Are We There For Them?

October 21, 2016

Judy Dabler

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Judy Dabler

One of my first counselees taught me something I will never forget.

In our initial appointment, seminary student (in his mid-twenties) said with intensity: “Don’t ask me questions about how I feel or what I think. I just want to know what I am supposed to do, and no one will tell me. Can we skip the counseling questions and get to the part where you teach me what I need to know to make it in life and ministry?”

This student cried out for mentoring and all that comes with it—encouragement, support, and accountability. Unlike Moses, whose mentor and father-in-law pursued him to provide guidance (Exodus 18), this young man set out to find his own mentor. Desperate, he turned to counseling, willing to pay for what Scripture suggests should be a natural part of the Christian life. Paul, committed to mentoring, lived as an example among those he taught and trained, calling them to practice what they observed in him: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).

Having helped educate and train biblical counselors for nearly twenty years, I know that this searching seminary student is not alone. The emerging pastors, counselors, and missionaries in our midst desperately need the presence and involvement of those who have served before them. Are we there for them?

They Need Both Knowledge & Skills

Every year at Thanksgiving, my husband makes the comment “Bring the yellow tape. This is a crime scene.” He cannot carve a turkey. No one trained him. I grew up watching my father carve a turkey with great fanfare: two minutes of obligatory knife sharpening, angling the fork just so as the breast meat was cleanly removed from the bone, creating perfect slices arranged beautifully on a platter, removing drumsticks and wings with a quick flick of the joints, and somehow slicing that hard to reach thigh meat into glistening dark medallions that laid in stark contrast to the juicy white meat. I just assumed my husband would know the skill. The truth is, almost no one I know can carve a turkey like my father, which illustrates a key point: Some knowledge has to be passed down from person to person, or the skill is lost.

Biblical counselors are educated through self-study, graduate-level academic programs, and certification programs. Education and training are not the same thing. Watching a turkey skillfully carved alerted me to the reality that some ways are better than others; that’s education. Education, however, does not equate with skill-development. I am no better a turkey carver than my husband.  In the same way, counselor education programs prepare an individual to begin a lifetime of learning, but do not necessarily provide all the needed skills. Education by itself is not sufficient to produce competent, skilled, and effective biblical counselors.

New counselors are keenly aware that they need additional training. The best training occurs at the side of a master.  Master counselors who take “apprentice” counselors under their wings are rewarded by their efforts, bless the hungry trainee, and contribute to helping a hurting world. Are we there for them?

They Know That They Don’t Know

I often hear counselors-in-training express frustration and hurt over not having mentors. They are eager for mentoring, because they know that they do not know what they need to know. These disappointed men and women see mentoring described and assumed in Scripture. The Apostle Paul mentored Timothy, Titus, and John Mark. Confident as a mentor, Paul expected others to benefit from his own life and work: “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice” (Phil. 4:9).

Many counselors-in-training never find a mentor.

Before colleges, universities and trade schools, individuals learned through apprenticeships. Families paid the master craftsman to pass on his knowledge to their apprentice-sons in the hopes that they would one day achieve the status of master. Desirable apprenticeships paved the way to becoming skilled at a profitable trade under the careful instruction and watchful eye of a caring master craftsman.

Some biblical counselors are committed to including students in their own counseling sessions. In the organizations I have worked, including counselors-in-training was required of the experienced counselors. Many embraced the opportunity, but some shrank back, fearful that they would be evaluated and criticized, or worse yet, fail in the eyes of the student.  Unfortunately, the commitment to mentoring new counselors is sometimes weak. Are we there for them?

They Come to Know

The apprentice observes the master and serves in helpful ways while becoming familiar with the tools, learning the secrets of the trade, and seeing beauty and usefulness come from God leading human effort. After serving years receiving nothing more than room and board, certain apprentices graduated to journeyman and received the right to earn wages by applying their emerging skills. In time, under strict guidelines governed by the guild, some journeymen would create their “masterpiece” and be admitted to the guild as a master of their craft.

The opportunities presented to the skilled and experienced biblical counselor are often more complex and difficult than the ministry opportunities presented to a counselor-in-training. “Do you see someone skilled in their work? They will serve before kings; they will not serve before officials of low rank” (Prov. 22:29). Learning at the side of a mentor is transformative. Journeyman counselors have the opportunity to co-counsel in situations that are beyond what they could expect to be called to on their own. The amount of time and effort to become fully equipped is shortened through mentoring.

There is no shortage of eager apprentices in the field of biblical counseling. Pastors perform biblical counseling nearly every day. Are you including a counselor-in-training in your counseling sessions? Gifted professional counselors with a commitment to the tenets of biblical counseling are swamped as their caseloads remain full and overflowing. Are you including a counselor-in-training in your counseling sessions?  Professors, lay counselors in the church, and individuals serving in a variety of ministries counsel others every day. Are you mentoring a counselor-in-training at the same time you are providing ministry for those in need? Are you there for them?

Join the Conversation

Who would benefit from watching you apply your wisdom and experience in providing biblical counseling to others? What journeymen could you shape by inviting them into working alongside you in your counseling ministry or providing referrals to them as they build their own ministries? How many “master craftsmen” will you leave behind?