I am 27 years old. I’m not married and I don’t have children. I’m not a pastor or a deacon. These are usually the first things I tell my counselees because they are surprised at my youth when they walk into my counseling room. I can tell that their first thought is, “how can this young man help me with my circumstances when he hasn’t experienced what I’m experiencing?”
I admit, sometimes when I read my counselees’ PDI, I think to myself, “How am I supposed to speak into this person’s circumstance when I haven’t experienced that?” When I sit across from my counselees and they may not know it, but in my mind, I’m asking how I can give adequate counsel.
Paul’s Exhortation for “Young and Inexperienced” Disciple Makers
Naturally, this produces anxiety within me. It is in those moments, however, that Paul’s letters to Timothy counsel my heart. These letters are especially encouraging because as I read, I place myself in Timothy’s shoes. The pressure to lead and counsel well is read between the lines of the letter. Yet at each turn, Paul points Timothy back to Christ!
The Focus on the Grace of Christ in Leadership
In the letter, the first three chapters make clear that it is the grace of Christ working through us, that gives us the ability to lead well. It is Christ who appoints and gives strength despite our status (1 Timothy 1:12-17). It is pleasing to Christ when men and women lead peaceful, dignified lives (1 Timothy 2:2-3). We have a responsibility to identify, select, and develop leaders in the church (1 Timothy 3).
These attributes are not founded on Timothy’s qualifications, but rather, the grace of Christ who is working through Timothy as he makes decisions as a leader and a pastor.
The Focus on Christ for His own Godly Maturation
In the final three chapters, Paul exhorts Timothy onward to maturity and respectability by focusing on Christ and how to counsel different types of people who come through the church doors.
We are to have nothing to do with useless discourse that will lead astray (1 Timothy 4:10). Paul famously reminds Timothy that his inexperience should not be viewed as a disadvantage, but an example of maturity (1 Timothy 4:12). This is not accomplished by his own power, but Paul tells Timothy to “practice these things for the purpose that, “all may see [his] progress” (1 Timothy 4:15).
The Focus on Christ for Counseling Different Life Stages and Statuses
His goal as a young leader and counselor is to show honor and grace to those within the church family, especially older members. He is not to rebuke an older man (1 Timothy 5:1). He is instructed on how to teach and care for widows, emphasizing godly character (1 Timothy 5:3-16). Paul closes out chapter 5 with how to counsel and honor elders within the church (1 Timothy 5:17-25).
Finally, Paul instructs Timothy to counsel against false teaching and the exhortation is the same in chapter 6 – pursue godliness (1 Timothy 6:11) and teach the things of God without abandoning the faith (1 Timothy 6:12-21).
At the core of Paul’s letters to Timothy, the reminder is that it is Christ’s sufficient power, words, and grace that save people and sustain the church. It is not dependent upon Timothy’s experience, status, or ability. The same applies for me as a young counselor. It is not according to my shared experiences, but His sufficient grace.
If anything, the lack of shared experience I have only further magnifies the power and sufficiency of God’s Word to change hearts and lives (2 Timothy 3:16-17). It is a reminder to both me and my counselee that it is not what I can say that changes hearts, but the Spirit who works to bring about completion (Philippians 1:6).
Disclaimer on Shared Experience
I want to be careful because my intention is not to say that shared experience has no value in counseling. It does. Paul, himself, writes that God comforts us in our affliction so that we may comfort others who are experiencing similar affliction (2 Corinthians 1:4a). The purpose of sharing in those afflictions is to point sufferers back to God (2 Corinthians 1:4b-5)! Shared suffering helps us build trust, but the comforter is not us, it’s Him. More than anything, personal experience is the grace of God given to us as counselors to magnify the perfect wisdom of God in His sufficient Word, to comfort believers through the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 1:18-4:7).
To some degree, I think counselees find comfort and hope knowing that they are not alone in their trial. But that is precisely where Scripture speaks the loudest and the God’s grace shines brightest because they encounter Him and He becomes their source of all joy and comfort.
Specific Application for the Young and Inexperienced Counselor
I have this predisposed thinking that I need to have all the right answers or insight or else everything falls apart. I’ve contemplated this thought and it comes back to wanting to please man or being self-sufficient. It’s a daily struggle as a younger counselor. I find myself coming back to the same three steps to wage war with my heart’s love for the praise of man:
Recognizing My Own Heart’s Desires
I’d be lying if I said I don’t enjoy affirmation. In fact, I love it. It feels good. It feels good to be told I’m doing good work.
The opposite is also true. It’s a terrible feeling to fail or be told I can improve. It feels like failure when I’m reproofed. The defense lawyer within me begins to mount defenses against these “allegations”.
Remembering What is True
That is not the heart of humility. Instead, the heart of humility recognizes that counseling is the power of God. It is nothing of my own wisdom, but the Spirit who raises the dead to life, weakens the flesh and sanctifies the heart unto holiness. Ultimately, the posture of a sinner saved by grace, is and must be humbled by the Gospel—Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost (1 Timothy 1:15-16). We are saved by God for the good works that He has prepared beforehand, for His praise, not our own.
Responding in Grace
It is here where repentance is called for. It is here that I bring these anxieties, pride, self-sufficiency, fear of man, and desire for recognition to Him. This is a daily battle, not just in the counseling room. I have to wage war each day with my own pride, for it is nothing less than self-idolatry to conceive that I can do anything apart from God (John 15:5b). Even when I see myself falling short, I am constantly reminded that as I approach the throne of grace, I can do so confidently (Hebrews 4:14-16).
I then go forth, having an even deeper trust in His sufficiency and grace, for God has not given me a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline (2 Timothy 1:7) Prayerfully, I ask that He teaches me the words of John the Baptist – that I may decrease and He increase (John 3:30).