[Dr. Todd Hardin serves as Grace Baptist Church’s Minister of Care and Counseling where he directs the Charis in Action Counseling Center. He holds a Doctor of Ministry degree in Biblical Counseling from Westminster Theological Seminary. He is also a PhD. student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Todd lives with his wife Brenda and their two boys in Knoxville, Tennessee. He is our blogger for the month of May and this is his first post.]
As the director of a church-based counseling center, I have the privilege of entering the worlds of hurting Christians every day. As I go about this calling, Christ constantly reminds me that counseling is at its most basic level, personal ministry.
This idea of counseling as personal ministry often gets lost in the labels we give ourselves. For example, there are Christian psychologists, Christian counselors, Christian spiritual directors, and even Christian social workers. In these titles, I think we often overemphasize the nouns to the detriment of the adjectives. How can we best think “Christianly” about those who come for help? In this brief article, I want to explain the four big questions that I ask myself as I sit down with every Christian counselee. I think these questions will help encourage us to see those in our care through the eyes of Christ, regardless of our theoretical orientations.
Who is this person?
As a Christian, I must allow the Bible to define my understanding of the person. The Bible calls Christians “light[s] of the world” (Matt 5:14). As I listen to the person’s story, I continually ask myself, “How is Christ shining His light through this individual’s personality, relationships, background, and life?”
Where is this person struggling?
As the person’s story unfolds, the plot of a troubling story slowly emerges. As I reflect on this tale of woe, I explore the details of the story that give the narrative its color and tone. I am mindful of the person’s status as a child of God and I try to remember that regardless of the actions of this person, Christ died for him. It helps me to think of Jesus’ behavior toward struggling believers, “a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench” (Matt 12:20a). A detailed exploration of the person’s troubling story usually gives me an extensive understanding of the bruises and smoke in the person’s life. As I gather the troubling story, I seek to bring the person to a redemptive encounter with Christ.
What does God say to this person in the midst of the struggle?
Regardless of the problem, God speaks through His Son to the Christian (Heb 1:2). Unfortunately, in most cases, troubled Christians often lose sight of Christ when navigating the storms of life. In bringing the person to Christ, I try to focus on His functions as prophet, priest, and king. These functions provide signposts pointing to their missing Messiah.
First, with Christ as prophet, I encourage this person to ask the question, “What is Christ declaring?” What claim does the gospel make to the person about his identity and the condition of the world in the midst of his situation and experience? We find these truths revealed in the Scriptures.
Second, with Christ as priest, I want the person to ask the question, “What is Christ doing?” What comfort does the gospel bring to this person in the midst of his situation and experience? We find these comforts by reinterpreting our troubling stories from Jesus’ perspective instead of our own.
Third, with Christ as king, I urge the person to ask the question, “What is Christ demanding?” What call does the gospel put upon the person in the midst of his situation and experience? In other words, Christ bids his children to respond to their troubling stories in ways that glorify Him.
These questions reintroduce Christ into a person’s struggle while helping him heed the following words to “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and lets [him] run with endurance the race that is set out before [him], looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of [his] faith…” (Heb 12:1-2).
How does Christ want me to minister to this person?
To view people, problems, and the prescription to those problems Christianly, we need to see people as Jesus sees them. Puritan pastor Richard Sibbes gives us a glimpse Jesus’ perspective when he writes:
Christ’s sheep are week sheep, and lacking in something or other; he therefore applies himself to the necessities of every sheep. He seeks that which was lost, and brings again that which was driven out of the way, and binds up that which was broken, and strengthens the weak… His tenderest care is over the weakest.[i]
What does this look like practically in the counseling room? In borrowing Sibbes’ illustration of the Messiah from Isaiah 42:1-3, we counselors should see our counselees as bruised reeds and smoking candlesticks (“flax” in Sibbes’ terms). The bruises represent sufferings, the smoke represents entangling sins, and the small flame represents the hope of the gospel. In rendering aid to these hurting people, we must, regardless of our theoretical orientations, follow Christ’s example by not “quench[ing] the smoking flax, but blow[ing] on it till it flames.”[ii] This requires that we cut through the sin and sufferings, locate the faintest gospel spark, and nurse it until it overwhelms the smoky cloud that envelopes the person’s soul.
Join the Conversation
As you think about those under your care, have you been quenching their smoking candlesticks or fanning them until they flame with the hope of the gospel?
[i] Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed (Edinburgh, UK: Banner of Truth), 14-15).
[ii] Ibid., 50.