We are in the early days of Biblical Counselling UK. We’re a new initiative trying to foster interest in biblical counselling in Britain. The whole idea is pretty novel here. Even the term ‘biblical counselling’ is new to most.
Over recent months, we’ve been enjoying conversations with a whole host of people. Much of the feedback we’re getting is very positive. Many are keen to learn more. But there are questions too … Questions about whether biblical counselling is right for the British church, right for us right now.
As I talk to fellow-pastors, there are 5 questions – 5 themes – that tend to crop up time and again. Heart-felt enquiries from people who love Jesus very much. I’ve listed them here … And five reflections in response.
- It’s not very British, is it? This focus on our hearts, our motives and our feelings isn’t the way we usually talk. Some of that is cultural – we really are quite reserved! Some of it is sinful – because we would rather not have our sin exposed. And some just reflects the fact that nearly all the books and articles on biblical counselling come from the US and inevitably have an American flavour (they even spell counselling differently!). It simply doesn’t seem very “us”.
- Can we use it in evangelism? Will this help us engage with non-church friends? Does it work in outreach or is it ‘insiders only’? Will it show how the gospel can gain traction with those who aren’t very interested in Christ?
- How will we ever find time for this? It sounds so demanding. We are busy in ministry already – where can we possibly find time to learn yet another new thing?
- Won’t it distract from, perhaps even undermine, the ministry of the Word? (by which people generally mean preaching). There are lots of good things we can do. But with limited time, isn’t God’s first calling us to preach the word? Only the gospel has the power to save – spending lots of time helping people with their problems can only get in the way.
- What’s really so new about all this? Isn’t it exactly what we’ve been trying to do for years? Who says we need some new-fangled technique in order to do ministry?
Of course, this is an abbreviated version of people’s views. People wouldn’t usually be so blunt. (We are British, after all!) But they are great questions … questions that need answers.
So, how would you respond? How do I? Here are some initial thoughts.
- It’s not very British, is it? Yes, this is at odds with our culture. It will demand greater engagement with the messiness of one another’s lives than we are used to. It will require more openness than the ‘stiff upper lip’ usually allows. But isn’t the gospel always counter cultural? Shouldn’t we constantly be asking how Christ challenges our ‘usual way of doing things’ and calls us to live distinctively for Him? If we understand it properly, shouldn’t we expect biblical counselling to sit uneasily with every culture?
- Can we use it in evangelism? I certainly don’t want to slip into a therapeutic gospel, but won’t understanding how Christ helps me with the mess in my own life make me better able to speak to others about the mess in theirs? So that instead of starting with ‘Christ saved me from eternal judgement’ (which requires my non-Christian friend to buy into an awful lot of my world view), I can begin with ‘faith in Christ has made a big difference to the way I parent my teenage children’ (which has rather more common ground).
- How will we ever find time for this? Time spent doing good things rarely backfires. Attending to my own walk with the Lord never does. If exploring biblical counselling means encountering Christ more richly (and it does) then it has to be good for everything I do in ministry.
- Won’t it distract from, perhaps even undermine, the ministry of the Word? Tim Keller once said (and I paraphrase): if I do too much counselling, my preaching will suffer, because I won’t have time to prepare; if I do too little counselling, my preaching will suffer, because I won’t be any good at applying the Bible to real life. I think he’s right.
- What’s really so new about all this? Nothing much. At least that’s been my experience. When I first encountered the world of biblical counselling, I met the same familiar gospel I’d always believed. The difference was that someone was finally showing me how to apply it to my heart. That was new. It was exciting too …