MEMBERS: Biblical Counseling: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (Transcript)

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Jon Moffitt: Welcome to the members’ podcast. First of all, thank you for your ongoing support. If you are not downloading your episodes directly to your phone, then you need to go to Theocast.org/members, scroll to the bottom of the page, follow those instructions, and you can now have all of your members premium podcasts, including all of the 300-plus episodes of our back podcast right there on your phone. These are new features that we’re trying to work on. We’re trying to make sure that our material is easy to access.

As soon as our primer is available, we’re going to make it available to you, our members first. So be looking for that. We’ll send it out by email and we’ll have it available soon on paperback.

I’m excited. I’m very passionate about this next section. It is what drives me. What keeps me going as a pastor is the true nature and purpose of the church and how we can use some helpful models, which has biblical counseling, but also making sure that we keep the church center and understand what it’s for.

Justin, I’ll let you speak to this a little bit. I know that you partner with a local ministry in your city. Talk to us about how it is that you use this counseling center and your vision of what it could look like in the next 20 years.

Justin Perdue: Our church is four years old. Two and a half years ago, we had a guy join the church who is trained in biblical counseling. He has master’s degrees and all that. As he was getting involved and getting to know me, the other elders, and the people in the church, he started to talk about this idea and this vision that he had to start a counseling center. He had surveyed the area and realized that not only is the church scene somewhat bleak in Asheville, but also the biblical counseling scene. By that I mean the healthy kind that we’ve been describing. It was all so bleak – there just wasn’t anywhere to go. He started to talk about it. He said, “I’ve wanted to start a ministry like this. What do you guys think?” The other elders and myself thought it would be phenomenal. It would be a great thing to do here. This entity could function separately from Covenant Baptist Church, but we’re happy to support it and partner with it.

A couple of things. We saw it as an outreach tool because there would be people that would go get counseling there who would hear the gospel in ways that they never had. Even people going to churches would be pointed to Jesus in a way that they never had. We also saw it as a means through which people would be funneled to CBC in terms of a confessional, reformed, Christ-centered, grace-driven church that that’s going to do the ongoing work of soul care.

Our hope is to see the Restoration Counseling Center of Asheville go on, continue to grow and thrive, to see people pointed to Jesus, and to see people plugged into a healthy local church where they’re going to experience ordinary means ministry, and get ongoing care in a patient and compassionate environment. That’s sadly rare for many people. That’s what people need when they’re going to counseling. They don’t even know they need that.

The hope for Restoration is that people will be made aware of their need not just for Christ, but for the church, through this counseling center. That’s our vision in a nutshell. We hope that over the course of decades it bears a lot of fruit.

Jimmy Buehler: I want to bring a couple of clarifying points. Jon, when you were helping us plant this church, one of the things that you said to our core families all the time is when the church is functioning properly, it is building itself up in love.

Justin, you shared about that counseling center kind of in an outreach-oriented sense. It’s important to remember that if somebody came to our church and they said, “We are struggling to put food on the table,” there are a few things we can do as a church to help that person. One, we can point them to various resources just in our county, state, and our local NLD entities that can help them. We don’t say, “All right, the church is going to pool all their money together and they’re just going to give you money”. Certainly that could be an approach that we can bless you in that way, but when the church is functioning to build itself up in love, we can use outside means. I don’t mean the same ordinary means that we talk about in our gathered worship, but we can use outside means to help individuals, to help people find the help that they need.

I love your example, Justin, because I think it is a prime example of people using a source where they can hear the gospel. As those people come into a sense where they say, “How do I get this all the time?” Here’s a church. Here’s a local body of believers where it is safe for you to struggle.

Jon Moffitt: One of the things that transformed my understanding of confessionalism, counseling, and all of it is when you understand the purpose of the church. That in order for a church to function properly, you cannot be introspective in your nature when it comes to your Christian life. You have to understand that your dependence is upon Christ and Christ’s people. Because that’s where the Bible pushes you.

One of the things that we’re doing in our church during this COVID-19, is we’re going to be offering marriage and parenting seminars in our community. It’s not going for our church, but for those around us so we can bring them in and give them what we would say common sense understanding. Then we help them understand from a Christian perspective that your real hope and real support system is not you being a better husband or wife, or you being a better parent, but it’s you receiving growth within a local body. So we’ll give them the gospel, we’ll give them Christ, and we can give them some common sense of how to stop throwing pots and pans at each other. “This is how you stop yelling at your kid. Ultimately what you need is what’s called soul care.”

I love the idea of using counseling or even seminars as a way to help people who are confused, who may even know Christ, or may not know Christ, but they’re confused about what Christianity looks like. I can bring them in and say, “Let me show you what the Bible actually says about how you should be dealing with your problems.” It’s through the means that God has provided. And when you’re in a good functioning biblical church, you’re going to grow in Christ, and these problems are not going to be your problems – they become our problems.

