Even on the best of days
We would like to think that every time we begin to counsel, the destination will be God’s beautiful sanctifying work in another, and we will rejoice in having the front-row seat. But what about the times when that is not where we land? What about the times when we feel as though we have run headlong into a brick wall, and rather than a front-row seat to a redeeming work it looks more like a shipwreck.
As a retired Naval Officer, I know of no officer who started their day thinking “I am going to cause a shipwreck today.” Yet, in spite of the best of efforts, though rare, on some days two ships will collide on a big ocean and the consequences are always catastrophic. For example, in 2017, USS Fitzgerald collided with a container ship off the coast of Japan and then, 9 weeks later, the USS John S. McCain collided with a chemical transport in the shipping lanes near Singapore. The cost of those collisions included the lives of 17 Sailors.
After 30 years of sailing and serving with the finest men and women our nation has to offer, I remain exceptionally proud of what they are able to accomplish day by day in the most challenging environments in the world. Yet, history demonstrates that even the best of the best cannot guarantee a perfect outcome. From these two collisions, and many others, the common thread woven through them was an issue of training. Whether it was knowledge not yet gained, or skills that had atrophied, when the outcome turns ugly, we must ask the question, “What could I have done to prepare?” In the Navy that meant honestly asking “How was I trained?”
Though a counseling case gone bad may not appear to have the same consequences as a collision at sea, I might argue that the significance can be even greater. In the counseling room, we are addressing the spiritual lives and eternal destinies of those who come for counsel from God’s Word. The collisions that we are looking to prevent may tear a marriage or family apart, leave a person enslaved to the desires of a sinful heart, or even result in a person’s relationship with God remaining broken. I believe we must ask the question as well – “What could I have done to prepare?” In the extreme, it may even cause us to question whether we were ready to counsel.
Yes – We do have what we need
To answer these questions, we must first remind ourselves what we are seeking to do in biblical counseling and the tools we have available. As ministers of the Word, Paul calls us to “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another.” (Col 3:16) and describing followers of Christ, he said, “And concerning you, my brethren, I myself am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and are able to admonish one another.” (Rom 15:14). Each of Paul’s statements holds to the assumption that we are teaching and admonishing from the sufficient Word which provides all the answers we need for life and godliness.
The biggest variable after the counselee is the counselor themself. Are we equipped to counsel? “Paul set forth goodness and knowledge as qualifications for Good Counselors…(and) recognized that any Christian may engage in nouthetic counseling, so long as he possesses the qualities of goodness and knowledge.” (J. Adams, Competent to Counsel p. 60). This is encouraging, but it still leaves the questions of what went wrong for a case that ends poorly. The answers to that are complex and sometimes are far more related to the response of the counselee than the actions of the counselor. But if we desire to grow and let the word of Christ richly dwell within us as Col 3:16 describes, we must not stop at the minimum qualifications, but rather we must seek to grow and the process for growth starts with our training.
Why we need to continue growing
Coming from the Navy where you did not stand watch or operate equipment without a formal qualification process, I am thankful for the process and the level of effort asked of our counselors to reach the point of being a Certified Biblical Counselor. (For more information on ACBC certification, click here.) But even with all that work completed, like the fully qualified Sailors on the ship, we cannot be satisfied that our initial certification will always be enough.
Unlike the Sailors who need to be trained and retrained as new and upgraded equipment is installed, God’s Word is unchanging, and Biblical Counselors will always begin with a complete foundation of truth in the Scriptures, “seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness.” (2 Pet 1:3a). But we must also acknowledge that as Biblical Counselors, though His Word is complete, our knowledge of it is not. As such Peter finished his second letter with a command to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Pet 3:18) Though we may be qualified, we are not done. There is more to learn.
Two years ago, when the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC) announced the requirement for Continuing Education Units (CEU) for each of the certified counselors, I stood in support of their initiative and foresight to see the need for continuing training. Though training is not a guarantee of the elimination of risk or the promise of only positive outcomes, it is a needed step to help us all grow that we might richly dwell in the word of Christ.
At Faith Biblical Counseling Ministries, this has meant the support of the ACBC initiative and a continued refreshing of the ongoing training tracks provided at the Biblical Counseling Training Conference in February and available in multiple other formats. (FBCM Training). But this is not new to Faith. Ongoing training has been at the heart of FBCM for over 45 years.
In addition to formal training, FBCM is committed to the support and training of each of our counselors. Though the counselor may be the only one in the counseling room, we would never want them to feel as if they were alone. This is one of the reasons, FBCM has brought back an old practice as part of Monday Counseling. We are thankful for all of the counselors who give their time to serve the community through biblical counseling on Monday afternoons and evenings. But even a biblical counselor needs to eat. So to use the time well, we have begun to meet during the dinner hour for the support and training of our counselors. Our time provides an opportunity to discuss questions prevalent in biblical counseling, review journal articles from authors outside FBCM to refresh our understanding, and even share case studies to find help in setting a path for counseling the most challenging cases. The goal of our training is to keep our team unified and standing together on a foundation of the true gospel and prevent any theological drift that could so easily seep in through false teachers who may eloquently present their ideas to draw us away from the sufficiency of the Word. Our goal is to equip wise counselors, seeking the Word in faith without doubting, “for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.” (James 1:6).
When training fails, a ship can be tossed by the sea bringing the risk of collision, or worse for a counselor, we may risk the loss of a soul. If you are certified as a biblical counselor, I want to encourage you to commit the time needed for ongoing training and refreshing in God’s unchanging Word. For our counselors here, I want to encourage you to be a part of our training on every second Monday. If you lead a counseling team, consider how your ministry is meeting this need. It does not have to look like FBCM, it simply needs to meet the training needs of your counselors. If you are outside Lafayette and especially if you are counseling alone, please reach out to us as we care about your ministry too and want to equip you through opportunities like the BCTC or other training products.
If we were at sea, I would wish you fair winds and following seas…in the counseling room, my prayer is for your peace and confidence as you seek to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to help and serve others through the ministry of the Word.
Links to Training Resources:
Faith Biblical Counseling Ministry Training – https://www.faithlafayette.org/counseling/training
Faith Biblical Counseling Ministry Resources – https://www.faithlafayette.org/counseling/counseling-resources
Biblical Counseling in Action Podact – https://www.faithlafayette.org/conferences/counseling-resources/podcasts
Joyful Journey Podcast – https://www.faithlafayette.org/conferences/counseling-resources/podcasts
ACBC Training and Resources – https://biblicalcounseling.com/training/