Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. (Gal 6:1-3)
Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. (1Th 5:11)
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, (Eph 4:11-13)
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. (Eph 4:29)
…who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (2 Cor. 1:4)
So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. (1 Thes. 2:8)
When Ken Steele was just fourteen years old, he began hearing voices telling him to kill himself. For the next three decades he was in and out of mental institutions, taking a myriad of medications, being beaten up, raped, abused, used, and ignored. Ken lived a plethora of nightmares with homosexuals, drug addicts, political wolves, and medical practitioners who were more interested in protecting their careers than in helping those entrusted to their care.
Now fifty years old, Ken sits in your office asking for help to deal with the voices.
We’re All In This Together
The Church is a collection of baptized people who profess Christ as their Lord and Savior. It is a collection of individuals who are in the process of becoming like Christ. It is also a body of Christ with lumps and bumps and all kinds of blemishes. There is no one who can claim that they have arrived or who don’t need to work on anything anymore. There have been various churches and denominations who have claimed to have been completed, or who don’t sin anymore, but poke one of these people in the eye and watch what they do. We’re all in this process together: individually and corporately.
Our Goal and Calling
The Apostle Paul tells his various readers to work with one another in a sacrificial way to help one another become more Christ-like in all areas of life (Gal. 6:1). He tells us to encourage one another and build one another up to Christ likeness (1 Thess. 5:11). We have already seen that we are to imitate him in striving to present every man mature in Christ (Col. 1:28). Notice this is a one another kind of thing, not a minister/special person kind of thing. We have all been given various gifts which we are to use to help one another walk with Christ. Does this mean that everyone should be a lay or peer counselor? In one sense, yes. In another sense, not at all.
How To Know
The most obvious way to know if God can use you as an encourager is to ask yourself if you are still breathing. If you are, then you are called, no commanded to lift others up to Christ. If not breathing, well…. The next thing to ask yourself is how you are doing with the Lord yourself. If you are struggling with no answers in your own life, then you should probably wait to try to help others (Mt. 15:14). But because everyone is struggling with various things, you can still help others with what you do know. Galatians 6:1 tells us that those who are spiritual should help others who are trapped in sin. What does spiritual mean? Basically it means to wait until you are walking with God as a normal part of your life. By walking with God, I mean, keeping short accounts with God. This means, not that you don’t sin, but that when you do sin, you take care of making things right with God and with others very quickly. This does a couple of things: first, it keeps you in a position to learn from God as you walk with him. We don’t grow in our faith unless we are in a right relationship with God. When we are in sin, all we learn is that we are in sin. But the fear of the Lord (right relationship), is the beginning of knowledge (Pro. 1:7). Second, walking with God means that you aren’t committing hugely rebellious sins any longer. Your sins are mostly inside your head and with more maturity comes smaller sins. This doesn’t mean that you feel any less hatred for your sin, in fact, you will feel even stronger against sin as you mature, but that your sins are not as obvious to others.
1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 give a list of qualifications for church leadership. The lay/peer counselor is not necessarily going to be an elder or deacon in their church, but they should be pursuing the character that church leaders are required to possess.
Nuts and Bolts
Beyond spiritual qualities, there should be some giftedness. The quest for testing the gifts is always desire. Do you desire to help others in a systematic and purposeful way? If you do, you might have the gifts required to become a good counselor. Are you discerning? Can you read people and hear what they are telling you beyond what they are saying? Can you put life together with hearing a story? Do you have a little bit of suspicion in you? A good counselor needs to know people and how people work, think, live, and relate to one another. You need to be able to diagnose a problem and see roots and anticipate desires. Another question to ask is, Are you a good teacher in general? Do others learn easily from you? When you taught that swim class, did the students learn to swim better than before they came to the class? What about that sewing course you taught? In the church realm, do people get a lot out of your lessons in Bible study? Are your students learning and growing in the Lord as a result of your ministry?
Biblical counselors do teach, but they do it in a very different way than preachers or other kinds of teachers. Teachers usually take texts or topics and expound, or explain them to the students. If there is any application, for example in preaching, it comes from the text rather than from life. In counseling, people with problems come for counsel and encouragement with their own particular and specific problem. The counselor needs to be able to listen to a counselee’s story and very quickly translate the story into Biblical terms and be able to point the person to Biblical solutions to their life’s problems. Not only this, but as we will see, the counselor is not simply finding verses that say, “don’t do this” or “don’t do that” we are looking for passages that address philosophies of life, or mixed up theology, or principles of life. Biblical counselors go much deeper than simply proof texts for life problems. In contrast to the normal teacher, Biblical counselors come to the text through the person’s life situation rather than to the situation from the text.
For Further Reading
Jay Adams, The Christian Counselors Manual
David Powlison, Seeing with New Eyes
Paul Tripp, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands
John MacArthur & Wayne Mack, Biblical Counseling