Dale Johnson: This week on the podcast I’m delighted to have my friend Josh Weidmann with me. He’s the Senior Pastor of Grace Chapel in Denver, Colorado. He also leads the Hope of Denver Biblical Counseling Center which does in-person and virtual biblical counseling. In addition, he’s a doctoral candidate at Southern Seminary. He’s the father of six children, he’s married to Molly, and he recently released a book on this very topic titled “Best Practice for Virtual Biblical Counseling.” Josh, I’m so grateful that you’re here. I always have such a wonderful time chatting with you and especially about this particular topic, so thanks for being with me.
Josh Weidmann: Yeah, thanks Dale. Thanks for calling me friend. I appreciate the friendship that we share as well.
Dale Johnson: Yeah, wonderful. And I’ve gotten to know you over the last several years, I just really enjoy the time that we spent together. We’ve done a couple of things with the Biblical Counseling Summit, which I would encourage all of our listeners to check out. I think some of the topics that we’ve covered been really outstanding. So, I really appreciate the work that you’re doing there in Denver that’s reaching much further than Denver too.
Listen, as we talk about this topic and particularly the pandemic, we saw really an explosion in virtual counseling, and so, I’m so grateful that you’ve given some focus attention you guys there in Denver, the Hope of Denver Biblical Counseling Center, you guys have taken advantage of this opportunity to refine some of these things. So, talk about in your mind how has biblical counseling changed with the advancement of technology and now the ability to speak in really a face-to-face way virtually.
Josh Weidmann: Well, it’s changed drastically. And obviously the pandemic catapulted people having to figure out how do I counsel without being able to be in person, and then now we’re in this kind of post-pandemic culture and so much of what we’ve learned to do during the pandemic has stuck and people are still used to talking through screens with, be it through FaceTime, or Zoom or Microsoft Teams, whatever it may be. So this has become a way of life, but prior to the pandemic, and I would say, really by the Lord orchestrating some things, we were growing so fast in Hope in Denver getting so many requests from people that were far away, we had to figure out how do we counsel when there’s a geographical separation. So, not just the separation due to social distancing, but how do we overcome it when somebody can’t come to us?
I remember Dale, the first call I got was from a couple that was desperate for the need for counseling. They were about four hours away from us. And they said, would you counsel us through Zoom and everything in my training and in my mind was no, we have to do this in person and it’d be best, obviously, for you to be in your local church, well he was a pastor and so he was like I’m seeking something outside of my local church, it’s a small little town on the Eastern Plains of Colorado, can we get counsel? And he actually said we’re willing to drive, but it’d be four hours one way, and I just felt man, I don’t know that that’s the best stewardship of your time. Let’s try this through a video and that was the first time I did a virtual counseling, that was years and years ago that went so well. And we started adding these into our ministry and a behind-the-scenes story is that in the Hope in Denver we were dreaming, how can we reach more people in Colorado? Randy Patten who’s a mentor and he kind of helped us in many ways with our counseling center and someone who has influenced greatly the biblical counseling world. I reached out to him and said I got this idea to start a virtual biblical counseling center, and in so many words, he’s like “I don’t think that’s wise and you should not do that,” and maybe you just ate something bad for lunch or you know, you shouldn’t be thinking of it, but the next day called back and said, you know what, maybe there is some wisdom to that in the times that we live in, and then soon thereafter obviously, the pandemic hit us and we had to do things virtually.
So, I do think that there’s a need for it. I think people have gotten used to it, and I think there’s a way that we can use the advances of technology to further the gospel maybe like other generations before us have not been able to do.
Dale Johnson: Yeah, you mentioned some of the advancements, things like FaceTime but people have become so accustomed to that. That’s a typical way of communicating and you don’t feel distant necessarily in relationship but there is a sense still when you talk about something as intimate as counseling, I want you to describe this and because for some people it might be off-putting to think man I’ve got to talk about such intimate details in an online setting. Does counseling through a screen really compromise the biblical counseling experience? And I want you to think about it from the counselee and also from the perspective of the counselor because I’m thinking as a counselor, I like my whiteboard. I enjoy to do that kind of stuff, but there are ways that you can even, you know, help out through screen as well. So, talk through some of that.
