All posts tagged Counseling

Wisdom is Content and Experience

I was having a conversation with my 7 year old recently about toys. In my unbiased opinion he was showing a great deal of wisdom and self-control regarding finances and his primary idol. He would ask how much the various objects of his affection cost. We would look up the best available price (on my favorite “toy” – my smart phone) and he would tell me whether he thought it was a good deal.

I was impressed with his ability to gauge the value of toys. He was able to recognize overpriced plastic junk and once its value-to-cost ratio was revealed his affection for it subsided. Having him do chores to pay for extra “I wanna’s” and reading him Dave Ramsey bedtime stories (I’m not making that up) was really paying off. I was proud of him and I told him so.

Later that day he tried to apply his financial wisdom to an area of lesser experience – vehicles. We were driving and he said, “Papa, I know why Mama likes her van so much – it was cheap.” At that point I tried to describe the difference between something being “a good value” and it being “cheap.” He replied, “Yes, and Mama’s van was cheap.”

No matter how I tried to explain that a four year old, low mileage vehicle after a model change was “a good value,” all he could understand was that the van was cheap. When he got outside his sphere of experience he instantly transformed from a very wise 7 year old to an ill-informed car buyer (luckily we’ve got nine more years to work on that one).

Things that are obvious with children are often easy to overlook in adults or ourselves. Having a firm grasp and ability to apply a wise principle in one situation does not make one wise in all situations, or even in all situations of a similar nature (in this case, about finances).

I think, as Christians, we can often miss this. (Non-Christians also have their versions of this.) There can be a tendency to think that a timeless biblical principle is applicable to every situation within its subject matter. With this belief, we confidently make a biblical assertion and can’t hear reasons against it. We wind up sounding like my son talking about buying vehicles.

For example, consider conflict between two people. Many Christians will automatically say you should “take the log out of your eye before you take the speck of out the other person’s eye (Matt 7:3-5).” This is a wise and good biblical principle that applies to conflict.

But Scripture also says that “it is to a man’s glory to overlook an offense (Prov 19:11, similar to Matt 7:1-2),” calls us to cease engaging with those who are unwilling to healthily engage in conflict (Matt 7:6 and Prov 26:4), and instructs us to admonish those who are in sin (Col 3:16). Similar examples could be given to various sins, forms of suffering, and relational dynamics.

What is needed to rightly apply these various biblical principles that apply to conflict? The ability to assess which directive best fits a given conflict; which comes through experience. Newlywed couples spend their first months and years trying to figure out how significant their differences are so they know with biblical principles to apply. Those in unhealthy friendships get caught trying to discern which of these applies.

What we see from this is that the sufficiency of Scripture is the foundation, but not the exclusive criteria, for the competency of the counselor. There are also the ability to assess the most relevant variables in a situation and the severity of a given struggle in order to apply the relevant portions of God’s Word.

This does not diminish the relevance or power of God’s Word, but it does highlight one of the key variables involved in “rightly handling the word of truth (2 Tim 2:15).” It reveals the necessity of being able accurately understand/assess/interpret a person and situation as well as you can a biblical text.

As we counsel (offer hope and direction) from the Bible, let us be sure to assess how well we understand the person and situation to be sure that our application of Scripture is wise and doesn’t cause us to sound wise in circumstances we know well and like my 7 year old discussing vehicles in areas we lack experience.

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. For some you likely felt compassion, others that they were making excuses, and maybe even that they didn’t want to try.

There are many factors that go into our reaction to someone being intimidated by an important step in their progress. This post will not be able to examine them all, but we will look at one – what does this person mean when he or she says, “This is too hard.”

Frequently, I find that the individual does not know and this adds to their difficulty of discerning how to overcome the difficult. As I explore with them the possibility of this seemingly simply sentence it allows a conversation that is beginning to feel unsafe (a possible meaning of “too hard”) to feel safe and creates the emotional space to think with greater clarity about the challenge.

With that said, let’s consider three possible meanings of “This is too hard.”

  1. The skill-level of what is being asked is too difficult (practically challenging).
  2. The complexity of the concept being described is too great (intellectually challenging).
  3. The level of emotional transparency required is too revealing (relationally challenging).

These are three very different statements, which in a moment of feeling overwhelmed, are not always easy to differentiate. But think about the consequences of leaving these differences un-clarified.

  • Offering greater practical advice to someone who is struggling to be vulnerable can come across as condescending or pressuring.
  • Offering simpler phrases to someone who doesn’t feel like they have the ability to do what is asked can feel demeaning.
  • Questioning the authenticity of someone who does not follow the terminology of a conversation can turn your effort to help into an assault from the “other team.”

I am not claiming that these three options are an exhaustive list of what, “This is too hard,” might mean. But I have found that if I ask someone to clarify which of these options fit their struggle best, then most often they are either able to pick the one that fits or articulate better the challenge they are facing.

