Dale Johnson: I’m delighted to have one of our great brothers, Tim Keeter, to join us on the podcast today. Tim has been a certified member since 2001. He’s an elder at Grace Community Church in Huntsville, Alabama, and he is also an engineer. Today, he’s going to talk about how to think through the process of counseling at your job. Tim, we’re so grateful that you’re here, and we look forward to this discussion today.
Tim Keeter: Thank you, Dale. We’re grateful for the ministry of this particular podcast. It’s a fantastic resource for the counselors at our church and I recommend it to so many different people. We appreciate the honor of being here.
Dale Johnson: Well, thank you for that, we’re excited. As we talk about counseling, particularly at your job, we know increasingly we’re having difficulty in that arena, especially as there are more regulations and all these types of things of what we can and cannot say. Even for we who believe that it’s a good thing, sometimes there’s hesitation about, “What’s appropriate? What’s okay?” Is counseling appropriate in the workplace, and what does counseling look like in the workplace?
Tim Keeter: Let me take that into different pieces. It’s absolutely appropriate, and it’s not just appropriate, but it’s needed in the workplace. We live in a dark world that needs the light of God, and we’re called as believers to love people and whenever possible, to speak of Jesus and the hope that is anchored in Him. When we come across hurting people, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ in the workplace, we’re not needing to be silent just because they’re not in our church family or in our communities or neighborhoods. These problems are common to man and are experienced by the people we work around. Scripture is sufficient for that and it’s needed for that. Really, if they are going to get any real help, they are going to get it from the Word of God.
Dale Johnson: As you walk through this, there are several nuances that we would think about. God has put us into this particular sphere of influence, and by that, I mean He’s saying, “You’re my light to this part of the world. You’re my light to this section of humanity.” We think about counseling other people as those problems come up, but one of those dynamics is a little bit different when we think about those who actually work for us. Does that type of relationship change the way we would counsel someone that works for us?
Tim Keeter: That’s a really good question. I’m in a management position at my job, so I do have a group of people who report to me, meaning that I oversee annual evaluation, salary adjustments, and things of that nature. The one area that I want to be really careful of when I’m offering counsel to those individuals is that I don’t want to mix or entangle the authority of God’s Word with the human authority, the earthly authority, that I have at work. In other words, I don’t want anything to compete with God’s authority where they may be led to have “fear of man” issues, where they’re trying to please me maybe to give them an extra edge in getting that job promotion or salary. They need to be seeking to please God alone.
We were badges where I work, so one of the things I do practically, if that occurs, is if we’re sitting down together especially at work, I will physically take that badge off and lay it face down on the table. I then would proceed to tell them, “You know, I’m not talking to you as a co-worker or a manager right now, I’m talking to you as a brother in Christ.” Or, if it helps, change the environment entirely. We’re in a salaried position, so we have some flexibility with our time as long as we make that up. Drive off to a local coffee shop or some other location where we’re not hindered by people busting in wanting to talk work, or wondering why we’re sitting there doing that.
Dale Johnson: Another dynamic that you brought up in that answer was about managing our time wisely. That question certainly comes up when we think about doing counseling on the job. This employer is paying us to get this job done and he’s not paying us to be a church counselor at that particular moment or to work with our co-worker’s life issues. On the other hand, we also have to think about this idea of counseling. It carries with it much more eternal significance than this particular job that I’m responsible for. How do we work through prioritizing those two things? What if my employer expressly forbids me because it is “proselytizing”?
Tim Keeter: There are three principles in particular that helped me think through those issues. One is from Colossians 3:23, which says we’re to “work heartily as unto the Lord.” How we conduct ourselves at our place of work reflects worship in our relationship and submission to Christ. We also know we’re to avoid stealing, and if I’m counseling at work while at the same time charging my company for my time, I’m stealing from my employer. That never pleases God and it’s always sin. I want to do those things off the clock before or after work, during breaks, during mealtimes.
