Archive for December, 2014

My Favorite Blog Posts from 2014

This posts takes a look back at my favorite posts from this year. These are the posts, that as I reviewed through my archives, I remembered most clearly. It may be the memory that inspired the post or the conversations that ensued afterwards, but either way these are the ones that stood out to me.

  1. Emotions and Forgiveness: Instructions for a Confusing Intersection - So what does forgiveness mean you are committing to do with your hurt, fears, other emotions, and imagination?
  2. What You Don’t Need to Forgive: When Grace Takes Other Forms - Not everything that bothers or annoys us needs to be forgiven. Forgiveness is only for moral offenses. When we try to use forgiveness as the method to resolve relational irritants that are not moral in nature bad things happen.
  3. Initiating and Declining Sex in Marriage Need Not be Awkward or Upsetting - For many married couples initiating sex can be an awkward moment that leads to conflict or hurt feelings. They’re not sure what to say, or they fear being rejected.
  4. 6 Steps to Wise Decision Making About Psychotropic Medications - Let’s begin this discussion by placing the question in the correct category – whether an individual chooses to use psychotropic medication in their struggle with mental illness is a wisdom decision, not a moral decision.
  5. #ManTrip5: A Lone Star Father-Son Adventure - One of the things I have found most satisfying as a parent is setting aside time each year for a memorable trip with my two sons.
  6. How to Find Joy “In” Suffering - When Scripture indicates that Christians should be able to rejoice in their suffering (Rom. 5:3-5) because of the hope we have in the gospel, it can be difficult to accept.
  7. 7 Marks of Enduring Accountability Relationships - Accountability is not just for life-dominating struggles. It is part of God’s definition of “healthy.”
  8. Counseling Triage: Where to Begin with Complex Struggles - In life and counseling, finding the starting point can be difficult.
  9. Three Meanings of “This Is Too Hard” - If you have walked with many people through circumstances that are challenging, you’ve doubtless heard them say, “This is too hard.” Chances are that phrase has struck you differently as you’ve heard different individuals speak it.
  10. 9 Questions to Help You Steward All of Your Life for God’s Glory - Life is not primarily about what we avoid, but what we pursue.
  11. What Changes for a Church when Counseling Becomes Formal? - What does it mean for a church to have a “counseling ministry”? It is one thing to say “we all do counseling every day when we hear each other’s struggles and seek to offer comfort or guidance from the Bible” and another thing to say “our church has a counseling ministry and we would be happy to help you schedule an appointment with a member of our counseling team.”
  12. When Is Depression-Anxiety Sinful? - How do we know if our depression-anxiety is wrong: an evidence of a lack of faith or the result of valuing-trusting something more than God?

Tweets of the Week 12.30.14

There is great value in saying something in a memorable, concise manner. Twitter has caused us to make this a near spiritual discipline. For my own growth (as a generally verbose individual… that’s a long way of saying “wordy”) and for the benefit of others, I highlight tweets each week that deliver a big message in a few words.

And one because its funny…

Six Free Video Curriculum From 2014

One of the blessings of serving at a church that allows me to focus my attention on developing a robust counseling ministry is the opportunity to create resources that can be duplicated in our church plants and churches across the country/world.

This year we were able to create three programmatic seminars and three topical seminars to equip the church to care for another and their community.

Programmatic Seminars

Overcoming Depression-Anxiety: A Suffering Paradigm

This seminar contains three hours of presentation divided into a nine step model of facing depression-anxiety when the experience is primarily a form of suffering. This seminar is most effective when studies with a friend our small group. This seminar is meant to be tandem resource with the responsibility paradigm seminar.

Overcoming Depression-Anxiety: A Responsibility Paradigm

This seminar contains three hours of presentation divided into a nine step model of facing depression-anxiety when the experience is rooted primarily in our beliefs, values, or behaviors. This seminar is most effective when studies with a friend our small group. This seminar is meant to be tandem resource with the suffering paradigm seminar.

Gospel-Centered Pre-Marital Mentoring Curriculum

We want this page to provide everything you need to provide every engaged couple in your church with a mentor couple who can walk them through a comprehensive pre-marital program. We also want to see the experienced marriages in your church enriched as they invest in engaged couples who are just beginning their marital journey.


