Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Biblical Essentials for Discipleship Counseling

The aim of this article is to define and describe the biblical essentials for discipleship counseling.  It will achieve this aim by closely examining the preparation, ministry model, and objectives for such a discipling relationship.  This article defines discipleship counseling thusly: One disciple helping another glorify God by cooperating with the Spirit in progressive sanctification, and thus addressing specific problems of living from the Scriptures, in order to bring about change in conformity with God’s revealed will.
The Necessity of Proper Preparation
Mark Shaw in his helpful book, Strength in Numbers, writes:

“Every Christian is competent to counsel another Christian (Romans 15:14) because all Christians possess the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and a copy of God’s Word. However, it may take some training, and experience in accurately handling the Word of Truth in a biblical counseling context before the lay counselor becomes proficient in counseling.[1]  

Shaw is fundamentally correct.  God has indeed provided all the spiritual resources Christians need for discipling and counseling one another.  Furthermore, God has commanded Christians to make use of these resources in helping each other with problems of living (Gal. 6:1).  However, can one use these resources competently without training and experience?
While it is true that Christians can minister to one another from the inception of their new birth, it is equally true that it is God’s intention that they be properly equipped for ministry.  The Bible states this truth clearly in Eph. 4:11-12, “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ (NASB).”  Therefore, it is not a matter of “may take some training, and experience,” as Shaw states, but rather such training is essential.  Therefore, it is the contention of this paper that before a Christian can competently assist others in overcoming most problems of living, he or she must be appropriately equipped for the task. 
What kind of preparation does a discipleship counselor need?  Jay Adams says one ought to begin with the Holy Spirit.  In his book Competent to Counsel he writes, “Counseling is the work of the Holy Spirit.  Effective counseling cannot be done apart from him.[2]  In another of his works, Adams says the Spirit  “. . . must be considered the most important Person in the counseling context.  Indeed, He must be viewed as the Counselor.  Ignoring the Holy Spirit or avoiding the use of the Scriptures in counseling is tantamount to an act of autonomous rebellion.  Christians may not counsel apart from the Holy Spirit and His Word without grievously sinning against Him and the counselee.”[3]     
The Biblical Counseling Coalition agrees with Adams.  In their confessional statement, they profess the following beliefs about the ministry of the Holy Spirit in counseling:
We believe that both genuine change of heart and transformation of lifestyle depend upon the ministry of the Holy Spirit (John 14:15-16:16; 2 Cor. 3:17-18). Biblical counselors know that it is impossible to speak wisely and lovingly to bring about true and lasting change apart from the decisive, compassionate, and convicting work of the Spirit in the counselor and the counselee. We acknowledge the Holy Spirit as the One who illuminates our understanding of the Word and empowers its application in everyday life.
Wise counselors serve in the truth that God reveals and by the strength that God supplies. By the Spirit’s work, God receives glory in all the good that takes place in people’s lives. Biblical counselors affirm the absolute necessity of the work of the Holy Spirit to guide and empower the counselor, the counselee, and the counseling relationship.[4]

Unquestionably, the Holy Spirit’s ministry encompasses far more than counseling.  The Spirit also oversees the progressive sanctification of every believer, working to transform each one into the image of Christ.  Thus, the first and most vital step of preparation for anyone doing discipleship counseling is humble dependence on the Holy Spirit, for he is the Counselor par excellence, and he alone has the power to bring lasting change.  In other words, those seeking to do discipleship counseling must view themselves as small players in the drama of progressive sanctification going on in a fellow believer’s life.  The Holy Spirit is both star and the director of this drama.  Furthermore, since the Holy Spirit is the indwelling member of the Trinity who empowers holy living (Gal. 5:22-24), and the means by which Christians put to death their sinful deeds (Rom. 8:12-13), it is imperative that a Christian counselor walk by the Spirit, and be capable of teaching others how to do so, by Word and example. 
