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Your Identity as a Counselor

Truth in Love Episode 281

Faithful counselors acknowledge that they are just as dependent and needy before the Lord as their counselees.

Oct 19, 2020

Dale Johnson: We are delighted to have with us Bill Shannon, who is the pastor over discipleship counseling at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California. He’s been there for 38 years and praise the Lord for that. He’s been on staff for 32 years, I think it is. He’s an ACBC certified member—many of you are very familiar with Bill. He’s also a supervising Fellow.

One interesting thing I’ll mention about Bill that I really appreciate is Bill does a lot of supervising as a Fellow. I’m so grateful because I really think that’s one of the most critical stages of the process of counseling training, is being supervised and having someone like Bill who’s dedicated to supervising. In fact, I’ll say that he’s been almost primarily responsible for training and supervising most of the certified members that we have in England. And he has been dedicated not just to people at his church and throughout the U.S., but has a heart for England as well and has a really good relationship there with some of the folks that we’re building good relationships with to see biblical counseling and ACBC spread into that part of the world. Bill, I’m grateful that you’re here and grateful we could catch up to have this conversation today.

Bill Shannon: Thank you, Dale. It’s wonderful to be here. It’s a sadness that the whole conference can’t be at Grace Community Church this year, but we still have a future.

Dale Johnson: That’s right. We were looking forward to being here at Grace Community and in beautiful Southern California. I’m so grateful that we had a chance to catch up even still, and we’re going to chat today about your breakout session and some of the things that you are wanting to share and that you did share digitally. Interesting way that you shape some of the questions. I really appreciate this because often, we as counselors are asking questions about our human nature and about understanding the heart as it relates to our counselee—the way we think about data gathering, and we look at it from that perspective.

But I love the way that now you’re asking this question about the counselor. You’re wanting us to do proper self-evaluation. You’re wanting us to understand who we are. You’re wanting us to ask proper questions that really help us to stay grounded as it relates to our work in counseling. So I want to start there. Bill, as we think about ourselves as counselors, who are we? I mean, if we ask ourselves that question, “Who am I?” What are some of the ways that we should think through that?

Bill Shannon: Well, first of all, I think we need to understand that we’re really not any different than the person that we’re counseling. They’ve all been made in the image of God and image of Christ. We want to see them grow in the grace and knowledge of that. We all didn’t start where we are now—it took a matter of time, it took a matter of study, it took a matter of knowing who Christ is and walking with Him. I love of Galatians 6:1. It says, “You who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness.” Very important to be able to do that for someone else, but at the same time it says, “but watch to yourself.” Who are you? How are you handling these various issues and problems and sin issues? Because we’re all tempted, and who am I to pontificate to somebody who’s come into my counseling room if I’m not doing the things that I’m telling them to do?

We're really not any different than the person that we're counseling. Click To Tweet

I think that especially for my relationship with my wife. How can I tell another man, “You need to love your wife like this,” if I’m not doing it? I really wouldn’t be a much of a counselor, first of all. And then I’ve got to stand before the Lord and He’s going to say, “But you knew,” and I’ve got to say, “Yeah, I did and I didn’t do it.” I think we as counselors need to take an account of ourselves and be careful that we are doing the things that we should be doing before we even try to tell others to do them. Not that we’re perfect, but that we should be watching out for that.

Dale Johnson: I think that’s a good caution because even for so many of us, we place value in who we think we are. This is a wonderful distinction, I think, between biblical counseling and what we would consider to be a more secular-branded style of counseling. Many of us may think of ourselves as some sort of expert. We’ve gone through some sort of training. We’ve dealt with issues. Maybe we’ve been doing this for a long time, and we find ourself in somewhat of a rut in the ways in which we deal with people or issues or whatever. We start to think of ourselves maybe in some of the ways that seculars do—that we’re the expert and they came to talk to us. And we began to puff ourselves up. I think this is a good reminder for us to ground ourselves into recognizing, we’re no different than the person sitting across from us.

I love the way, in wisdom, that you described that. For us, the Lord has been patient. The Lord has been kind to grow us to the place that we are now. And we need to be patient and kind with this person as we help them to walk, because they’re no different than us. As we try to keep a good examination on our own heart as counselors, what are some of the heart issues that that are consistently involved, that we need to examine, that we need to maybe even pay attention to as a good warning?

Bill Shannon: I think of the Scripture in Proverbs 4:23. It says, “Look unto yourself,” or look at your own heart, be watchful for those things because we can be we can be tempted in all things. And what do I have that I haven’t been given by God Himself? He’s given me the talent, the wisdom, the ability to read—all of those kinds of things. I want to make sure that I’m checking those things out in my own heart. So what do I have to be careful for is everything. It says there in Galatians 6:2 that I’ve got to look unto myself. I too can be tempted in those things. And so I think my walk or any counselors walk, and I’m going to put it in those terms, any counselor who’s trying to give out wisdom from God’s Word needs to be applying that to themselves first.

We just had a message this Sunday—and none of you are going to have this in context—but the whole idea of Judas walking with Jesus for three and a half years, and you had a man who was a total fraud. I am scared about some people that I know who are in ministry, and I know that they are. I’m not even talking about the real wackos. I’m talking about some people who think that they are walking with the Lord and they really aren’t examining their own heart. In 2 Corinthians 13:5 it says, “Test yourselves to see whether you be in the faith. Or did you not know?” And I’m not trying to scare people, but I want to to us as counselors to make sure we’re looking at ourselves with regards to what the Scriptures have to say.

