What are we trying to do?

I’ve learned something recently. Something that needs to shape every counselling interaction I have from now on.

For years now, I’ve been trying to help people grow through the problems they are facing by applying the gospel to their lives. As a pastor, a counsellor, a friend, I am committed to encouraging that growth. But, recently, I’ve started to see “growth” slightly differently. I’ve started to rethink some of my goals.

I used to think my task was to keep meeting with someone until the problems went away. I used to think I should just keep pointing people to Jesus until the woman with an eating disorder manages to eat healthily, the man struggling with grief feels hope and the couple who are fighting commit to pursuing peace. It was a task-centred way of counselling. Not without its merits, of course. It is biblical to encourage tangible change so that people’s lives are increasingly Christ-like. We do want people to take care of their bodies, grasp joy and communicate well. But is that the real goal? Is that truly the growth it’s most important to see?

I suspect our goal should be much more active. It’s not just about something resolving or subsiding – rather it’s about worshipping…

The gospel makes us worshippers of Christ. It transforms us into people who praise God (1 Peter 1:3). And it turns us into a people who engage in fruitful Kingdom-work until Jesus returns (Matthew 9:38). If that is where the gospel is heading, that’s where counselling must be heading too. There is no “result” until those we are meeting with are worshipping labourers, active in his harvest field.

An image that we are using at my church at the moment is that of the church being a lifeboat. We’re not a cruise ship where Christians passively enjoy the blessings of salvation. We’re a lifeboat, eagerly searching out and rescuing those in need by showing them the good news of Jesus. And we’re a lifeboat where all those who have been rescued are called to become part of the crew, committed to the task of rescuing others.

Counselling is part of that lifeboat-ministry. It’s not just about hauling non-Christians in, and patching up the saved so they can sit comfortably on the boat. It’s about restoring them to work on the boat, in many different roles – encouraging them to get busy in Kingdom work in whatever ways God has equipped them.

Having that goal shapes the way I talk about the future with a counsellee.

What will I hold out to them? Not so much recovery, not just putting hard times behind them, not just conquering a sin or overcoming an affliction, but involvement in the glorious work of the vineyard and the harvest field, for Jesus, with hearts full of praise.

That’s a goal worth growing towards.