“Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.” (Acts 20:26-29 KJV)
Pastors who engage in counseling or refer congregants to a counselor should have two basic reasons for doing so. First and foremost, they should be interested in the spiritual validation of the congregant. In other words, they are seeking to discover fruit meet for repentance. They want to know that this person has a genuine relationship with Christ. If the person does not know Christ, then the prescription is readily apparent; they need to repent and follow Christ. In addition to this, and no less important, they are interested in the sanctification of the congregant. Specifically, they want this person to grow spiritually. As a pastor, your number one goal is to produce spiritual growth in your congregation. Few things afford the kind of opportunity for spiritual growth as Biblical counseling. Prudent pastors recognize this and take every advantage of this wonder ministry to help believers in their care to grow in their knowledge of and sanctification in Christ.
Pastor when you refer a congregant to a counselor, you have not delegated to another, the responsibility God has placed on you for the spiritual well-being of that person. In fact, it is precisely the spiritual well-being of that person that the counselor must be concerned to treat. “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account.”(Hebrews 13:17) “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.” (James 3:1) As a pastor, God will hold you responsible for engaging in His prescribed behaviors that are necessary to provide the guidance and support believers require to progress along their spiritual journey. Moreover, this support should help Christians grow in their sanctification and develop spiritually healthy lives that reflect the gracious work of the Holy Spirit in their heart. This is the fundamental duty of the shepherd/pastor/elder. If this duty were eliminated, the pastorate would be insignificant, unnecessary, and quite frankly, obsolete. The office of pastor was ordained in the body of Christ to equip the saints for service, to build people up, to move us to unity in faith, to help us mature spiritually, to protect us from false doctrines that are destructive to our spiritual well-being. (Eph. 4:11-14) Hence it follows that if you, the pastor, aren’t spending the majority of your time engaging in these activities, you are likely spending your time indiscreetly. For this reason, it is extremely important that pastors are absolutely certain their goals are compatible with the counseling team’s goals (and vice versa) prior to referring congregants for counseling.
Three Reasons for Biblical Counseling
1. Biblical counseling discovers the right diagnosis
2. Biblical counseling reaches the right destination
3. Biblical counseling produces true discipleship
Discovers the Right Diagnosis
It is impossible to provide sound counsel to someone if you are not able to correctly diagnose their problem. Oftentimes what looks like a problem in reality, is really the symptom of a problem or the indirect result of another problem lurking just under the surface. How does psychology and Christianity differ in their diagnosis of various life problems? Psychology does not tie human behavior to how one thinks about the doctrine of God’s sovereignty and how that sovereignty is worked out providentially in our lives. Psychology views life problems as random events we all have deal with. Things just happen. Notwithstanding, Christian counseling seeks to help the believer understand that oftentimes, our problem is that we are not thinking biblically about God, his sovereign control over creation, our role as His subjects, and the fact that He is the author of the circumstances in our life and that the circumstances are designed by Him for His glory and our good. Our spiritual growth is indelibly connected to how we respond to unrealized expectations in relationships and circumstances. Moreover, the very barometer for one’s spiritual well-being is how they respond to these unrealized expectations, or perceived unmet needs. If psychology is occupied with locating the cause of our problems elsewhere, as the proverb says, it begins an inch off the mark and has no chance of ending but 1,000 miles off target.
It follows that attempting to integrate psychological method with Biblical counseling in diagnosing life-problems is ineffective and unnecessary. Psychology contends that life-problems are the result of genetic and physiological factors, social and environmental factors, or the social milieu of the individual. Biblical counseling focuses entirely on our sinful responses to these factors as the real culprit of the problem and not the factors themselves. In fact, Biblical counseling contends that God deliberately placed us in the particular lot we find ourselves in for his glory and our good. Our primary concern as Christians is to glorify God in how we relate and respond to those circumstances. Psychology fails to take such concerns into account. Healthy living begins with healthy thinking. Apart from thinking God’s thoughts after Him, and recognizing His supreme control, healthy thinking will always prove evasive. And if healthy thinking is not achieved, counselees are unlikely to realize healthy living. If you help your congregant think biblically, it may drastically reduce the number of life problems they perceive over the course of their lives. But if every life problem is treated as one more random, preventable event that needs remediation, a vicious cycle of dependency could be the result. And that is spiritually, mentally, and emotionally unhealthy. It follows that if Scripture is completely sufficient for life and godliness, and that it is the goal of the pastor as well, then introducing methods outside of Scripture run the risk of diminishing, not enhancing, the effectiveness of counseling.
