Restoring the Gospel to a Place of Primacy in Pastoral Counselling: Biblical Counselling in South Africa

April 13, 2015

Kyle Johnston

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Kyle Johnston

South Africa with revised text

A Word from Your BCC Team: You’re reading the first of a multipart BCC Grace & Truth blog miniseries on International Biblical Counseling. Sometimes, because it is international, it will even be spelled with two L’s like this: International Biblical Counselling. That’s the case today as we launch this series with a post by Kyle Johnston about Biblical Counselling in South Africa.

The Current Landscape

What is the state of biblical counselling in South Africa? The answer to this is more complex than a brief blog post can articulate, but I’ll try to give you the big picture—before ending with some prayer requests.

South African churches urgently need to recover a confidence in the gospel for their pastoral care. Although there is much to be concerned about in the local church scene, South Africa does have a number of fantastic churches doing a variety of excellent ministries. However, even within these evangelical churches, there is a noticeable lack of wise soul care. Therefore, even in healthy churches, there seems to be a lack of “gospel congruency”: the gospel is proclaimed as sufficient from the pulpit, but the gospel is not used in counselling; the gospel is central for public ministry, but its relevance is not always seen in interpersonal ministry.

Sadly, this disconnect is common. Even in our stronger evangelical churches, care and counselling (especially the harder cases) usually get outsourced. Of course, there is nothing wrong with referring when wise care requires external resources, but the overwhelming trend is that many ministers, elders, and pastoral workers simply do not know how to wisely care for others with the gospel. Furthermore, the vast majority of Christian counsellors have been trained in various integrationist theories, and so there is an urgent and widespread need for the gospel to be restored to a place of primacy in pastoral counselling.

Evidences of Grace and Change

Wonderfully, there are signs of change! Let me mention just two evidences of grace.

  • Wayne Mack’s ministry: Dr. Mack came to South Africa about ten years ago to train a future generation of African biblical counsellors, and (at 80!) he is still currently training biblical counsellors through his SMTI I was introduced to biblical counselling by Dr. Mack, along with hundreds of others over the years. In addition to this, and perhaps even more significantly, Dr. Mack is overseeing the establishment of ACBC Africa. My hope and prayer is that this becomes a catalytic organization in promoting excellence in African biblical counselling.
  • Local Leadership: Through access to great resources via the Internet, through authors such as Timothy Keller and Paul Tripp, through ministries such as CCEF and The Gospel Coalition, there is a growing confidence in local South African church leaders that the gospel needs to be central to pastoral ministry. There is also a corresponding interest and desire to find out more about biblical counselling, and as a result I have a number of friends who lead or serve in other churches who ask me to preach or share something related to gospel-centred counselling. This trend is encouraging, and I am praying that the next generation of South African church leaders enter their ministry vocation with an unshakeable confidence in the power of the gospel for personal change.

Upcoming Challenges

There are many challenges facing the growth of biblical counselling in South Africa, but due to the lack of space I will simply mention three:

  • Robust Theology: Biblical counsellors must develop, personally and corporately, robust theology. One error we could make is liberalism: allowing secular psychology to set the pastoral care agenda and allowing secular categories to dominate our thinking. The other error we could make is to develop an anti-scientific biblicism. But if African biblical counsellors are going to faithfully continue the work of Jay Adams, David Powlison, and others, then we must develop a robust theology and epistemology—worked out in our own context.[1]
  • Case Wisdom: It’s one thing to be committed to the sufficiency of Scripture for the care of the soul. It’s another thing to know how to do it! In humility, we must recognize that the sufficiency of Scripture does not automatically translate into the competency of the counsellor.[2] Therefore, African biblical counsellors are going to have to be both diligent and patient in building up case wisdom. This is going to take training, time, and supervision. We will have to acknowledge our need for help from others.
  • Christian Unity: The biblical counselling movement could give South African churches, networks, and denominations an opportunity to partner together for the sake of promoting gospel-centred pastoral care. There is a wonderful diversity amongst churches that are committed to biblical sufficiency. This diversity is even reflected in the ACBC Africa Steering Committee members. I think that this diversity is important and helpful, but it does require us to be patient and humble. Of course, this doesn’t mean that everyone is going to agree on everything, nor should they. But unnecessary fragmentation could severely impact the growth and impact of biblical counselling in South Africa.

Please Pray!

Can I ask to you please, even briefly, pray for the Biblical Counselling Movement (BCM) in South Africa? Through your prayers, you can serve the BCM in South Africa.

Please pray for: Progress! As mentioned above, there are various ministries doing good work, and there is a growing interest in biblical counselling. But there is a long way to go!

So please pray for: church leaders—that they would be willing to explore what biblical counselling is and how to move forward in providing gospel-centred pastoral care in their churches.

Please also pray for: Bible colleges and para-church counselling ministries—that they would start considering the biblical counselling perspective.

Please pray for: Unity! Because of confessional and doctrinal statements, it is possible for Christians from different traditions to work alongside one another in the same organization. Please pray that this fellowship and partnership would continue; please pray for ACBC Africa, as well as for the various churches and para-church ministries practicing biblical counselling.

Ephesians 4:1-6 provides relevant instruction for South African church leaders who are working together for the sake of biblical counselling: pray that we would seek to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Join the Conversation

What information in today’s post about biblical counselling in South Africa surprises you?

How will you begin to pray for biblical counselling in South Africa?

[1]Steve Viars and Rob Green lay out a simple explanation of what Biblical Counsellors mean by the “Sufficiency of Scripture” in Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling (Harvest House, 2013), pp. 89-105. Also see “Scripture is Sufficient, But to Do What?” by Jeremy Pierre in Scripture and Counseling (Zondervan, 2014), pp. 94-108.

[2]See Brad Hambrick’s helpful discussion of the relationship between sufficiency and competency in Scripture and Counseling, chapter 15.


One thought on “Restoring the Gospel to a Place of Primacy in Pastoral Counselling: Biblical Counselling in South Africa

  1. I think that using biblical counseling is a great way to help church members that are having a difficult time. It can help them get through rough patches in their life, but also bring them closer to God. In my opinion, this is something that all churches should offer, because it can definitely bring unity to the church and also bring all Christians closer to the Lord, even if they are having a difficult time. http://www.newarkschooloftheology.org/counseling-and-ministry/

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