Mark Shaw

Do You Offer a Lab with Your Instruction?

August 6, 2012

Mark Shaw

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Mark Shaw

Equipping Counselors In The Church Mini Series Part 1

BCC Staff Note: You’re reading the first in a BCC blog mini-series on equipping counselors in the church.

Chemistry as an Example

When I took chemistry in college, I loved the class though science is not my strength. What I loved about the class was that I was not only learning the information in a classroom setting and through reading the textbooks, but I was also able to go into a laboratory setting where it was safe and supervised to learn how certain chemicals react. I was able to practice what I was learning from the books and lectures.

Similarly today, my joy in the ministry the Lord has entrusted to my leadership is to provide both the lecture and the lab to those God has called me to equip (2 Timothy 2:2). It is a great way to make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20) and to replicate practitioners in biblical counseling. I call it “team” counseling and it consists of counseling in teams of two.

Two Are Better Than One

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 says: “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

Applying these truths from Ecclesiastes 4 to biblical counseling, there is strength in numbers and disciple-making was meant to be done relationally, not just in reading books or listening to sermons alone. Disciple-making occurs in community and we learn relationally from others especially when we study God’s Word and learn how to apply it practically in our lives. There are a variety of methods to minister the Word and while we often think of preaching as primary, Richard Baxter and others have argued that a personal disciple-making ministry like biblical counseling has great value to the transformation of a believer’s life.

So why do some Christians counsel alone rather than with a co-counselor? Aren’t we mimicking the world’s methods for counseling when we do so? God’s methods offer wisdom that protects and helps us as well as our counselees. Jesus sent out His disciples in teams of two in Luke 10 yet in American Christianity we tend to do things in isolation (as soloists) rather than in community. We are called to make disciples and that can only happen in relationships.


In addition to helping our counselees grow and change, we give equal attention to the spiritual growth of the volunteer and staff counselors in our ministry. Just like the chemistry student who would never be sent to the lab alone to experiment with dangerous chemicals unsupervised, a beginner student in biblical counseling needs both classroom training and guided, laboratory experience. Lecture training is simply not enough. Not 30, not 90, not even 1,000 hours of classroom teaching or pastoral preaching without the “laboratory” could ever produce more effective and God-glorifying disciple-makers than those who have both classroom and supervised experience. It is why the church so strongly recommends that its members including the youth go on mission trips – to get them involved in ministry!

For this reason, we pair inexperienced students (we call them 2’s) with more experienced, lead counselors (we call them 1’s). A lead counselor (1) takes a less experienced apprentice (2) with the dual goals of both helping the counselee to the glory of God AND discipling the growing student counselor in a safer and supervised context. Our method accomplishes these two goals simultaneously, and much more fruit is produced than I can detail here. In time, 2’s become 1’s and disciples are replicated continually.

One of the heartbeats of our ministry is to qualify people not disqualify them for ministry. The people I teach are often not ready to counsel alone but in the safe, supervised context of team counseling, they can be encouraged to grow. Yes, they may say the “wrong thing” (unbiblical counsel) but that is where I am able to gently and lovingly instruct and correct them for the glory of God. I have had to do so on many occasions within the counseling hour by simply saying something like, “I would rather phrase what John Doe just said in this way…” and then restate it for the counselee in a framework that is more in line with the Bible’s teachings. Some counselor trainees have not even realized the correction was aimed toward them and expressed appreciation for the clarity I brought. Because I purpose to not draw attention to the correction needed, I’ve not had one person angry or complain. Our counselors in training have just as strong a desire to grow and become more biblical in their thinking and counseling, and so love learning in this way.

With a plentiful harvest yet few workers (Luke 10:2), I want to qualify people for ministry not disqualify them and team biblical counseling gives me an opportunity to assess, evaluate, encourage, and teach those who I am privileged to supervise. A few years ago I counted the different persons who sat in sessions with me as co-counselors and there were 70 people who counseled with me over the course of one year. While I’d like to think that I taught them some things, I know for a fact that I learned from each and every one of my students in this relational ministry model.

