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Biblical Counseling and Discipleship

Truth in Love 163

What's the difference between biblical counseling and discipleship?

Jul 16, 2018

Heath Lambert: We’re doing the podcast a little bit differently this week. You may know that I have resigned effective October 2nd as the Executive Director of ACBC, and so right now we are working on a transition that would ultimately culminate in Dr. Dale Johnson as being my successor as the Executive Director of ACBC. I am so thrilled about the leadership that Dr. Johnson is going to bring to our association and to the movement of biblical counseling. Part of that transition is to include him more in the Truth in Love podcast. Another part of that transition is some movement that happens sort of on the other side of the microphone that you don’t see.

For years, the producer of Truth and Love has been Amy Evenson, and as I step away from ACBC and devote all of my attention at First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida, she is going to do the same thing and leave her responsibilities behind as producer of the podcast. But we are thrilled that the new producer of the podcast is going to be a wonderful guy named Taron Defevers. This week on Truth in Love, we are going to be able to listen in on a conversation between Taron Defevers, the new producer of the podcast, and Dr. Dale Johnson, the soon-to-be Executive Director of ACBC. So, let’s listen to what they have to say.

Taron Defevers: Here at ACBC, we are committed to equipping people to use the Scriptures to help people with their most difficult problems in life. Dale, why do we use the words biblical counseling instead of simply discipleship?

Dale Johnson: It’s a good question, and oftentimes, those two things get rather confused. I’ve heard people describe it, certainly, as part of the responsibility of the church to be engaged in discipleship. I mean, that’s part of the Great Commission that Christ left to us, to make sure that  we’re engaged in making disciples. That is the work of the church.

When we talk about biblical counseling, I’ve heard several authors describe it this way, that biblical counseling is more like intensive discipleship, where issues are arising and we’re taking particular interest in those acute problems that people are facing. They’ve come to a crossroad and they’re struggling with a particular issue that they’re dealing with in life and it’s hurting them emotionally or physically in some way shape or form. We’re wanting to pause and really hone in on that particular issue that they’re struggling with, hear particulars about their situation and what’s going on, and then begin to give very specific biblical solutions for their particular problem and issue at that particular time.

We would see those types of acute issues as major hurdles or major incidents that have come up in their life where we are going to take a particular interest in that specific problem so that we can address that biblically. We also want wise counselors who are able to do that type of work to help that person through that particular issue in making them mature in Christ. The beauty of having a church that is involved in healthy discipleship is, now that biblical counseling has been done, we can assimilate those people into a very healthy, functioning church that can care for them well through their typical, normal activity of discipling a brother or sister and equipping them to become mature in Christ, as the Scripture calls us to.

Taron Defevers: So it sounds like both counseling and discipleship are aspects under the banner of discipleship. One, simply counseling, being helping someone who’s particularly in a specific disabling issue in their life, where discipleship would be just an ongoing norm of the Christian life, growing and sanctification. 

Dale Johnson: Yes. Maybe one of the simple categories that we can put it in, normal discipleship, we could put in the area of preventive care. The Scripture tells us in Ephesians 4 to equip the saints for the work of the ministry until all of us grow to the point of maturity; that’s us engaging in discipleship, learning to grow in our faith, crucifying and mortifying sins of the flesh so that we pursue the things God has called us to pursue, walking in the Spirit so that we won’t gratify the desires of the flesh—that’s normative, that’s preventive care. It’s preventing us from falling into temptation easily; it’s helping us to grow. That’s normal, typical discipleship and care, I would argue. 

Maybe we would look at counseling in a different light. We would think about counseling as being reparative. We think of Galatians 6:1 with a brother caught in a particular trespass or struggle. The ones who are spiritual, the Scripture tells us, are to restore such a one in a situation like that. So I might distinguish the two as being more preventative in nature, which is the normal function of us growing regularly in Christ in the way that Colossians 1:28 tells us to do, to make every man mature, complete in Christ. Then we might look more in the direction of being restorative care where we’re restoring a person who is in despondency, or maybe they’re downcast and struggling, or maybe they’d fallen into a particular sin and we’re helping them to overcome that acute issue and press on toward maturity and Christ. 

