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In this podcast, I’m addressing those six qualities in order of importance, though all of them are non-negotiable.
1 – Theology – You don’t necessarily need a Bible degree. But you must have a passion and solid work ethic when it comes to studying God’s Word. You must know Systematic and Biblical Theology. You have to understand theological terms and what they mean practically. It’s vital to know the Bible from cover to cover.
In a counseling session, your mind should function as a fast-moving index that is rolling through God’s Word repeatedly as you’re listening to a counselee. You’re asking the Lord to give you insight from His entire counsel. It won’t do to know a handful of Scriptures and plaster them over every person you meet.
The Old Testament stories must be as familiar to you as the back of your hand. You can connect them biblically, quickly, and practically to the person you’re helping. You do this pneumatically rather than pre-planning. You never prepare the night before for this kind of counseling. You’re walking in the Spirit, and He’s accessing the work that you’ve done for years, as you have poured God’s practical Word into your mind.
2 – Suffering – The suffering in view here is in your past, not your present. A person going through something is too subjective and emotional to help others. They are tempted to map their current hardship over the person they are helping. They have not worked through their suffering, which distorts clarity when trying to care for someone.
I’m talking about a seasoned sufferer. He has gone through all the stages—whatever they are—and can look back on the pain with gratitude, hope, clarity, and practical wisdom. This person’s suffering is not making them into something but has already completed the task. The seasoned sufferer brings the “benefits of suffering” to the counselee.
Things like wisdom, patience, courage, compassion, hope, grace, kindness, rebuke, toughness, self-control, perseverance, insight, discernment, and understanding. These gifts come from a person who is on the other side of the crucible of suffering. God forges these things into His candidates, and they come out golden. High-end, formalized counselors are not rookies. They have been tried and tested by the fires of personal suffering.
3 – Application – Some folks know a lot about the Bible and have experienced a lot of pain, but they are not excellent counselors. The reason is that they do not know how to connect God’s Word in such a way to a hurting soul that it makes sense to that person. You can’t overstate practical wisdom.
God gives some folks the ability to get in the trenches with a sufferer and walk them out of it. Other theologians, who have suffered a lot, cannot do this. Though you can learn a lot about psychology—the study of the soul, according to God’s Word—it does not mean you can practicalize it in real-time and relevant ways.
It’s analogous to studying your favorite sport. There are many intellectual general managers (or coaches) of sport’s teams, but they were lousy athletes. They understand the game inside and out, but they can’t perform it on the field of play. A Christian can be similar in that they don’t have the mind to counsel well. You can know a lot about the Bible, but only God gives the gifts to “perform well.”
4 – Internal Calling – Many Christians “feel the burden” to help others. Most of the time, it’s because they have gone through something horrific. They have a passionate and genuine desire to help others from having similar experiences. They want to serve. But they are not gifted for this kind of work. The internal call is subjective, and it can’t be the only reason you want to get into counseling. There must be an external call, too, in addition to these other non-negotiables.
5 – External Calling – Someone besides your mother and spouse sees these counseling qualities in you. Our friends can be sympathetic toward us and affirm us without wisdom or careful analysis. But if you have the gifting, there will be those who have “experienced you in transformative ways” or those who have heard about you.
I’m speaking of your reputation. It is who you are, and you can’t escape it. People that know me in my town will tell you that I’m a counselor. That is the first thing that comes to their minds. Even when I was a pastor, folks would ask if I was the counseling pastor. Nobody would ever come up to me and say I’m that singer or actor or athlete. I am not those things, and never will be. But there have been a zillion affirmations about counseling. And though that is not what I want to be known for, it’s inescapable.
6 – Gathering Ability – I have known a few ambitious men who wanted to be a high-end, formalized, biblical counselor. Sadly, nobody else had that perspective. No matter how hard they tried, folks were not lining up to meet with them. Bloggers, pastors, singers, actors, and business people can be similar.
The bottom line is that if you’re good at it, others will gather around you. If you’re not good at it, you won’t draw attention or requests from others. This reality is only unfortunate if your ambition won’t accommodate another option for your life. If you’re a square peg, the best thing you can do is find a square hole. If not, you’ll always be discontent, which will bleed over into how you do life and relationships.
If you’re interested in becoming a seasoned, gifted, biblical counselor, here are a few things for you to do. Get with someone who knows you, loves you, and won’t “rubber stamp” you. And ask them these questions.
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).