Truth and Grace

Another fantastic benefit of our teams of two model of ministry comes as we evaluate our counselors as truth-tellers (T-T) and grace-givers (G-G). Assessing their strengths and tendencies in this area allows us to bring together a balanced team. All of us have a measure of both truth and grace in us by the Holy Spirit’s power, so no Christian is devoid of either truth or grace.

In John 1:14, we get a description of Jesus and the glory of God as “full of grace and truth.” Jesus was 100% both gracious and truthful when He interacted with people (see Mark 10 for His balanced counsel). Both grace and truth are necessary to glorify the Lord as the verse says:  “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” A neglect of truth without grace or grace without truth will not best reflect the glory of God. Real grace has truth woven into it. Real truth has grace woven into it. The two are not to be separated yet our culture sees an overemphasis often of one over the other. Many “counselors” might come to mind when we think of this “in your face” type of truth-teller in the public eye on television and radio.

I am not intending to be critical of counseling alone as I have done so for years, but merely trying to encourage you to see the strength this model of ministry might bring to enhance what you are already doing. Personally, I would prefer to never counsel alone ever again since I have enjoyed the great benefits of our team approach.

A Disciple-Making Tool

Consider your biblical counseling ministry in the local church to be a disciple-making tool and you will see the profound impact upon spiritual growth. Those who counsel biblically minister the Word and rely upon the Holy Spirit just as preachers in the pulpit do. Both rely upon the same source book and Spirit for transformation. The church seeks to qualify missionaries for the mission field so why not qualify Christian “lay counselors” for the work of loving one another through the personal ministry of the Word of God? A team approach is one great way to qualify and grow Christians.

In our ministry, we seek to see apprentice counselors (2’s) become lead counselors (1’s) as they become more experienced and skilled with the Word of God and as they learn to rely upon the Holy Spirit alone. At the onset of Truth in Love Ministries, if someone would have told me that within 3 years our ministry would grow from 3 counselors with 2 sessions on a Friday to a five day per week ministry with 70 counselors in 55 sessions, I would not have believed it. Having lived it, I know it is only possible in a model where people are allowed to make mistakes, grow by grace, and taught to teach the Word by first applying it to their own hearts.

Effective disciple-making does not just result from your people learning more information. Exponential spiritual growth of your disciple-making ministry will occur in the context of relationships while doing the work of the ministry! It’s more than book knowledge – it is living together! It is MORE than simply hearing a sermon! It is speaking the truth in love to others in community and in life (Eph. 4:15-16). It is being a doer of the Word and not a hearer only (James 1:22).

My passion is to get Christians who are faithful and committed in their listening and watching as spectators to become faithful and committed participants. By God’s grace, we are moving fans of Jesus Christ into players on His team of ministry because there are a lot of lost and hurting souls in the world today who do not need worldly, man-centered, and feel-good ideas but need the Word of Jesus Christ delivered with truth and grace.

Open your counseling office, your heart, and your life to others as partners in ministry so that they might be stronger followers of Christ and you will find that you will spiritually grow as well.[1]

Join the Conversation

What are the advantages of a lab component in biblical counseling equipping? What are the advantages of the team approach to biblical counseling training?

[1] For more detail on the team approach to biblical counseling, read the new expanded version of Strength in Numbers published by Focus Publishing,, or call 1-800-91-FOCUS. The expanded version provides you with the forms Truth in Love Ministries utilizes in its team approach to biblical counseling.

6 thoughts on “Do You Offer a Lab with Your Instruction?

  1. It would be a privilege to have “lab time” with you, Mark.  I have read your book, (Strength in Numbers) and agree with you conceptually.  I also think there may be components other than truth and grace that both the “1” and “2” would like to be comfortable with before becoming “regulars” in counseling sessions together. I am speaking of such things as communication styles (extremes such as “straight arrow” or “around the world”) and perhaps in some cases, maybe even personal experience would make a counselee initially more comfortable having two people in the room (some abuse cases). 

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