Dale Johnson: I’m excited to have with us Matthew Statler. He’s been the teaching elder at Sierra Vista Baptist Church since September 1st of 2019. He was raised in Senegal, Africa. His parents were missionaries supported by Sierra Vista Baptist Church and he was exposed to the gospel early in life. God drew him, at a very early age and he committed his life to Christ. He attended a missionary kid School in the capital city of Dakar and he graduated from there in 2003. He joined the army as a Cavalry Scout and deployed to Iraq for four tours. Eventually, he was medically retired from the Army after 10 years. His education: he has a degree in Christian Ministry from the University of Mary Harden-Baylor, a degree from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, an M.Div. He’s been certified with ACBC since 2020. He currently serves as the pastor of Sierra Vista Baptist Church and teaches 12th grade koine and apologetics at a local classical Christian school. He’s a mentor for the Mighty Oaks Warriors program and co-director of Sierra Vista Biblical Counseling and Training Center. He’s been married to Jessica for 12 years and they are blessed with four children Edward, Silas, Charlotte, and Samuel.
Matthew, I’m so grateful that you’re here to talk to me today. This is a new thing that we’re doing and you get to bat leadoff. I’m really excited about your story. I’ve heard bits and pieces of that, I’m excited about the things that we’re going to learn today. This is an opportunity for us to hear stories in biblical counseling, how the Lord brought you to biblical counseling and how the Lord may have used biblical counseling in your own life and I’m really looking forward to that time. So, brother, thank you for being here, grateful for your service at your church and then also at the ACBC training center. Welcome,
Matthew Statler: Thank you, I am so honored to be here.
Dale Johnson: Now, as we start this off, I want you to describe, we’ve given a little bit of background and history of your life, but that’s like a 50,000-foot view of sort of the trajectory of your life. I want you to talk a little bit about what your life was like before biblical counseling. What were things like in Matthew Statler’s life?
Matthew Statler: Growing up in a good Christian home, a solid foundation of the Gospel, but I think a lot of it started when I joined the army in 2003. Deployed to Iraq, my dad died on my first deployment. He died of cancer that he had gotten from the peanuts. The way they processed the peanuts in West Africa and so he died while I was deployed and that began a sort of a spiral for me where I began to self-medicate with alcohol, becoming very angry. It was an intense time that was in early ’04 to ’05. The battle for Fallujah was going on, and we were supporting that. And then again, in ’06 to ’08, we were in Baghdad during The Surge and then ’09 to ’10 was pretty calm. And then ’11 to ’12, we shut down Iraq. There’s a lot of factors combined, but I began to deal with all that war experience, the loss of my dad, through the same ways that my leadership dealt with it, right? So I looked at my leaders, what did they do when they got back? Well, they got drunk, they pursued women, just lived sinful, selfish lives. I followed suit, did the same thing and that made me very successful in the Army for some reason. So, my military career was excellent. I made E7 in seven years and was promoted very quickly. My home life was just a mess. I bore the fruit of it and really began to become a very difficult person to be around. I was very suicidal. Many times placing a pistol in my mouth and really wanting to end it. Drunk most of the time, I would get off work and get drunk. I’d show up to work drunk and that was okay for an E7 during wartime. My wife ended up telling me that I really needed to get help after a particularly terrible incident of drunkenness. So, I went to the Army doctor, he diagnosed me with PTSD, with depression, anxiety disorder, suicidal ideations, alcoholism. Then the cherry on top was bipolar disorder. He also diagnosed several other guys in my unit with bipolar, so I don’t know if he was just seeking to help get people out or what his plan was, but that bipolar diagnosis was what started my medical retirement.