Walking by the Spirit is not a mystical experience; it is intentionally cooperating with the Spirit by using the means of grace he has provided to grow in Christlikeness and spiritual maturity.  Perhaps a quote from Jerry Bridges will bring clarity,
Although the Holy Spirit is the agent of sanctification and He works in us in this mysterious fashion, it is also true that He uses rational and understandable means to sanctify us. Some of these means, such as adversities and the exhortation and encouragement of others, are outside of our control to initiate. With other means, such as the learning and application of Scripture and the frequent use of prayer, He expects us to take the initiative.[5]

While those doing discipleship counseling are indeed subservient to the Spirit, their role is still an important one.  According to Adams, “The use of human agency in counseling, does not in itself bypass the role of the Spirit; to the contrary, it is the principal and ordinary means by which he works.”[6]  Adams aptly notes that the Spirit being the key player in counseling should be of encouragement to those doing it, because success does not depend on one’s own abilities.[7]  At the same time, Adams cautions, “He cannot be sloppy about the way in which he counsels, expecting the Holy Spirit to do his work regardless of how the counselor does his.”[8]   Adams goes on to urge the necessity of developing the Spirit’s gifts and learning to exercise them in conjunction with the Spirit, or in other words, preparation.[9]
What specific preparation for discipleship counseling does one need besides absolute dependence, and submission to the Spirit?   Kellemen contends that adequate preparation for this ministry includes character, content, competence and community.  He, like Shaw, points to Rom. 15:14 as the scriptural basis for his contention, which says, “And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another (NASB).”  Kellemen claims the phrase “full of goodness” equates to Christlike character.[10]  Unfortunately, the arguments he chooses to support his claim are not fully convincing, as Kellemen appears to be stretching the text.  Nevertheless, there is abundant Scriptural support to accept his contention that Christlikeness is essential for discipleship counseling ministry.  Three of the numerous texts that support this idea are Philip. 2:1-12; Eph. 4:29-5:2; and 2 Pet. 1:3-8.  All of these passages exhort the necessity of emulating Christ’s character, particularly his humility, and sacrificial love.  
Kellemen’s second requirement for personal ministry is content/conviction, which he deduces from the phrase “complete in knowledge” in Rom. 15:14.  For Kellemen, to be complete in knowledge means more than knowing Scripture, it includes understanding how to apply it practically to the problems of life.[11]  
Like Kellemen, Adams also emphasizes the necessity of knowing and using the Scriptures.  He writes, “The Holy Spirit expects counselors to use his Holy Scriptures…he gave it for such a purpose and that it is powerful when used for that purpose.”[12]   In Adams’ book How to Change People he constructs an airtight argument from 2 Tim. 3:16-17 for Scripture’s sufficiency, authority, and practicality for addressing any and all problems of living.  He also ably demonstrates Scriptures’ sufficiency for equipping one to do discipleship counseling.[13] 
How much Scripture does a discipleship counselor need to know and understand before he or she can do ministry?  After all, the Bible is a big book, which one never fully masters, even with a lifetime of study.  Dr. David Powlison gives practical guidance.  He states, “. . . in a pinch you could do all counseling from Ephesians.  It’s all there: the big picture that organizes a myriad of details.”[14]  At first glance, one might doubt this declaration, but Dr. Powlison substantiates it by adeptly unpacking and applying the epistle of Ephesians to nearly every aspect of life.[15]  Clearly, Powlison’s intent in the statement above is not to discourage anyone from seeking a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures, but rather to give them a good place to begin.  Obviously, one ought to pursue a working knowledge of the entire Bible, and heed Paul’s admonition to Timothy, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15 NASB).”
A specific portion of Scripture a discipleship counselor needs to know well is the gospel, for Scripture says that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Rom.1:16a).  Of course, that salvation includes progressive sanctification; therefore, it follows that one must know how to apply the gospel skillfully in doing discipleship counseling.  A quote from Stuart Scott demonstrates how vital the gospel is in biblical counseling.  “It is foundational.  It is motivational.  It must be pivotal and applicable in every aspect of the counsel we give to those who are not, for one reason or another, living joyfully to the glory of God.”[16]  Scott also exhorts that a discipleship counselor’s familiarity with the gospel must extend beyond its doctrinal truths.  One must understand how it applies to practical Christian living, and communicate its truth in a manner that keeps the gospel’s indicatives, which describe one’s position in Christ, in balance with the gospel’s imperatives, which consist of one’s practice in Christ.[17]     
The third of Kellemen’s requirements for discipleship counseling is competence.  To summarize Kellemen, competency for discipleship counseling ministry requires learning practical skills, namely comforting the suffering and biblically instructing the errant.  Perhaps the best way to develop the competence that Kellemen advocates is by being mentored by an experienced discipleship counselor.  This is Shaw’s contention in his book describing a team approach to counseling.  He writes:
The best scenario for younger, inexperienced Christians is for them to observe more mature Christians first.  Then, a younger Christian should get the opportunity to be lead minister with the more mature Christian on hand to assist with any problems or questions.  Once the younger Christian is confident, (no one is ever perfectly ready) in personal ministry, he or she should be given a newer Christian to disciple. . .[18]

  Paul Tripp agrees with Kellemen about the necessity of developing practical ministry skills, particularly when it comes to suffering.  In Tripp’s words, “. . . suffering is such a common human experience, identifying with suffering is critical to personal ministry.”[19]  Tripp suggests a ministry paradigm based upon the Apostle Paul’s suffering in 2 Cor.1.  He describes the paradigm as “purposeful suffering, leading to the experience of God’s comfort, producing the ability to comfort others, resulting in a community of hope.”[20] He explains the methodology as telling Christ-centered stories about one’s own suffering. 
