Between the pandemic, horrifying tragedies, social media, and therapy commercials starring Olympic athletes, dynamics are merging to make counseling the norm in our cultural landscape. And it’s trending just as much inside our church communities.
With this emphasis on counseling, comes an influx of differing opinions. Opinions, though, are never comprehensive. Extreme voices tend to frame conversations, leaving moderate voices rarely heard. Reasonable voices are rarely found on Twitter; they’re too busy serving. As a result, public conversation often represents zealous positions, tempting us toward one ditch or the other. What’s shaping culture also influences the counseling conversation. This means blanket denunciations are often made of one counseling methodology over another. The conversation needs reframing, particularly for Christians, especially for ministry leaders.
Wise perspective requires sober mindedness (Titus 2:11-14).
Thoughtful counseling perspective shouldn’t be about condemning one methodology over another. Untrustworthiness exists in every vital profession. There are pastors who shouldn’t be, congressmen who shouldn’t be, teachers who shouldn’t be, doctors who shouldn’t be. And there are counselors who shouldn’t be. Instead of discrediting an entire category, we should seek to know the Creator while also seeking to understand his creation (Col 1:16). We should ask for his guidance (James 1:5) and be intuitive listeners, exploring what’s helpful. The potential of bad counseling shouldn’t stop us from seeking good counseling; it should make us diligent and discerning (Rom 12:2).
Dangerous counseling is not confined to one approach.
Harmful help is everywhere. There are horror stories of psychiatrists overprescribing for a diagnosis the patient doesn’t have, and counselors who blame victims for their abuse. I recently heard a psychologist suggest a mother rock her grown son with a baby bottle to solve attachment issues. I often hear from people seeking Christian therapy only to discover the therapist won’t talk about Jesus. Bad counsel can come from any methodology.
Counseling is a high calling. It’s a call to shepherd and love people in the most vulnerable places of their soul. It’s a call to manifest Christlike compassion and grace. It’s a call to help others move forward in healing. This means any counselor must be full of humility and grace (Eph 4:2). If this is true, here’s our new perspective:
The Bible is sufficient, not the counselor (2 Tim 3:15-17).
The Bible being sufficient doesn’t make every counselor sufficient. No earthly helper, regardless of degree, certification, Bible knowledge, or skill can be. No counselor will have all wisdom. The Bible is for everyone, but counseling is not a one-size-fits-all. Effective biblical counsel doesn’t prescribe a verse a day to keep the worry away. While all Christians have “everything we need for life and godliness through the knowledge of Him” (2 Pet. 1:3), that doesn’t mean everyone knows how to interpret or apply it. It is, however, at our disposal to learn and grow in with the help of the Spirit.
Personal sin isn’t always the problem.
It’s been said that biblical counselors want to blame everything on sin. In one theological sense, we can. Not because a person’s suffering is always a result of their personal sin, but because pain came into the world through sin (Rom 5:12). Therefore, all suffering derives from sin in general. Sin and suffering exist because of our fallen state. This doesn’t mean abuse victims or the chronically depressed are reaping the consequences of personal sin. It’s never a spouse’s fault if their husband or wife uses pornography. It’s never a child’s fault if the mother is abusive. A rape victim cannot “bring it on herself.” We are all sinners; therefore, we do sin (Rom 3:23). But our suffering is not always linked to personal sin (Ps 34:19).
The body really does keep score; but the body is never the only problem (Rom 8:11).
While holding firmly to biblical convictions, we can recognize the value in learning from other disciplines. For instance, pornography creates neuropathways in the physical brain, making it habit forming. This in no way negates the root of addiction as a worship problem requiring godly transformation (Rom 8:6). But learning about neural pathways helps show a bigger picture. A person may need rehabilitation or medication, but the heart must also be addressed for true, lasting change.
Counseling should be comprehensive, but one person isn’t (Ps 146:3).
One doctor cannot know every ailment: neither can a counselor. We aren’t disembodied hearts; we aren’t merely bodies. We are the imago Dei. This means a person may need both a doctor and a counselor, a nutritionist, and an endocrinologist. But also, no scenario removes the need for divine wisdom. If I have cancer, I still need spiritual guidance. If I struggle with fear, I still need godly counsel. If I have a thyroid problem, my relationship to God remains primary.
Counseling is best with the right fit (1 Cor 12:14).
Not everyone clicks with the same counselor. This isn’t personally insulting to the counselor. It displays the beauty and diversity of God’s creation and plan to use all people in kingdom work. Personalities matter. Communication styles matter. Some prefer a counselor to be milder or maybe more outgoing. This is encouraging for counselors as it relieves pressure of needing to help all people. God’s Word is sufficient, but the make-up and character of both parties’ matter.
As pastors seek to get counseling help, as leaders give referrals, as struggling Christians are looking for help, what do we need to remember?
There are stereotypes embedded in every counseling methodology; but these stereotypes don’t tell the whole story. There are wise, educated, and mindful counselors who believe deeply in the sufficiency of Scripture and yet, recognize the need for medicine, trauma research, and rehabilitation. Regardless of methodology, the best counselor will first be a biblical anthropologist.
Counseling itself isn’t all-sufficient but drinking from God’s wisdom produces good mental health (Ps 19). We also aren’t self-sufficient, but God promises to be our helper (2 Cor. 3:4-6; 9:8). Our calling then, is to know, remember, and utilize God’s truth, knowledge, goodness, and promises. It’s the primary call for every Christian. It’s the primary solution for hurting souls. And it should be the goal of every Christian counselor, regardless of methodology.