Topical Seminars


Burnout occurs when the things that once gave us life and energy become discouraging and draining instead, sacrificing our pleasures and accomplishments to the continual onslaught of “next.” While a common danger for Christians who dedicate their efforts to God’s kingdom, burnout eventually makes us choose cynical numbness over the “caring exhaustion” of Christian service. How do we avoid this pitfall? Brad Hambrick argues that burnout is actually a consequence of our life management, and he shows us how to create a time budget to avoid living beyond our means with the time God has provided. He helps us remember to rest in God’s fairness rather than trying to gain his acceptance.

10 Keys to Ensure Caring Is Helping

When we care for one another wisely three things should happen: (a) the person being cared for should be blessed, (b) the love of Christ should become more tangible, and (c) our faith should grow. Sometimes our attempts of caring can be done unwisely, resulting in unintended consequences: (a) the person being cared for is enabled, (b) the love of Christ is misrepresented, and (c) the care-giver becomes exhausted.

Towards a Christian Perspective on Mental Illness

When engaging a difficult and highly personal subject, it is better to start with good questions than a list of answers. The better our questions are, the more responsibly we will utilize the answers of which we are confidant, the more humbly we will approach areas of uncertainty, and the more we will honor one another in the process of learning.


From Telling Your Story to Being Known

Often, as churches, we do a better job of teaching people how to tell their story than we do at preparing people for what it will be like to have their story known. We help people share their experience of God’s grace in a way that highlights the goodness of God and the power of the gospel. This is good and needed.

But we also need to help people (a) assess whether this is a wise time in their journey with God to share a particular aspect of their story, and (b) prepare for the kind of unique temptations that arise after sharing your story in a public setting. These two points become more important the larger the church or venue in which an individual is sharing their story becomes, because the dynamics in play become more pronounced as the audience gets larger.

Hambrick Family Christmas Letter 2014

Dear Friends,
On your mark, get set, GO!!! No, I’m not talking about the race to get decorated for Christmas or finish your shopping, but how quickly it feels like each year races by. It doesn’t seek like that long ago I was sitting down to reflect on 2013. But here is this year’s update…

Lawson is in fourth grade and fallen in love with football. He played his first season of tackle football and we were incredibly proud of how had he worked. His work ethic for football, which includes daily workouts to get ready for next season, has even carried into how he engages his school work, which has shown marked improvement this semester. It’s very exciting to see him find something he’s passionate about and the influence it has on his overall character.

Marshall is in second grade and his personality is starting to emerge more and more. He has a dry, no-nonsense sense of humor that sometimes makes him sound like a “little old man” trapped in an 7 year old’s body. As Marshall watched Lawson play football he decided the contact-light game of baseball was more his speed. I was kinda glad to see one of my boys stick with my first love.
This summer the boys and I took our #ManTrip5 to Dallas. It was a great time of roller coasters, water parks, and a tour of Cowboys Stadium.

Sallie is now the #1 sub at the boy’s school. It’s sweet that the boys are still young enough that they want Mama to be the sub for their class. Not sure how much longer that will last. Trying to keep up with the laundry of two little boys who are as active (i.e., sweaty-dirty) as ours is about to exhaust both Sallie and our washing machine, but I’ve been told such appliances are not to be put on her “Christmas list.”

Brad has accepted a role on the Mental Health Advisory Group (MHAG) of the Southern Baptist Convention. This fit well with his Fall seminar series on depression and anxiety and is an area he’s excited to partner with leading Christian counselors to help the church become more effective in this area. Brad spent 10 days in South Asia equipping church leaders there in counseling which has led to a 3 year partnership with East Asia that will expand the certificate program in biblical counseling at SEBTS into something that is more accessible for international church planters.

Over the next year we would appreciate your prayers that we will (1) fully enjoy this sweet season when our boys are young and lay a good foundation for their future, (2) prioritize marriage and family during a very busy season of life and ministry, and (3) grow in our trust in God’s character and effectiveness at sharing His hope with others.

We want to thank you for your friendship and the unique role you have played in the life of our family. Our prayer is that this Christmas you will experience the power, peace, and joy of Immanuel – God with us (Matthew 1:23) – and have the opportunity to multiply that hope by sharing it with others.