Powlison also gives some wise counsel concerning the development of ministry or counseling skills.  He astutely advises, “There are no shortcuts in developing counseling skills that actually help people. To be wise, you must know people. Talk with them. Get a feel for them. Try to help others (and as you fail and succeed, keep learning why one or the other occurs).”[21]
The final requirement for personal ministry that Kellemen argues for is community.  He says that every discipleship counselor should be in communion with Christ through vertical spiritual disciplines, and in communion with the body of Christ through what he calls horizontal spiritual disciplines, which he terms “one anothering.”[22]  Of course, Scripture passages such as John 15 and Rom. 12 support his contention. 
One of the vertical disciplines that deserve highlighting is prayer.  Adams says, “Prayer has a central place in Christian counseling, both for the counselor and for the counselee. Any counseling that is not based upon the idea that it is the power of God that transforms counselees is essentially non-Christian.  Prayer, then, must have a prominent place, since both counselor and counselee must ask for God’s help and depend upon Him to give it.”[23]  Once again, the Biblical Counseling Coalition parallels Adams.  “Dependent prayer is essential to the work of biblical counseling (Eph. 6:18-20). Wise counselors humbly request God’s intervention and direction, praise God for His work in people’s lives, and intercede for people that they would experience genuine life change to the glory of God (Philip. 4:6).”[24]
Shaw also argues for the necessity of community, although his arguments for community focus on his team approach to counselor training and ministry.  Shaw writes, “In the church today, too many Christians, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and lay persons are “isolationists” in ministry.  By “isolationists,” I mean that they operate more as the Lone Ranger rather than a team player in a team setting.”[25]  As important as the concept of community is for discipleship counselor training and ministry, it is equally vital for those being disicpled.  Indeed, all believers need to be in close communion with Christ, for apart from him they can do nothing (John 15:5).  Likewise, they need to recognize and embrace their interdependent relationship with the body of Christ (Rom. 12:3-12 and 1 Cor. 12).
Tripp comes at proper preparation for discipleship counseling from a different perspective than Kellemen.  He says the basis for discipleship counseling is composed of three strands.  They are a biblical theology of human motivation, a biblical theology of change, and a biblical methodology of change.[26]  The first strand, a biblical theology of human motivation answers the question, “Why do people do the things they do?  Tripp answers this question, “The simplest, most biblical answer is the heart.”[27]  Just what does Tripp mean by the “heart”?   He provides clarification. 
The Bible uses the term “heart” to describe the inner person.  Scripture divides the human being into two parts, the inner and outer being.  The outer person is your physical self; the inner person is your spiritual self (Eph. 3:16). The synonym the Bible most often uses for the inner being is the heart.  It encompasses all the other terms and functions used to describe the inner person (spirit, soul, mind, emotions, will etc.)  These other terms do not describe something different from the heart. Rather, they are aspects of it, parts or functions of the inner person.[28]

Tripp validates his contention from Luke 6:43-46, which teaches that man’s heart shapes and controls his behavior.  Consequently, one must identify what controls and functionally rules the heart, because change that focuses primarily on behavior to the exclusion of the heart will only be temporary and cosmetic.  Since lasting change only takes place through heart change, the heart must always be the target of discipleship counseling.[29] 
Tripp says a biblical theology of change must answer the question, “How does lasting change take place?”  He speaks to this question by arguing that every human being is a worshipper in active pursuit of whatever rules his heart.[30]  Tripp uses Matthew 6:19-24 to support his argument.  From this text, he gleans three important principles.  First, everyone seeks some kind of treasure.  Second, the treasure chosen will control the heart.  Finally, whatever controls the heart will control a person’s behavior.  He goes on to point out that only two kinds of treasure exist, earthly and heavenly. Thus, whichever treasure a person chooses will rule his or her life.  In Tripp’s words, whatever rules our hearts will exercise inescapable influence over our lives and behavior.  Therefore, the root of all sin is idolatry, because one’s heart treasures something in creation rather than the Creator.  Consequently, the way God changes a person is to recapture his or her heart so that he or she will worship and serve him alone.[31] 
Tripp acknowledges one cannot see into another’s heart, but Scripture can indeed expose it (Heb. 4:12-13). Regarding Scripture’s illuminating power, Tripp writes, “The Bible by its very nature is heart revealing.  For this reason, Scripture must be our central tool in personal growth and ministry.  It alone can expose and analyze where change needs to take place in our hearts.”[32]  
The third strand of preparation for personal ministry according to Tripp is a methodology of change, which answers the question, “How can I be a redemptive instrument in the life of another person?”  Tripp answers that question with four words, “love,” “know,” “speak” and “do.”  These terms will be thoroughly unpacked in the next section of this paper. 