Again, I’m in a position where I do have some flexibility, so I want to be diligent to make that time up even if it is just a moment during the day, during normal business hours. I also want to balance that. If every time somebody walks by my office they find me counseling, there’s a bad testimony there that I’m monopolizing my time; I need to be above reproach in that area. If my employer is a government entity that especially forbids those things, the opportunities that you get to build those relationships at work and to create those counseling opportunities still exist. I don’t have a problem respecting that and picking off and going up somewhere else, on my time, in another location to counsel them.
Dale Johnson: That sounds like a great way to obey the Scriptures in opening up your home for hospitality or reaching out in those types of ways. As we think about our co-workers, this is definitely a little bit of a different setting than the church. Here at ACBC, we certainly believe in the authority of the local church and our responsibility of counseling in the context and under the authority of the local church. This is a different setting. We are working with people who may attend other churches, maybe they come from a different denomination, maybe a background where they are not involved in church at all, or they have little understanding of church. We’re talking about a variety of spiritual maturity. What are some principles to consider as I, or someone else, may counsel another who is not a part of my particular church? In fact, they might have some significantly different theological views.
Tim Keeter: I don’t know about you Dale, but not everybody who comes into my counseling office agrees with every bit of theology that I present to them from the Bible anyway. But it’s a great reminder to make sure that everything I say to them, every bit of my counsel, originates from an understanding of the Word of God. I want to be especially careful to take them to Scripture and to draw out the meaning of Scripture and apply it to them. I don’t want to get into denominational arguments if I can avoid that. I want to approach the Word and I want to show them where it’s coming from so it’s not me, it’s my understanding of what God has said.
If I need time to go investigate, if they have issues with that, that’s no different than if people are in our church ministry and coming to us in the community. I don’t want to be foolish. It gives me an extra opportunity to go to my church leadership to get another chance to learn. Sometimes, just like at church when we counsel at Grace Church, sometimes they don’t want biblical counseling, and that becomes apparent through the process.
Dale Johnson: Those are some unbelievably insightful points that you’re giving to us. One of the primary things that we as Christians should be doing, even in our workplace, is to be vigilant, paying attention. God calls us to be others focused, so these types of opportunities are probably going to come up if we’re paying attention and we’re thinking about how we as a believer can serve others, think about others in their needs, and put them before ourselves. As we do that, we’re going to find that we can put a lot of your wisdom that you’ve given us today into practice in ministering to those that we work with.
Tim, one of the things that I think might be important is, maybe we want to counsel and we’re looking for opportunities to counsel at work. What are some things we should be looking for to pursue some of those opportunities?
Tim Keeter: It starts with your testimony in terms of how you live out your life amongst your co-workers. You want to live and you want to work to make it clear that you love the Lord, that you tend to speak and act with wisdom and self-control, and that you’re compassionate towards others. We would anticipate God would use those types of things to attract hurting people to come to you.
There are some practical things you can do as well. I suggest talking to your Human Resources group. They are likely dealing with all kinds of issues with people in the workplace, some of them technical in nature, but a lot of them are complicated by the things that these people will go through as they live life as well as work. You can let them know that if an employee is experiencing difficulty in life and wants to meet with another Christian, that you’re available. My company actually has a couple of life coaches, and they’ve been known to ask other believers to befriend an employee who is just going through a rough trial. They say, “Hey, this guy needs a friend. Will you spend some time with him?” Those are fantastic opportunities to be a blessing to your employer.
Dale Johnson: If we’re looking for particular ways to get involved in the ministry and to take the ministry outside of the walls of the local church, the Lord has strategically placed all of us in spheres of influence. This is one primary way that we can really begin to minister the Word of God to hurting people, to bring in the hope of Christ into their living rooms, where they live and where they move and have their being. Tim, thank you so much for joining us today and giving us some of these very good insights on how to minister to those with whom we work.