It has been 12 years since I attended my very first biblical counseling seminar. Without a doubt, it was a mind and eye-opening experience. At that time I had been saved for more than 10 years, and yet I had never been introduced to basic practical theology concepts like “the doctrine of the human heart” or “the importance of indicatives and imperatives.” Already immersed in serving as a pastor-elder, I began a lifelong journey of learning how to apply the Word both personally and publicly. It became essential to see how practical, relevant, and life-changing the Word of God is when applied not just in a formal but in a functional way. It didn’t take long to develop a great desire to pass on everything I learned about biblical counseling to others.
The Need for Expertise
Today, 12 years later, we can be very thankful for all the major biblical counseling books which have been translated into the German language and for the several training opportunities in biblical counseling here in my country. Two of the “main ingredients” to help the German church grow in this essential field of shepherding the human heart are pretty much in place. But there is something our country lacks when it comes to practicing biblical counseling, and that is expertise and experience.
Expertise and experience are things you cannot learn from a book, and in a similar way they are hard to convey in a classroom. The best way to grow in your expertise is through discipleship – the way our Lord trained His disciples. Essentially, true discipleship is characterized by four stages. First, the master spends time with his disciples and they observe him doing the work of ministry. Then the disciple starts helping his master. In the third stage, the master passes on the baton and helps his disciple to do the ministry, and in the end he watches his disciple doing it all by himself. This biblical method of discipleship cannot be replaced by excellent books or classroom instruction.
The Biblical Counseling Reformation
500 years ago Germany became the country of the Reformation for the gospel. That obviously does not mean that Martin Luther and the other reformers invented the gospel, but they realized anew its centrality and beauty and were used by our Lord to put it back on its lampstand where it belongs. In a similar way, there has been a reformation in biblical counseling, but this reformation did not take place in Europe – about 40 years ago it took place in the United States. Jay Adams did not “invent” biblical counseling, but certainly God used him and others to rediscover the practical value and relevance of the Word of God not just for salvation, but also for sanctification. Therefore, the United States and the English-speaking world is about 40 years ahead of my country when it comes to biblical counseling material, as well as teaching and expertise in this important field of practical theology.
It is not that hard to translate good books or even to start a teaching program in biblical counseling. But what my country needs most in the field of biblical counseling is not more material or instruction, it is experience and expertise. Where are the seasoned counselors who have been shaped by our Lord Jesus Christ and His Word, who display the knowledge and expertise to use the Word of God in the life of others for His glory? Where are the churches who practice biblical counseling, not just as a ministry on the side, but as the functioning DNA of the whole body? Where do you find places where the culture of biblical counseling is understood and lived out on a regular basis?
A Great Opportunity
By now you might be wondering why I am sharing this information in a blog which is mostly read in the English-speaking world, especially in the United States. Well, from this need emerges a great opportunity for biblical counselors and churches that already have a culture of biblical counseling in place. Certainly the church here in Germany can and will grow in experience and expertise in biblical counseling as faithful men and women apply the principles they have learned from good material, good teaching, and first and foremost from the Word of God. Yet it is essential for a healthy discipleship process to also involve a master/teacher – someone you can watch, observe, and learn from in the most practical way.
I want to urge you to open up your churches, your counseling centers, and ultimately your lives to share your experience and expertise with young men and women from other countries who have been trained in the field of biblical counseling and are eager to learn from you. The most efficient and also the most needed area of practical training would be observation. Young counselors will learn very fast and effectively when they have the opportunity to observe “real” counseling and later discuss the case with the counselor. Therefore, it would be beneficial if those trainees could even live and stay with their “master” during their time of internship. I have had the privilege to teach at the EBTC (European Bible Training Center) for the last seven years in the biblical counseling department and we have trained more than 300 men and women so far. I am thankful that a few of our students already had the opportunity to do an internship in the States for one, two, or three months. Certainly, it would benefit the German church if more interns could learn in the country where the Reformation for biblical counseling once took place.
About four years ago we were able to start a German Biblical Counseling Coalition, called Network for Biblical Soulcare. The leadership of this network is more than willing to assist any church, organization, or individual in the United States (or elsewhere) in setting up such an internship with a trainee from our country. Interns will be screened to ensure that only those who have received sufficient training and who manifest the needed character qualities will be recommended.
Question for Reflection
I know that many churches and counseling centers in the States have already opened up their doors to give interns the opportunity to learn firsthand. If you are an active biblical counselor, have you thought of opening your doors for an international intern? It is my hope and prayer that we can see more of this experience and expertise transfer, even internationally – for God‘s glory.
Michael serves as pastor-elder at NordRhön Bible Church in Hünfeld/Germany and as professor for Biblical Counseling at EBTC European Bible Training Center in Berlin, Rheinland, and Zürich. He is a board member of NBS Network for Biblical Soulcare and of KfG Konferenz für Gemeindegründung in Germany, a network of about 400 independent Bible-believing churches.