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In Peter Thiel’s book, Zero to One, he talks about what makes one company stand out, excelling because it differs from the others. He says that if you’re copying everyone else, you’re just like them, and you’ll learn nothing new; you’ll drown in a sea of sameness. His premise is that if we do what we already know how to do, we’re taking the world from “one to N” (nothing). But suppose we are doing something others in our demographic are not doing. In that case, we’re not moving horizontally like the rest but going from zero to one because we are adding to what everyone else is doing.
Going from zero to one, you’re adding more to something familiar; it’s new and improved. Going from zero to one is an act of a singular, one-time, never repeated event. It’s new. It’s different. Every created thing is a particular act, like the moment of creation. God went from zero to one in Genesis 1 and 2, giving us something new, fresh, and never known. If we cannot go from zero to one, we will stagnate, bloat in a sea of sameness, and eventually fail. Companies that don’t create something new will blend into the fabric of redundancy and eventually lose force and focus, leading to inevitable failure.
Similar to our sanctification, we cannot be static beings. We are new creations at our new birth, and there is a call on our lives to keep adding to our uniqueness, creating something strange, different, and invigorating. The Christian that goes from “one to n” is not learning but copying or imitating—lacking imagination. Perhaps not a Christian at all. Thus, the question is, what makes us different from the other acronyms? Why is our “biblical counseling ministry” not like the rest but continues to explore how to add to the same old, same old to become new and improved? What is your answer?
Best practices lead to dead ends, says Peter Thiel. The best paths are new and untried. Best practices are the things we know to be accurate, so we implement them because others have demonstrated their worth. The problem with best practices is they become rote, ritualistic, and religious. They become Spiritless because learning, imagining, exploring, failing, and succeeding cease. We paint by numbers, playing it safe. Best practices at best are horizontal building stones, not vertical structures. If you’re starting a ministry and implementing all the best practices that others are doing, you have not distinguished yourself from them, but you’re imitating them, adding to their redundancy.
Those practices will take you as far as it has taken them, but why should anyone want what you offer? You’re not distinguishing yourself from the pack by providing something so different and compelling that folks desire what you offer because they want to grow beyond the status quo. At the end of the 80s, IBM ruled the computer world with its mainframes. Then came the PC, a new king of the hill, not because it was different, though it was, but because it was better. Then came the mobile phone, supplanting the PC as the ubiquitous device for the masses. Whether it’s a business, ministry, or our sanctification, there must be stepping stones to something better and taller because it’s inherent in us from our Creator to create. In this case, I’m speaking of our ministry: why do we work at not being like every other acronym?
The answer to the question I’ve been asking is that we’re not just a training organization that provides biblical counseling information for Christians. Oh, yes; we teach, train, equip, and give data on all things counseling—like the others, but we do one thing more. We take information from its classical context and work with the unique person to make it original to them, according to their unique skills, talents, gift mix, and abilities. All BC organizations provide education; they are primarily informational, but rather than being like them, we customize the academic environment to the person’s unique life and context, helping them mature into the best disciple-maker they can be—according to who they are. There is a fatal flaw in most academic training: it’s informational to the student but not transformational, other than the passive change that happens from learning anything new.
I have talked about classical knowledge and original knowledge often. The former is the data you get in a classroom. It’s essential and foundational. It’s instructional. However, it takes more than classical training to become a good disciple-maker because it’s only theoretical, informational learning. It’s similar to any classical training. For example, you can learn how to be a farmer by going to school, and you will learn much. You can learn how to take pictures by understanding the mechanics of a camera, even to the point where you can instruct others. However, your training is limited in both instances because there is no field experience—no trial and error in real-world contexts. Biblical counseling organizations can only provide you with instruction, plus artificially constructed, albeit inferior practicums like case studies.
They cannot mentor you in the field—for years, providing unique analysis, insight, customized care, and specific training in the real-life milieu in which you live. At Life Over Coffee, we walk out of the classroom with you, come alongside you in whatever your discipleship endeavors may be, and look over your shoulder as you hold that camera, coaching you according to your capacity. The best most counseling organizations can do is provide you with CEUs, which is “continuing classical information” that packs more data into your brain. Still, it does not take you into account. They can provide you with the latest knowledge on the crisis in the church, e.g., “We need to equip our team in best practices for abuse.” So they build a CEU on abuse, and everyone gets the information. What is wrong with this model?
