Editor’s note: The content for this post was taken from our annual conference on Oct. 15, 2015. This specific post is an introduction to discipleship. It serves not as a “How to,” but to remind Christians of the importance of discipleship. This is the first post of a three part series.
As you study the New Testament, you come to see that discipleship is something every Christian should be involved in, and I hope that you’re convinced of that. The New Testament clearly commands older generations to train younger generations; like Titus 2. Titus tells the older, more mature ladies to disciple and shepherd and council the younger ladies. So you see a command for older training younger. This is more overt. It’s an older woman teaching a younger woman how to love her husband. It’s teaching her how to love her children, how to be sensible, and how to be prudent. So there’s more particular discipleship for needs going on there.
Pastors and elders in the local church are called to a formal role of pastoral counseling and discipleship. Shepherd the flock of God among you. “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account.” This verse from Hebrews 13:17 says there’s a formal level of discipleship that happens in the leadership of the church. Some of you are pastors and elders in the local church, and, of course, you are called as part of your pastoral calling to assume a formal responsibility in discipleship.
There are two approaches to discipleship. Discipleship can become real formal — where you make appointments, fill out paperwork, or assign homework. In this situation, counseling is intensive and problem oriented. Or, discipleship can be less formal — where it looks more like fellowship. In this situation, counseling is less intense; it’s more general than problem oriented. Wherever you land on that spectrum the Bible is going to call you and call me to be a certain type of person in our ministries.
The Bible calls us to be pursuing certain character qualities, skills, and roles that equip us and even qualify us in discipleship ministry. If you’re going to be a pastor in a local church or an elder there are specific criteria that the New Testament spells out, like in Titus 2, which a man must qualify for in terms of those issues. So why is this important? If you engage in gospel ministry at any level with any person, God calls you to be a sanctified vessel. God calls you first and foremost to be walking with God. You’re growing, you’re changing, you’re being sanctified, you’re dealing with problems in your life. And really, your ministry to some extent flows out of your own walk with God and your own pursuit of sanctification. The last thing that you want is to be giving a message to people when you are not following your own advice or counsel.
Remember in the gospels when Jesus would talk to people — the group that he had the most severe criticism for was the scribes and the Pharisees. What was Jesus’ main issue? The pharisees were hypocrites. They professed God outwardly, but in their hearts they didn’t love him and they didn’t serve him. So you want to be very careful to make sure that you are qualified for the type of counseling that you’re doing.
Something I’ve noticed is that there’s a good part of being qualified for counseling and there’s a bad part of being qualified for counseling. People who tend to struggle often are attracted to biblical counseling in terms of being trained to do biblical counseling. in one sense that’s a very good thing because the reality is none of us is perfect. None of us is where we ought to be. We all are sinners in need of grace. We are all people in need of a Savior. We need the gospel, and counseling helps equip us for that. Being a Christian is about growing in Christ ourselves. It’s about learning to apply the gospel to your own problems. So if you have problems and you’re attracted to biblical counseling, that’s good. That’s training that helps you in your own walk with God. However, the weakness is that sometimes the way that we deal with our own problems is by helping other people with their problems. But we do this to the detriment of or to avoid giving the time and attention to our own issues. Therefore, make sure you are qualified in terms of what you’re trying to do as a biblical counselor.
*Check back soon to read the next post in this series.
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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