Counseling Philosophy and Strategy
The following are presuppositions that drive us to be purposeful and intentional in counseling that is thoroughly biblical in both doctrine and practice at Maranatha Bible Church. It is these assumptions that compel us to action in our counseling efforts.
God is the Creator, Sustainer, and Revealer
Everything that exists was created by God and is sustained by God (Gen 1:1, Col 1:16, 17, Rev 4:11). As part of His creation, man was created to be live, move and have his identity in Him. His plans and purposes for man are not hidden but revealed in special revelation that is recorded in the Bible as God’s counsel.
God’s Counsel Defines the Nature and Purposes of Man
God created us, and He is the only being that can correctly define us – how we were made, why we were made, and how we relate to the world around us. These questions get at man’s nature and purpose in life. Scripture declares that man was created by God in His own image (Gen 1:26, 27, 2:7), for His own glory (Isa 43:7, Eph 1:11-12), and that man functions as overseers of His creation – we are to subdue the earth and rule over every living creature (Gen 1:28). Essentially, we were created to be God centered – to “do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31) and to enjoy God by delighting in Him and our relationship to Him (John 10:10, Ps 27:4, Ps 73:25-26).
The Fall Introduced a Counterfeit Counsel
With the Fall, a counterfeit counsel was introduced in direct competition to God’s counsel about the nature of God and the meaning of life and the world (Col 2:8). This counsel is characterized by selfishness, worldly thinking, and fleshly lusts which dominate the heart of sinful man. This counsel fails to understand and take into consideration the nature, power, and deceitfulness of indwelling sin in the heart of fallen man (Jer 17:9). It is promulgated by those who are “lovers of self” and “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Tim 3:2). This counsel is offered by those who are “without understanding” (Rom 1:31) and “always learning [but] never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim 3:7). Such counsel is worldly advice and those who choose to follow it fail to recognize that “whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4). Much of the modern counseling movement is rooted, not in God’s wise counsel, but worldly advice that springs the heart of fallen man. Thus, it is imperative that believers be discerning both in the counsel they give and receive in dealing with issues of the heart. The introduction of a counterfeit counsel requires that believers sort through the dizzying array of counsel being offered by the world and seek to heed God’s clear counsel in His Word.
Godly Counsel is Based on Scripture Alone
Counsel can either be godly – intended to sanctify, or ungodly – not intended to sanctify (Ps 1:2). While both types of counsel can produce change, only godly counsel can produce sanctification – decreasing patterns of sin and increasing patterns of holiness. Godly counsel is the theological foundation of biblical counseling. Its formation is based on absolute truth found only in the inspired and inerrant Word of God (2 Pet 1:2-3, 2 Tim 3:16-17). Its lineage consists of 5 levels starting with the (1) canonical Scriptures that are (2) properly interpreted (through the grammatico-historical method of exegesis) and formulated into a (3) Biblical Theology (propositional doctrinal statements) that are then correlated topically into a (4) Systematic Theology that then is used to develop a (5) Practical Theology (practical theological conclusions about life). Godly counsel exists at each of the 5 levels and each level is unmixed with ungodly counsel. This is the counsel that leads to sanctification – both the salvation of the lost and the progressive sanctification of believers. It is to be studied and used in teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Tim 3:15-17). Godly counsel is the basis for realizing the aim of Jesus’ prayer recorded in John 17, “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.” (John 17:17). The formulation of godly counsel contrasts sharply with the formation of ungodly counsel which either does not consider Scripture, or uses Scripture to develop a practical theology (level 5) without using levels 1-4 to derive their practical theology. This is where discernment is crucial so that believers are not tossed about by every wind of doctrine that purports to be Christian (Eph 4:14), and may even result in changed behavior, but is not godly counsel that leads to sanctification (1 Thes 2:13).
