The Value of Training in Biblical Counseling

By Brad Brandt

Thirty-three years ago, the Lord privileged me to become the pastor of Wheelersburg Baptist Church, in Appalachian southern Ohio, where I presently serve. At the time, the church was 109 years old. I was 26 and had just finished four years of Bible college and another four years of seminary. I believed the Bible was the inerrant, infallible, trustworthy Word of God. I was committed to preaching it, making disciples by it, and equipping this precious congregation to live by it.

Then it started. People began opening up to me, saying things like, “Pastor, we’re having marriage problems.” And “Pastor, I’ve been told I’m bipolar.” And “Pastor, they say our child has ADHD, and we’re overwhelmed.” Then came the question, “Pastor, can you help us?”

I responded by listening, praying with them, expressing my concern and support, reading a Scripture or two, but that was about it. I sensed they needed more, but I didn’t know how to provide it.

Consequently, I saw a couple of things happen. First, some of the strugglers went outside the church for help. Unfortunately, though well-meaning I’m sure, this “professional” help typically didn’t increase the hurting person’s confidence in Christ, His Word, and His church. In fact, at times it undermined this confidence. A second outcome I observed was that some hurting people continued to limp along in isolation, receiving little or no help, convinced that no help was available.

Recognizing the Need

After seven years of pastoring this way, I knew something needed to change. I needed to change. The Lord had called me to shepherd His flock, and I wasn’t doing it. Frankly, I didn’t know how to do it.

But it was more personal than that. I didn’t know how to deal with problems in my own life. I would walk through the door into my home in the evening, and my wife would ask, “How was your day?” My standard answer was, “Fine, dear. It was fine.” It didn’t matter if I’d been putting out church fires all day. Everything was always fine. I thought that’s what the good Christian response was. Just be positive. Don’t get angry. Things will work out. But they didn’t.

Please don’t misunderstand. New people were coming. The giving was good. The church was growing. We had programs and activities for all ages, with lots of people serving. But something seemed amiss. In reality, a storm was brewing.

Twelve Long, Valuable Mondays

About 26 years ago, in God’s incredible kindness, I heard about and signed up for a 12-week course in Biblical counseling hosted by Clearcreek Chapel near Dayton, Ohio. It was there I learned from three pastors what the Bible says about the real problems my people were experiencing, that I was experiencing. That was a tough stretch, leaving the house at 6 a.m., listening to lectures in the morning, doing case studies in the afternoon, observing Biblical counselors in action in the evening, and then driving home, pulling in the driveway somewhere between 9 and 11 p.m. It was tough … and life-changing.

A pastor friend of mine recently said, “I wouldn’t be in the ministry today if it hadn’t been for Biblical counseling training.” I agree. That practical course opened my eyes to the reality that God’s Word is not only inerrant and authoritative, it is sufficient to deal with the complex challenges hurting people are facing.

The training produced a series of changes, starting with me and my family. I learned from God’s Word how I could, instead of clamming up, deal with problems God’s way. I learned there is no such thing as a problem-free life or family or church and that God’s kind of life, family, and church is one that deals with its problems His way. He shows us what His way is in the Book.

Next it began to change the church. I began a Sunday evening series, “Biblical Answers for the Problems of Life.” We learned together what the Bible says about marriage, parenting, fear, worry, depression, and much more. I also began to do Biblical counseling with people in the church and community, and I went through the rigorous yet valuable process of becoming certified with what is now the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors.

Good things were happening, but not everyone was pleased. In 1998 our church went through a firestorm; by the time the flames subsided, we had lost one-third of our members. There were many contributing factors (differences over doctrine, music, methodology, etc.), but at the root it had to do with a vital clarifying question.

The Clarifying Question

We had to ask ourselves, Are we going to be a truly Biblical church? Specifically, Do we believe that the Bible is sufficient? Will we deal with our problems by heeding this Book God has given us? When we have conflict, will we lay aside our Baptist-subculture expectations and affirm that this Book is the key to life and godliness?

It was so painful; and, frankly, in a very real sense it still is. We looked like a severely pruned tree after the departures finally stopped. But as is the case with a pruned tree, we were now ready for a remarkable season of fruit-bearing that not one of us could have anticipated.