From my experience, the most difficult to admit is the third (emotional transparency) because of the level of trust and transparency required to make this admission. In these situations it can be hard to tell if someone is (A) genuinely committed to the process of change and intimidated by the process, or (B) trying to find a way to say “I tried” without having to deal with the real issue in their life.

However, if I am patient as I speak with them, then with time those who are in “category A” tend to respond appreciatively to the process while those in “category B” often move from being overwhelmed (“This is too hard”) to defensive (in various forms of blame-shifting or personalizing the conversation).

This biggest take away I would recommend from this reflection is – slow down when a conversation hits an impasse phrase like “This is too hard.” Do not assume you are hearing what your friend is saying or, even, that your friend is clear about what he or she is feeling at the moment. Slowing down a conversation is often the best way that we can honor one another, truly understand each other, and, thereby, actually benefit one another.

Wisdom is Content and Experience

I was having a conversation with my 7 year old recently about toys. In my unbiased opinion he was showing a great deal of wisdom and self-control regarding finances and his primary idol. He would ask how much the various objects of his affection cost. We would look up the best available price (on my favorite “toy” – my smart phone) and he would tell me whether he thought it was a good deal.

I was impressed with his ability to gauge the value of toys. He was able to recognize overpriced plastic junk and once its value-to-cost ratio was revealed his affection for it subsided. Having him do chores to pay for extra “I wanna’s” and reading him Dave Ramsey bedtime stories (I’m not making that up) was really paying off. I was proud of him and I told him so.

Later that day he tried to apply his financial wisdom to an area of lesser experience – vehicles. We were driving and he said, “Papa, I know why Mama likes her van so much – it was cheap.” At that point I tried to describe the difference between something being “a good value” and it being “cheap.” He replied, “Yes, and Mama’s van was cheap.”

No matter how I tried to explain that a four year old, low mileage vehicle after a model change was “a good value,” all he could understand was that the van was cheap. When he got outside his sphere of experience he instantly transformed from a very wise 7 year old to an ill-informed car buyer (luckily we’ve got nine more years to work on that one).

Things that are obvious with children are often easy to overlook in adults or ourselves. Having a firm grasp and ability to apply a wise principle in one situation does not make one wise in all situations, or even in all situations of a similar nature (in this case, about finances).

I think, as Christians, we can often miss this. (Non-Christians also have their versions of this.) There can be a tendency to think that a timeless biblical principle is applicable to every situation within its subject matter. With this belief, we confidently make a biblical assertion and can’t hear reasons against it. We wind up sounding like my son talking about buying vehicles.

For example, consider conflict between two people. Many Christians will automatically say you should “take the log out of your eye before you take the speck of out the other person’s eye (Matt 7:3-5).” This is a wise and good biblical principle that applies to conflict.

But Scripture also says that “it is to a man’s glory to overlook an offense (Prov 19:11, similar to Matt 7:1-2),” calls us to cease engaging with those who are unwilling to healthily engage in conflict (Matt 7:6 and Prov 26:4), and instructs us to admonish those who are in sin (Col 3:16). Similar examples could be given to various sins, forms of suffering, and relational dynamics.

What is needed to rightly apply these various biblical principles that apply to conflict? The ability to assess which directive best fits a given conflict; which comes through experience. Newlywed couples spend their first months and years trying to figure out how significant their differences are so they know with biblical principles to apply. Those in unhealthy friendships get caught trying to discern which of these applies.

What we see from this is that the sufficiency of Scripture is the foundation, but not the exclusive criteria, for the competency of the counselor. There are also the ability to assess the most relevant variables in a situation and the severity of a given struggle in order to apply the relevant portions of God’s Word.

This does not diminish the relevance or power of God’s Word, but it does highlight one of the key variables involved in “rightly handling the word of truth (2 Tim 2:15).” It reveals the necessity of being able accurately understand/assess/interpret a person and situation as well as you can a biblical text.

As we counsel (offer hope and direction) from the Bible, let us be sure to assess how well we understand the person and situation to be sure that our application of Scripture is wise and doesn’t cause us to sound wise in circumstances we know well and like my 7 year old discussing vehicles in areas we lack experience.

Video: Summit Counseling Ministry — Vision, Challenges, & Pieces

The following presentation was given at the EQUIP Leadership Forum of the Summit Church (Durham, NC). The purpose of this talk was the present the exciting opportunities and unique challenges involved with trying to offer a comprehensive counseling ministry. This talk is divided into three sections:

1. The Unique Opportunities and Challenges of Summit’s Counseling Ministry

2. How the Pieces of the Summit’s Counseling Ministry Are Designed to Fuel One Another

3. What This All Means for Individual Ministries within the Summit’s Counseling Ministry

Equip Leadership Forum – Pt2 from The Summit Church on Vimeo.

