Free Life (Leicester. IVP, 2010)

[16] Chester, Captured by a better Vision, 21.

[17] Matt 14:22-33.

[18] Lloyd Jones, Spiritual Depression, 152.

[19] See also, Timothy S  Lane and Paul David Tripp, How People Change (Greensboro, NC.: New Growth Press, 2008), 95-128

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