Equipped to Counsel, Part One: How We Do Biblical Counseling Training in Our Congregation

December 19, 2011

Deepak Reju

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Deepak Reju

Equipped to Counsel Series Part 1

Note: You’re reading Part One in a multi-part series on how to equip biblical counselors in the local church. Today’s post is written by Deepak Reju, Pastor of Biblical Counseling and Families at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC.

Comprehensive Counselor Equipping

Counseling requires a combination of love, grace, knowledge, truth, and experience. Take any one of these elements alone, and it can create an imbalanced counselor. For example, a loving counselor who ignores a counselee’s sin handicaps the counseling process. Knowledge fills the head, but knowledge alone puffs up. Truth changes lives, but truth wielded in the arms of a harsh counselor is dangerous.

What does it take to train and raise up balanced counselors in your congregation? It requires teaching all of these things—how to be loving like Christ, showing grace because God has been gracious to us, knowledge about theory and methodology, a good understanding of biblical truth, and case-wise experience.

My simple goal for this post is to give you an overview of our biblical counseling training to give you a sense of what we do. For a much more extensive guide to this subject, I’d commend to you Dr. Bob Kellemen’s Equipping Counselors for Your Church.

As a mentor to counselors and disciplers, I’m growing and learning, too. Our process is far from perfect and continues to change as I’ve learned how to better train disciplers and counselors in our congregation. Some days, I feel like we are building a plane while it is in flight. Today we add a wing, next week the tail, tomorrow the engine! So I hope in the years ahead to continue to refine the process to make it better.

Level 1: More General Training for Everyone

The main ‘bread and butter’ for our training of lay members will be our counseling training small groups. These groups are advertised to the entire congregation and open to anyone. My goal here is to teach biblical counseling to the congregation as a whole.

Level one of the training consists of three steps. The Christian Counseling Education Foundation (CCEF) provides excellent small group workbooks and study guides that have been main curriculum for these small groups.

Both workbooks and study guides take the skeleton of the more popular books with the same title and add a host of self-reflective questions for the reader to ponder. Both have very user-friendly 12-week formats.

Who can lead the groups?

If the person is spiritually mature and trustworthy, I’m happy for them to take a few pointers and then run with the curriculum without any more input. If I’m not sure at how the person would do in leading, I’ll ask them to consider coming to a small group that I run. Over the course of time, I hope to raise up leaders who are spiritually mature enough to lead these groups in my place. I want this solid biblical material to get into the bloodstream of our congregation, but I can’t do that all by myself.

  • Step 3: Case Studies, which help members think through how they deal with typical problems in a church setting, like depression, marital conflict, addiction to internet porn, eating disorders, etc. An example of a case study format can be found here.

What I found over the course of time is that if I only teach the CCEF material, people still freak out when they run into problems. They have a knee-jerk reaction when they see someone hurting and (in most cases) they call the pastor or counselor far too quickly. They are often too scared to step into the problem themselves. So I needed to take the framework they learned in Paul Tripp’s Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands (i.e., Love—Know—Speak—Do) and help them learn how to implement it with specific problems. This doesn’t eliminate all of their fears, but it does seem to help them be more willing to wade into the messy stuff in their friend’s lives.

What’s the schedule?

We teach this material in a small group format from September through May.

  • Step 1: 12-week How People Change material (September to November).
  • Step 2: 12-week Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands material (January to March).
  • Step 3: 6 case studies (April to May).

But, not everyone has the time to come to the small groups, right?

Correct. Not everyone can attend a small group with their busy schedules. Thus, we’ve found other ways to disseminate this information to the congregation as a whole. I call this “crop dusting.”

  • Sunday school. Most of this material is available in a Sunday school format that we teach yearly.
  • Resources. We’ve got lots of good biblical counseling resources available for members to buy at a bookstall at our church. We also frequently give away copies of good books and booklets to encourage folks to read good biblical counseling material.
  • Discipling. We encourage small group leaders and 1-on-1 disciplers to use this material in their ministry settings. For example, we’ve found Ed Welch’s Crossroads to be immensely helpful for our 1-on-1 disciplers who are caring for young men who struggle with internet pornography.
  • Conferences. We’ve encouraged church members to attend biblical counseling conferences, like CCEF’s annual conference.

Level 2: More In-depth Training for a Smaller Crowd

What we’ve found over time is that as folks go through level one, you have some people who love the material and want more; and you have folks who seem to “get it” and are good at implementing the principles; and you might even have some starting to consider if they are called to a career in biblical counseling. While most of your members will be satisfied with the basic material in level one, a few folks will be hungry and excited for more. That’s why we created level two.

Our goal in level two is to take a smaller group of folks to a greater place of depth and understanding of biblical counseling. A few key components of level two are:

  • Observation & Skills Training, which helps members to learn how to use some of the basic skills (listening, asking heart-oriented questions, etc.) by practicing and observing. We run this class weekly for 3 months. An example of the syllabus is found here.
  • Counseling Case Conference in which an experienced counselor presents a real situation to help students and other counselors think about biblical counseling and how it intersects with real life. We run this once a month, and an example of the class description is found here.
  • Redemption Groups. In 2012 or 2013, we’re hoping to launch some form of Redemption Groups.

Level 3: More Specialized Training

There are several typical problems in a church setting that we encounter often—depression, marital conflict, struggles with internet porn, eating disorders, suicide, and guidance questions.  One by one, we hope to provide more in-depth training for the counselors with each of these problems.

As a young congregation, we have a lot of men who struggle with internet pornography. It would serve our staff immensely if we had laymen who had a good understanding of the problem and the skill and wisdom to help out when someone struggles with this particular sin. Thus, in the spring of 2012, we are going to run a class that focuses on this issue. An example of the class description can be found here. Eventually, we hope to have folks with such in-depth knowledge and experience with the typical problems (porn, eating disorders, marital conflict, etc.), that they can be “first responders” to these specific problems.

Our End Goals

Our three end goals for this process are:

(1) To get biblical counseling into the blood stream of our church.

(2) To better equip our church members to be more involved with the “difficult” problems in the Christian life.

(3) To eventually have a team of biblical counselors (both degreed and lay counselors) who can come alongside our elders to help them do counseling.

Join the Conversation

What can you apply to your equipping ministry from what Pastor Reju has shared from equipping in his congregation? What would be similar in your congregation? What would be different and unique in your setting?