PRESENTATION NOTES: Here is a PDF copy of the notes that were made available to those in attendance: ELF Talk #1 — Counseling Vision Pieces

The Therapeutic Benefit of Community

Millard Erickson makes an important point when he says, “The church is one of the few aspects of Christian theology that can be observed (p. 1036 in Christian Theology).” If his statement is true, then the place where theology should have its most tangible impact is in the community of people who strive to live in its truth.

Secular researcher Barry Duncan in his quest to determine what makes counseling effective found that 40% of what determines whether counseling will be effective is the quality of relational resources an individual has outside counseling (in The Heart and Soul of  Change).

Too often we only ask the question, “What does the profession of counseling have to offer to the church?” In light of this research, I believe the question, “What does the community of the church have to offer to counseling?” is at least equally valid.

In my counseling, I will frequently ask people, “Who do you have that you can talk to about this struggle? Who are you honest with and don’t have to pretend like everything is okay? Who asks you ‘how are you doing?’ and really wants to know the answer? When do you meet with another person(s) just to discuss how life is going and encourage one another?”

Most often the answer are no one and never. But it is being able to answer this question that accounts for 40% of the success rate in overcoming a life struggle. Notice that counseling will never be able to provide this kind of resource. Even in an ongoing support group you are forever defined by your struggle even as you seek to overcome it.

But the church (when operating as God designed – a living community) is precisely this kind of resource. This becomes even more profound when you consider the second largest variable in success: the level of trust between the counselor and counselee. This accounted for 30% of the success rate.

This means (by secular standards) that if the church operates as the community God designed and its members demonstrate the desire/ability to understand one another in a way that builds trust, the relationships within the church have achieved 70% of what is necessary for a successful helping relationship.

To this point we have not broached the subject of Scripture’s ability to provide a superior theory of counseling. We have only been considering the incredible benefits of living in community as God designed even in life’s toughest moments.

I want to be careful not to imply in this blog that formal counseling training is of no value. I am immensely grateful for the education and counseling experience I have received. I believe it does play an important role in understanding people’s struggles.

But my point here simply this: the church is the kind of community counseling would try to create if it thought such a therapeutically powerful reality could exist. My role as Pastor of Counseling at The Summit Church is not to try to solve the church’s problems with counseling knowledge. My role is to encourage the saints that with a biblical equipping to love and understand people that they live in a community designed to transform lives in a way no professional structure can (Eph.4:11-16).

What is the take away? Going to counseling without being meaningfully involved in a church and small group is like going to the dentist when you refuse to brush your teeth each night after eating chocolate covered caramels. In light of this, reflect on Proverbs 18:1, “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desires;  he breaks out against all sound judgment.” Are you in a small group?

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.

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

Liar, Lunatic, or Lord

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

 “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse… But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. (p. 52).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

This has to be one (among so many) of the greatest C.S. Lewis quotes. Blogging on this quote is like preaching on John 3:16. You begin to wonder, “What is left to be said?”

But I will begin by holding my own guild (Christian counseling) responsible for another modern revisiting of these concepts. I believe Christian counseling, as much as any other segment of Christendom, is tempted to reduce Jesus to merely a “great moral teacher.”

If we are not careful we will reduce counseling to “giving good advice,” and then reduce Jesus to the “ultimate good advice giver” whom we try to model. Even as I’m typing these words, (at one level) it doesn’t sound that bad to me. After all, I want my counsel to sound like something Jesus would say when helping someone in a similar situation.

However, I also believe that approach is very dangerous to the personal faith of the counselor and the counselee. The more I allow myself to read Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John through those lenses, the more I begin to read the Bible like I would read other books (just elevating it as “superior in content, breadth, or timelessness”).

“What is wrong with that?” you might ask. The problem is that I would be neglecting the authority of Scripture implied by the word, “Lord.” Jesus does not give good advice. Jesus teaches the way of life and deviation from that way is inevitable death, pain, suffering, and misery.

My advice as a counselor is not like the teaching (“teaching” here used as a stronger word than “advice”) of Jesus.  If my counsel is of any value, it is merely a modern application of what “the way of life” looks like in an individual’s circumstance.

I strive to model that same humble, compassionate character of Jesus so that my presence and presentation do not distort or make unappealing the content of Jesus’ teaching. But again, the imitation is out of reverence for the exclusive “way of life” that is being presented.

With that being said, I ask you, “How do you read the Bible? Do you read it like you read other books? How do the questions you are asking (of yourself and the text) change when you read the Bible and other books?”

I would also ask you, “How do you present the Bible to others when you reference it in conversation? How do you honor it’s authority while modeling the character of the ‘Word made flesh?’”