Merry Christmas!
The Hambrick Family

10 Reasons Your Church Might Not Want a Formal Counseling Ministry (Part One)

Every ministry a church offers adds some burdens. There is no such thing as a ministry that is all perks and no challenges.

I’m excited about discussing this and other topics further during a workshop we’re hosting on January 23 at the Summit Church, “Counseling in Your Local Church: Understanding the Liabilities & Possibilities of Lay Care Ministries.” Have you registered?

Making an informed decision about (a) whether your church develops a formal counseling ministry, (b) what types of formal counseling are added to your church’s offerings, and (c) how these decisions are communicated with your membership requires identifying and understanding the challenges.

Here’s an excerpt from our upcoming discussion. These difficulties are not things you can “fix” or “prevent” once you understand them. While there are ways to mitigate the prevalence of these challenges, they are realities which will exist if you have a formal counseling ministry. You must deem the benefits of a formal counseling ministry to be “better” if you pursue this option.

1. A counseling ministry will not “do everything” so you will still make referrals and say “no” to some requests.

The pastoral leadership must be willing to support these referrals and “no’s.” Otherwise, the struggles a given individual faces will be forced into the categories or techniques of training the counselor has received (resulting in less effective care) and/or the church will incur liability for promising a type of care it is not equipped to provide.

This first point can also create a sense of partiality – helping some people directly and not others – which can result in hurt feelings within a congregation.

Advantage: If administrated and networked well with other resources in the community, a counseling ministry can serve as a connection point for those in need of care to ensure that those who seek help through the church are connected with the best-fit, available resource.

2. A counseling ministry becomes a lightning rod for hard cases and interpersonal conflicts.

Often those challenges that are not resolved in one’s natural relationships either have a level of complexity or non-compliance by key participants which prevent the ideal outcome. When a church has a counseling ministry the leadership can be drawn into more of these cases than they would be otherwise. The church’s authority (by way of membership and fellowship) can be sought as a leveraging point to coerce these changes for matters which do not necessarily warrant church discipline.

Advantage: These situations already exist. Having a counseling ministry does not create them. With a counseling ministry the church has more opportunity to guide its members through the process of determining who bears the personal responsibility for the changes necessary in difficult situations.

3. A counseling ministry will be misrepresented and caricatured by those who dislike the counsel they receive.

No counseling ministry bats 1.000 (for non-baseball readers, that means no counseling ministry helps everyone it sees). Those who do not benefit from counseling are prone to blame the counselor; sometimes rightly, but other times by presenting the counsel they received in a reductionistic way or by minimizing the context to which the counsel was given. Due to the constraints of confidentiality, the counselor and church are severely limited in their ability to defend themselves against these claims.

Advantage: With time, wise counsel is validated. If the church’s counsel was good, then those who hear the misrepresentation will have opportunity to see this. However, this can also be a time of refining for a counselor or a church’s leadership. If the perceived “misrepresentation” proves accurate, then the counselor or church will have gained an opportunity to identify a gap in their approach to pastoral care and counseling.

4. A counseling ministry will attract situations where liability is at the forefront of decision making.

Mandated reporting cases are not the only liability cases a church will face, but they are some of the most significant (because they involve the lives of children) and represent well many of the tensions that lead to other liabilities. So they will be the representative example used here.

When mandated reporting cases are in play, a church can feel like Matthew 18 (internal church discipline process) is in conflict with Romans 13 (honoring the requirements of the state). Also, church members may be tempted to refer mandated reporting cases to the church’s counseling ministry as a way to get around the uncomfortable step of reporting to the appropriate legal authority. This can result in a liability for the church member who did not fulfill their responsibility to report.

Advantage: Having a counseling ministry forces a church to think through issues of liability and mandated reporting prior to a crisis event. This learning process allows church leaders to understand and navigate these incidences much better when they arise in the life of a church (and they will).

5. A counseling ministry will attract situations where your elders may not be the experts.

Decisions regarding the usage of psychotropic m

edications, the process of restoring a marriage after instances of domestic violence, or when in the process of overcoming a severe addiction it is wise to expect someone to begin engaging more with their child who is failing out of school. These are just a few examples of situations that are regular occurrences in counseling but likely not areas that most elders would speak to with confidence.

