by Jeremy Lelek
During the Fall of 1999, I entered the final year of my Master’s program, and was given the daunting task of finding a counseling center at which I was to fulfill my practicum experience as a student. This was an exciting time wherein I was to take all of the book knowledge I had acquired as a student of counseling, and begin to apply it in an actual counseling setting. Personally, it was a time of great enthusiasm as I was moving into the next big step of my career and ministry. Simultaneously, I felt much uncertainty in that I had never done anything like this before. Little did I know this “next step” of my educational life would change the course of my counseling ministry forever!
Throughout my Masters program, I would have considered myself a devout Christian counselor. I believed the Bible was a great source for help and healing, and had in my possession every Christian counseling self-help book I could get my hands on. That is the very reason I chose a Christian counseling center to fulfill my practicum requirements. The process was pretty typical.
In order to be accepted as a practicum candidate I had to complete a series of interviews. During the first such interview, the director of the center asked me what I thought about Nouthetic and biblical counseling. Given my astute background in studying the myriad of psychological theories of human nature, group dynamics, family systems theory, and cultural theoretical models, I answered the director quite confidently. “I believe such models are very simplistic in their approaches to the counseling process.”
It was my assumption as an interviewee that he likely agreed. He then went on to ask me which models of counseling have most influenced me. “Definitely Carl Rogers’ Person-Centered model,” I replied. “His ideas of acceptance, genuineness, and unconditional positive regard resonate well with my Christian convictions of love, mercy, and compassion.” The director’s stare was almost haunting. Upon asking me a few more questions, he kindly concluded the interview. A week later, he called to tell me I had been chosen as a practicum student for his site, and it was at this point, everything in my life took a very unexpected turn.
The first pieces of literature the director gave me for my training were the book, A Theology of Christian Counseling, by Dr. Jay Adams (1979), and an article from the Journal of Biblical Counseling entitled Modern Therapies and the Church’s Faith, by Dr. David Powlison (1996). The first author, Jay Adams, I had heard about, and what I heard was not very positive. The second author, David Powlison, was new to me.
Even though I had initial concerns once Jay Adam’s book was given to me as required reading, there was no turning back at this point. So, I started reading. Prior to that day, I had a negative view of Adam’s model, but sadly, I had never so much as cracked a book he had ever written. As I began to make my way through A Theology of Christian Counseling, I soon realized that I had drawn some unfortunate and unmerited conclusions about biblical counseling and its relevance to my work as a counselor. It was this book, coupled with reading three other required articles (Powlison, 1993; Powlison, 1996; Welch, 1994) that caused my worldview of soul care to unravel, and in its place a new, truly biblical view began to form. That was over eleven years ago, and from that time until now, I have learned so much about God and His Word. Following are just a few lessons that come to mind.
God Is Faithful
The fact that God is a passionate Lover of those He saves is one of the most stunning things I have learned as a biblical counselor. Sure, this is something I have heard my entire life (i.e., God loves you), but to witness it in real-time moves it far beyond the superficiality of Christian sloganeering.
My faith in God as a loving Father and ruling King has been multiplied one hundred times over as I have had the privilege of seeing Him rescue, restore, and redeem His children from some of the most catastrophic circumstances you could ever imagine. Romans 8:26-39 is a living narrative of which I am far more cognizant than was the case prior to my work as a biblical counselor. For this, I am deeply grateful.
Biblical Counseling Demands a Love for Others
Try sitting hour after hour, day after day in the trenches with others just for the sake of “doing your job.” You will likely face the threat of becoming one of the most despairing or cynical people walking the planet. Biblical counseling, in its most sacred form, is an intense, and at times grueling process of “loving your neighbor.”
It is no wonder Paul warned that if we forget love, we have nothing (1 Corinthians 13). Biblical counseling is one of God’s most precious warehouses in which He shapes the human heart to do that for which it was originally created—love God and others.
The Spirit of God Really Does Transform Lives
It never fails. The moment I feel as though I have a particular issue figured out, a person comes to see me whose life completely decimates my nicely packaged system of methodologies. I have witnessed the insatiable love of God, not merely in theory, but in actuality as lives have been literally transformed before my very eyes.
There have been many times I did not know how my counselees were going to get from point A to point B (much less any point thereafter), when the precious Spirit of God would move on their hearts, and bring incomprehensible change in the lives of His people. I’ve learned and am immensely humbled that Ephesians 3:14-20 is a powerful reality when engaging others in the process of counseling.
God Is Exceedingly Involved in the Lives of Those He Calls to Counsel (Psalms 139)
I had no intention of pursuing life as a biblical counselor. Without God’s sovereign rule over my life, I am convinced my days in this line of ministry would have never come to fruition.
As a matter of fact, had things stayed on course (as I had naively planned), I was well on my way to becoming one of biblical counseling’s most ardent opponents. I am thankful God had another plan.
Biblical Counseling Is Extremely Rich and Dynamic
I love reading the myriad of theorists on human nature. From classics like Freud, Maslow, Rogers, Piaget, and Kierkegaard to newer thinkers like Ken Wilber, Peter Singer, Kenda Creasy Dean, and Stephen Pinker, I am fascinated by our relentless pursuit for understanding. And while intrigued by various sources of knowledge, I am overwhelmed with awe by only one—the Bible.
There is no doubt that Scripture’s divine truths are genuinely competent to “discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12) while also giving us “all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). Biblical counseling offers a profoundly comprehensive understanding of the human experience, while dwarfing every other competing theory in both scope and breadth. The more I learn from the sacred pages of Scripture as it pertains to the whole of life, the more I realize how little I actually know.
Though this list is far from exhaustive, these five lessons burn deep within my soul as a biblical counselor. My journey in this work, I pray, has many miles to go (God willing), and I look forward to how He will continue to use biblical counseling to deepen my understanding of Him while shaping my heart and mind to genuinely love and care for others.
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The Association of Biblical Counselors (ABC) exists to encourage, equip, and empower people everywhere to live and counsel the Word, applying the Gospel to the whole experience of life.
Encourage: ABC provides a fellowship of believers committed to life transformation through the Living Word.
Equip: ABC promotes training in biblical counseling and points to resources that deal biblically with all of the issues of life.
Empower: ABC provides excellent materials for growth in Christ and for use in effective biblical counseling.
To find out more, visit the Association of Biblical Counselors website.