Taron Defevers: Dale, I know you really value counseling ministry inside the church. How would you say a church can really model faithful counseling and discipleship ministry inside their local church?

Dale Johnson: That’s a great question and quite encompassing. I think there are certain steps that churches can make in that direction that can be very helpful. First of all, if they’re doing discipleship well, we know that they have a heart to see their people mature in the faith so that they’re able to handle the troubles of the world; they’re able to walk according to the ways of Christ and learning to allow Him to bear their burden so that they can rest in their soul, as Matthew 11 describes.

One of the things that we would do is want them to look at biblical counseling as one aspect of that responsibility to care for their people. There are several ways that churches do this. One in particular is we begin with evangelism; if you’re sharing the gospel and you’re evangelizing others, in a sense, what you’re doing is you’re allowing them to hear the Word of God in order to care for their souls. Scripture describes, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but he loses his own soul?” So, when we think about evangelism, that the Lord would open or unveil their eyes, that is, ministering the Word with the end desire of being caring for that person’s soul, you think about a normal Sunday morning when the pastor stands up to preach. He’s preaching in order to equip the saints for the work of the ministry so that they’re equipped in heart, fortified in their faith, that they can walk in a world that Christ tells us is very troubled. That’s caring for them. 

When you think about the one another ministries that should be ongoing in the church, all of that is set up to care well for the believers. Now we add into it a very specific and focused ministry, biblical counseling, where we can use that to be missional, to deal with the hurting problems of people even outside the church. We’re giving them biblical solutions for normal problems that they would face, and so now the church has an opportunity to deal with issues of people that might be outside the church or particularly inside the church in a very specific manner, taking the Scriptures and applying it to life. Then the beauty of that is that now we can assimilate them back into the body so that they can be cared for and grow normally in their faith as they pursue Christlikeness and maturity in Him.

Taron Defevers: I’m going to ask this next question on behalf of many pastors or church members who often even come to ACBC saying, “I just don’t know if I’m equipped or my church is equipped to do that level of critical care.” What would your advice be to those pastors or those church members who may feel unequipped to do counseling ministry, while they may feel equipped to do more of the discipleship ministry?

Dale Johnson: It’s a great question, and I think the two, in many ways, go hand-in-hand. First of all, we have to step back, and even though we are called to task as believers on many occasions to do things with which we feel inadequately equipped to accomplish, Paul even describes that it’s in our weakness, in our inability, that we can see the strength of Christ. The first thing we have to visit as pastors is to see that God has given me that particular responsibility as a shepherd, and so as I address those issues from the Scripture and you begin to see the pastor’s role and responsibility to shepherd the flock in these particular ways, that he would be one of the primary sources of biblical care toward the people God has entrusted to him. We begin in a place like that, now we see the responsibility. There may be some weakness in skill or weakness in ability, and those would be things that he would need to grow and in tenderness toward the flock and then wisdom from the Scripture on how to apply those things. 

That’s exactly why ACBC exists, to be able to minister to pastors and to church leaders to better equip them to take the Scriptures, to take what we hold so dear in our theological positions from Scripture, and to make that practical and applicable in the lives of people. So a part of what we desire to do is to train pastors and train lay leaders to be able to effectively minister the Word so that we have a ministry that is able to equip pastors in that for that very specific thing. 

What I would do is just encourage the pastor not to be discouraged, because ministry is often very discouraging. I would seek out maybe a training center with ACBC or some of our online training so that they can be encouraged to learn how to deal with what are sometimes very difficult problems that people bring into their office. I know every pastor has a heart and a desire and a love for their people, and they want to be equipped to teach and to train them and to minister to them in moments where they’re hurting maybe the worst. What an effective opportunity for a pastor to learn those skills, to learn to listen well, to learn to take the Scriptures and to apply it, to have understanding for those particular human problems that they see on a daily basis in their own congregation. We’re about effectively building and growing and equipping pastors to do that very specific work that God has called them to do to shepherd and lead and guide and minister well to their people.