Advantage: This is a healthy recognition for church leaders, or any other type of leader. Being a student of life can make one a much better teacher-leader. Navigating these difficult situations can be an excellent way of bringing refinement and tender-humble tones to how difficult subjects are addressed in a church’s preaching-teaching.

Note: The tone of this post (and the workshop from which it is an excerpt) is counseling-toned; meaning it presents the available options with their corresponding advantages and disadvantages, and then invites you to make a decision based upon informed consent.

This is in contrast (not contradiction) to the predominant tone of Christian teaching; which is proclamational – determining what is “best” based upon the teaching of Scripture and persuading people to make that choice.

Behind this approach is the assumption there is no “one” model for counseling, pastoral care, or one another care that is best for all churches. It is not my intent to advocate for a formal counseling ministry in every church. However, the more formal your church’s counseling ministry, the more of this tone will be present.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on the Church and Counseling” post which address other facets of this subject.

JBC Article Preview: “Making Peace with Romans 8:28″

This post is the opening case study from the article “Making Peace with Romans 8:28,” an article I’ve contributed to the most recent edition of The Journal of Biblical Counseling. Order information can be found at the end of this post.

You’re about to read a difficult account of suffering. Imagine yourself hearing this unfolding story from a friend. For the moment, restrain from offering perspective, answers, or potential ways that God could possibly redeem this situation. Simply let yourself listen. Enter her world. Hurt with her. Cry with her. Question with her. Maybe even come to that place where a “good answer” that makes things “better” feels like it might dishonor her pain.

Natasha[1] and her husband longed for a child and finally conceive after five years of trying. They learn their child will be a girl and decide to name her after Natasha’s mother, who died when Natasha was an infant. Throughout the pregnancy they read every book on “what to expect” and prepared a dream nursery, complete with initials on the wall in large decorative letters. Everything was set.

But… their daughter is born dead, suffocated by the umbilical cord that got wrapped around her throat. The only visual memory they have is of her blue, still body. They are haunted that they didn’t know she was in trouble and couldn’t help her. Not knowing how to deal with the pain, their marriage quickly deteriorates. The questions that flood their minds either trigger conversations so upsetting that the volatility tears them apart or conversations so “safe” that their aloofness only adds to the emotional drift.

Their marriage silently suffocates, not unlike their child, with no one hearing the muted cries for help. The husband begins to have an affair at work. He finds “life” in conversations with a co-worker that have been so long absent from his marriage that he’s convinced himself they never existed. When Natasha finds some questionable emails, he lashes out, blames her, leaves, and promptly files for divorce.

Within a year he is remarried, and has a child—a little girl. Natasha’s dream life is being lived by another woman. Then, as she drives home from her part-time job as a waitress that supplements her full-time job as a teacher’s aide, Natasha is in a car accident. Not only was the car totaled—something she could not afford—but she also crushed two vertebrae in her lower back. This requires surgery—more money she doesn’t have—to fuse the vertebrae together. For the rest of her life, she’ll experience limited mobility, chronic pain, and be labeled “disabled.”

Now the cry of an infant, the sight of a child the age her daughter would be, the sound of squealing tires, or the possibility of running into her ex-husband in a store are all triggers of intense anxiety and despair. She lives with a hyper-vigilant sense that something catastrophic is about to happen. She never feels safe.

Peace and hope—words that once had beautiful, biblical meanings for her—have become the equivalent of words like unicorn and leprechaun. She knows what they mean and she knows they don’t exist. People who believe in peace and hope seem blissfully naïve. She no longer has that privilege.

“What could I have done to deserve all this?” she asks herself. She feels a heavy load of shame. She longs to figure out how she has sinned so she can repent. Perhaps then God would forgive her and remove this burden. At times she is relieved when she sins, hoping the sincerity of her repentance will “work” this time and help her life get better.

Other times she is angry because she feels condemned by God. A few people have reassured her with Romans 8:1, “There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” But while they can refute the words with which she articulates her emotions, this truth doesn’t seem to touch the place where God feels so painfully absent. Is she abandoned by God? Rejected? Cursed? Does it matter? Does she care anymore?