The biggest thing I say to every person that I’m counseling is this: you are never intended to deal with this problem alone. No Christian is to deal with sin alone because that’s what we call an Introspective Individuality Christianity. The Christian is not to live the Christian life alone, and if biblical counseling is what leads that person to do that, that’s wrong. It’s not biblical counseling. That would be unbiblical counseling. The Bible leads you to be a church member and does not lead you to be an individual member.

Justin Perdue: To put a bow on this portion of the conversation, we look at our partnership with Restoration here in the city as an outreach tool to the extent that it is a portion of our missions and outreach budget in terms of how we even categorize it. We consider that support as an outreach kind of expenditure where we are investing these dollars in this entity for the purposes of outreach. At the same time, we will use it because the founder and executive director is a member of our church and may very well one day be on the eldership of our church.

Just a brief word on counseling. This is my perspective; this is not Theocast perspective. For us as elders in our church, what we will often do with respect to meeting with people is we try to do triage when it comes to counseling. Whenever there’s a crisis, we will meet with people regularly for a season of time to do that triage work. Then what we want to do as elders is to be able to, in a good way, pass that care off to the church corporately.

Let’s say it’s a really difficult marriage situation, or somebody’s gone through a divorce and they’re reeling and they need to be able to process some things over an extended period of time. We may use Restoration here in our area and encourage a member of our church to meet with one of the counselors who are a part of RCC, and they will care for you in conjunction with our elders. You’ll sign that paperwork and we’ll be updated so that you have somebody to talk to you on a weekly basis or a bi-monthly basis in an ongoing way. We may use it that way, too, because the elders of our church don’t have the bandwidth to be doing that kind of ongoing meeting with people on a weekly basis in perpetuity. We’ve got to be able to jump in and do that triage crisis care, and then go about the regular leading, caring for the church, and we hopefully corporately are caring for each other – as we’ve talked about building each other up in love and mutually watching over each other. Those are just some snapshots on how we think about some things. Maybe some scenarios when a counseling center might make some sense as a supplement to the ministry of the local church; in conjunction with it, but not apart from it.

Jon Moffitt: Even if you think about how hospitals can be, if there is a life-threatening situation, you’re not going to say, “Let’s take them home and give them soup.” You have got to deal with the issue. But they’re not going to stay in the hospital because the hospital cured you. You can’t stay there. You can’t live there. That’s not where your home is. So this is where you have counsel from the New Testament that says, “Consider how to build one another up in love and good works… singing songs and hymns and spiritual songs for the sake of building each other up.” I believe the church becomes the counseling ministry for the individual Christian who has ongoing struggles, who has this ongoing fight against sin to where each member is a part of that therapeutic helping. Therapeutic is such a bad way of saying it, but that what we say is the normal life flow of the Christian.

Jimmy Buehler: Let’s be clear because I can hear people asking the question: what does that mean and what does that look like?

The reason why the local church in an ordinary means context is helpful is one, the local church is the place that offers the forgiveness of sins. That is the greatest need that every individual has – to come in and hear the gospel week in and week out to, to be wrecked by the Law and to say you are not good enough. You are not holy enough. You are not righteous in and of yourself. But what we are heralding and putting out to you is Jesus Christ crucified on your behalf, risen for your justification. This is what the church offers you and when Christ is heralded week in and week out. What that does is it creates a culture in your church where it is safe to be a weary sinner-saint, where you can struggle freely and openly because Jesus has offered to the people week in and week out the forgiveness of sin.

When we have complex emotional, and sociological things happening in our lives, we can point people to other places where they can receive additional care and help break down those complex realities.

But the church is here to remind you, “Hey, you are safe. And you are loved and you are forgiven in Christ week in and week out.”

Justin Perdue: I’m just excited about what you’re saying, Jimmy, is because it’s in the church where people receive Christ in the word and in the sacrament every Sunday. Even if we’re thinking about ongoing Christian life stuff, and even if we’re talking about how real transformation occurs, it occurs that way where people come weekly. They bring their struggles and their failures, and they are given Jesus from the word and they’re given Jesus in the table.

In a 2 Corinthians 3 kind of way, as we behold Christ, we are transformed from one degree of glory to another. That’s a work that oftentimes happens without our noticing it. We don’t see every single tick up the wall. We always want to measure stuff – it doesn’t work like that. But then we look up in 10 years and we realized that the Holy Spirit had done something in our lives.

A quick word to something that we were talking about a minute ago. The church building one another – building itself up in love and, and how this sort of counseling happens in an ongoing way in the church. As a group of people gathers every Sunday, and they’re sitting under the word, they’re coming to the table, they’re singing, and they’re praying together, we all are confessing the same doctrine. We’re under the same authority in terms of elders and pastors and the like. What ends up happening is those people scatter and live life during the week, but they hang out with each other inevitably. And there are all kinds of natural life-on-life counseling that occurs in the church. There are countless conversations that happen in any given week, I would imagine in our church context, where people are just talking about life and marriage and parenting and work and fitness and just commonsense stuff and struggles and victories and everything else. People are being counseled; they’re being shaped, they’re being encouraged, they’re being exhorted, they’re being corrected, they’re being challenged in appropriate ways – and that’s how the church is supposed to function. All of that is happening as saints are being equipped for the work of the ministry on the Lord’s Day when we gather.