Reaches the Right Destination
Psychology seeks to help human beings find meaning, purpose, and fulfillment in life outside of God. Psychology is entirely focused on ‘self.’ Psychology has no interest in helping man arrive at proper thinking about God, creation, man, and how one may conform to the image of Christ. Psychology’s fundamental presupposition is that humanistic reasoning is adequate to address man’s spiritual problems and faith in a supernatural being is unnecessary. The goals of psychology focus on things like self-esteem, love, acceptance, and feeling significant. Biblical discipleship or Biblical counseling on the other hand, has different aspirations – holiness . “Therefore I urge you brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2) The chief end of every human is to fear God and keep his commandments. This is the whole duty of man. What that looks like today is living a life that is being transformed by right thinking about God and all that God has to say about who and what He is, creation, life, and humanity. In short, it looks like a life that is attempting to mimic the life of Christ as revealed to us through Holy Writ. The goal of Christian counseling is transformation. But what does this transformation look like? Counselees are advised to transform from their present state into a desired state. They need help understanding what the desired state looks like. God, who is Lord over all creation, has revealed this desired state to us in Scripture through the incarnation of Christ. Moreover, God’s self-disclosure in Scripture provides specific direction for counselors and counselees alike, not only on what the desired state looks like, but how to achieve it.
The destination of Biblical counseling as opposed to secular psychology is Christian conversion and/or spiritual growth. Nothing is more suited to this end than the revelation of Scripture. Humanistic psychology has no interest in God, conversion, or sanctification of believers in Christ. In fact, most of the proponents of modern psychology are not only dispassionate about God, many of them are outright hostile to God. The unbeliever suppresses the truth of God and exchanges it for a lie. (Rom. 1:25) In fact, it could be said that no one is even dispassionate about God, but that all who are not a friend of God are enemies of God. (Matt. 6:24) When it comes to religious knowledge, there is no such thing as neutral ground. Those who attempt to merge psychology with Biblical Counseling make a grave mistake by thinking that such neutrality exists. Scripture unambiguously and unequivocally teaches that it does not!
Produces True Discipleship
Once you understand what issues are confronting the counselee, that is to say you have made the right diagnosis of their present condition, and you have determined the right destination, you are now in a position to come up with a plan for how they can reach that destination. We call this plan, discipleship. Jesus said, “Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations.” (Matt. 28:19) Pastor, you are not in the business of professional secular counseling. You are in the business of making disciples. In my secular work we have what we call a professional development plan. In the kingdom of God, Biblical counseling is what we might call a discipleship development plan. The Greek word for disciple is mathetes.
Being a disciple of Christ means the unconditional surrender and sacrifice of the whole life of the individual. This means every part of the human person is given over wholly to God. The intellect, the emotion, and the will are now captive to the Master-Teacher. Jesus said anyone who loves mother, father, daughter or son more than me is not worthy to be his disciple (Matt. 10:37-39) What does that look like? Anytime pleasing someone else, including oneself, becomes more important to a person than pleasing God, serious examination of the Master-disciple relationship is in order. There are times when we have lapses in this goal. And it is precisely to this end that Biblical counseling is designed to address. Lapses in behavior are one thing, but patterns of thinking that determine patterns of life that reflect overt disobedience to God’s expressed will is a different matter altogether.
Pastors are in the business of making and training disciples, from among whom, some will go out to make and train more disciples. In short, pastors are in the business of advancing the kingdom of God through discipleship. It would be a mistake for you to think that your end goal is to “fix a person.” That is the secular mindset. That is the aim of psychology. Psychology is not the least bit interested in the advancement of the kingdom of God. Biblical counseling understands that its true cause and ultimate purpose is the advancement of the kingdom of God through meaningful discipleship.
Pastors are looking for change. Specifically the change they are seeking is biblical change. Moreover, biblical change equals Christ-likeness. We are to be transformed into the image of Christ and we do this through discipleship in the church. In brief, pastors are looking for the kind of Christ-like change that brings glory to God. This is exactly the aim of Biblical counseling and this is what sets it apart from psychology and other methods that may attempt to integrate psychology into “Christian” counseling.
