Afraid to “Counsel”? Stop It!

April 23, 2015

Wayne Vanderwier

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Wayne Vanderwier

OIC Afraid to Counsel Stop It

A Word from Your BCC Team: You’re reading the eighth of a multipart BCC Grace & Truth blog miniseries on International Biblical Counseling. Today’s post is by Dr. Wayne Vanderwier, Executive Director of Overseas Instruction in Counseling (OIC). You can read Part One by Kyle Johnston: Biblical Counselling in South Africa, Part Two by Steve Midgley: 5 Concerns and Responses about Biblical Counselling in the UK, Part Three by Sacha Alexandre Mendes: News from Your Relatives in Brazil, Part Four by Michael Leister: Tracing God’s Story of Biblical Counseling in Germany and Switzerland, Part Five by Betty-Anne Van Rees: The Growth of Biblical Counselling in CanadaPart Six by Matthieu Caron: Gospel-Centered Biblical Counseling in French-Speaking Quebec, and Part Seven by Danilo Rodriguez: The Counsel of the Word: Biblical Counseling in Cuba.

Watching God Change Lives

One of my greatest joys is watching God change lives.

That statement could probably be made by all of us in the biblical counseling movement.

For most of us that would mean watching God change the lives of our counselees by revealing the focus of their idolatrous heart, graciously bringing them to brokenness and repentance, and patiently transforming their heart’s desires through the work of the Holy Spirit as the biblical counselor skillfully teaches and applies the Scriptures.

But that first statement means something different for me. My joy occurs when I watch God change the lives of our counselors-in-training by moving them from a formal and clinical conception of “counseling” practice—one that produces uncertainty and fear—to the ministry of personal soul care—an activity that generates confidence in the sufficiency of the Bible and faith in God.

What Prompts Their Fear?

Overseas Instruction in Counseling (OIC) includes a counseling practicum component in both our modular and academic programs around the world. Our student’s response to the announcement that they will actually need to counsel as a part of their training is always the same: “I can’t do that. I need more training.” (I suspect that if they had several more years of training the answer would be the same!)

What Is the Source of Their Fear?

A Bible story gives us the answer.

Because Jesus’ disciples did not understand the significance of their Lord’s feeding of the 5,000 in Matthew 14 (compare Mark 6:52), another lesson became necessary. When Jesus came to them walking on the water (in the middle of the night, in a storm) they were terrified and cried out in fear, “It’s a ghost!”

Lesson: If you walk in fear you will imagine things that are not real.

When Jesus responds, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid,” He identifies their problem. They didn’t yet understand Who He was and what He could do.

What Is the Reason Counselors-in-Training Are Afraid?

Counselors-in-training often have the same problem. They fail to understand the power of the Person and work of Jesus in the remolding of a soul. They tend to think of counseling wrongly—as a counselor-dependent, one-time-a-week, appointment-driven, authoritarian exercise. The well-known Bob Newhart sketch called “Stop It!”—while funny—reinforces the one-up, one-down stereotype of a counseling setting where the counselor is the expert and is expected to dispense answers to life’s problems.

So, What Is the Answer for Their Fear?

“Stop it!” Counseling, that is.

When, in our narrative, Peter responded to Jesus’ invitation to come to Him on the water, he did it, eyes fixed on Jesus.

Lesson: If you walk in faith you will attempt things that seem impossible.

But when Peter looked at the circumstances around him, he was afraid and began to sink. Once He rescued Peter, Jesus rebuked him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Lesson: The opposite of fear is not courage; the opposite of fear is faith.

When first assigned their counseling practicum, our student’s often ask, “What if no one comes to me for counseling?” This question illustrates a misunderstanding of our task.

My question in response is this, “Do you know any believers that are hurting?” When they assure me that they do, I say, “Go help them.”

Counseling is scary. Ministering to a struggling brother or sister in Christ by compassionately and strategically opening the Scriptures with them is not.

When our counselors-in-training make the shift to becoming patient, humble, and gospel-centered soul care providers, their fear is replaced by faith.

Join the Conversation

What is your experience with “counselors-in-training”? Do they balk at actually helping people?

One thought on “Afraid to “Counsel”? Stop It!

  1. Bullseye. I am a new counselor and this is MY struggle. In addition I am a “glory robber” dong it too much for my glory and not enough God’s. Thus I dispense my take on God and not God himself. I am repenting and hope to get out of the way.

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