Like in any other discipline, skill, and competence in biblical counseling rest on a firm grasp of the basic elements of discipleship. Formal biblical counseling involves utilizing six key elements: Data gathering, building a relationship (involvement), determining ministry needs, ministering the Word, communicating hope, and implementing the homework. In this series of articles, we will go “back to basics” to review these fundamental core skills needed in counseling. In this article, we will look at the skill of crafting effective homework assignments.
The Importance of Homework
Homework assignments are simply spiritual growth exercises to be performed by the counselee between counseling sessions. Those who come for counseling are often surprised that their biblical counselor assigns weekly homework assignments that require time and effort to complete. Many models of secular counseling consist of merely listening to the counselee and providing affirmation and validation. This trend in counseling often creates expectations when people come for biblical counseling. But homework assignments are a very important aspect of discipleship counseling. Counseling homework, or “spiritual growth assignments,” facilitate the goals of biblical counseling in several ways:
- Counseling homework facilitates sanctification and change. This purpose is the primary motivation for using homework in counseling. Well-crafted growth assignments include essential practices for Christlike change, including Bible reading, meditation, memorization, and application. These pursuits must be practiced regularly for change to occur. For example, Jesus taught that the Word of God ought to be the regular diet of believers if they would overcome temptation (Matthew 4:4). Faithful homework assignments promote biblical change and provide loving accountability to ensure that the counselee is following the Bible’s blueprint for change.
- Counseling homework reinforces what is covered during the counseling session, which promotes learning and application. Counselees benefit most from biblical counseling when they are connecting with the material covered during the session on a regular basis. Counselors can expect to observe slow progress in counselees who are only relying on a one-hour, weekly counseling meeting as the sole effort to effect change.
- Counseling homework helps the counselee take responsibility for his own growth and change. When the counselee engages in spiritual exercises each day that promote his own spiritual maturity, this helps ensure that the counselee does not become too dependent on the counselor or the counseling meeting as the main source of help. The goal is to help the counselee to ultimately depend on Christ for help to change, not the counselor (Hebrews 4:14-16). A wisely designed homework regime assists keep the counselee looking to Christ for help and hope.
- Counseling homework can help gauge the commitment and progress of the counselee. Often, a lack of commitment to do spiritual growth assignments indicates that the counselee is not fully committed to the counseling process. A half-hearted resolve toward counseling usually results in poor progress made in counseling. Similarly, homework assignments are often the most objective metric for determining the spiritual growth of the counselee. Carefully built homework assignments that are evaluated by the counselor will help him to determine the progress of his counselee.
3 Tips for Crafting and Implementing Effective Homework Assignments
The development of effective homework assignments is often a difficult skill to acquire in counseling. Here are three easy ways that counselors can grow in their homework-assigning abilities:
- Plan a spiritual growth assignment for your counselee before your meeting. Wise counselors have found that strong homework assignments are designed before, not during, the counseling meeting. Counselors should prepare a tentative homework assignment as part of the planning process for the session. Sometimes, the counselor will need to adjust the homework assignment based on information gained during the counseling discussion. Occasionally, the session may take such a drastic turn in direction that the counselor will need to redesign the spiritual growth assignments before distribution to the counselee. However, counselors will find that the most effective homework assignments are those that are crafted with time, thought, and prayer. Therefore, the counselor should take time outside the session (before or after) to thoughtfully and prayerfully design an appropriate and robust homework assignment.
- Design homework assignments around the spiritual disciplines. The spiritual disciplines are biblically commanded practices to believers that promote their spiritual growth and health. Scripture directs believers to engage in activities such as:
- Bible reading and meditation. Scripture reveals that the spiritually healthy person is the one who delights in the law of the Lord and “meditates day and night” upon it (Psalm 1:2). Jesus taught that spiritual growth comes from the truth of the Scriptures (John 17:17). Therefore, homework should promote intentional, purposeful time in Scripture.
- Bible memorization. Spiritual maturity does not depend only on the reading of the Bible, but also on the internalization of Scripture. “Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You” (Psalm 119:11). The memorized Word allows counselees to have the Scriptures with them at all times, which aids in avoiding sin and choosing godliness.
