By: Scott O'Malley
January 14th, 2022
Being a counselor is a great privilege, but it also comes with great responsibility because part of counseling includes teaching the Word of God. The prophet Ezra provides us a great example of how we should think about preparing ourselves to counsel others. Ezra 7:10 says: “For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.” Ezra’s three step process involved studying, doing, and then teaching. In other words, to follow in Ezra’s footsteps, we must be committed lifelong learners.
Foundation # 9 – Be a lifelong learner
“God designed the church to be a community of lifelong learners under the earthly guidance of leaders who are teachers at heart. The Christian faith is not a finite course of study for the front-end of adulthood. Our mind set shouldn’t be to first do our learning and then spend the rest of our lives drawing from the original deposit of knowledge. Rather, ongoing health in the Christian life is inextricably linked to ongoing learning” (David Mathis, Habits of Grace pg. 84).
This ongoing learning is also vital for us to be faithful counselors that honor God. For that to be true of us, we must be students of the Word of God. 2 Timothy 2:15 says: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” The phrase “do your best” refers to a person being zealous or eager to rightly handle the Word of God (Expositor’s Bible Commentary New Testament – Abridged Edition, pg. 912). As counselors we should have the disposition of the psalmist who wrote “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day” (Psalm 119:97). There should be an enthusiasm to learn and study the Word of God so we may have growing fellowship with the God of the Bible.
“The Bible is not an end in itself,
but a means to bring men to an intimate and satisfying knowledge of God, that they may enter into him, that they may delight in his presence, may taste and know the inner sweetness of the very God himself in the core and center of their hearts” (A.W. Tozer, Pursuit of God pg. 11).
This growing knowledge of God and the Bible in the life of a believer will lead to a growing love for God. The result of a growing love for God is obedience – the second step in our progression towards counseling others. Jesus said in John 14:15: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” One of the most basic rules of being a counselor is that a good counselor is first a good counselee. We must learn to apply the Word of God in our own lives if we ever hope to help others do the same.
As we are diligently studying the Bible and consistently (but not perfectly) applying the truth to our own hearts, then we are able to teach others. In addition to Ezra, we see this same pattern modeled in Romans 15:14: “I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another.” Speaking of goodness one commentary writes, “Having just written about the Holy Spirit, Paul undoubtedly has in mind the moral excellence that is the fruit of the Spirit” (Expositor’s Bible Commentary New Testament – Abridged Edition, pg. 596). Knowledge “refers to deep, intimate knowledge” (John MacArthur, MacArthur Study Bible pg. 1722). As counselors then we are wise to pay attention to the pattern: know the Scriptures and have high moral character, then teach and counsel others.
With this three step process in place of studying, doing, and then teaching in place, it is important to understand that this is not just how to get started, but really should be a lifestyle for every Christian, and certainly for every counselor. It has been one of my great joys to continue to learn and study to help me to grow personally but also as a counselor. With this commitment to lifelong learning I would like to recommend five ongoing activities that will keep you a lifelong learner as a counselor.
#1: Read and study the Bible daily for yourself
Deuteronomy 8:3 says: “Man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” Just as it is necessary physically to eat food to be healthy, it is vital that we feast on the Word of God to be spiritually healthy. It is an essential part of every Christian’s life that we make time for the careful reading, meditating on, and studying the Word of God to feed our own souls.
Then, the things that have fed your own soul become the foundation of what you share with others because our struggles are common to man (1 Corinthians 10:13). In my counseling I consistently quote Scripture, but the vast majority of the Bible verses I quote were first intended to help me grow.
#2: Read counseling books
The biblical counseling movement has made great strides in the past few decades producing great, biblically rich content while addressing an increasing array of difficult topics. I have grown so much and benefitted from the intense study done by others about counseling and particular topics.
Here are just a few of the counseling books that have greatly impacted my overall approach to counseling.
Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands by Paul Tripp.
Crosstalk by Mike Emlet.
Seeing with New Eyes by David Powlison.
Here are some additional books that are highly recommended that deal with specific topics:
Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp
The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller
Is It Abuse? by Darby Strickland
Same Sex Attraction and the Church by Ed Shaw
A Praying Life by Paul Miller
Loving Well by William Smith
Shame Interrupted by Ed Welch
Spurgeon’s Sorrow by Zach Eswine
Dark Clouds Deep Mercy by Mark Vroegop
One additional word about reading books on counseling: it is not wrong or even unwise to read books outside of our biblical counseling circles because God can use all kinds of people to make helpful observations because of common grace. No book is perfect, so every book must always be examined against the Scriptures. One of the benefits of reading outside of biblical counseling circles is it can be helpful to understand the perspective of the counselee if they have embraced a particular book or author. To read firsthand what those people are saying or thinking can be helpful for you to have a biblical response. One example of a book I am thinking about is The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. While I have some significant problems with this book (see David Powlison’s critique in Seeing with New Eyes), it is very widely read and people speak of it frequently in counseling. I should not rely on someone else’s critique of the book to be able to help someone see its deficiencies. But instead, I should give the author a fair hearing by reading the book for myself and be able to honestly assess the strengths and weaknesses of his arguments with those who have embraced the book.
#3: Go to biblical counseling conferences
I have significantly benefitted from going to counseling conferences. Not only have they changed my life personally, I have benefitted from those counselors who had a lot more experience than I did. These conferences have helped me learn the practices of other counselors as well as how to better apply specific passages of Scripture in counseling.
In addition, having time away to rub shoulders with and discuss life as well as counseling issues with other counselors is encouraging, refreshing, and enlightening. There is a great camaraderie that happens at conferences because of our shared experience of bearing the weight of people’s struggles.
#4: Collaborate with other counselors
This is a vital part of continuing to grow as a counselor. Nobody knows everything and Proverbs 11:14 reminds us there is safety in the abundance of counselors. Continuing to talk with other counselors about how they handle situations or what resources they are using for a particular situation is extremely beneficial.
One of the great joys of working at Twelve Stones is we have a group of counselors and we can bounce ideas off of each other and get recommendations in certain situations. It is helpful to have people to lean on to assist in difficult counseling situations. Proverbs 27:17 reminds us “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”
Being sharpened by another is vital for all counselors, but especially important for new counselors. In the beginning especially, no matter how skilled you are, you will come to a place where you are stuck and you don’t know where to go next. To have a more seasoned counselor at your disposal to ask questions when you are not sure where to go next is a priceless gift. I make the commitment to anyone who comes to Twelve Stones for an apprenticeship that as long as I am able, they will always have someone to call for help when they are not sure what to do next.
#5: Observe live counseling of more experienced counselors
If you consistently apply the first four activities and then add observing live counseling, especially in the early days of counseling training, you will be an increasingly skilled counselor who will be able to help others in the most difficult of counseling situations. There is only so much you can learn from a book. The growth that occurs from watching a skilled counselor in action is tremendous. I have been counseling at Twelve Stones now for almost 15 years, but I still remember with such fondness the time of observing live counseling when I was first hired. I flooded my co-workers with questions about why they did what they were doing and what they were thinking as they did it. It gave me a great amount of confidence because I could incorporate what they were doing into my counseling, often adapting things I learned to make it my own.
My prayer for each of us is that we will continue to be lifelong learners who are a blessing to the people around us. Next week we will examine Jesus’ practice of retreating from needy people after serving them to connect with His Father. In the meantime, here are a couple of questions for you to ponder this week.
Questions for Reflection
How would you evaluate yourself as a lifelong learner? Is that a regular part of your life or something that needs improvement?
What is one of the above activities that you would like to commit to as a part of your journey in 2022 to be a lifelong learner as a counselor?