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While there could be wisdom in referring a person to someone more trained in the art of discipleship, it should never be a foregone conclusion that we should “farm out” all situational difficulties to a so-called professional.
When Paul thought about discipleship, he had a singular focus that continually drilled down into every Christian’s responsibility to bring sanctification care to each other. He presumed Christian soul care happened at home, in the community, and in the local church. Here is an example of his counseling worldview.
I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another (Romans 15:14).
We build our lives upon what we know about God, but there has been a compromise in our ability to transfer what we know about Him to the next generation. The problem is not primarily with the seeker coming through the doors on Sunday.
The issue is with you and me—the believers in God’s church who do not know how to walk a person through a counseling issue. Let’s make it personal: can you counsel (Romans 15:14)? To frame it more biblically: can you disciple a person through a situational difficulty?
I am not asking if you can sing or play an instrument. I am not asking if you can run the video or sound equipment at the church meetings. I am not asking if you can facilitate the games at your youth gatherings. All of these things have their place, but at the end of the day, the music will stop, the video will fade to black, and the games will be over.
The more crucial question is, “Can you do what Paul was fully confident the church in his day could do?” If you or I cannot do this, ultimately, we will not be any good to each other. The struggling soul may like us. They may think we are cool. They may be crazy in love with our church, but if we cannot disciple them through their problems, our Christianity is no better than the answers provided by our culture.
The point of the gospel is transformation. Christ came to do His Father’s will, which was a divine rescue of His fallen image bearers (Hebrews 2:14-15). The Lord was acutely aware of our condition, so He made a plan to deliver us from ourselves (Hebrews 12:2).
The two big doctrinal words for this are salvation and sanctification. The first step in the Lord’s transformation plan for us is to be born a second time (John 3:7). The next step is a process that continues until we arrive in heaven. It is progressive, as we are experiencing gradual transformation into Christlikeness (Romans 12:12; Ephesians 4:22-24).
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you (Matthew 28:19-20).
The Lord decided to use the agency of humankind as part of His plan to make people into the likeness of His Son. This privilege is an amazing and sobering responsibility. Every man, woman, and child, who is a follower of Christ, is called to invest themselves in the soul care of others.
The work of soul care has several synonyms: discipleship, mentoring, counseling, “one-another-ing,” coaching, and equipping. There are other labels. All of these synonyms consist of two main parts: (1) Bible knowledge and (2) the application of Bible knowledge.
The fundamental tenet of discipleship is the application of God’s Word into our lives. The hardest part of the discipleship process is becoming adept at applying Bible knowledge in practical and reasonable ways in a person’s life.
This struggle is one of the reasons most churches have more Bible studies than Bible application classes: learning is more straightforward than applying. The average Christian learns proportionally more about the Bible than he learns how to live it out in their day-to-day lives practically.
Counseling is the practical application of God’s Word in a person’s life, right where he is living and struggling today. There are times when the discipler has to teach Bible knowledge, primarily if a person has no association with Christianity. Even if this teaching is needed, the discipler is aware of how the person needs more than knowledge.
The authentic transformation of a soul will not happen to any person if they do not go beyond what they know about the Bible. They must practicalize their knowledge of the Bible and custom-fit it to who they are and how they live.
A sanctification breakdown or general dysfunction in a person’s life can fly under the radar for many years, never discerned or discovered until they have relational conflict. And when conflict does arise, it typically manifests in one of two places:
The reason these two contexts are ripe for dysfunction is that these are long-term contexts where fallen people cannot escape from each other.
Too many people in these situations do not have the tools they need to live peacefully with each other. They may know their Bibles, but they can struggle with how to apply the truths from the Bible to their lives. The call is upon the church to teach Christians how to be Christ-centered companions rather than co-existing combatants.
This responsibility is our calling. Preaching, worshipping, serving, and all the other aspects of ministry are excellent and essential for Christian growth, but none of them will bring long-term, sustainable, relational harmony between two people unless there is intentional, intrusive disciple-making happening in their lives.
Though some people may be more gifted at discipleship than others, Paul did not envision a two-tier system. The Lord does not exclude anyone within the body of Christ from the call to disciple. Regardless of where you are in your relationship with Christ, you can help another person in their relationship with Christ.
Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ (John 4:29)?
There is no “magic level” or tier within the Christian community where you are certified and officially released to disciple someone. You can be a Christian counselor or, the better term, disciple-maker, regardless of your tenure within the Christian community. There are no haves and have-nots.
Part of the tension regarding counseling hinges on the question, “What is counseling?” Counseling is sharing your Christlike life and biblical opinions with another person. Ironically, every time you talk, you are counseling. You are sharing yourself with someone and, thus, affecting that person either for good or for evil.
I am not sure every Christian knows this. The “counseling question” never hinges on whether you are a counselor, but whether the words, actions, and attitudes you use are helping someone to experience transformation into Christ, or is it hindering them in their need for Christlikeness?
Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:20).
Fundamental Truth: You are counseling every day of your life. You are a counselor right now. You are an ambassador for Christ, exporting His vision, in a good or bad way, to others by the life you live. The real issue here is about the kind of life you are exporting to others. Here is a simple test that I give to people who want to know if they are Christian disciple-makers (counselors).
If you answered yes—the only right answer—to all of the questions, you are a Christian counselor. If you prefer the word discipler, that is fine. I prefer that word as well. Another term that you could use is biblical friendship.
Being a counselor or disciple-maker is an automatic upgrade that God bakes into your job description after He regenerates you. Here are some excellent questions for us counselors to ask ourselves about this worldview.
As you think about your friends, begin asking the Lord to help you to answer these questions. Think deeply about how you can bring God’s Word to bear on the lives of the people in your immediate sphere of influence.
The essence of the gospel is going. The word go is a significant component of the Christian’s mission. As imitators of Christ, we want to do what He did: we must go to others to help them (Philippians 2:5-8).
My hope is you will continue to learn God’s Word. I hope you are always a student of the Scriptures. Never stop learning (2 Timothy 2:15). With that said, I further appeal to you to go beyond gaining Bible knowledge. I urge you to learn how to connect God’s Word to real and complicated areas that are in your friends’ lives.
I want you to be motivated to gain more than knowledge. I want you to step up to your calling to care for souls. Do not be Red Sea Christians—always importing water from the Jordan River but having no means of exporting it to others.
Here are a few verses I trust will spur you on in your desire to care for others. Read through each one of these verses, praying, and asking the Father to give you wisdom, insight, grace, and courage to practically advance His Word into the lives of others.
Many of my readers use our articles as part of their devotions. Because my writings are almost exclusively about the application of God’s Word, this could be a helpful resource to assist you. Some pastors and small group leaders use these articles as handouts for those who receive their care. You can do this too.
Some folks print these articles and use them as homework assignments for others. I regularly email article links to those I counsel. I ask them to join our site, so they can continue to receive discipleship care outside the counseling office.
Our Members have subscribed to our site so they can read all of the resources, as well as support us in helping those who come to us but can’t afford this type of care. Our supporters are part of a private community where they can ask questions that help them to help others practically.
You also can enroll in our self-paced discipleship training (counseling), and distance education course. Our mission is to help people by providing practical tools and ongoing training for effective living. It does not matter what option you take as long as you are adding the practical application of God’s Word as part of your ongoing training. Paul’s assumption was you want to do this because you are a counselor.
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).