David Armstrong, elder at Charlotte Baptist Chapel in Edinburgh, shares how his interest in biblical counselling has developed and been integrated into the life of his local church. He also explains how biblical counselling inspired the development of New Growth Christian Counselling.
David, tell us a little bit about yourself.
I was born in Edinburgh but grew up in Wishaw, near Glasgow, eventually returning to Edinburgh to study Electronic Engineering. As well as working in a local engineering firm, I was a member of Charlotte Baptist Chapel in Edinburgh city centre and, in 2011, was given the opportunity to do a ministry apprenticeship there. During this two-year period, I was able to study at Cornhill Scotland, and work my way through the Christian Counselling and Educational Foundation’s distance education program. Life now is split between family, designing electronics and, in partnership with Louise MacMillan, developing New Growth Christian Counselling. I am married to Libby and we have one daughter.
How and when did you become a Christian?
You couldn’t avoid the gospel in our home – it was discussed at the breakfast table; there was always an interesting missionary staying with us or a mission team playing pool in the next room; and there were the characters that appeared at our door looking for a “bus fare” who were given hospitality in the form of a cheese sandwich. There is no more powerful apologetic to the gospel than seeing it lived out in front of you. By the time I entered my mid-teens I had come to know that the gospel was true and could be relied on with your life.
How did you first come across biblical counselling?
This journey began not long after becoming an elder at Charlotte Chapel, when I became aware that people would approach me with real-life problems, and I wasn’t convinced I’d know how to help. As I started to search for answers, I chanced upon a week-long series of lectures by Dr Ed Welch called “Issues in Biblical Counselling”. I faxed off my credit card details and, a few weeks later, gold dropped through my letterbox. I was hooked by the end of the first lecture. Here was a man who loved the gospel and people and was able to put a rivet between the two. As soon as I had finished the lectures, I logged on to CCEF’s website and enrolled on to Dynamics of Biblical Change by David Powlison.
What drew you into exploring biblical counselling further?
Ultimately, it was my own need for the gospel to change my heart that really drew me in. For example, one sin that I struggle with is fear of man: I want affirmation and I don’t want to lose it. This was paralysing my life and ministry because I didn’t want to risk opening my mouth in case I said something wrong or stupid. My exploration of biblical counselling helped me to put the rivet between my fear of man and the truth of the gospel. Instead of keeping quiet, I trusted that I am loved by God, which enabled me to open my mouth and speak up. When I cringed at what I’d said, I remembered my future is safe in God’s hands. When I feared my speech would cause me to lose man’s affirmation, I trusted that Christ is present and will never leave me. I was encountering the person of Jesus in the specifics of my fear.
What did you discover as you explored this area of Christian ministry?
I have always been sceptical of secular answers to life’s problems. Although they describe the problems of life well, the solutions they offer feel like sticking plasters; there is ultimately no hope or grace offered. As I studied biblical counselling, I began to see that the gospel did indeed speak into all of life’s problems through the person of the Lord Jesus. Proof texts weren’t the answer, but rather understanding that the rich tapestry of God’s unfolding work gives meaning to the sinner, sufferer and saint.
How have you applied what you’ve learnt from CCEF in your local church?
There are many ways my ministry has been changed through CCEF’s teaching, but let me list a few:
- It’s helped me move towards those who are suffering.
- It has trained me to ask loving and wise questions.
- It has given me eyes to see God’s grace at work in the lives of others
- It has taught me not to make assumptions about people, but to take the time to know them well.
- It has improved my preaching.
- I think it’s helped me become a better home group leader (but you’d need to check with my group about that!).
- I have started running a “How People Change” course with men from my church, which has been one of the most rewarding things I have done in recent years
- I have been able to start doing formal counselling with members of our church.
Why do you think biblical counselling is needed in addition to gathering as church to hear the word of God preached on Sundays?
In my experience, biblical counselling enables a believing community to minister the gospel to one another well. We need to preach Christ and counsel Christ to ourselves and one other, and not just leave it up to the pastor.
Why did you set up New Growth Christian Counselling?
A friend who is part of another church in Edinburgh, Loiuse MacMillan, and I began New Growth Counselling because we each had desire to see Christ counselled to people who were entangled by life’s problems. We became aware of a shortage of gospel-centred Christian counsellors and the need to direct church leaders towards biblical counselling resources.
New Growth Christian Counselling is built on relationships of trust with pastors and we seek to root biblical counselling in the local church, often involving church leaders and members in the counselling process. New Growth Counselling also aims to equip church members to care well for each other by providing training and resources to anyone involved in leading and discipling others.
How would you like to see biblical counselling impact the church in the UK?
My own journey with biblical counselling awakened me to my deep need for the gospel. So my prayer/dream is that biblical counselling would empower churches to showcase the power of the gospel to change lives. The local church is more like a field hospital than a country club: we are all broken people who live in a broken world. The better we become at demonstrating how the gospel connects with real life brokenness, the more powerful our witness will be.
David Armstrong is a counsellor at New Growth Counselling in Edinburgh and is on the steering group of Biblical Counselling UK.