Tracing God’s Story of Biblical Counseling in Germany and Switzerland

April 16, 2015

Michael Leister

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Michael Leister

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A Word from Your BCC Team: You’re reading the fourth of a multipart BCC Grace & Truth blog mini-series on International Biblical Counseling. Today’s post is by Michael Leister on Tracing God’s Story of Biblical Counseling in Germany and Switzerland. You can read Part One by Kyle Johnston at Biblical Counselling in South Africa. And you can read Part Two by Steve Midgley entitled 5 Concerns and Responses about Biblical Counselling in the UK. You can also read Part Three by Sacha Alexandre Mendes on News from Your Relatives in Brazil.

Personal Stories as Part of the Bigger Story

Last month, a number of pastors and church leaders from Germany and Switzerland were able to officially start a Network for Biblical Soul Care (NBS Netzwerk Biblische Seelsorge) following the example of the Biblical Counseling Coalition.

Michael Martens, one of our board members of the German NBS, serves as senior pastor of a Free Evangelical Church in Syke/Northern Germany. His first contact with Biblical Counseling was a week of counseling lessons in 1986, led by J.E. Adams in a Bible School in the US. His interest in counseling was aroused, he read various books, but in his later theology studies he had little to do with counseling.

After finishing his studies he was consequently thrown in at the deep end whilst involved in church planting, especially in counseling matters. During the first 10 years of working in a church in Germany, the need for him to give counseling rose steadily—as did his desire to learn more about counseling from a biblical perspective. Jesus was and is the Wonderful Counselor. However, when he started looking for further training, he mainly came across “Christianized” secular counseling models, which didn’t seem to have even attempted to develop counseling from the Word of God based on biblical theology.

Eventually he was led to CCEF and in the summer of 2001, he took part in D.Min. courses at Westminster Seminary as a guest student. What he learnt there was so convincing that in 2003 he and his wife decided to take their children and spend a sabbatical at CCEF/WTS to study biblical counseling.

In the summer of 2003, when Michael was back in Germany again serving as a full-time pastor, he was asked to teach counseling at a Bible college. A second Bible college followed shortly after and it was through the staff there that he got to know of Christian Andresen from EBTC (European Bible Training Center) in Berlin. In 2009, Christian and Michael met up for the first time in order to talk about the development of Biblical counseling in Germany.

Good Books Are Important

Back in 2000, Friedhelm Anhuth, an elder in Michael’s church, founded the publishing company “3L Verlag” (www.3lverlag.de). Thanks to the connections to CCEF, the first translated counseling books could soon be released by CCEF authors.

The demand for such books and the feedback from readers showed clearly that many people in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland were interested in biblical counseling. By now 3L Publishers was able to translate and publish a great number of key counseling books from David Powlison, Ed Welch, Paul Tripp, Tim Lane, Winston Smith, Michael Emlet, and others.

Training Is Also Needed

An important factor in the development of the German Network is the EBTC European Bible Training Center in Berlin (www.ebtc-online.org), which was set up and is directed by Christian Andresen, another board member of the newly started Network for Biblical Soul Care. The EBTC supports the church by training preachers and teachers for the ministry of the local church in Europe. The emphasis in accomplishing this goal is on expository preaching. Prior to the two-year Preachers Institute is a one-year Bible Survey Program where the school provides the students with the foundational knowledge of the whole Scripture.

In 2006, EBTC held its first counseling seminar with Jim Pile from Grace Community Church. This seminar produced significant interest in Michael Leister. He had already been serving as a pastor elder in his church, yet he knew how much he was in need for practical theology to help the flock which had been entrusted to him. Serving also on the board of a fellowship of independent churches in Germany (www.kfg.org), Wayne Mack was invited to be the keynote speaker of their annual conference in 2007, which consequently led to Michael studying biblical counseling for two years under Wayne from 2008-2010 in South Africa.

