Dale Johnson: This week on the podcast, I’m joined by our Director of Operations, Sean Perron, and we want to have a conversation about the importance of your local church, your involvement in the local church, and why it is that your ministry matters. As I think about local church ministry, I think about ACBC’s involvement and responsibility to equip and edify and strengthen what God is doing at the local church level. To me, that is so absolutely crucial and necessary because we see in the Scriptures that the church really is the primary institution that God in the New Testament uses to propagate His Gospel, to build His Church, and to disciple those who have come to faith. We have a responsibility to guard the truth of God’s Word in that setting.
Sean, as we talk about the importance of local church ministry—why it is that everyone who listens to this has a responsibility to minister well in that local body? There are couple things that we could talk about. I mean we can go in a thousand directions here, but here are a couple of things that I think are important that we flesh out.
Part of the importance of our ministry and why it matters at the ground level is the interaction that we have on a daily basis with people. Jesus says some things that are absolutely critical that make us aware of the reality of why our ministry matters, and one of the things that he talks about is that the world in which we live in is filled with trouble. What that means, in addition to our sinful disposition and us being born with a depraved heart and mind, is the world is cursed. With that, we as human beings encounter all types of problems and issues and struggles, whether that be personal sin or things that we encounter by the sin of other people—even just the brokenness of the physical world. The fact of the matter is that people need help and God has called us in our sphere of influence to offer that help with the power of God’s Word. Can you talk for a second about how we can minister on that level to people who are in need?
Sean Perron: As I think about why the people who are listening to this podcast, their ministry, matters, I’m actually reminded of a story. I’ve been doing volunteer counseling at my local church in Jacksonville, Florida, and I’ve been focusing primarily on young married couples and counseling children. The second counseling case that I had—we’ll call the Mom “Julia” and the son “Steve”—Julia came to our church overwhelmed as a single mom with five kids. Her son was getting kicked out of the school he was at, an elementary school, for the second time. She came because she did not want her son to get Baker Acted, which is essentially being institutionalized for a short temporary period because a person is a danger to themselves or endangering others. She didn’t want her son to get Baker Acted by the school because she had been Baker Acted previously in her life. She came because she was at the end of her rope. She doesn’t know what to do. She’s a member at the church and she needs help.
Now, that is an intense situation. That sounds overwhelming and I felt overwhelmed. That’s the reality. This is case number two. In fact, one of the problems was that Steve was throwing chairs at the Sunday School teachers in the Sunday school class at our church and they didn’t know what to do. He was threatening kids at school and running out of the room. This was an intense little situation, and I didn’t know what to do.
Many people in our churches see that they don’t know what to do and they farm out to a professional, or they farm out to someone that is outside the church. They’re not even a Christian; it’s a secular therapist or even a Christian therapist that is highly integrated. What I would want to say is they had already been to the secular psychologists. They’d already been to the institutions in our country and those institutions had failed them. Who else was going to help them except the local church? I didn’t know what I was doing, and I needed help. I needed help to know how to counsel Steve and Julia.
Long story short, there’s a lot that can be said, but we did one thing in particular. He was dealing with anger obviously, and we talked about Romans 12, and we talked about three things to do from Romans 12. Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good. We had to think hard and long about how to relate that to a nine-year-old and make Romans 12 palatable for him and relatable and appropriate and memorable, a way that made sense to his little world. When he’s flipping over a chair, he has to think about how to ask Jesus for forgiveness. Ask Jesus for help and then do one good thing to other people that he’s angry at to overcome evil with good. We worked on that.
We worked on that not just with me, but in the context of a Sunday school class. I went and sat in and watched him in Sunday school and talked with the leaders in there. And so it was a body of Christ movement to help this precious family with the problem that they felt overwhelmed with. That’s what the church is about. So that’s just one example of how people need help, and we can help them. The Bible gives wisdom, and the church is the place for that to thrive.