Dale Johnson: I think that’s important that we can have a disposition of humility, where we’re modeling that even for our counselees. I think for myself even in parenting, where there’s so many issues that I am trying to teach my kids overtly, where I’m trying to to give them wisdom and understanding about certain things in life. But one of the most critical ways that I think I teach my kids is the times when I have to ask for their forgiveness, or I have to repent because I’ve done something that was not becoming of Christ. And I think that’s important for us even in the counseling room, that we make sure that we’re paying attention. We have a watchful eye on our own heart. It’s really easy to look in the corridor of somebody else’s heart, without paying attention to our own.

I would argue that Matthew 7 is probably one of the most critical counseling passages that we have. Counseling is the business of us paying attention to the hearts of other people, but if we’re not taking the logs out of our own eye first, how in the world are we going to see properly when we peer into the life of someone else? As we think about some of those problems that we can certainly face, because we’re human beings. We’re not perfect by any stretch, we’re all continuing to grow. What are some of the solutions that we can can try to seek after to keep ourselves sharp, to keep ourselves humble, to keep ourselves compassionate as we relate to other people and we focus on our ministry of counseling and doing it well?

Bill Shannon: Dale, even before I get there, I was thinking of that Matthew passage that you just mentioned. You get to the end of that chapter in verse 21 and there’s a clarion call for us to watch out. It even talks about being busy in ministry, prophesying in His name and all of those kinds of things. Then it says in verse 23, “I never knew you.” Those would be the worst words to ever hear. In order not to hear those things—not that I’m working for my salvation, but also at the same time to make sure that I’m walking with the Lord—I need to check my heart when I’m going to be counseling. If I’m counseling on homosexuality, just because I’m not a homosexual or been tempted by that, I still need to know what God has to say about it and call them to obedience on that, and to be watchful for my own soul and not look down at them.

I think sometimes, even in that particular issue, sometimes those of us who are not homosexual look down at those kind of people. No, I need to make sure that they understand what God has to say about that. Not what Bill Shannon has to say about it. That doesn’t mean anything! What God has to say about it means everything. So those kinds of things, I want to be circumspect about.

For husband-wife relationships and those kinds of things, I want to make sure that I am doing the things that I’m supposed to be doing as a husband in loving my wife. The solutions come in that sense from what Ephesians 4 says I’ve got to put off certain things.

I just spoke to a man this morning and what he needs to put off is his pride in his relationship with his wife. He thinks he’s smarter than she is. He thinks he knows all the answers. I said, “You know, you’ve got this great wife over here who loves the Lord. You’ve got to seek her out on a regular basis,” and he’s struggling with it. It’s quite amazing that you could be calling yourself a Christian and you can’t even listen to your wife when it comes to making decisions in your family.

Dale Johnson: Bill, you’ve been doing this a long time. I’m always just very intrigued when I sit with gentlemen like you and to hear wisdom from you. As you talk to some of our counselors who are listening out there, it’s easy to get in a rut as a counselor. It’s easy in anything you do to lose the passion that you once had at the very beginning. Give us some words of wisdom and warning as it relates to some of those ruts that maybe over years and decades of ministry you found yourself falling into at some point that you can warn other counselors about along the way.

Bill Shannon: This goes back to a long time ago. I was actually talking to Bob Smith about this. Bob Smith was out here for a while at Grace Community Church. And I said, “You know, you hear the same thing over and over again from somebody. Maybe in a husband-wife relationship, and you’re hearing the same thing. You can sort of lull yourself to sleep and just say, ‘Well, this is what you need to do. Read this, do this, and see me next week.'” I think you need to take a passion in getting to know who those people are.

In fact, just before I came up here, I was sitting down with somebody whom I haven’t counseled yet. I said, “I just want to get to know who you are. I want to sit in a comfortable way to figure out what’s going on in your life.” We have to take an interest in them. God Almighty takes an interest in them. He sent His only begotten Son for them. So, I need to take that kind of interest. It can’t be just, “We’ve got one hour, and then you need to move on.” It takes more than that. I’ve got another couple coming over on Saturday. Hey, we just have breakfast together and we’ll talk about life and we’ll talk about loving our wives and we’ll talk about those kinds of things.

I think you need to get beyond just the prescribed time in the office, because it becomes more clinical than it does becoming something that can actually cause somebody to grow and see that you really care for them.

Dale Johnson: Yeah, I think that’s important. Just like if you’re dealing with anxiety, we can get in such a rut. We know all the passages about anxiety, and we’ve seen people present issues of anxiety tons of times. It’s easy to get in a rut and say, “This is what you need to do and it’s worked for all these other people.” We missed the element of relationship with people. The way they come about their problems and their issues is often very different circumstances in life. The context of their life is quite different, not that the truths are any different for this person. I think that’s so helpful to think about. As we grow in Christ, we’re growing in compassion, we’re growing in mercy. We must never forget what it means to truly have relationship with people. Those are the things that make the critical differences.

Bill, this has been very helpful conversation. On our podcast where we often talk about how to think about counseling an individual or some sort of topic in that way, it’s always good to remind ourselves that we need to be examining ourselves as we walk into the counseling room and making sure that we are consistent as we walk with Christ as well. Thank you so much for the conversation and being here today.

Bill Shannon: Well, thank you Dale. This is always a pleasure, and not only a pleasure but a privilege. I appreciate it and I hope this week is a good week for you folks.