The implication is that everyone will get the data, and no matter how good it is, the assumption is that they have trained their folks. But they do not have the training they need because there is no skill assessment over an extended period. There is no quality control to ensure that every person who received the training can administer it in the field. It’s a tragic mistake because we can tick the box, saying, “We have provided [this training] in the year of our Lord, 2023,” and feel satisfied, even thinking, “Our counselors are equipped.” That is how the American education system works: “Let’s give them the information and assume, post-graduation from high school, they will excel because they passed all their exams.” Most of them won’t succeed because proper training does not work that way.
Suppose you are a pastor and have received an M.Div, the formal classical training to become a pastor. Now you’re in your first pastorate. Do you have all the training you need? You probably have as much academic education as you need, understanding that you’re a lifetime learner, so there is no urgency or fretting about not having enough education. However, there is another problem. You have not been field tested. Every pastor knows this because what you learn academically in a controlled classroom full of fellow Elisha’s plays out much differently when you’re in the wilderness with unique problems. Even if you had case study training, you now know it was insufficient. Having an “Elijah,” an experienced mentor with whom you can talk it out, would be best. And I’m not merely suggesting problem-solving the situation at hand but examining your soul, too.
Training in a classical setting cannot assess or discern these things, making traditional biblical counseling training insufficient. Having a certificate means something, but it’s a drop in the bucket compared to what you need. It takes five years of counseling daily to mature into what you should be as a counselor. If you’re only counseling one or two folks occasionally, it will be ten years—or more, assuming someone is coming alongside you, caring for you outside an academic setting.
Our ministry stands out from almost every other acronym because we go from zero to one, not one to n. We provide classical training through articles, podcasts, videos, topical courses, Daily Messages, and the Mastermind Program, but we add to our classical instruction for those who want ongoing mentoring. We have a community of friends who want to know what “all this education” in biblical counseling means to them in real-world settings. I’m not merely talking about how they can be better disciple-makers, as measured by how they care for others. That is an endpoint.
Our training starts with discerning how God made them, where they are in the sanctification process, strengths and weaknesses, and then we track outward from who they are to how they administer themselves to others. Some folks in our community come to us with degrees in biblical counseling. Others come with certifications. Still, others have years of experience in discipling. A few of them enter our Mastermind Program. However, we realize that is not the best fit for everyone, so we offer different “original knowledge opportunities” for each person to learn according to who they are. All of the training intersects in our private forums, where we interact with each other daily. We treat no one the same because nobody is the same.
If the biblical counseling movement intends to survive, it must figure out how to do more than educate people—according to the principle of classical knowledge. Our American education system is an abysmal failure because of this approach, which is one reason school choice—including homeschooling—is a superb idea. Everyone is different, and if all we’re going to do is flood the world with folks who have sat through classes while glomming on a few theoretical and artificial case studies, we will never see the majority of them become all they could be because nobody came along and asked the obvious question, “Do you understand what you’re reading? (Acts 8:30-31).
Do you consider yourself skilled because you have received academic training? Perhaps you have a certificate that says you have finished a training regimen. That is fantastic, and something you should celebrate. However, do you realize that a training regimen is a dedicated track that takes you down a predetermined pathway that does not consider you? All academic training or classical knowledge is formulaic, designed to give everyone the same information. That method would work well if we were computerized robots: data in, data out. But we’re not robots. We’re humans that God made in His image.
There is an added twist: we are totally depraved and uniquely fallen. Consider that last part—uniquely fallen. Adam works differently in every person, all 7+ billion of us. Nobody is the same. Knowing you’re different from everyone you know, do you believe receiving the same training, degree, or certificate as everyone else can accommodate your uniqueness? What about the unique context, culture, community, or country in which you live? How does the same training help you with those various hurdles? Of course, since each person is uniquely fallen, everyone who comes to you will be different from everyone who comes to other counselors.
If you have the same academic training, what mechanisms will you employ to help unique people to respond in unique ways to change their unique lives? Some companies understand this problem, so they let the newbie shadow a veteran for a season. Of course, that has limitations because you don’t learn well by watching; you learn by doing it yourself. Watching someone turn a wrench differs from bloodying your knuckles because you did not hold it properly. Even in the Major Leagues, the pitchers have a pitching coach. Who is yours? Who is willing to come alongside you and stay with you to help you take your education to the next level—from zero to one?
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).