Editor’s note: The content for this post was taken from our annual conference on Oct. 15, 2015. This post is part of a series about the qualifications of a biblical counselor. See also The importance of discipleship: Qualifications of a Biblical Counselor and Biblical Qualifications for Counseling Ministry. This specific post discusses some biblical methods of learning.
What are some biblical methods of learning? If a godly life, sound theology, perseverance, and appropriate skills are some of the qualifications that we need to be effective as Christ honoring biblical counselors, how are we going to learn that? My dissertation was largely about trying to answer this question through studying the New Testament and particularly the apostle Paul and life of Jesus. How do you train people to be skilled in gospel ministry? And particularly I was thinking about biblical counseling. Here is an abbreviated outline of my dissertation.
First, how do you learn biblical methods of learning? You learn by instruction.We believe the Bible is the inerrant, authoritative, all sufficient Word of God, and what it speaks, God speaks. We learn primarily by instruction through teaching. So I would encourage you, if you’re going to be a qualified, skilled, and trained biblical counselor, you need to be learning. Take opportunities in your church. Learn to teach the Bible. Teach a Sunday school class; teach kids and get involved to get comfortable studying the Word of God. Put together an outline or a teaching lesson and teach it. These are things that you will do in counseling all the time, and you need to be able in some sessions to do that on the fly. Go to conferences, buy resources and books, listen to audio, visit our website, and visit Grace Community Church’s website. These are free resources to take advantage of to continue your learning. If sanctification is progressive then when does it stop? It stops when Jesus comes, and until then we press on toward the goal.
Second, we learn by emphasizing life and doctrine. Don’t just go to go to all the conferences, buy all the books, and get all the audio files. Don’t forget about your life. Ask yourself, “How am I growing to be more like Jesus every day?” And, you know, the most important thing about walking with God is having a daily walk with God that is real. Are we walking with God in genuine humility and honesty? Think about when you are spending time with God from your heart. Time that is not in passing, it’s not rushed, it’s not a box to check, but you are really communing with the living God every day. Faithfulness in that very simple discipline is way more important than everything else you will do. I encourage you, as I preach to myself, to keep that in check. Regular Bible reading, prayer, spiritual disciplines, and theological reading are important.
Third, we learn by focusing on application. I think 1 Corinthians is arguably one of the most applicable books in the New Testament. These guys had a lot of issues and Paul is pastoring them through his letters. There is this back-and-forth dialogue between Paul and the Christians in Corinth. Churches are messy; just like your church and just like my church.
Scripture says in 1 Corinthians 6:1, “Does any one of you, when he has a case against his neighbor, dare to go to law before the unrighteous and not before the saints?” What’s going on here? You have Christians suing each other! If we can’t get along with other believers who is going to believe our message when we tell others how to be reconciled to God? Maybe the best thing we can do for gospel credibility in our lives and in our churches is to pursue reconciliation with people in our life who we have trouble getting along with. For some of you, there’s somebody in your life you need to pursue reconciliation with. The gospel is sufficient to help you with that.
Verses 15 to 20 provide a wonderful teaching application where Paul explains seven things you need to change in your thinking about your body, first and foremost, is that you are not your own. I don’t own me in terms of this body anymore. Jesus takes ownership when he died for me and when I trusted him. Everything I have — my body, skill, everything we have — should be used to glorify and honor God. Very specific application we learn by applying the Word of God, not just by learning nebulous disconnected doctrine. It is doctrine applied to life. Doctrine in Scripture is almost never given in a vacuum; it is almost always given in a specific context, with a specific life application. When you stumble upon theology in the text, you don’t have to ask, “How do I apply this?” Usually the Scripture, if you keep reading, tells you how to apply it.
Fourth, we learn by following godly examples. Ezra is one of my heroes. We need spiritual heroes. We need people — men and women — about whom we say, “I want to be like them.” We say with Paul, we follow them as they follow Christ. In Acts 20 this is Paul as he is leaving Ephesus, and in this very pastoral moment in his ministry he’s poured years of his life into this church. He is specifically addressing the elders in Acts 20:17-20 “From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church. And when they had come to him, he said to them, ‘You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house.’” That’s the example we need to follow. We need examples like that. Study the life of Christ and study the life of Paul. Read missionary biographies, read Christian biographies of men and women of the past that were faithful, and let their testimonies motivate you, stir you up, and bolster up your faith to say, “That’s what I want to follow.”
Fifth, we learn by life on life mentoring. Is it not shocking to think that God the Son becomes a man and comes to this earth and lived here for about 33 years? He didn’t go on a world tour in order to bring the kingdom of God and the gospel. What was Jesus’ main strategy in ministry? To invest in 12 men and particularly three of those men. This is reflected in Paul’s ministry. What was he doing in Timothy’s life? He was pouring his own life into him; he’s mentoring, he’s discipling, he’s shepherding, he’s writing letters, he’s admonishing. The apostle Paul was almost never alone in his ministry. He always had somebody with him. He was always bringing some guys along, he was always pouring into them. That is a great model to follow. Doing life-on-life mentoring is important. We want you to observe some counseling, for example, sitting in with your pastor’s counseling. Jesus’ model was not here’s my sermon, see you later, the work is done. His model was to teach them, and then to pour his life into that life-on-life’s relationship. In Paul’s life, he had people like Silas, Barnabas, Luke, and Timothy who were with him.
Sixth, we learn by taking opportunities to practice. You will never learn to be a biblical counselor without actually trying or doing counseling. You can watch a ton of football or be a football expert, but stepping out on the field in uniform is totally different. And like a lot of skills, at some point you have to jump out and get involved and start doing this. Some of you are and that’s great. 1 Timothy 1 is interesting; for all that the apostle Paul did, one of the things he does over and over again is he goes into a church, he trains people, and he leaves. He goes to Ephesus, he pours out his life, and then in 1 Timothy 1:3 he says this, “As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines.” You learn to counsel better by doing it.
Dr. Keith Palmer is the associate pastor of Grace Bible Church. He oversees all of the counseling training at Grace Bible Institute, and is the director of Grace’s community counseling ministry, Granbury Biblical Counseling. He is also a Fellow (supervisor), grader, and board member of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC, formerly NANC).
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