So, I went through the Army process and I was like, “I’m dedicated to getting better.” I wanted to get well, so I did whatever they told me. They said there’s yoga at 3:00, I was there. They said acupuncture, I’m there. They said EMDR, I said, “Give it to me.” I did all the exposure therapies. I remember them hooking electrodes up to my brain and put me to a computer and put on music and said, “This is called brain spotting,” and I said, “I don’t know what that is but I’m gonna do it.” I had CBT with a therapist, they loaded me up on medication. I was on four or five different meds at the same time and over this long period of time, I just was getting worse. I was becoming more self-centered. No one could “understand.” No one’s done what I’ve been through, or knows what I’ve been through. I became this disgruntled veteran. I was given all the excuses I needed to ignore my family. We had two young kids at the time and I didn’t have to change diapers because she didn’t know what I’d been through. I didn’t go to the store, go shopping because I was isolating. The Scripture tells us, “He who isolates is selfish, seeks his own desires.” (Proverbs. 18:1) So I basically bought into this world and that’s where it started. I bought into the labels and began to try to get better, but it was not working.
Dale Johnson: Were you involved in church or were you professing faith in the Lord Jesus at that time? What was going on spiritually in your life at that time?
Matthew Statler: Before we got married, I asked her if she was a believer, that was important to me. With all the military deployments, I never established myself in any local body of believers. I brought a Bible with me on deployment, would look at it occasionally, maybe there was some anger towards God for the loss of my dad, but I really did not seek help and hope from where I should’ve in the Scriptures. We did go to a church, my wife and I, and couldn’t really get plugged in. We joined their military spouse group and then I deployed right away. Then their husbands were all coming back and my wife was just like, “This isn’t helping” because they were all coming back and she was alone and she didn’t really feel plugged in there. We were not attached to a local body, we didn’t have good Christian fellowship. If you had asked me, I probably would have said I was a believer, but I was definitely not exhibiting any of the fruit of belief.
Dale Johnson: Now, you mentioned you did all these different therapies that the military was requesting of you to do and seemed eager to do that. I want to hear a little bit about how long maybe you were involved in that pursuit of therapy, then talk about how you were exposed initially to biblical counseling and then what drove you to seek that out. That seems quite outside of the military protocol, right? And so, I’m just interested in how that came about from the therapy that you were involved in.
Matthew Statler: I went to “mental health,” is what they called it. Basically, when my dad died, I went and I was in and out of some of their different programs throughout my time in the military. Over the period of eight to nine years, I really began to jump into it. In 2012, that’s really when I started going through that and probably until about 2014 to 2015. So about four or five years of these various therapies. When I got out of the army, they put me in at the VA and the VA were the ones that were working with these. I had a psychiatrist and a therapist. And both of them worked with me for about a couple of years, specifically with just a particular one.
So when I got medically retired, I went to college and began to pursue a degree in exercise science. What do I do now? How do I support my family now that I’m no longer in the military? It was a Christian School, so they required Old Testament and New Testament Survey classes. So I’m being exposed to Scripture again and even though I didn’t consciously choose to stop believing or following the faith, I feel like I was saved at that time and had elapsed, but it wasn’t as real to me with the problems that I had going through. I had to read the Bible for class and then I ended up picking up a book by a guy named Tim Keller on prayer and he had daily-set office hours for prayer, going through the Psalms in particular, Psalm 95. I began to read Psalm 95 daily, and began to pray through the Scriptures. As I was reading into the Psalms, I realized that this guy David had gone through the same things that I had been going through and what he was experiencing I could relate to. I started doing my own Psalms, following the same pattern that David has of crying out, lodging his complaint, expressing the concerns and issues and then trusting in God. So as I was doing that, the Lord began to bring massive conviction on me. I began to repent, confess to my wife, put on put off; I really began to change. My wife sees it and we end up joining a local church in the area. I start looking for ways to serve, so I joined the prayer meeting and served in the parking lot. I just served for over a year, this whole process began to take shape in my life where the Scriptures were dealing with my soul in ways that the medication, the therapies, just couldn’t do and wouldn’t do.
