Sanctification - A better way to do counseling

By Rick Thomas

Catching them at the right time - Have you ever counseled someone and within the first or second session they repented and made a significant change in their life? If so, then you caught them at verse seventeen of Luke’s gospel (Luke 15:17). They received the gift of repentance from the LORD and you just happened to be sitting in front of them when He granted it. This does not happen often, but when it does, it makes counseling easy.

The best counseling context - Biblical counselors can put too much pressure on themselves to fix people when (1) the counselor’s view of the LORD’s role in counseling needs adjusting and (2) they do not include the local church in the process of the counselee’s salvation and progressive sanctification. In situations where the counselor does not have a strong discipleship church context, the counseling will have liabilities and the counselor will be set-up for unnecessary frustration.

There has to be a better method. My love for biblical counseling is strong, but I have a greater love for the New Testament local church doing the work of soul care. Because of this affection for the local church I want to ensure we do not create a two-headed model for discipleship within the local church. All biblical counselors believe at some level every person can participate in the counseling process. Time for a name change - Instead of calling what we do counseling, let’s call it discipleship.

Discipleship is more nuanced and gets into the nooks and crannies of the local church’s sanctification model. Not only can counseling reduce the number of people who are doing discipling, it can also lead one to set-up artificial contexts (counseling sessions) that end up forcing righteousness on a person prematurely. This self-imposed pressure for righteousness creates non-God ordained timelines for change.

My earlier reframing of the story about the prodigal son illustrates the liability of attempting to force righteousness in an artificial context. I long to see the day when discipleship reclaims its biblical heritage by taking over the idea of biblical counseling through the engagement of the entire local church in a full-orbed, robust, one-another, body ministry. There is a huge philosophical and methodological difference between counseling the prodigal son in a counseling context versus spending time with him at different points along his journey.

Practicing discipleship has many more advantages than biblical counseling. One of those advantages is it does not feel any pressure to force the issue of repentance on a person. Sometimes the expectation of counseling is at odds with God’s plan of repentance for the counselee. If you are practicing discipleship rather than counseling, then you know it is easier to keep a person in a church building rather than in an artificial context for change like a counseling office.

Loving a person is easier while doing life together than trying to love him during a counseling session where you are calling him to repentance every week you meet. You can only do this for so long before it strains the relationship. The counseling office has a singular focus–I need you to change soon.

Discipleship in the context of the local church is more relaxed. It permits people to live in the good of the Gospel while coming alongside each other, helping them to follow the examples provided. Discipleship is hard work. It is not for the lazy person. All hands are on deck and everyone is busy thinking about how to live in the good of the Gospel and how to invite others into a faith walk with Christ. Counseling has a counselor sitting in a chair, instructing another person how to live for Christ.

Discipleship is about doing real life with another human being, while speaking into his life along the way.

Call to action • Is your local church coming alongside you, helping you with the soul care of those you hope will change? • Are you doing your part as a Christian counselor in your church? If not, why not? • What would need to change in your church to make it a more effective sanctification center?