Twenty years ago, as a church we realized that God had given us something we could not keep to ourselves. So we began our first year of training in Biblical counseling. About 50 people from nine area churches were in that first class. The next year we offered a second track. The following year we began offering an advanced track, as well as continuing our fundamentals track. Eventually others in our church family began counseling and teaching. We started going on the road to do training in other places, even overseas.

I don’t even know the numbers for sure, for they don’t really matter—a lesson the Lord has been teaching me for three decades. Many hundreds of people from mostly small churches in the region of southern Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia have participated in our courses. Ministry is all about God’s glory, and His glory is manifest when He works through weak vessels like us to accomplish His eternally significant plan to transform hurting sinners into His Son’s likeness. Our counseling team has been offering free counseling to our Tri-State region for 20 years now. Dozens of people every year are finding hope from the Scriptures. Marriages are being restored. People struggling with depression, fears, and anxieties are learning to experience the joy of Christlikeness in their struggles. And for this we say, to God be the glory!

Acts 20:20 Ministry

In the twenty-first century, we need Acts 20:20 ministries. So, pastor friend, I commend to you the value of a 20:20 ministry, the kind of Word-centered ministry the apostle Paul described in Acts 20:20, “I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house” (NIV). There is a need, says Paul, for the ministry of the Word on two fronts. There’s the public ministry of the Word (preaching). But there’s also the private, house-to-house ministry of the Word, which is what Biblical counseling is all about. When we preach, we take the Word to people. When we counsel, we take people to the Word.

Training in Biblical counseling is worth the effort. If you have never received such training, I urge you to consider it. Check out https://biblicalcounseling.com/training/training-centers/ to find the ACBC training center closest to you. Take a course and pursue certification. Encourage others in the congregation to do the same. You won’t regret it.

Reposted with permission from Baptist Bulletin © Regular Baptist Press, all rights reserved.


Brad Brandt (DMin, Grace Seminary) is pastor of Wheelersburg (Ohio) Baptist Church. He is a certified Biblical counselor and fellow with the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors. He and his wife, Sherry, have served Wheelersburg Baptist Church since 1987.

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There are 18 Comments

T Howard's picture

Reading this article brought to mind a few observations:

  • I know several of the elders at ClearCreek Chapel, including Russ. Good guys. Small world.
  • I'm thankful for Brad's faithfulness to God's church through the "firestorm," as he phrases it. Most young pastors would probably have resigned and gone somewhere else. There's a mindset today that believes if ministry gets hard that must be God telling the young pastor to move on to greener / easier pastures. I've seen too many young pastors pull out the "God's will" card when deciding to leave their current churches during a difficult experience. God is looking for faithful shepherds to lead his flock, not hirelings.
  • Biblical counseling can be a very consuming ministry, especially if you open it up to the general populace.
  • Biblical counseling can also be a very divisive ministry. We had two ACBC-certified counselors in our church. One of them spent her time complaining about the marriage counseling ministry of one of our elders because he was an "integrationist."
  • Biblical counselors need to practice what they preach. Both of the ACBC-certified counselors in our church ended up leaving our church because of unresolved conflicts they had with others in the church. As I commented in another thread, I'm less and less impressed by ACBC-certification. I haven't seen it produce much good fruit. On the other hand, I have seen the "integrationist" elder and his wife have a fruitful ministry in our church.
Bert Perry's picture

What are some of the major differences between the ACBC approach and the integrationist approach?

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Bert Perry's picture

Integrationist approach uses a lot more psychology than does ACBC.  (hey, isn't that a band from Australia....?)

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

T Howard's picture

To be clear, I don't have an issue biblical counseling. In fact, I prefer the approach. I just have not had good experiences with ACBC-certified counselors. In my mind, certification should mean these people are good at what they do (i.e. provide biblical counsel and live their own lives accordingly). In reality, certification means these people think they are good at what they do, and they want you to think they are good at what they do.

Bert Perry's picture

It's not precisely ACBC, but it's worth noting that the BJU approach of Jim Berg seems to resemble ACBC in many regards, and that model really took it in the chin when Boz Tchividjian reviewed their handling of sexual assault allegations a few years back.  It's also what Megan Lively reported as the approach with her sexual assault at SEBTS, I believe.