To summarize thus far, before one attempts discipleship counseling there must be some preparation.  A discipleship counselor must know how to depend on and cooperate with the Holy Spirit, for he is the Counselor par excellence, as well as the agent of change and growth in every believer’s life.  In cooperation with the Spirit’s enabling grace, the counselor must pursue Christlikeness, particularly qualities such as humility and sacrificial love.  Additionally, he or she must be absolutely convinced of the Bible’s authority and sufficiency for every aspect of the Christian life.  In addition, he or she must be a faithful student of the Scriptures, continually working to develop a growing, practical knowledge of the Word.  A discipleship counselor also must be developing practical ministry skills, which include comforting the suffering, and admonishing the sinful.  He or she must cultivate community with God and his people through both vertical and horizontal spiritual disciplines.  Finally, one must have a biblical theology of human motivation, a biblical theology of change, and a biblical methodology for discipling others. 
Applying Tripp’s Personal Ministry Model
Tripp’s methodology of change is an excellent model for discipleship ministry.  He unpacks it in detail in his book, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hand and companion workbook, Helping Others Change.  As mentioned previously, four key words, “love”, “know”, “speak” and “do,” summarize his model.[33]  Admittedly, there are other good ministry models one could use, such as Wayne Mack’s model as outlined in Counseling.  He describes his ministry model with seven words, which are involvement, investigation, interpretation, instruction, intention, implementation and integration.[34]  However, when one looks closely at the details of each model it becomes abundantly clear they are principally the same. Therefore, in what follows Tripp’s model will be the primary focus, but supplemented by some of Mack’s excellent insights.    
Although there is a rational order to Tripp’s ministry model, one must recognize that it is not a four-step process.  Neither should one consider it four sequential phases of a discipleship counseling relationship.  Instead, “love”, “know”, “speak” and “do,” are essential elements of discipleship counseling, and a discipleship counselor will be doing them all simultaneously in a ministry relationship.[35]  However, for the purposes this paper, these elements will be examined and explained in their stated order.
The first component of Tripp’s ministry model is “love.”  Building relationships based upon love is essential in discipleship counseling, because as Tripp notes, God always changes people in the context of loving relationships.[36]  Mack agrees with Tripp, and calls this element of relationship building involvement.  Mack states that involvement is established when people know their counselors sincerely care for them, and it consists of compassion, respect and sincerity.[37]   He also says, “Usually, the counseling process is truly effective only when an acceptable level of involvement has been established.”[38]
   Tripp says there are four steps we must take to create a loving relationship.  The first is to enter one’s world through what he describes as “entry gates.”  Entry gates are a brother or sister’s experience of a situation, problem or relationship.  For example, a Christian man struggling with the sin of sexual lust will likely experience constant shame, guilt, and failure in living the Christian life.  He may be in a personal crisis, and experiencing a myriad of problems that are rooted in his sexual lust.  He may even doubt his salvation.  His experience would be the entry gate into his life.[39]  
After the discovery of an entry gate into another’s life, Tripp says the next step is to incarnate the love of Christ.  In his estimation, one must be willing to sacrifice and suffer in order to help his or her fellow believers grow spiritually.  In essence, one must live out Gal. 6:1-2.   In addition, one must strive to be living examples of the biblical truth proclaimed.  Tripp declares this is especially true when the sins of the people one ministers to surface in the ministry relationship.  For instance, if a woman continually sins by using anger as a manipulative tool in her personal relationships, it is likely that sin will manifest itself in a discipleship counseling relationship.  In such cases, one must be careful to model Christ’s grace and mercy.[40] 
The next step in entering another’s world is to identify with his or her suffering.  As Tripp notes, God calls each believer to suffer so that he or she can be instruments of his comfort and compassion.  When ministering to the suffering, one must remember how God has led him or her through suffering, and the lessons learned through the experience.  Then one can use that knowledge and experience to bring comfort to others.[41]  Of course, this same principal also holds true in helping those struggling with sin.  A discipleship counselor can use his or her struggle with sin, and God’s gracious deliverance, to minister hope to another.  Mack terms such activity building involvement through sincerity.[42]   
The last step for entering another’s world is to accept him or her with an agenda. Understandably, if one is going to help another overcome a problem of living, he or she must secure a commitment from that person to purse God’s agenda for sanctification and change.  Since God’s purpose is to transform his people into the image of Jesus Christ, one doing discipleship counseling must cooperate with God’s purpose by urging a brother or sister to change.  Of course, the counselor must be careful to do this urging in accord with God’s abundant mercy, love, and grace, avoiding any hint of a judgmental or critical spirit.[43]  Without a doubt, entertaining a critical or judgmental attitude will quickly destroy a discipleship counseling relationship.