Dale Johnson: You’re absolutely right. You said that this was one example, and the reason that’s just one example is because these types of things are absolutely common. When we pay attention to the world around us and we’re involved in our local churches, we encounter real families, real people who have real struggles, but the fact is that we’re privileged to be a part of that local ministry to know that all of us to some degree or another are sick with sin. We struggle on many levels and in many ways, and God has now provided opportunity through you and others who can minister to these types of needs.
I love the way you talked about how it was an effort of the body of Christ to help this family in this need. There are so many ways we think about what we’re trying to accomplish with a family like that. Is it simply just to help this kid not be angry anymore? Is it simply to help them sit in a Sunday school class or in his public school class? It’s for so many more reasons than that. Of course, those are residual effects when we help them well with God’s Word, but the primary thing that we’re trying to help is a settling of his heart, a settling of his obedience as he walks with his parents. We think about God’s glory in how we approach even a situation like that, and the church is positioned in the best place to minister to him with that reality in mind.
Sean Perron: With that, you are exactly right that God’s glory is at stake here. Another quick story—another little girl that I’ve been meeting with for many months now, we’ll call her Tabitha. Tabitha came because she was having panic attacks because a family member died in a horrible, tragic accident. She was depressed and having panic attacks. She, in God’s kindness, through the help of her church and the people that God has placed in her life, and then through counseling, became a believer and trusted in the Lord. She is no longer having panic attacks and has grown greatly.
Her older brother was hanging out with some friends and they brought up biblical counseling. He’s a grown man, and he was shocked at how skeptical and hostile his friends in the church were to biblical counseling. He said, “Guys, listen, I don’t know the experiences you’ve had but the experience that I’ve had at the counseling ministry that I’ve been going to has been wonderful. Tell me about the problems that you are articulating.” They said, “Biblical counselors tell people to get off their medication. Biblical counselors tell wives to be in unsafe harmful environments, and if you need proof of it, you just go online and read ACBC’s 95 Theses and that will prove everything you need to know.”
Her older brother went and read the 95 Theses and came to meet me. He said, “Listen Sean, I don’t know what these people are talking about. I read the 95 Theses. I don’t have a problem with anything in here. And I know what they said was not true because when Tabitha came to you and her doctor recommended that she go on medicine you didn’t oppose her, and you didn’t tell her to get off of it. And so I knew that something was wrong.”
Here’s the point of the story. That whole family, it’s not just Tabitha, it’s her older brother and her mom and her dad, that whole family now knows that Tabitha doesn’t have to be in therapy for the rest of her life, she can get help from God’s Word. And they know that biblical counselors are not Neanderthals who are anti-science and anti-medicine. She can know that when she has a problem later on—she’s 11 now, and she’ll be 25 one day and she’ll be 35 one day and she’ll be 75 one day—and no matter the problem, she can go to God’s Word as sufficient for life and godliness to find the answers through Christ and His grace. God’s glory is at stake in how we do ministry and if we do ministry. If we never open our Bibles, if we never open our church doors to do ministry, we are missing out on wonderful opportunities to honor Christ.
Dale Johnson: The reason that God has revealed Himself in His Word is so that we would respond appropriately, and that’s how we minister. We can give people answers that help them function well, even with these problems that so many people face. We are tempted in so many ways, especially we who are involved in the biblical counseling movement and with social media and the like, to focus on really the macro of what’s going on in our world. We think about political problems. We think about this idea and that idea and things that are going on that level, but there are a thousand stories that are just like the two that you’ve told. We encounter them on a regular, weekly basis even in the communities that we all live in.
The way that the narratives change at the macro level really starts with the ground level. How do we go about ministering in those very real, very legitimate opportunities with these families who are struggling? It happens in relationships in a local church that God has mandated for us to minister well and edify others in the way in which we do soul care and one another care. That’s so important, and all the people who are listening to this podcast are a part of a ministry and love a ministry where we focus on ministering to those mundane stories—the Tabitha’s of the world—that will never be written about on social media, that will never be talked about at a macro level. But that’s where the world changes, where this little girl’s heart now has an opportunity in her actions to respond in a way that’s honoring to the King of Glory. That’s the responsibility that all of us have as we minister at the local level.