After his return in 2010, Michael became a staff member of the EBTC, which then started to offer a one-year counseling course, now available in three different locations in Germany and Switzerland. Since 2014, it offers an additional advanced course lasting another year. Since 2012, Michael Leister has profited considerably from his continued studies for his MABC at Master’s College in Santa Clarita, CA.

Throughout the past years, EBTC has recurrently offered weekly seminars on different biblical counseling topics in Germany and Switzerland, e.g. “Introduction to BC,” “Problems and Procedures,” and “Marriage and Family Counseling.” Dr. John Street has already travelled to Europe several times for this purpose. In the past, EBTC has also offered a seminar on “Biblical Peacemaking” with Dr. Ernie Baker (2013). We currently enjoy continual support from Dr. Jim Newheiser (IBCD), Dr. John Street (TMC), and Pastor Bill Shannon (Grace Community Church), who regularly teach at EBTC via Skype. More than 40 students are currently registered for BC in the different counseling courses at different locations.

Getting Together

In 2011, Michael Martens, Christian Andresen, and Michael Leister met to discuss possibilities of promoting biblical counseling and creating a network for counseling work in Germany. Initial thoughts were exchanged on furthering biblical counseling. In autumn 2012, contact was established with Thomas Wohler in Switzerland as well as the existing contact to Friedhelm Anhuth from the publishing company 3L Verlag.

At the start of 2013, a meeting eventually took place with the leader of CCEF in the Frankfurt area. Thoughts were exchanged on holding a conference for counseling in Germany. The participants were Michael Martens (Pastor in Syke), Christian Andresen (EBTC), Michael Leister (member of staff at EBTC and board member of KfG, a church network), Friedhelm Anhuth (publishing manager of 3L Verlag), Thomas Wohler (Pastor in Zürich, Switzerland), and Oliver Meyer (Pastor in Erlangen).

Thomas Wohler spent several months with CCEF, serves as a pastor in a local church in Zürich and has already been in the leadership of IfBS, a Swiss Counseling Network (www.biblische-seelsorge.net).

Oliver Meyer studied at Faith Baptist Theological Seminary in Iowa and later at the Baptist Bible Seminary. During his second year at seminary (1996), he had his first counseling course which was led by two pastors from Faith Baptist Church in Lafayette (one was Pastor Bill Goode, predecessor of Steve Viars). This course was an absolute eye-opener for him. For the first time ever he received practical biblical solutions to counseling topics. Following this he served in Lafayette as a trainee pastor for one year (1999), took part in the eleven-week counseling course, and received the NANC/ACBC certification. As a church pastor in Erlangen, he has been teaching Biblical counseling in the church Bible college since 2009.

NBS and BCC

In retrospect, we can see how God awakened an interest in counseling in each of our different cases, how he confronted us with biblical counseling, gave us the possibility of studying, and brought us together with the aim of promoting biblical counseling. The BCC has served as a model for the founding of the German Network for Biblical Soul Care. Through our contact with the founding Executive Director of the BCC, Dr. Bob Kellemen, we received much support, valuable counsel, and the permission to translate and use the BCC Confessional Statement, the BCC Doctrinal Statement, and the BCC Mission Statement, and further documents. This way our Network here in Germany was created on the basis of the foundational papers of the BCC.

A website was launched (www.biblische-seelsorge.org) and a first conference was organized in 2014, at which Ed Welch from CCEF was the speaker. More than 600 people registered for the conference, which was held throughout several days in Germany (Gießen) and Switzerland (Uster) and also for a day seminar.

Last autumn we established further contacts at the CCEF conference in San Diego and also at the ACBC conference in Los Angeles.

Heath Lambert will be the speaker at our second NBS conference and seminars in Germany and Switzerland in June 2015. The talks will all be in English with a German translation. In this way it will also be possible for English-speaking guests to attend the conference (for more information http://biblischeseelsorge.org/konferenz/). Connections with further European countries are already developing.

Join the Conversation

We are thankful for your prayer support for the upcoming conferences and seminars in June 2015 and for the further advancement of the NBS Network for Biblical Soul care. Feel free to contact us via [email protected].