The second crucial aspect of Tripp’s ministry model is “know.” To effectively disciple a brother or sister, one must have an adequate understanding about his or her situation.  Once again, Mack coincides with Tripp, for he says, “If we attempt to interpret people’s problems before we gather adequate data, we will only add to their difficultly rather than relieve it.”[44]  Mack calls gathering information about a person’s life so one can help them with a problem of living, investigation.  Mack suggests that one should gather information from six areas, and they are the person’s physical state, resources, emotions, actions, concepts and historical background.    
According to Tripp to “know” one must ask four vital questions.  The first question is, “What is going on?”  What pressure, opportunities, responsibilities and temptations is the person facing?  Who are the important people in his or her life and what are those people doing?  What is known about their past, including people and circumstances.  From the answers to these and similar questions, one needs to gather data with the aim of developing a correct picture of the person’s situation.[45]  Consequently, this aspect of the ministry model requires forbearance, good questioning and listening skills, as well as utter dependence on God’s Spirit, which this paper has already established as a necessity in its examination of preparation.
Some vital information a discipleship counselor would want to know about any person he or she is counseling is that person’s conversion story.  Has this person truly experienced regeneration?  Does this person understand biblical repentance and faith?  One would also need to know about his or her understanding of the gospel and progressive sanctification.  Does this person understand how God works to bring about change and growth in the Christian life?  Does this person understand that their presenting problem is God’s means of helping them to grow in relationship and dependence on him?  One should quickly address these issues at the outset of a discipleship counseling relationship.   
The second question Tripp says one must ask in order to “know” focuses on behavior.  “What is the person’s response to what is going on?”  The discipleship counselor must watch out for themes and patterns in the disciples’ life, and the typical ways that he or she responds to his or her circumstances.  Themes and patterns give insight into what is going on in the person’s heart.  Are there idols one must uncover?  Is there pattern of sin one must confront?[46]  
The third question in the “know” aspect of Tripp’s ministry model is, “What does the person think about what is going on?”  As Tripp says, people are meaning makers and they seek to understand what is going on in their lives.  Moreover, the thoughts of their hearts precede and determine their activities.  Therefore, a discipleship counselor must help the disciple see his or her situation from a biblical perspective.  The aim is to enable the disciple to interpret his or her circumstances with the truth of Scripture so that biblical change can occur in the disciple’s heart, and consequently affect behavior.[47] 
The final question in the “know” portion of Tripp’s ministry model is, “What does the person hope to gain from what is going on?” What are the person’s desires, goals, purposes, treasures, motives, values and idols?  What is he or she living for?  What really rules his or her heart?  Whatever rules one’s heart will control one’s behavior.  One’s behavior is always an attempt to get what is important to him from people and situations.  Therefore, real change will always include the motive of one’s heart.[48] 
“Speak” is the third aspect of Tripp’s ministry model.  Once the discipleship counselor understands the disciple’s situation, responses, motives and behavior, and has thoroughly examined them through the lense of Scripture, then he or she is ready to speak the truth.  One must speak the truth in love, and with God’s goal of change and sanctification in mind.  The discipleship counselor’s goal is to help the disciple see himself or herself in the mirror of Scripture, and be God’s instrument in bringing him to repentance.[49]  A quote from Tripp fittingly describes how one should speak the truth:
My goal is that through the things I say (message), the way that I say them (methods), and the attitudes I express (character), God will change the heart of this person. A mistake we often make is to emphasize the law over the gospel.  But Romans 2:4 and 2 Cor. 5:14 show that it is God's kindness and love that compels us to change.  The grace of the gospel turns our hearts and forgiveness is abundantly available.[50]  

In speaking the truth there are four goals the discipleship counselor must seek to accomplish.  First, he or she wants the disciple to contemplate their sin from a biblical perspective.  Therefore, the discipleship counselor must point the disciple to the Scriptures that specifically address his or her situationA simple way to do this is to assign Scripture passages as homework, and request that they answer three simple questions.  What is the main point of the passage?  How does the passage apply to the disciple’s situation?   What is God saying to the disciple about his or her situation from this text?[51] 
 The hope is when the disciple measures himself or herself against the Scriptures; the disciple will acknowledge his or her sinful attitudes and behavior, and thus confess.  Confession is the second goal in speaking the truth.  A sincere confession according to Tripp is one that is concrete and specific with no “buts” or “ifs.” The problem is sinners often find confession difficult. They want to deny, explain away, blame, defend, and hide. Tripp cautions that one must take care not to confess for someone or to assume confession.  Instead, one must encourage a person to make their own confession to the Lord, and to those against whom he or she has sinned.[52]