Biblical Counseling is the Application of Godly Counsel
Biblical Counseling is a system of doctrines and practices that uses Scripture (godly counsel), unmixed with unbiblical psychological systems, as the comprehensively sufficient final authority for the proper interpretation and remedies for man’s problems in living. It believes:
- God has spoken truly to every basic issue of human nature
- God’s Word establishes the goal of counseling, how people can change, the role of the counselor, and the counseling methods
- Sin, whether remnant sin in believers or reigning sin in unbelievers, is the primary problem counselors must deal with
- Forgiveness for sin and power to change into Christ’s image are the greatest needs of mankind
- Progressive sanctification, decreasing patterns of sin and increasing patterns of holiness, is the aim
- Biblical counseling operates within the confines of the local church as an integral part of building the body towards Christ-likeness, working synergistically with, and not separated from, other aspects of church life – teaching, preaching, prayer, church discipline, use of gifts, missions, and worship
The following principles explain the necessary and vital components of our philosophy of Biblical counseling. These principles have a direct impact on the kind of strategy we will employ in building a Christ-like body of believers through the principles of biblical counseling. These principles are particularly important for our age as the church needs to recover what has effectively been lost in the area of church-based counseling – the knowledge of how to use Scripture in the diagnoses of, and the remedy for, the ills of the soul and, the confidence in the comprehensiveness of Scripture to provide the remedy for all of life’s problems.
The Gospel is Central for Both Believer and Unbeliever
For the person without Christ, only the Gospel will change their heart and bring life where there is only spiritual death. For the believer, it is the Gospel that continues to point them to Christ and their need to walk with Him intimately and appropriate the rich resources He supplies for living the Christian life. Thus, in biblical counseling, we aim to show both believer and unbeliever the glory of Christ and the power of the Gospel in their life.
Progressive Sanctification is the Aim of Every Believer
Sanctification – being set apart from sin and set apart unto God – is both an event and a lifelong process. Believers have been and are constantly being separated from sin and conformed to Christ’s likeness (1 Cor 6:11, Eph 2:10, Phil 1:6, 2:13, 1 Thes 5:23, 24). In fact, believers are predestined to be conformed to the image of God’s Son (Rom 8:29)…it is not optional. So, biblical counseling aims to promote the sanctification of the believer and to cause genuine change rather than change that is simply superficial or behavioral.
Progressive Sanctification is Active not Passive
Progressive sanctification happens when the believer actively eliminates old sinful habits and actively replaces them with new godly habits (Col 3:5-6, Rom 8:13-14, Rom 12:1-2, Eph 4:22-32, Col 3:1-17). Such sanctification requires developing a daily pattern of Christian disciplines in the life of each believer. It occurs when individual believers cultivate a daily pattern of Scripture study, prayer and confession of sins (Josh 1:8, Ps 19, Ps 119, Col 3:16, 2 Tim 2:15, Col 4:2, 1 Thess 5:17, 1 John 1:9). Therefore, when we counsel someone biblically, we endeavor to get them actively involved in the sanctification process.
The Local Church is Central in God’s Plan to Mature Believers
Progressive sanctification was designed by God to operate within the local church through interaction between believers. This is the message of Ephesians 4 in describing the operation of the church. Scripture is used by pastors and teachers to move individual believers towards Christ likeness, maturing believers begin fulfilling their proper function and role in the body, better functioning of individual parts strengthens the body, and a strengthened body helps protect the individual parts from false teaching (Eph 4:11-16). The role the church body plays in progressive sanctification is also seen in the many ‘one another’ commands found throughout Scripture. Believers are instructed to admonish, encourage, comfort, pray, bear the weakness and bear the burdens of fellow believers (Rom. 15:14, Heb. 3:13, 1 Thes. 4:18, 5:11, James 5:16, Rom 15:1, and Gal 6:1-2). Although the ‘one-another’ commands apply universally to all believers everywhere, the primary place to fulfill these commands on a regular basis occurs within the sphere of the local church. Thus, biblical counseling must take place within the confines of the church. Although the norm today is for churches to refer “clients” to an outside agency or to the “professional counselor,” we believe that those best equipped to deal with spiritual issues of the heart are those men and women within the body of Christ who are able to bring the Word of God to bear upon the souls of God’s people. For this reason, we are convinced that biblical counseling is best done within the confines of the local church by godly believers who know and love the Word of God and His people.
