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Back to Basics: Giving Homework

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:

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: 

  1. 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.
  2. 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:

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:

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. [2]

Helpful Resources

Back to Basics: Data Gathering [3]