As biblical counsellors (whether in formal or informal roles), we may want to resist the idea that we have power in relation to those who come to us for help. This may be because we want to deliberately avoid the hierarchical relationship that we see in some other professional helping relationships. We prize the perspective that we are fellow sinners, saints and sufferers, walking alongside each other in counselling. We are often painfully aware that we don’t have all the answers to their problems and rarely do we feel very powerful. But whether we are aware of it or not, whether we want it or not, the reality is that when someone comes to us for help, there will be a power dynamic present.
This power dynamic may be accentuated or diminished depending on the existing relationship, the formality of the request for help, the way in which we respond, among other things. But if you are being approached by people who are disclosing painful, private and personal things; if you are being looked to for wisdom and words to help; then they are making themselves vulnerable to you, and you are being entrusted with influence and power.
When we hear the word ‘power’ it may carry negative connotations in our minds, but it simply means the ability to do or act and have impact. So, to some degree or another, we all have power, and there is nothing wrong with that. More than that, all power is ultimately derived from the Lord Jesus – the One who has been given “all authority in heaven and earth” (Matt 28:18). The Lord entrusted Adam and Eve with power and authority before the Fall (Gen 1:26). Even post Fall, throughout all generations and still today, it is the Lord Jesus who entrusts his power to people through giving particular gifts, skills, physical strength, mental abilities, and of course various positions and roles: parent and child, employer and employee, older and younger, pastor and congregation, as well as counsellor and counselee (Col 1:15-18; John 19:11).
As biblical counsellors, it is worth us spending some time reflecting on the areas in which we have been entrusted with authority and influence: perhaps that which comes with knowledge and training in biblical counselling; perhaps that of experience and expertise which we have developed over time; perhaps that which comes from having respect and our opinions valued; perhaps the power of a formal or informal role within our church; most certainly the influence that our words can have on those we counsel. The right response to holding power of various forms is not to try and eradicate it, nor ignore it, or despise it, but rather to use it as Jesus has intended – in line with his purposes and his ways.
We primarily see what this looks like by looking to Jesus himself, “who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant” (Phil 2:6-7).
Jesus used his great power with great humility. Not seeking self-satisfaction, personal fulfilment, approval, praise from people, or to boost his own ego. Which is extraordinary, if you think about it. After all, Jesus is the One who rightly holds the highest position, who is owed the greatest respect, whose wisdom is unfathomable, whose experience is unchallengeable, and whose words literally created the universe, the One who is called the King of kings and Lord of lords. Yet, he chooses to use his extraordinary power not for his own benefit, but for the good of you and me. And as benefactors of our humble King, we are exhorted to follow in his footsteps. In fact, the verse just preceding this description of Jesus in Philippians, instructs us “in your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5).
So what does this look like in practice to use our power as biblical counsellors in a Christlike, humble and sacrificial way? Here are just a few ideas:
- Being gentle and careful with our words (Tit 3:2; Eph 4:29; Prov 15:4; 16:24)
- Being willing to say difficult things that are for another’s good, even when it would be easier for us to avoid hard conversations (Eph 4:15)
- Being willing to enter into our counselees’ pain, even when we would prefer to keep our distance (Rom 12:15)
- Being patient and forbearing, even when people are slow to change (Eph 4:2)
- Being kind and compassionate with people who we find difficult or dislikable (Eph 4:32)
- Being wise about our own limitations rather than over-promising and under-delivering (Eccl 5:5)
- Being willing to seek additional support when we need it, rather than wanting to be the one with all the answers (Prov 11:14; 12:15)
- Being faithful in prayer (Rom 12:12)
- Being trustworthy by keeping confidences (Prov 11:13)
- Not forcing others to adopt our own view or seeking to control their actions, but being respectful and gentle (1 Pet 5:3)
- Listening to others, rather than talking at them (Prov 18:2; James 1:19)
- Not seeking your counselee’s approval but the Lord’s (Gal 1:10, Col 3:23)
- Making every effort to point away from yourself, and to Jesus – THE wonderful counsellor (John 3:30)
The misuse and abuse of power usually comes when we wield it for the benefit of ourselves: in pride and self-interest, rather than in humility and self-sacrifice. It takes wisdom and Spirit-given insight to discern when and how we are in danger of such abuse of our God-given power. We must be on our guard against this, particularly in our ministry that often takes place in private and unseen ways. But God’s word makes clear that the strongest means of protection is to keep looking to our Servant-King. Remembering that, regardless of whatever skill, wisdom, authority and power we may have been given, we are fundamentally people in desperate need of Jesus. That any power we hold has been lent to us by Him and must be used for His glory and other’s good. And to take our place, alongside our counselees, in worship of Him, acknowledging “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil 2:10-11).
For further reflection:
- Consider the various types of power you hold (in your role as biblical counsellor and beyond).
- Where are you most tempted towards using your power to serve yourself or to achieve a good end but by using ungodly means?
- How can you use your influence to serve others?
- Read, reflect upon, and pray through Philippians 2:1-11 for yourself and your ministry.