“ … for a wide door for effective work has opened to me … ” (1 Cor. 16:9)
The well-known causality dilemma in the title is really no dilemma at all for Bible-believing Christians: We know that God created chickens, and then chickens had chicken eggs!
But the metaphor described by that phrase, the uncertainty about the cause-and-effect sequence of events or processes, may well be applied to some of the challenges in international biblical counseling training.
Emphasis: Teaching or Training?
What is the difference – and which comes first?
As I’ve mentioned in other places (here and here), conferences and seminars are often important tools in introducing the concept of biblical sufficiency-based soul care. Teaching programs give content, or information about the historical context, biblical basis, and definition of biblical counseling. Conferences can also help the participants think biblically about the topics addressed, such as addictions, marriage and family issues, mental illness diagnoses, etc.
But the question that often follows a short-term, speaker-centric exposure to gospel-centered personal ministry is, “How do I do it?” or “Where can I get training?”
Developing a local church-focused, multi-modular, curriculum-driven program is a logical and necessary training corollary to conference-based exposure to biblical counseling. This kind of training program requires reading and reporting on key biblical counseling textbooks, completing assignments between the modular sessions, completing a counseling practicum (actually doing biblical counseling in the context of a local church ministry), and live interaction with a well-trained and experienced trainer.
Bottom Up or Top Down?
Who should you invite – and why?
If you are involved in teaching and training programs, you must answer a question that is rarely considered: Who will you encourage to come? To whom will you market your event? What is the profile of your target demographic?
This question has an easy answer for conference/teaching event organizers: Anyone. Everyone. As many as possible!
This bottom-up approach is very valuable in assessing the interest in biblical counseling in a yet-unexposed location, in generating large-group enthusiasm about biblical counseling, and in connecting people interested in biblical counseling. However, conferences require no evaluation or accountability for either learning or proper practice. It may be completely detached from the local church. Worse, the anyone-can-come approach creates the very real risk of introducing something to church members about which their pastors are unaware or to which they are opposed. This creates an environment for serious church turmoil if the pastor feels dishonored or threatened.
Focusing on training local church pastors and other Christian leaders (using a top-down approach) will limit the size of the initial, potential audience. And training – in anything – always includes the concept of personal involvement with coaching.
So, pastors and men who already have some level of theological training can immediately use what they are learning in the training program, receiving feedback on their practice. More importantly, they will be encouraged – from the very beginning of the training program – to teach their members what they are learning and to develop a local church-based soul care team.
Is bigger always better? What are the financial considerations? To what extent are the nationals taking ownership of the program both administratively and financially? Is there a “network of nationals,” especially national pastors, who can assume responsibility for a biblical counseling movement in their nation? How are such events or programs reported to our church or supporters?
These questions require thoughtful attention to the issue of strategic objective. Is the goal to expose people to biblical, sufficiency-based soul care? Or is the goal to train biblical soul care providers for the church, assist in developing healthy churches, and create national, culture-specific biblical counseling organizations in other nations?
The “emphasis” questions above help define what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. But the strategic objective plan must also envision and articulate the path that biblical counseling progress will follow toward its desired conclusion – why you will do it.
Organization, Then Counseling, Then Teaching?
Some ministries have followed this paradigm: One foreign national takes as little as a few biblical counseling-related classes (in person in America or online) and is then encouraged to launch a biblical counseling organization for his nation. This person will begin to counsel and will look for others in his nation that can be taught in the same way he was taught. Teaching conferences are then held to generate interest in biblical counseling among others.
Teaching, Then Churches, Then Organization?
Other ministries begin their international counseling training by conducting, in partnership with a known foreign national, multi-modular, usually annual, teaching conferences (events that lack requirements for continuation or a practicum). One goal of this activity is to discover pastors who will adopt a disciple-making church model that includes biblical counseling. Once some “anchor churches” are established, the discussion concerning a potential national organization can begin.
Training, Then Organization, Then Churches?
Another model begins with training through a more frequent series of modules that require the completion of between-session assignments and the practice of biblical counseling. During the training period, key leaders, usually in multiple training locations, are identified. These men are asked to initiate a culture-specific biblical counseling certifying organization that will serve and strengthen the churches in that nation.
The value and potential limitations of each of these avenues seems evident.
In order to be as effective as possible, those involved in biblical counseling ministry must ask and answer the questions posed in this article.
Questions for Reflection
If you are involved in an international biblical counseling ministry, what is your emphasis and what is your desired outcome? What are some emphases or outcome paradigms that were missed in this article?
 Wayne A. Vanderwier, “Reflections on Doing International Biblical Counseling Training.”
 Bob Kellemen and Kevin Carson, Biblical Counseling and the Church: God’s Care Through God’s People (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015), 274-275.
Wayne is the Executive Director of Overseas Instruction in Counseling, an international biblical counseling training ministry featuring both local church-based and graduate-level programs serving in more than 20 nations around the world. He is a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, husband to Susie, father of five adult children, and “Opa” (because of his Dutch heritage) to nineteen grandchildren.