How do people become better natural counselors in their environment? They keep showing up on Sunday. Then we’re better equipped over the course of time to care for each other. That, at least in part, is prescribed in the New Testament.

Jon Moffitt: The breakdown is this: you have a pietistic context where people are constantly being pressed to be self-improving and introspective; make yourself better. You cannot confess sin in those contexts because if you’re not going upward, then you’re a lesser Christian.

So what do you do? You suppress and hide sin. In a biblical context, we are to be confessing our sins to one another. We need to be openly saying, “I have problems and struggles.” Going to the church to receive help and instruction and strength in this moment when you are unable to confess sins, when you are unable to admit problems, when you are unable to live in a context where there’s a saint-sinner reality, then counseling becomes… What do you get? You get a secretive text or an email or a phone call that says, “Pastor, I need, I need help because my marriage is falling apart.” And you had no idea. “I have this addiction.” I had no idea. Because it’s secretive. Because Christians shouldn’t struggle in this way.

But if a church has openly said, “Come confess your sin, and receive love and forgiveness. There is no greater hierarchy; there are no good Christians and bad Christians. There are only those who are in Christ.” A lot of counseling goes away. Because you have people who can say, “I don’t need to suppress sin for years and years and hide it to where it’s so compounded and so conflicted.” This could have been dealt with easily if you would have come and confessed it, and sought forgiveness, help, love, and care.

My biggest desire is for people to hear that if you properly use the church the way it’s designed to be used, most counseling situations go away. Because you can just confess, “You know what? I yelled at my wife last night. I was completely inappropriate.” You can receive godly counsel and instruction. We can build you up in love versus the fighting getting worse and it compounds. Before you know it, there’s anger and bitterness and vile. Before you know it, five years down the road, you come and sit in front of the pastor and say, “Our marriage is a problem.” You took five years to destroy your marriage and you want me to fix it in five minutes? It doesn’t work like that.

Justin Perdue: Typically in those contexts where sin can’t be confessed, it’s a situation where the whole culture is built on an inherent self-righteousness. You want to talk about what will destroy not only mercy and compassion in the church, but in a marriage and in a household? It is self-righteousness, man. It’s an epidemic. We all are played with it. So whenever we can create a culture in the church where we’re aiming to destroy self-righteousness and self-confidence, and establish people’s confidence and hope only in Christ, then it does give us a fighting chance to see those things established in our marriages and in our households as well.

It’s a great irony that in churches where the obsession is with sanctification, this actually hinders real sanctification. I’ve taken a lot of flack for saying this over the course of time. I’ve practically got yelled at before because it’s like, “No, sanctification occurs when we focus on sanctification.” Whenever we obsess over sanctification, we actually hinder real growth in Christ because people are not honest about their struggles. That’s probably another podcast for another time. I could talk for 30 minutes about that right now and I’m not going to do it. Exercise control – self-control is the fruit of the Spirit.

Jimmy Buehler: As we bring this to a close, I just want to be clear with people, don’t hear what we’re not saying. All three of us would agree there are time and space for professional counseling. But I think what we are arguing for is that the church does not exist to offshore difficult problems. What we are saying is the church is here to provide the gospel week in and week out. We want to partner with counseling centers to herald Christ, and come back to the church where they can receive Christ on a weekly basis.

Are there places where people need to go see professional help? Absolutely. But what we would like to see is as a stronger partnership with the local churches for those things.

Jon Moffitt: If you feel you don’t have a church like we are describing, I want that to become a problem for every Theocast listener. Because we will not come up with solutions until we decide that there is a problem. We need strong biblical churches that are willing to use the means of grace and build people up. If you’re in an area that doesn’t have that, then maybe we need to talk about partnering with another church to provide a church in your area. Or maybe you need to move to an area. It’s just like if you can’t get a job where you currently live, then go where there is a job. We need more sound biblical churches.

This is why we’re planning one in Willmar. This is why Justin planted one in Asheville. We need churches around the world that are going to be biblically based and not just performance-based pietism. Hopefully Theocast continues to create this problem so we can have more people who will pick up the mantle and plant churches with us.

Justin Perdue: Not to sound absurd, but this is why we encourage people to keep supporting Theocast. If we want to see more of these kinds of churches planted or established, then let’s support that work not only for this message to spread so that churches that already exist are influenced by it, but for churches to eventually be planted by people who believe and think this way. Let’s see this thing through.

Jon Moffitt: Thank you guys for listening. As always, your monthly contributions literally keep the Theocast alive. It allows us to keep moving forward with more resources. We are trying to produce more primers.

I’ll let you in a little secret. We are going to be recording a unique class that we’ve never done before. I can make this announcement and it completely bombs, but that’s part of life. But we’re recording a unique podcast on Covenant Theology, a 1689 Baptist perspective of Covenant Theology, and we’re very excited because this is what drives all of us. If it doesn’t come out, there’s God’s grace and forgiveness for all of you towards us. No, I’m sure it will come out well.

Thank you. We will see you all next week, Lord willing.

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