Biblical counseling asserts that God is the designer of all human life and that He has given us all things pertaining to life and godliness and that these things are revealed to us in His word. “Seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.” (2 Peter 1:3) Biblical counseling contends that Scripture alone is sufficient and as such is the sole authority for helping believers address all matters pertaining to life and godliness. “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:16)
Pastor, as a shepherd leader before you even start a sermon, project, goal, or church initiative, you should understand what you want the end state to look like. Doing so will help you devise a plan or road map to get there. In counseling and discipleship, the same holds true. It is critically important that the counselor and counselee know the desired state, the present state, and what the road map between the two looks like. It is here that Christian counseling is quite distinct from psychology because it has a unique starting point, a unique road map, and an entirely unique objective. Before referring their congregants to a counseling team, pastors should be familiar with the philosophies and methods that team employees as it seeks to help people move from where they are to where they should be and how that journey will progress along the way. Paul says, “You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” (2 Tim. 2:14-15)
The Goal of Counseling and the responsibility of pastors within Christianity is spiritual growth. Moreover, the only source given by God for true spiritual growth is the Bible, properly exposited through preaching teaching, counseling, and personal study. Consequently it follows that Biblical counseling is sufficient to produce effective spiritual growth and as a result healthy living within the Christian community. If I were to ask you, pastor, to give me the details of your discipleship development plan in your church and how you execute on that plan, would you be able to launch into an intimate explanation of deliberate actions you have taken as a pastor to install and supervise such a process? If I were to ask you if you are aware of the philosophies of those to whom you refer members for counseling and discipleship, would you be able to answer? Perhaps its time for some due diligence around a discipleship development plan and a review of any outside counseling services you currently use. Technically, you should conduct such reviews no less than annually to make sure there are no unexpected philosophical shifts taking place. This is extremely healthy for you and your congregation.
Carl Jung, wrote, "The psychologist, in as much as he assumes a scientific attitude, has to disregard the claim of every creed to be the unique and eternal truth...he is concerned with the original religious experience quite apart from what the creeds have made of it." [The Teachings of Carl Jung]
Based on key presuppositions centered around the inherently good "inner nature" of man, he draws this conclusion and stakes his claim:
"Observe that if these assumptions are proven true, they promise a scientific ethics, a natural value system, a court of ultimate appeal for the determination of good and bad, of right and wrong. The more we learn about man's natural tendencies, the easier it will be to tell him how to be good, how to be happy, how to be fruitful, how to respect himself, how to love, how to fulfill his highest potentialities." [Maslow, Toward a Psychology of Being, p.4]
Freud hated Christianity and made every effort to launch attacks on its central teachings and practices, supposing that he could "explain" religion by means of his psychoanalytic theory. Freud is described as a "convinced, consistent, aggressive atheist" who considered himself as "godless Jew." [Exposing the Roots – Freudian Frauds, Christian Discernment Ministries]
The Greek word for disciple is mathetes. In Koine Greek, a disciple was one who was a student, or an apprentice; one who is rather constantly associated with someone who has a pedagogical reputation or a particular set of views. Mathetes always implies the existence of a personal attachment which shapes the whole life of the one described as mathetes, and which in its particularity leaves no doubt as to who is deploying the formative power. [Kittel] A man is called a mathetes when he binds himself to someone else in order to acquire his practical and theoretical knowledge. [ W. Bauder in NIDNTT] The almost technical sense of the word, which implies a direct dependence of the one under instruction upon an authority superior in knowledge, and which emphasises (sic) the fact that his relation cannot be dissolved, controls the whole usage, no matter whether the reference is to the winning of technical or academic information and skill. [Kittel] There also appears a definite kinship between the Greek mathetes and the Hebrew talmid. The linguistic kinship is confirmed by the fact that the Rabbinate itself spoke of the Talmidim of Jesus. [Kittel] W. Bauder comments, “Therefore learning means primarily that the talmid appropriates the knowledge of his teacher and examines it critically by comparing it against the Torah. Moreover, learning means the process by which the past experience of the love of God is translated by the learners into obedience to the Torah of God (cf. Deut. 4:14) [Bauder]