Josh Weidmann: Yeah, it’s a different experience in summary, right up front I would say I don’t know that it compromises the experience but it is definitely different. So let’s do think about it from the counselee’s perspective. The counselee doesn’t get to come into your office, doesn’t get to see you your whole person, you know, if you will, in front of them, they don’t get to see you draw on that whiteboard, they don’t get to see you hand them a physical piece of paper or a worksheet or handout some of those things it’s not that you’re losing them, they’re just different in the virtual experience. What you still maintain in the virtual experience, I talked about this in the little booklet that we put out, is you still have so much that you’re able to see through a screen. So it’s estimated that about 70% of all that you would experience in person can still be experienced through the screen. So, yeah you’re missing a good thirty percent. In fact, I just met another one of our members here, Terry Enns, I’ve been meeting with him mostly through a screen and he walked up to me yesterday and said I didn’t know you were that tall, you know? because I’m used to just seeing him, so there’s part of that you just don’t experience a person when they’re not in front of you. But I’ll tell you, I know Terry, I’ve spent a lot of time with him through a screen and I get to see his facial expressions and the Bible talks about how the eyes are the window to the soul and the face can show the countenance of a heart. So there’s a lot that we can still experience through the screen both from the counselee and then from us as a counselor to the counselee.
For the counselor, I think it just requires a lot more preparedness or a different mindset. How am I going to show them this handout? How am I going to maybe draw this out for them if I can’t use the whiteboard in my typical way, how am I going to make sure we’re flipping through passages together? So you have to think different, it may not be that you’ve lost anything, but you’re doing something different and we can drill down on some of that more if you’d like, but it’s just a different mindset on how we approach it.
Dale Johnson: Yeah it is different. I think just helping to overcome some of what may feel like a coldness. There’s a way that you can build rapport even through that means. And I would say, you know once you become a little bit more proficient and you play around with something like Zoom or Teams or whatever, they’re opportunities to you. You got a whiteboard that you can use and so when I do this type of virtual counseling, I don’t feel like I’m losing my opportunities to draw my good diagrams and walk people through things in their life, and so, lots of availability with that advanced technology.
Now if we’re thinking about we’re biblical counselors, that’s just sort of how we think. So we’re always looking for biblical categories for things. If we think about virtual counseling, is there a biblical category we can use when processing this idea of virtual biblical counseling that’s suitable for us to utilize?
Josh Weidmann: Yeah, that’s a great question. I really had to struggle with that even as we were putting together the book, trying to figure out what is the right way to think about the use of technology and biblically how I use it to advance the gospel and the category that I would put it in, is the category of hospitality. Think about passages that tell us to be hospitable Titus 1:8 says, rather he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. I mean this idea of counseling someone through a screen really at the core is about hospitality and hospitality is a key to Christianity and I think it shouldn’t be neglected in our counseling.
So for a person that says, “Hey, listen, I can’t drive four hours one way to you, or I have a debilitating physical ailment that keeps me from being able to be in your presence.” What can I do to be more hospitable to that person and to really pull them in? And I believe that virtual biblical counseling is an aspect of that hospitality. I do think that if the apostle Paul had Zoom, I mean, imagine what he would have done, you know, or email or anything like that. He talks about in 1 Corinthians 9:20, “I become like the Jews to win the Jews with the Gentiles, to those under the law I became like one under the law, so as to win those under the law, so I can bring them to Christ,” and he’s saying I have to in some areas of my life never compromise but sometimes contextualize in order to reach people with the Gospel and I think in some ways if you think of virtual biblical counseling that way, listen I’m going to now reach the shut-in that I couldn’t have otherwise reached, I’m going to reach the person who has no childcare whatsoever, no family, the single mom or whatever that just can’t get out of the house but could do counseling during the kid’s nap time and how hospitable to say, “hey I could still meet with you during that and let’s find a way to really make this happen.”
In the book, I talk a lot about different ways that we can be hospitable. I think it comes through how we communicate with our body language but it’s even things like I talked about letting them know what’s on your desk. Having your Bible ready, your notepad, I’ll even say get you a cup of coffee ready. Make it feel as if they’re sitting right there with you and encourage them to do the same. I have a checklist that I will send to every virtual biblical counseling case that I do, I send them this checklist. It includes check your internet, get your cup of hot tea, get your Bible ready, get your notes ready. I want them to feel that I’m being hospitable from the very time we interact electronically.
Dale Johnson: I think that those practical suggestions are so helpful, and, you know, we’re going to prepare and be ready in any counseling situation no matter what type of case we’re dealing with. But what are some of the ways that you might see in addition to our normal preparation in a virtual setting? What are some of the additional things that you would do in preparing for this type of counseling?