God’s Word is the Only Truth That Sanctifies
No clearer or more definitive statement is found in Scripture as to what powers sanctification than John 17:17: “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.” Scripture is God-breathed and makes one wise for salvation, complete for every good work, and is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction in righteous (2 Tim 3:16-17). The authority and sufficiency of the Word of God extends to issues which our society and many in the contemporary church would deny that it extends to. Although some of these issues may have a medical component which may play a part, our conviction is that many of these issues have a spiritual component which is the underlying cause of the problem. In these cases, it is the heart that needs to be addressed and only the Word of God is capable of adequately exposing and dealing with issues of the heart.
There Must be a Recovery of Biblical Counseling in the Church
The view of biblical counseling’s effectiveness to address the problems of life has greatly diminished over the past century. The counsel that the church offers is viewed as simplistic and rarely sought out today, as people seek out paid counseling professionals – whether Christian or secular. This means the current generation of believers has come to believe that Scripture is not sufficient for the more ‘complex’ problems of life. Therefore, one of the church’s greatest tasks is to recover, as a sound doctrine of the church, the truth of Scripture as the exclusive counseling authority over care of the soul.
We Must Have an Unwavering Confidence in Biblical Counseling
Biblical counselors understand that, as counselors, they are just saved sinners who know they have no answers in themselves (Jer 17:9). Instead, their unwavering confidence in the effectiveness of biblical counseling lies in the discipline’s theological underpinnings – the Scriptures, which are both authoritative and comprehensive in addressing all the issues of life. No matter how ‘complex’ life gets, there is nothing new under the sun that the living Word does not address. Their desire is to be workmen who have studied the Word of God in order to be skilled in both discerning and then applying godly counsel to life’s problems, and then ministering this saving and sanctifying counsel to others. Thus, biblical counselors can in full confidence say that there are answers to all of life’s problems and ills of the soul, and that biblical counseling can help the counselee find and apply these answers.
The following strategy represents our attempt at Maranatha Bible Church to be purposeful in recovering the proper role of biblical counseling in the life of the local church. This is the “nuts and bolts” and the practical “how-to” for equipping Maranatha Bible Church to counsel biblically. While we may not employ this entire strategy at any given time, it gives us something to shoot for over time.
For the Elders
- Understand and champion Maranatha’s Biblical Counseling Philosophy of Ministry in both your personal ministry and in the corporate body.
- Oversee plans to recover the practice of Biblical Counseling
- Embed biblical counseling objectives into the operating plans and structure of the church
- Oversee the budget and physical space resource needs for biblical counseling and ensure that they are sufficient to meet the objectives established
- Discern and defend counsel that is biblical from counsel that is not but purports to be
- Embed the daily practice of godly disciplines in the church operating structure
For the Strategy Development and Implementation Team
- Develop both short and long-range plans for embedding biblical counseling into the ministries of Maranatha Bible Church under the oversight of the MBC elders
- Develop a long range plan for establishing a biblical counseling center that provides community based evangelism and believer counseling, as well as offering biblical counseling training to the Christian community
- Develop Counselor’s Training Path and Support Material:
- Develop training path(s) – in-house, online learning, off-site – that lead to NANC certification
- Develop or acquire content for all levels of in-house counseling training covering both (1) instruction (basic, advanced, specialized), and (2) practice (practical methods, observations, casework)
- Develop biblical counseling tools – checklists, worksheets, consent forms, etc.
- Develop counselor qualifications for elder review
- Develop Member Training Content:
- Develop or acquire content for a basic in-house biblical counseling overview covering both instruction and practice suitable for all members
- Develop tools and implementation plan that will help all members practice daily godly disciplines
For the Counselors
- Meet the counselor qualifications established by the elders
- Be able to discern and defend counsel that is biblical from counsel that is not but purports to be
- Be actively involved in the study of biblical counseling disciplines
For the Members
- Develop confidence in discerning godly counsel
- Develop confidence in applying godly counsel to life’s situation
- Encourage one another in the practice of the godly disciplines of personal daily bible study, prayer and confession of sin
- Understand the basic concepts of biblical counseling and its importance to progressive sanctification