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BCC Interview: Grace Fellowship Church

May 22, 2011

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As part of our BCC vision, we want to point you to the best of the best in robust, relational biblical counseling. Each week we’ll be posting (and then making available as an ongoing resource) interviews with churches, para-church groups, and individuals committed to biblical counseling.

Grace Fellowship Church

This week we highlight Grace Fellowship Church of Florence, Kentucky. To learn more about their biblical counseling ministry, we interviewed their Senior Pastor, Brad Bigney.

BCC: “Tell our readers about your biblical counseling ministry mission and vision.”

GFC: “At Grace Fellowship Church, we believe that in Scripture God has given us everything we need to live life successfully. The role of the New Testament Church is to minister to the needs of the body and the community at large. Grace Counseling Center offers free biblical counseling anchored in the principles of God’s Word. The goal of biblical counseling is to come alongside a person and give hope and help through biblical application so a person can handle the problems of life in a manner pleasing to God.”

BCC: “What is the history of your biblical counseling ministry—tell us your story?”

GFC: “God called me to be the founding pastor in 1996. At that time, I insisted that small groups and biblical counseling be the core of the church life along with worship on Sunday mornings. My intensity for biblical counseling came from being helped in my marriage, ministry, and life by Stuart Scott a number of years earlier. The insistence on small groups was a reaction to the typical church culture founded on a multitude of ministries producing little spiritual change in the faithful. There had to be a better way with God’s help of fulfilling Ephesians 4:11-16.”

“Over the years, Small Groups have become the ‘heart of the church’ where people are cared for, but most importantly, it is where spiritual transformation is ‘intentionally, intrusively’ pursued and celebrated. Now we are a church ‘of Small Groups.’ For us, ‘a win’ is to have someone say that they have never grown in Christ-likeness as they have since being with us.”

“Attending the 50+ groups are over 700 hundred adults, which is about 80% of the regular adult attendance of GFC. We think that participation must be at 75%+ for the church to be moving in a healthy direction with the Lord. The hand of God is moving among us, and we have been just trying to humbly keep up. From the moment anyone enters the church for the first time, they are being gently, intentionally directed into a relationship with others through Small Groups.”

BCC: “How do you pursue a church of biblical counseling (where sufficiency of Scripture, progressive sanctification, one-another ministry, etc., saturate your congregation)?”

GFC: “For a Small Group to be unashamedly for the purpose of helping all of the participants to grow and change toward Christ-likeness, the servant-leader of the Group must be equipped to be used by God to carry out this vision. Requirements for being a Small Group Leader involve milestones that demonstrate theological understanding, personal spiritual maturity, and being used by God as an instrument for transformation in another’s life. Once a person is designated as a Small Group Apprentice, he and she (couple) begins intentionally completing the requirements for being a Small Group Leader. A major component of an Apprentice’s training is the completion of Joshua’s Men (JM), if male, and Women of the Word (WOW), if female. JM and WOW meet separately covering basically the same material. Involvement in this training is in addition to participating in a weekly Small Group. For 2 years, JM and WOW participants meet once a month for 3 hours early on a Saturday morning to discuss the reading assignment through sharing their written answers to the provided questions and to go over memory verses together. One year is devoted to working through Systematic Theology by Grudem. The other year is devoted to reading a book a month.”

“Another component of the training for Apprentices is completing the Fundamentals of Biblical Counseling training. This is the initial 30 hours of counseling training based on the NANC model. Having this counseling background has been invaluable for the Leaders. When a soul care issue comes up in Small Group, the Leader has confidence that the Scriptures have answers. By the Spirit’s power, the Leader will be able to provide hope and possibly even some initial help from God’s Word. In the past, Leaders who did not have this training struggled greatly when soul care issues came out in Group. For some Leaders the struggle was so great that they set themselves aside as Leaders until they were able to attend Fundamentals. Since a long, fruitful and joyful ministry is desired for Leaders, Fundamentals has become essential training.

Once a Small Group Leader, the Leader is asked to participate in the Advanced level of Counseling & Discipleship Training (CDT). Our CDT extends over 3 weekends. This provides an opportunity for 10 hours of training each weekend with a total of 30 hours. Advanced level training material is changed each year so it is timely and fresh for the Small Group Leaders and others who take it year after year.”

BCC: “How do you pursue a church with biblical counseling (where you further equip those who sense a special calling and commitment to formal biblical counseling training/ministry)?”

GFC: “Grace Counseling Center exists to support the disciple-making process focused upon in the Small Group ministry. When a person or couple’s soul struggle cannot be cared for in the Small Group, they then enter into intensive discipleship through the Center. After completing a Personal Data Inventory, they are paired with a counselor.”

“While they are in counseling, they also are to participate in the Sunday morning worship and with a Small Group. This provides three avenues of grace where they are involved with the community of believers. We have found that when these additional avenues of grace are present, counseling has been more effective. Typically there are approximately 50 active cases being cared for by 20+ counselors associated with the Center. We are amazed at how God is using all of our church in this ministry. Most counselors are laypeople not the vocational staff. Also, we are thankful to God that 15 of the counselors are currently NANC Certified & the Grace Counseling Center itself is a NANC Certified Training Center.”

“If a church is going to have a small group ministry focused on helping one another grow to be more and more like Christ some kind of counseling center is also needed in that church. Not all issues can or should be handled in a small group setting. Churches that have a small group ministry focused on spiritual growth but do not have a counseling ministry run into difficulties. What do you do with the people with problems who catch the desire for sanctification but there is no one spiritual who is able to come alongside (Gal. 6:1-2)? We have found that churches that want to imitate our Small Group ministry and do not have a developed counseling ministry have difficulty. Either the pastoral staff is swamped with counseling requests or the small group ministry becomes less focused on sanctification so soul issues are less likely to arise. Either situation is unsatisfactory. We are not proud of our church but we are overly thankful for what God is doing among us.”

BCC: “What is your succinct definition of biblical counseling?”

GFC: “The goal in biblical counseling is to come along side a person who is struggling and seek to apply the principles in God’s Word in such a way that the person responds in an obedient and godly manner to the problems they are facing to the glory of God and the person’s own good.”

BCC: “How has your biblical counseling ministry impacted your church and community?”

GFC: “Through intensive discipleship, an individual grows in spiritual transformation and participates in their Small Group using their spiritual gifts. The individual is strengthened and encouraged at close range which flows into the personal interactions within the community. We have had a number of adults come to Christ. We are praying for 50 to follow the Lord in baptism this year.”

BCC: “How can people be praying for your biblical counseling ministry?”

GFC: “We would appreciate prayer for:

  • Wisdom as we put procedures in place for counseling.
  • Humility in what God has done as we have opportunity to share with other churches.
  • Perseverance as the counseling ministry continues to grow.
  • Counselors to continue to be dependent on the Spirit.
  • Insight in helping other churches that contact us in their desire to be a transforming church.
  • People to continue to grow and change.
  • Additional biblical counselors and Small Group leaders.

BCC: “How can people learn more about and contact you?”

GFC: “People can connect with us at: Grace Fellowship Church, www.graceky.org [email protected] 9379 Gunpowder Road, Florence KY 41042, 859.371.7880.

BCC: “Thank you, Brad. It has been great getting to know about how you blend small group ministry and biblical counseling into the fabric of your church.”