The overall gap is that (IMO) the approach tends to try to fix the symptoms, and not enough emphasis is placed on understanding the cause.  I see this a lot with many fundagelicals' approach to anger--anger is too often seen as the problem, instead of asking the question "why is this person angry?"  There is a huge difference in the anger, say, of a rape or assault victim, and that of a person blowing his top because the guy won't get out of the left lane fast enough.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

T Howard's picture

Yes, BJU is a proponent of biblical counseling. So is Southern Seminary, Master's Seminary, etc. I agree with BJU's decision not to jettison their biblical counseling approach even though GRACE didn't like it. Many counseling professionals dismiss biblical counseling out of hand as flawed, uniformed, and simplistic. That said, many biblical counselors dismiss psychology out of hand as flawed, unbiblical, and humanistic. 

Biblical counselors would tell you it is psychology, not biblical counseling, that treats the symptoms and not the root cause of non-organic issues. Psychology doesn't have an understanding of sin and its devastating effects on the soul and body of the individual. Psychology seeks to remove guilt instead of seeing guilt as a diagnostic indicator. Psychology doesn't view and treat non-organic issues in light of the process of sanctification. Etc.

In BJU's case, the deans shared the competing interests of regulating student behavior (i.e. student discipline) and providing biblical counseling. They erred in treating the abuse situations primarily as student discipline issues instead of as biblical counseling issues. BJU's deans / counselors were also ill equipped to handle the issues and trauma involved in abuse situations.

TylerR's picture

Editor

ACBC is Jay Adam's old group. It's nouthetic counseling. Jay Adams had disagreements with the direction of the group, so he split off and formed his own Institute of Nouthetic Studies, which has found a home at Mid-America Baptist Seminary. Donn Arms, who comments here occasionally, was heavily involved with Adams and the entire movement and can speak much more responsibly (and accurately!) than I can! All I can recall about Adams' beef with what is now the ACBC is that he disagreed with the "idols of the heart" paradigm for understanding sin.

An "integrationist," as I understand it, is someone who accepts insights from psychology and marries them to biblical principles. Immediately, we begin talking past one another on this one because OF COURSE everyone accepts valid insights from everywhere, so the whole thing often being tedious very quickly.

Heath Lambert has a book floating around, The Biblical Counseling Movement After Adams, that charts the biblical counseling landscape. I know it exists, but will likely never read it. But, it's probably a good place to start to understand the landscape.

If I could pick one practical skill I need to get better at, it's counseling. If I could pick a program, I'd probably opt for something integrationist. As it is, I'll likely never seek certification from anybody. I'll probably just read books.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

T Howard's picture

I started my biblical counseling journey by reading Jay Adams. I still have and refer to several of his books. I've also read Mack, Scott, Tripp, Sande, and Powlison.

I don't do a lot of proverbial hand holding when it comes to counseling. I probably should be more warm and fuzzy, but I tend to think in process flows and view things in black and white. What is your issue? Is it organic or non-organic? If organic, go see a doctor. If non-organic, what does the Bible say about the issue or what biblical principles apply to the issue? How will you implement what Scripture says about your issue? And, if necessary, why aren't you willing to implement what Scripture says about your issue?

TylerR's picture

Editor

I don't know if this is a problem, but I quickly run into a wall because (1) I explain what the bible says, then (2) the person doesn't want to do it. At that point, I'm basically done. My time is being wasted. I suppose you could say I feel I lack the ability to convince the person to do what the bible says, but I really have no patience for that sort of thing.

I'm not sure if this is a simplistic perspective of mine, or if I have it right. But, I'm basically done if, after some effort to convince, the person doesn't want to do what the bible says. In that respect, counseling is pretty simple. I don't know if I'm being simplistic, though. The touchy-feeley stuff is nice, and I can be very empathetic, but at some point we must decide to act. Either you want to act or you wish to produce excuses.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

Tom, I'd argue that it goes further than just Berg's former position with student discipline.  It's really the assumption that the person in front of you definitely has some sins to repent of, and when you go in with that assumption, you're going to tend to dwell on their sins and not the fact that they'd been grievously sinned against.