This ended up leading me to to feel a call to ministry and I switched my degree plan to Christian Ministry and that’s where things just took off for me. I started really growing in the Word, I started doing youth ministry and then I branched out and started doing some military ministry because God’s Word helped me and I wanted to help others. I started seeing how the Psalms affected the veterans that I was working with. I met a marine veteran and him and I we just became best friends. You just kind of one of those situations you’re sitting in college with a bunch of young people. He introduced me to Mighty Oaks and we went through there. Mighty Oaks is really what exposed us to true biblical counseling in the form of ACBC. We both ended up going to Southern and we saw that they had a biblical counseling program. That’s how it all started for us as in the realm of biblical counseling, and then serving veterans with Mighty Oaks.
Dale Johnson: I want to hear more about your experience, particularly in biblical counseling and how it impacted your life. But before that, I want you to talk about Mighty Oaks, just describe a little bit of this particular program.
Matthew Statler: Mighty Oaks is a faith-based, peer-to-peer program. Guys will come out there for about a week and they’ll get peer-counseling, lessons on on the faith, how to deal with a lot of the struggles that they’re going through from a biblical perspective. My job is to do the aftercare and also any kind of intense counseling, that’s required crisis counseling, that’s required in the program. We’ve seen such a massive success rate through the guys coming. We got guys that come in and say, “If this doesn’t work, I’m going to kill myself,” you can tell it’s the last step for them. We just see lives surrender to the Gospel and it’s just amazing to watch.
Dale Johnson: We’re talking about current military personnel or vets. Are those the folks we’re talking about here?
Matthew Statler: Yeah, current military, first responders and veterans, they are all invited to this program, completely paid for. They fly them out there and it’s all donor-based.
Dale Johnson: Talk specifically about your experience in biblical counseling. I want us to keep in mind what your history had been particularly in therapy and now here you you are exposed to biblical counseling, quite a radically different approach for sure. Then how did biblical counseling impact your life?
Matthew Statler: When the Bible did for me what secular therapies, medication and all these various modalities did not do, I became more and more convinced of the sufficiency of Scripture for the care of souls. As I was studying and doing biblical counseling with veterans, I realized how badly neglected the care in trauma type, the intense suffering in men and women. And I would say not only was it impactful for me personally, but, as a pastor in church revitalization here in Arizona, I’m counseling every week and we are seeing lives transformed in ways that we could never hope. So for me, it’s one of those things where it’s a force multiplier in my life. I would say it’s the foundation of all my ministry.
Dale Johnson: If your wife, Jessica, were here and she were to describe Matt as he’s going through biblical counseling, I think that would be an interesting perspective. And maybe from her perspective, what she saw and maybe some of the difference that she saw in her husband who she walks through this whole story with. What would she say was your experience and how it impacted your life as a man?
Matthew Statler: She is a very amazing woman to have put up with me for as long as she did it. It was hard years when we were early married. I was very angry, I had a temper, drunkenness, selfishness. She has mentioned it often what an amazing 180 my life has shown. I think she was more afraid for me than she was of me, but there was this reality that we were living with a grenade that had the pin pulled. It was just a matter of time before shrapnel started hitting everything around us. With her, it was a work of God in my life. She was supportive the whole way through. If I wanted to get whatever the therapies were, she was like, “Go get it, get help. You need to get better.” Then she saw what the Gospel did and that has strengthened her. She’s grown in the Lord and she’s 100% in the sufficiency of Scripture. She’s started going through ACBC training as well and she would like to do some of that once our kids are a little bit older and we have a little bit more breathing breathing room.
Dale Johnson: I want to continue this conversation and I want to get to a place where we hear a little bit more about why you’re now so involved in biblical counseling Ministry. I think that’s a part of the testimony that the Lord has given to you. We’ve run out of time today but I’m going to ask you if you don’t mind revisiting with us next week and I want to continue this story and talk a little bit more about your involvement in biblical counseling now and how the Lord has changed your life and what he’s doing to use you for others to experience biblical counseling now. So thank you so much for this particular time but I want to make sure we continue this conversation next week.
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