Heath Lambert: One of the issues that we address in biblical counseling all of the time is the relationship of evangelism to biblical counseling. This is an issue that comes up all the time. I have questions about it literally everywhere I go all over the world. I have asked the Operations Director of ACBC to be with us again this week to talk to us about some of the questions you have about evangelism and biblical counseling. Sean, welcome to the podcast.
Sean Perron: Thanks, Heath. You do mention that these two topics relate to one another. One of the questions that is important is simple: How do they relate?
Heath Lambert: Okay, counseling is a conversation. That’s what counseling is. I mean, you can have a much more complicated and technical definition than that. You can explain it in as complicated a way as you want. Many of us have written books about this conversation. I don’t mean to be simplistic in calling counseling a conversation, but it is a series of conversations between someone who has questions, problems, and trouble and another person they believe to have answers, solutions, and help. It is a conversation.
Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, and the entire corpus of the New Testament canon demand over, and over, and over, and over again that Christians use their conversations to point people to Jesus Christ. If I’m having a conversation as a Christian with another Christian, then when I use that conversation to point you to Christ as another Christian, then we would put that under the category of discipleship. If I, as a Christian, am having a conversation with someone who is not a Christian, my job is to point you to Christ, but my pointing you to Christ, in that context, we would place under the category of evangelism.
Evangelism and counseling go hand in glove because counseling is a conversation and Jesus intends for us to use all of our conversations ultimately to get to Jesus Christ. There will be wisdom that we need to deploy in when and how we turn a conversation to Jesus Christ. It’s not always advisable to have an appeal to repent of your sins and trust in Jesus Christ happen in the first conversation that we have with somebody and certainly not in the first five minutes of a conversation. We need wisdom and skill about when and how we get to Jesus. What is not a question for a faithful Christian is whether we get to Jesus. We always must evangelize in the context of counseling because, whenever we’re talking to an unbeliever, Jesus Christ tells us that we have to be concerned about pointing them to Christ.
Sean Perron: Church members are thinking about these issues and they’re thinking, “Okay, I am good at evangelism, but I’m bad at counseling,” or maybe they’re good at counseling but don’t feel equipped in evangelism. How can these two areas work and function in a local church together beautifully?
Heath Lambert: Let me answer that by considering two different tracks that you could be in in a local church. If a church has, as they should have, a counseling ministry, then you want to ensure that the people who are staffing your counseling ministry, whether at the lay or the staff level, that those people are committed to evangelizing lost people. We simply don’t have any freedom as a counselor to deal with people’s sort of earthly, temporal problems and have total disregard for their eternal problem. It is a counseling failure to give somebody life tips but not prepare them for eternal life.
I’ll say at this point that ACBC, as I’ve said on here before, is the only counseling organization in the entire world that requires, as a matter of Christian ethics, that our counselors share the gospel of Jesus Christ with lost people. There is not another counseling organization in the whole world, certainly not an ethical body, that requires that. You want to be really, really sure. Some big churches have people working in a counseling area and they are not committed to evangelism and to sharing the gospel with lost people, so you want to be sure about that.
Another track that I would want to answer the question on is lay people in the church. If you’re a lay person in the church and you’re not involved in any kind of counseling ministry, you’re having conversations with people every day all day long. The reality is, while some people might have a gift of evangelism or a gift of conversation in the sense that they really excel at that and do it better than the average bear, Jesus Christ has given the one another commands to every Christian—that we love, instruct, and serve one another—and Jesus Christ has given the command to every Christian to point people to Jesus Christ in conversations centered around evangelism.
At the end of the day, we can’t say, “Well, I’m just not very good at it,” or, “That’s not my gift.” The reality is all of us have responsibilities to have loving conversations with the people we interact with and to point lost people to Jesus Christ. What you should do is pray for wisdom. Pray for grace. Ask God’s help where you’re weak and He will help you.
Then, go to a pastor or go to an older, wiser Christian and say, “You know what? I don’t have the first clue about how to have a conversation with a lost person that leads to me saying, ‘Would you like to repent of your sins and trust in Jesus Christ?'” Or you need to go to a pastor or an older, wiser Christian and say, “Do you know what? I just find that in the normal context of having conversations with people I’m not very good at it. Could you help me?” As you pray for wisdom, as you ask for the Lord’s grace, and as you seek help from people in the body, these are things that you can grow up in.
Sean Perron: What then would you say to a counselor who needs encouragement in growing in the task of evangelism?
Heath Lambert: The first thing I would say is I would be really, really encouraged to hear from a counselor who is just aware that they need to grow in this and they’re not denying it, or they’re not making excuses. I would be really encouraged about that. What I would say to you if you are a counselor and you’re listening to this, this is the reason ACBC exists. We exist to connect the Word of God and the grace of God in Christ to lost people in the counseling room. That’s our function. That’s why we’re here.
We’re in our fifth decade now of trying to help counselors grow in their ability to point to Jesus Christ. If you have a heart to grow in sharing the gospel of Jesus with lost people, then I would invite you to check out ACBC. Read our Standards of Doctrine, read our Standards of Conduct, and go through some of the training that we offer. It is focused on all sorts of things, but one of the things that we emphasize is how to have every counseling conversation be a Christ-centered conversation. I’d encourage you to check out our resources at ACBC.