I don't think that it's a death knell to the nouthetic/ACBC approach, but it is something that needs to be patched in it.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

T Howard's picture

TylerR wrote:
The touchy-feeley stuff is nice, and I can be very empathetic, but at some point we must decide to act. Either you want to act or you wish to produce excuses

As counselors, we must understand that the individual before us is on a spectrum of sanctification, as are we. Sometimes counseling requires patience and perseverance as you work with the individual to move along that spectrum. Jesus continued to work with his disciples through their repeated unbelief and misunderstanding of what he told them.

When the person refuses or rejects the biblical counsel they receive, that is a different matter.

Donn R Arms's picture

Thank you TylerR for the opportunity to clarify some things:

  • Neither Jay Adams nor I split off from ACBC. Jay continued as a member until his death last fall, although ill-health kept him from active participation the last 20 years of his life. I am a Fellow and continue to supervise folk through the certification process.
  • We formed the Institute for Nouthetic Studies to serve as a vehicle by which we could train counselors by extension before online training was a thing. Mid-America liked what we were doing and invited us to join forces with them. It has been a wonderful relationship that has grown to include the publishing of most of Jay's books.
  • We all have disagreements with our friends. I would not call them "beefs." Do you not read SI regularly?
  • I do have a "beef" with my friend Heath Lambert's book which you can read about here.
  • It is now my great joy in life to be editing and republishing Jay's books. I am convinced that if folk would actually READ Jay Adams rather than simply read about him, most of the controversy surrounding biblical counseling would melt away.

 

Donn R Arms

TylerR's picture

Editor

I suppose the bit about you being more accurate was correct! To clarify:

  • I didn't mean to imply anything sinister about any disagreements between Adams and other biblical counselors. I recall reading an article (or something) by Adams in which he expressed some grave reservations about the "idols of the heart" paradigm and the general drift of what is now called the ACBC. If I am mistaken, I apologize. I may be conflating some of your own concerns you wrote about years ago with Adams. Again, my apologies for any inaccuracies.
  • I agree that if folks read Adams, they'd clear a lot up. We read Adams at seminary. How To Help People Change and Solving Marriage Problems are my favorites. My point about people talking past one another was that people do not, in fact, often read things from the other side and so they ... talk past each other.
  • I own about 15 of Adams' books, and recently bought his New Testament translation on Logos. It is very helpful.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Joeb's picture

I'm not real up on biblical counseling.  Westminster Seminary has a counseling center.   I went their for  some counseling regarding dealing with my  physical pain and depression/anxiety issues.  The pain was probably driving to a certain degree the depression anxiety.
 

 It was biblical counseling I received and the Counselor when needed he stood me up.  The back pain was driving me to consider taking my life so I wouldn't be a burden to my wife and family.  He stood me right up Johnny on the spot very sternly then and with scripture and said who are you to even consider taking that ministry away from your wife if it came to that.  The Counseler explained to me as much as it could be God's will not to heal me it also could be God's will for my wife's ministry to care for me.
 

  I never thought of it that way before and after he explained it to me and we went over the relevant Bible passages I was dead wrong and he was right.
 

  Now I did recover. It took 4 months but that perspective on my health issues changed everything.  This Counselor never discouraged me seeing a Doctor for my depression.  In fact he encouraged it  
 

Of course I did something real stupid while weight lifting by using a cable row to get to my injury.  This was about 5 years post my back surgery.  Even my Doctor said I was an idiot.  Of course I avoided taking any narcotic powerful pain killers which probably added to my suffering. The point is I was in sin and that sin was causing me to consider taking my life.  So even in great pain your thought processes can be twisted by sin.  So Biblical Counseling has a place and how would a strictly non biblical counseling ever point that out to you.  Most  non biblical counseling would ever see sin in something like the above but I was deciding something for the Lord versus his hand guiding me no matter what happened.   