Josh Weidmann: Sure. Well, that’s probably the part that probably keeps people away from virtual counseling the most is man. What would it take to do that? And with all due respect, I’m going to use my mom as an example. My mom is in her mid to late 60s, she didn’t grow up with technology like we’ve experienced it today or maybe like I’ve experienced it. Technology can be hard for her, but I’ll tell you, she’s one of our best virtual biblical counselors but there was a learning curve for her. She had to learn how to use an online platform. Find something that was compatible for her, that was easy to use, that was no cost to the counselee and we helped to do all those kinds of things but then setting up the right setting. I think it’s so important that we think through what does it look like for the counselee to experience us through a screen?
So one of the things that I recommend first and foremost is making sure that the audio is as strong as it can be. A great videographer said to me once if they can’t see you that well, that’s okay, but if they can’t hear you, that’s not okay. And so making sure that they can hear you. I even bought this thirty-dollar microphone that goes through my USB port, it just sits in front of me to make sure that they can hear me as clear as possible. So, making sure that your audio is good, then, secondarily would be video or lighting. Just making sure that you’re not sitting in front of a bright window where they can’t see you, that your face is well-lit so that they can experience you because you want them to see your face just as much as you want to see theirs. And then making sure that you have your Bible ready. You’re prepared to take notes, I take notes electronically when I’m counseling virtually, part of the reason that I do that is so that my face stays up and faces towards the screen. But I’ll even tell my counselee, “Hey you’re going to see me looking over to the left a little bit, what I’m doing is I’m actually taking notes right here on the screen in a confidential place that is allowing me to still stay attentive to you.” I’ll even tell the counselee every other app is closed. All my notifications have been turned down so that they feel as if I’m fully focused on them.
So those things are very important and then like I mentioned I put together even a checklist that I asked the counselee then to be prepared with. So, I will say to them and make sure that their internet is good, that their computer has a power cord. I can’t tell you how many computers have died in a session. We could have avoided that by just plugging your computer in, please make sure that you’re ready with your Bible, you know, don’t get up and get it making sure that if the kids are home they’re either napping or in a safe place with another adult when you’re in a confidential setting. I mean, these are all things that I’ll put out there to make sure that our experience is as strong as possible.
Dale Johnson: Man, I love this because you’ve thought through so much relative to detail. Not just preparation for me as the counselor but also preparation for the counselee, helping them think through what this experience could be like or should be like, ways to keep out things that might hinder the process as well. I think all this is really wise. So, as you think about this, do you see virtual biblical counseling as a help or a hindrance to advancing the gospel in the culture in which we live in?
Josh Weidmann: Yeah. I really see it as an advancement. Our goal is to make great the power of Jesus Christ for everyday life, to show the sufficiency of Scripture to those that we’re counseling. And Dale, I believe that if we can use the tools that we have in the time that we live in to advance the gospel we will be able to see a greater spread of the truth of Christ, greater reliance upon God’s Word in places maybe we could have never gotten to. I think about the way that virtual biblical counseling saves me commuting time, it saves me flight, and saves hurt people from traveling to me. I mean, I can minister to someone and have overseas at different parts of the day that I would never be able to do that.
Now I want to say this, we should still keep in mind the local church, getting them plugged into their own local church and under their pastoral care of someone that’s in their community. But there are some cases where people need help, and they need to know how do I apply the gospel in a place where there is no biblical counselor or even an equipped pastor to help them. So, if we can do that, we can advance the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of the Earth, using technology. Come on, that’s amazing. And I again think the biblical counseling movement will be advanced, but more so, the Gospel ministry of Jesus Christ will be advanced like it never has been if we do this.
Dale Johnson: Absolutely, well said and now no excuses on these types of things, and the Lord has given us the opportunity and Josh, I think you explained this super well. The Lord is obviously blessed you to refine your thinking in some of this and how we can utilize this for the sake of the kingdom. And I love the way that you are thinking.
Now, I want to mention to you at our most recent annual conference, Josh did a breakout on this very topic of best practices of virtual biblical counseling. You can find that on our resources at biblicalcounseling.com and also he wrote a booklet on this topic, as I mentioned before, we’ll connect that in the show notes, so you can have access to that on the best practices of virtual biblical counseling. Brother, thank you so much for your time, your work there in Denver. So grateful for you and how you’re helping us to advance the work of biblical counselors to reach people who otherwise might have been unreachable.
Josh Weidmann: Yes, Dale, it’s my privilege and for the glory of Jesus Christ. Thank you.
Dale Johnson: Amen.
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