After genuine confession, the discipleship counselor must seek the disciple’s commitment to God’s agenda for change and sanctification.  The question to ask is how, specifically, is God calling this person to a new way of living?  To what new ways of thinking is God calling him or her?  What new biblical desires would God want to control the disciple’s heart?  To what new responses is God calling him or her?  In what new ways is God calling the disciple to serve others?  What behaviors must the disciple strip off?  What new behaviors or ways of living does he or she need to put on?  What steps of correction and restitution is God calling him or her to make?  What new habits does the disciple need to cultivate?  Is this brother or sister committed to making these changes?[53]
Mack fundamentally agrees with Tripp concerning commitment, but sheds further light on the subject.  Mack uses the acronym A-C-C-E-P-T to highlight six factors of what he considers a biblical commitment.  The first factor is to accept personal responsibility for thought and actions, for this is the initial step toward biblical change.  The second factor is to choose to view one’s life, past and present, from a biblical point of view.  Third, one must commit to eliminating anything that hinders biblical change.  Adams calls this principal radical amputation.  Fourth, one must exert effort toward the goal.  Fifth, one must preserve toward obedience.  Finally, one must trust God for the strength and resources to change (Philip. 2:12-13).[54]
Once the discipleship counselor determines there is a genuine commitment to change, he or she must help the disciple develop and adopt a plan to implement the required changes in his or her life.  Tripp warns, “It is easy to assume that change has taken place because a person has gained insight and made new commitments.  But that would be a mistake.  Change hasn’t taken place until change has taken place!”[55]
The final part of Paul Tripp’s ministry model is “do,” and it requires that the discipleship counselor establish a plan for ministry, clarify responsibility, reinforce the truth about one’s identity in Christ, and provide accountability.  One of the most vital elements of a discipleship counselor’s ministry plan will be scripturally focused homework.  Adams concurs when he writes, “Giving homework --- work to do between sessions --- speeds up counseling, takes it out of the artificial setting of the counseling room into the arena where life is lived, and keeps the counselee from becoming dependent on the counselor.”[56]  Adams goes to say that homework ought to be given after every session, for it gives the one being counseled the opportunity to follow through on the commitments he or she made during the counseling sessions.  In addition, it gives one the opportunity to learn how to apply the truth, strip off sin and put on righteousness.[57]
Mack terms Tripp’s “do” implementation.  He says it involves three essential elements.  First, the discipleship counselor must plan specific strategies to aid his or her disciple in living out pertinent biblical truth.  It is not enough to tell the disciple what to do; the discipleship counselor must teach him or her how to do it.  Next, the disciple practices the truths taught in real life.  Finally, the disciple perseveres in applying biblical truth until new godly patterns of thinking, feeling and living have become a part of the disciple’s life.[58]         
Tripp says it is one thing to have a plan for change and spiritual growth, but it is another to exercise the necessary perseverance in implementing it.  A disciple battling against sin will have to fight many spiritual battles, and there will likely be times of discouragement and frustration.  Therefore, discipleship counselors must continually encourage their disciples by pointing them to the resources that are theirs in Christ (Eph. 1:3-14; 2 Pet. 1:3-4).  Since change is difficult, and it demands tremendous determination, a discipleship counselor must provide loving accountability.[59]  Tripp says, “Accountability is about providing loving structure, guidance, assistance, encouragement, and warning to a person who is fully committed to the change God is working in his life.”[60]  Of course, in addition to the discipleship counselor, the disciple must be encouraged to maintain accountability with the local church.  In Mack’s words, “Since the Church is described as Christ’s body, putting on the Lord Jesus Christ means getting involved in a local church (Col. 1:18, 24). We need to exhort our counselees to become vitally, not just casually, involved in a church where Christ can meet their needs in a special way.”[61]
Biblical Objectives in Discipleship Counseling
Adams says there are three major objectives in discipleship counseling.  The first goal, honoring God, is the most important; the other two goals are instrumental to attaining it.  The additional two goals are building the disciple up in the faith, and strengthening the church.[62]   Scripture passages such as 1Cor. 10:31, and Col. 3:17, undergird Adams’ contention.  The Bible clearly teaches that a disciple who honors and glorifies God will strive to reflect his or her Heavenly Father’s character, and seek to live in accordance with his perfect will and purpose as revealed in Scripture.  Consequently, a discipleship counselor ought to clarify this vital truth to his or her disciple at the outset of the counseling relationship, along with an overview of God’s means for accomplishing it, namely progressive sanctification.