Also America's Keswick in NJ has one of the oldest if not the oldest Biblical Counseling Centers for substance abuse in the US   It's known as the Colony originally founded for treating Acholism but has expanded to other substance abuses   Very good reputation from what I hear   They also operate a Family Bible Conference to   I went there as a teenager with my parents   

 

Paul Henebury's picture

Though no "professional", I have counseled with Scripture minus psychology for about 25 years.  If people listen and do what the Bible tells them to do the success rate is very high (I do have certification through SWTS for what it's worth).  If they even do half of what they're told things improve.  I think Adams' work was very significant and I am thankful for his biblical common sense, even if I disagree here and there.  

I don't know how many times I have had to un-teach counselees what they have been told by psychologists, secular or Christian; especially regarding the "this is the way I am" belief.  Having said that I have known several "Biblical Counselors" who h=treated people like sin machines instead of people with different challenges and, like Tyler said, at different stages of sanctification and comprehension.  

Further, i do believe that some of the observations and illustrations of psychology are helpful.  

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Joel Shaffer's picture

My wife is a professional counselor as a licensed therapist (with an emphasis on Trauma) in Grand Rapids. She got her undergrad at Moody and then her MA in counseling at Grand Rapid Theological Seminary (GRTS).  The state of Michigan requires the completion of a 48 semester hour degree in counseling but at GRTS it is 72. Every counselor also graduates with 24 hours of required Bible/Theology classes.  Therefore, she is well-schooled in the different counseling methods the DSM-5, and etc...but also has a solid Biblical foundation that informs her counseling.  

There are many so called "Christian" Counselors that speak of integrating psychology and Scripture but do a lousy job with it.  We had a couple leave our church because the husband said that the elders of the church were always pointed people to the gospel for all of life. He said he didn't want "pat" answers.  We weren't giving him pat answers, but he wanted all of us only listen to him. We patiently did for  awhile, but then when we would gently point him to the gospel and the scriptures (which we felt was our duty as pastors) he pushed back against us and told us that the gospel and the scriptures couldn't help him.  He was struggling with some issues in his past that he felt was trauma and he went to a "Christian" counselor.  But it seemed to make him more angry and bitter. If your counseling is directly or indirectly contributing to the acts of the flesh rather than the fruits of the spirit, then its not really Christian counseling.  My wife not only points people to Christ, but also the local church. Right now with COVID so many of her clients haven't gone to church in almost a year. Without the person-to-person connections, the isolation they feel is overwhelming them leading to depression, anxiety, and etc.. She constantly stresses involvement in a Bible-believing local church as part of their homework assignments (or whatever she calls them). 

One of the recent sad aspects of my wife's job is the increased numbers of physical, emotional, sexual abuse situations with her clients over the past 9 months. Of course correlation doesn't automatically mean causation, but COVID definitely hasn't helped. 

G. N. Barkman's picture

There's "sort of" Biblical Counseling, and then there's true Biblical Counseling.  I am thankful to have had a solid course on Biblical counseling during my Master's program.  Since then, I've been to umpteen training seminars from a few hours to several days.  They were all helpful.  I have benefited from several of Jay Adams books, but have been helped by others as well.  I've seen Christians attend a couple of seminars and think they are now experts.  Some of them do more harm than good.  Others understand the foundational principles fairly quickly and do a good job.

Like so many areas of ministry, the degree of competence depends upon the level of spiritual maturity.  Solid believers usually become competent counselors.  Christians with unresolved problems carry their own problems into counseling endeavors, and often create additional problems.  The Bible truly contains everything necessary for successful counseling, but levels of Biblical competence vary widely.

I think Jay Adams has a valid point when he says that all mature Christians who know how to use the Bible can become competent counselors.  How blessed is the church who has a good number of such individuals.  In our church, all three pastors counsel, along with a number of church members.  Even so, not every counselee finds help.  Some are unwilling to apply God's Word to their lives.  They want to emote, and then continue as before.  Nobody can help people like that.

We believe that people need to be regularly under a solid pulpit ministry to benefit significantly from counseling.  In truth, many problems will be resolved over time by a steady of diet of solid preaching, along with regular fellowship in a healthy local church.  People may resist that formula as too simplistic, but it is true never-the-less.  A lot of effective Biblical counseling is done by solid Biblical preaching with appropriate applications.

G. N. Barkman

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