- Bible application (“doing assignments”). Spiritual growth is not the result of biblical education alone. As a counselee learns biblical truth relevant to her situation, she must learn to act differently in light of the information. Biblical education must lead to application, which results in transformation. James exhorts his readers to not be “hearers” of the Word only, but to be “doers of the Word” (James 1:22).
- Local church involvement (worship service, Bible studies, service opportunities). God ordained a community of believers to be the context where spiritual growth and maturity occur (Ephesians 4:11-16). Homework should promote this reality by encouraging counselees to participate actively in the local church, receiving the ministry of others and providing ministry to others through acts of service.
- Purposeful prayer time. Scripture exhorts believers to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Jesus told His followers, “apart from me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). In context, Jesus is stressing the need to “remain” in Him, meaning believers must actively depend on Him for daily grace to grow and change. Prayer time encourages the counselee to develop and maintain communication with and dependence upon God.
- Supplemental assignments. Beyond these basic disciplines, additional homework may be given which enhances the disciplines. For example, a counselor might assign a booklet that helps the counselee to better understand the Scripture and its application in the particular area of struggle. Other times, the counselor might assign the use of a journal to better understand the counselee’s situation or responses.
By designing homework assignments around the spiritual disciplines, counselors are helping counselees to employ the normal means of grace to commune with God and grow in Christ. In addition, the basic disciplines provide an easy outline or structure around which to craft homework.
3. Craft homework that is specific, objective, and measurable in regard to your counseling goals. Scripture demonstrates that biblical counsel ought to be specific, objective, and measurable if it is to be effective. For example, Paul gave the Corinthians very specific instructions regarding a church discipline matter (1 Corinthians 5:1ff). James wrote specifically to his audience regarding the “source of quarrels and conflicts” and how to address them (James 4:1ff). Leaning on the example of Scripture, biblical counselors understand that effective homework is not vague and general, but specific and objective. General homework usually does not promote efficient change, nor is it possible to gauge a counselee’s progress if only generalities are discussed. Using the outline from #2 above, here is an example of a specific, objective, and measurable homework assignment for a married couple struggling to follow biblical roles in marriage:
- Read the book of Ephesians three times. Answer the following questions: What are 5 things you learn about the work of Christ in chapters 1-3? What are 5 things you learn about following Christ in your relationships in chapters 4-6? Husband: Looking specifically at Ephesians 5:22-33, what do you think it means to love your wife like Christ loved the church? Wife: What do you think it means to be subject to your husband as to the Lord? Write down your thoughts.
- Memorize Ephesians 4:1 and be ready to recite it next time.
- Husband: Make a list of 3 specific ways you can love your wife like Christ loved the church (above and beyond what you already may be doing). Practice all 3 toward your wife this week. Document what you did. Wife: Make a list of 3 specific ways you can show respect for your husband as the church would respect Christ (above and beyond what you already may be doing). Practice all 3 toward your husband this week. Document what you did.
- Attend at least one worship service at your church this Sunday. Take notes on the sermon and be ready to share what you’ve learned. Participate in your small group. Talk with each other about a way you can serve in your church together. Be ready to discuss options next time.
- Each day, spend at least 15 minutes talking with God about your relationship with Him and your spouse. Be sure to include: praising Him, confessing sin, asking for His help. Record the day and time that you spend praying.
- Read chapter one in When Sinners Say “I Do.” Mark 10 key sentences and be ready to discuss what you learned next time.
Notice that each of these assignments is specific (it gives detailed instructions about what to do and how to do it, and the assignment is aimed specifically at a counseling goal), objective (there is a clear, concrete task that is communicated), and measurable (both counselor and counselee will be able to determine clearly if the assignment was completed or not). Exercises that are specific, objective, and measurable are more effective to promote spiritual growth.
Well-crafted homework assignments are a key component of effective formal counseling ministry. Like any skill, homework development and implementation takes time to develop. As you grow in your own counseling abilities, strive to pre-plan your homework assignments, build your homework around the God-ordained spiritual disciplines, and aim to be specific and objective in the exercises you assign. You will soon see that your counseling ministry is greatly enhanced by the employment of robust, wisely designed homework.
This blog was originally posted at CBCD. View the original post here.