As Adams said, a discipleship counselor pursues the overarching goal of honoring God by building his or her disciple up in the faith, or in other words helping the disciple grow in Christian maturity.   Col. 1:28-29 fittingly describes this goal, “We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me (NASB).”  Likewise, a discipleship counselor ought to labor and strive toward the goal of presenting his or her disciple complete in Christ by means of the Spirit’s empowering grace.  What does this labor look like in practical terms?
Many times when a believer comes to a discipleship counselor for help with a problem of living, he or she’s need for such help is due to the fact he or she has never been properly discipled.  Shaw lamenting the lack of discipleship in the modern church wrote, “. . . the Christian church today has a lot spiritually malnourished “born again” Christians.”[63]  Therefore, the first task of a discipleship counselor is to make sure his or her disciples become knowledgeable and skilled in using the means of grace.  Spiritual disciplines such as consistent Bible reading, Scripture memorization, prayer, worship and service must be solidly established the disciple’s life for two vital reasons.  First, these disciplines will further their familiarity and intimacy with God.  Second, these disciplines will serve to equip them in dealing with the inevitable problems of living that they will encounter in the future.
Second, the discipleship counselor must seek to equip his or her disciples with key biblical concepts for overcoming his or her specific problems of living.  These biblical concepts are basically more focused applications of the means of grace.  They include righteous actions such as repentance, radical amputation (Matt. 5:27-30), putting off and putting on (Eph. 4:22-24), taking thoughts captive (2 Cor. 10:5), and renewing the mind (Rom. 12:2).  An astute discipleship counselor will help his or her disciples envision how these key biblical concepts can also be applied to all imminent problems of living. 
Third, the discipleship counselor ought to teach his or her disciple how to preach the gospel to himself or herself every day. This skill is essential because one’s desire to glorify God flows out of one’s love for Him.  Love for God supernaturally grows as one becomes thoroughly acquainted, and enraptured by his mercy, grace and love as expressed through the gospel.  A quote from a recent article by Fitzpatrick confirms why immersion in the gospel is essential:
It is the whole message of the gospel that has the power to transform impatient, guilty, selfish, despairing idolaters into free and joyful worshippers of the Living God. The whole message of the gospel includes His incarnation, sinless life, substitutionary death, bodily resurrection, ascension, reign and return.  Seeing Jesus and His glorious work is the only power strong enough to transforms us from “one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18) or as John Owen wrote, “Here in this life, beholding the glory of the Lord [true believers] are changed into his likeness. Hereafter they will be like Him for they will see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2).[64]

While these three goals are by no means exhaustive, they will go a long way in helping a disciple grow spiritually.  Surely, if a discipleship counselor equips his or her disciple with the means of grace, key biblical concepts for dealing with problems of living, and the daily discipline of gospel immersion, his or her disciple will indeed experience significant spiritual progress, and thereby glorify God.   
The final objective Adams mentioned was strengthening the church. Obviously, if individual Christians are growing spiritually it will fortify the church.  However, the wise discipleship counselor will have something even greater in mind. From the beginning of the discipling relationship, he or she will strive to build a discipling vision in the one to whom he or she is ministering.  In other words, the discipleship counselor will work to help the disciple see his or her particular problem as God’s means of equipping him or her for ministry. A disciple must see that God aims to use him or her in helping others who are struggling in similar ways.  Paul’s discussion of his suffering and experience of God’s comfort in 2 Cor. 1 is a biblical illustration of this concept.  Paul writes, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God (2 Cor. 1:3-4 NASB).”  Clearly, when God enables a believer to overcome a problem of living, he intends that one use that experience to minister to others, whether it be suffering or overcoming a particular sin.
Certainly, at the beginning of a discipling relationship, many disciples will be in doubt or overwhelmed by the idea that God intends to use them in ministry.  However, a prudent discipleship counselor should continually strive to help the disciple see that his or her increased knowledge of the Scriptures, greater submission to the Spirit, and practical experience gained through intense discipling, are indeed training for ministering to others. Granted such ministry may not be in the church counseling room, but opportunities will abound at home, the workplace and anywhere where one is likely to encounters fellow strugglers.