But Romans 8:1 is more bearable than Romans 8:28—“we know that for those who love God all things work together for good”—or its slightly kinder sequels. When friends try to comfort her with these passages, she knows that they simply do not understand. Sometimes she gets angry. Other times she pities their simplicity. Other times she envies their innocence.

Isolation becomes her form of self-protection. It works for a while because people can’t scrape her wounds with their truths. But the isolation from people becomes insulation for pain. The sense of being unknown, unloved, and confused is kept painfully hot in her soul. Now that she has drifted from church, her only contact with Christian teaching is the material her friends retweet or post on Facebook. Periodically, she sees some version of “We should be more bothered about our sin than our suffering” or “God won’t protect us from anything that will make us more like Jesus.” These statements only solidify her view of God as uncaring, even cruel.

In the midst of her pain—physical, emotional, and spiritual—the emptiness drives her to talk to you. She says she doesn’t expect you to fix anything. Honestly, she’d be happy if you just didn’t make things worse. She shares her story, looks you in the eyes for a brief moment, and sighs. Her gaze settles back to the floor.

What do you do next? What do you say? Which way is hope from here? Where does ministry start? What does sanctification look like? What needs to be healed? What facet of the gospel needs to be seen? How “practical” can you even be with struggles that appear to have no fixes? How do you serve as the ambassador of a God who isn’t trusted?

These are questions we will wrestle with in this article. I say wrestle with because to say I would answer them feels too bold. Whether formal counseling or informal friendship, ministering in a situation like this involves joining someone on a hard journey rather than simply giving directions.

Order Information

To order the entire edition of the Journal of Biblical Counseling (JBC) in which this article in included for $6 click here. I do not personally profit from the sale of this journal in anyway and am glad to see the proceeds support the ministry of CCEF. Other articles in this edition of the JBC include.

  • “Giving Reasoned Answers to Reasonable Questions” by David Powlison
  • “Five Ministry Priorities for Those Struggling with Same-Sex Attraction” by Mike Emlet
  • “Something Worth Meeting For—A Biblical Vision for Small Groups” by Steve Midgley
  • “How to Set Up Church-Based Accountability Groups”  by Alasdair Groves
  • “What Is Your Calling?” by David Powlison

[1] This case study is not the story of a particular person, but a fictional case study meant to illustrate how suffering can quickly cascade in someone’s life. The English name Natasha sounds like the Hebrew word נָטַשׁ (naw-tash’) which means “forsaken.”

Tweets of the Week 12.16.14

There is great value in saying something in a memorable, concise manner. Twitter has caused us to make this a near spiritual discipline. For my own growth (as a generally verbose individual… that’s a long way of saying “wordy”) and for the benefit of others, I highlight tweets each week that deliver a big message in a few words.

Video: Overcoming Depression-Anxiety, A Suffering Paradigm (Step 9)

Below is a video from the presentation of “Overcoming Depression-Anxiety: A Suffering Paradigm.” For the various counseling options available from this material visit

The complementing studies  Overcoming Depression-Anxiety: A Responsibility Paradigm and Towards a Christian Perspective of Mental Illness will also available in a video format after their presentation

NOTE: Many people have asked how they can get a copy of the seminar notebook referenced in this verbal presentation. You can request a copy from Summit’s admin over counseling at (please note this is an administrative account; no individual or family counsel is provided through e-mail).

“After Depression-Anxiety, Now What?”
STEWARD all of my life for God’s glory.

Depression-Anxiety Step 9 from The Sam James Institute on Vimeo.

Memorize: I Peter 4:19 (ESV), “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” As you memorize this passage reflect upon these key points:

  • “Those who suffer” – This passage will apply to every person many times in the course of their life.
  • “God’s will” – Hopefully, at this stage in your journey you can read this without hearing it as God’s punishment.
  • “Entrust their souls” – Life is a choice between entrusting our souls to God or seeking to protect ourselves.
  • “To a faithful Creator” – If you made it to this point in the study, you have many evidences of God’s faithfulness.
  • “While doing good” – Without a returning sense of mission, suffering would drain our vitality for engaging life.

Teaching Notes

To “steward” something means to use it for God’s intended purpose. It is important to remember that what is being stewarded is the life of the group member in general, not the sin specifically.

“The odd thing is that fear and anxiety are running away from something, but they don’t know what to run to. They know danger, but they don’t know where to find peace and rest (p. 63)… It’s as if fear needs to be replaced in our lives, and it is replaced with a simple question, ‘What does my Father, the King, want me to do now?’ (p. 241)… The goal is not the alleviation of anxiety so much as it is the pursuit of God’s purposes. If God’s ways meant an increase in fear and anxiety, so be it, but, of course, the opposite is true. As we apply the gospel of peace, we will know peace (p. 295-296).” Ed Welch in Running Scared

“We will never be transformed into a different person, but we can, with God’s help, become the best version of ourselves, which is the person he created us to be (p. 222).” Leslie Vernick in Lord, I Just Want to Be Happy

“If you are willing to be trained by it, expect depression to be a good teacher. That doesn’t mean you should seek it out, and it certainly doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to alleviate it. But most people who were willing to be taught by suffering look back and are grateful (p. 238).” Ed Welch in Depression, A Stubborn Darkness

Tweets of the Week 12.12.14

There is great value in saying something in a memorable, concise manner. Twitter has caused us to make this a near spiritual discipline. For my own growth (as a generally verbose individual… that’s a long way of saying “wordy”) and for the benefit of others, I highlight tweets each week that deliver a big message in a few words.

Video: Overcoming Depression-Anxiety, A Suffering Paradigm (Step 8)

Below is a video from the presentation of “Overcoming Depression-Anxiety: A Suffering Paradigm.” For the various counseling options available from this material visit

The complementing studies  Overcoming Depression-Anxiety: A Responsibility Paradigm and Towards a Christian Perspective of Mental Illness will also available in a video format after their presentation

NOTE: Many people have asked how they can get a copy of the seminar notebook referenced in this verbal presentation. You can request a copy from Summit’s admin over counseling at (please note this is an administrative account; no individual or family counsel is provided through e-mail).

“When the Road Becomes Long More Than Steep”
PERSEVERE in the new life and identity to which God has called me.

Depression-Anxiety Step 8 from The Sam James Institute on Vimeo.

Memorize: Romans 5:3-5 (ESV), “More than that, we rejoice in our suffering, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through this Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” As you memorize this passage reflect upon these key points:

  • “Rejoice” – If you read the passage carefully, you’ll see we rejoice in the fruit of suffering; not the pain.
  • “Endurance… character… hope” – Hopefully this captures well the journey you have been on in this study.
  • “Shame” – God is faithful not only to redeem the suffering but remove the shame associated with suffering.
  • “God’s love” – The perfect love of a perfect God enables us to live with painful emotions in an imperfect world.
  • “Holy Spirit” – This seal (2 Cor. 1:22) of God’s permanent covenant provides us of assurance of his presence.

 Teaching Notes

“One of the greatest catalyst to our pain was the sense that we were alone. Because we suffered mostly silently, we didn’t find other people who were suffering in the same way. And because those other suffering people were silent to, we all thought we were the only ones (p. 33).” Amy Simpson in Troubled Minds

“I think that people who have not dealt with such grief, either first or secondhand, simply do not know what happiness is, what joy is, because they do not know what the depths of pain can be. It is like this: you cannot know the import of the cross and resurrection unless you have grasped the weight of sin… That is, sometimes depression can be a blessing, because one can learn about God through his hiding (p. 28).” Kathryn Greene-McCreight in Darkness Is My Only Companion

“You are secure not because you have control or understanding. You are secure even though you are weak, imperfect, and shortsighted. You are secure for one reason and one reason alone: God exists and he is your Father (p. 31)… The temptation, in times of waiting, is to focus on the things we are waiting for, all the obstacles that are in the way, our inability to make it happen, and all of the other people who haven’t seemed to have had to wait… All of this increases our feeling of helplessness, our tendency to think our situation is hopeless, and our judgment that waiting is futile (p. 48).” Paul Tripp in A Shelter in the Time of Storm.

“Lasting change doesn’t occur in leaps, but in tiny and faithful steps. Small changes can make a big difference (p. 15)… Sometimes the pain of change makes us forget our former misery, and we revert to previous habits to feel better (p. 156).” Leslie Vernick in Lord, I Just Want to Be Happy