This article’s aim was to define and describe the biblical essentials for discipleship counseling.  Admittedly, it has merely scratched the surface, for entire books have been devoted to this vital subject.  Nevertheless, if one embraces and applies the principles briefly outlined, namely, spiritual preparation, a biblical methodology and scriptural objectives, he or she will have made a good start towards becoming a properly equipped discipleship counselor, or as Tripp would put it, an instrument in the Redeemer’s hands.    

[1]Mark Shaw, Strength in Numbers. (Bemidji, MN: Focus Publishing, 2009), 10.
[2]Jay E. Adams, Competent to Counsel,(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1970), 20.
[3]Jay E. Adams, The Christian Counselors Manual, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1973), 6-7.
[4]BCC Staff.  “The BCC Confessional Statement, Part 3: Progressive Sanctification” (2012) [online] Accessed 4 Jan. 2012.  Available from http://biblicalcounselingcoalition.org/blogs/2012/01/04/the-bcc-confessional-statement-part-3-progressive-sanctification/; Internet.
[5]Jerry Bridges, The Discipline of Grace: God's Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness, (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2006), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 108.
[6]Jay E. Adams, Competent to Counsel,(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1970), 23.
[7]Ibid., 22.
[8]Ibid., 22.
[10]Robert W. Kellemen, Equipping Counselors for Your Church,(Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2011), 179-187.

[12]Jay E. Adams, Competent to Counsel,(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1970), 23.
[13]Jay E. Adams, How to Help People,(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 29-32.
[14]David Powlison, Seeing With New Eyes (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2011), 17.
[15]Ibid., 17-34.
[16]Stuart Scott, “Gaining A Balanced Picture on God’s Counsel” (2011) [online].  Accessed 22 Nov. 2011.  Available from http://biblicalcounselingcoalition.org/resources/gaining-a-balanced-picture-on-gods-counsel; Internet.
[18]Shaw, 49.
[19]Paul David Tripp, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands: People in Need of Change Helping Others in Need of Change (Phillipsburg: P &R Publishing, 2002), 157.
[21]David Powlison, Speaking Truth In Love (Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2005), 191.
[22]Kellemen, 204.
[23]Jay E. Adams, A Theology of Christian Counseling: More Than Redemption (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979), 61.
[24]BCC Staff.  “The BCC Confessional Statement, Part 3: Progressive Sanctification” (2012) [online] Accessed 4 Jan. 2012.  Available from http://biblicalcounselingcoalition.org/blogs/2012/01/04/the-bcc-confessional-statement-part-3-progressive-sanctification/; Internet.
[25]Shaw, 48.
[26]Paul David Tripp & Timothy S. Lane, Helping Others Change (Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2000), Lesson 1, 8.
[27]Tripp, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, 59.
[29]Ibid., 59-60.
[31]Ibid., 72.   
[32]Tripp, Helping Others Change, Lesson 2,7. 
[34]John MacArthur, F., Jr, Wayne A. Mack and Master's College, Introduction to Biblical Counseling : Basic Guide to the Principles and Practice of Counseling, Electronic ed. (Dallas, TX: Word Pub., 1997), 173-297.
[35]Tripp, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, 109.
[36]Tripp, Helping Others Change, Lesson 5,6.
[37]MacArthur, 175.
[39]Tripp, Helping Others Change, Lesson 5,6.  
[42]MacArthur, 184.
[43]Tripp, Helping Others Change, Lesson 6. 
[44]MacArthur, 210.
[45]Tripp, Helping Others Change,Lessons 7-8.
[49]Tripp, Helping Others Change, Lessons 9-10.
[50]Ibid., Lesson 9, 4.
[51]Ibid., Lessons 9-10.
[52]Ibid., Lessons 9-10.
[53]Tripp, Helping Others Change, Lessons 9-10.
[54] MacArthur, 269-271.
[55]Tripp, Helping Others Change, Lessons 9-10.
[56]Jay Adams, Critical Stages of Biblical Counseling, (Hackettstown:NJ, Timeless Texts, 2004), 65.
[57] Ibid. 66
[58]MacArthur, 284.
[59]Tripp, Helping Others Change, Lessons 11-12.
[60]Ibid., Lesson 12, 6.
[61]MacArthur, 288.
[62]Adams, The Christian Counselor’s Manual, 235.
[63]Shaw, 30.
[64] Elyse Fitzpatrick. “The Transforming Power of the Cross,” (June. 2011), [online], accessed 25 June 2011; available from http://christiancounseling.com/content/the-transforming-power-of-the-cross.

No comments: