Growing as Biblical Counselors

Biblical counseling is not an easy calling. How do you effectively communicate the gospel to hurting people? Theological training and learning from other counselors are both key to growing in the wisdom, love, and skill needed to apply Scripture to yourself and others. Preparation is key, but sometimes the most effective training comes after you’ve jumped into the ring—when a coach puts his arm around your shoulder and helps you take a look at what you’ve done well and where you can grow.

In Consider Your Counsel: Addressing Ten Mistakes in Our Biblical Counseling, Bob Kellemen comes alongside counselors and shares where he and others have missed the mark. Drawing on more than three decades of counseling supervision experience, he unpacks ten of the most common missteps that he has noticed in his own counseling, as well as those he has mentored.

Q: There are many biblical counseling books available for counselors. What makes Consider Your Counsel unique?

Because this book addresses common mistakes, everything about it is unique. Other books highlight what the biblical counselor should do well. This book highlights patterns of what we tend to do poorly—and then addresses how to correct those mistakes.

Having supervised biblical counselors for almost three decades, and being someone who “thinks in themes,” I bring practical and relevant experience to the task of providing “supervision by writing.”

Each chapter briefly addresses a common mistake—illustratively. Then each chapter emphasizes what to do instead—what does it look like to counsel well and wisely?

Additionally, each chapter ends with four self-assessment questions. Readers can readily assess their strengths and weaknesses. The biblical counseling movement talks about self-counsel. This book provides the tools to do self-supervision.

Q: Why write a book looking at the negatives? What was the driving motivation that led to writing this book?

This book began as a blog series when several biblical counseling students I was supervising asked my thoughts on common themes, threads, and patterns I detected as a counseling supervisor. They were specific. They said, “We’re not asking about all the ‘good stuff’ biblical counselors do. We’re interested in the consistent areas where you sense need for growth.”

Their request resonated with my experience as a trainer of biblical counselors. They consistently communicate their need for practical help that moves them from theory to real-life ministry. Here’s a theme I often hear: “I get the academics of biblical counseling. But when I start counseling, I seem to fall into all sorts of old habits, traps, and mistakes!”

I use this analogy: I coached youth wrestling for over a quarter century. Some of my coaching happened before the match. I’d teach technique, mat strategy, moves, counters to moves—all to prepare for the match. However, my best and most effective coaching happened after the match. We’d review our strengths—and build on them. We’d also review our weaknesses—and work to correct them.

It’s the same in supervising counselors. I can do a lot of work to attempt to equip a trainee before they counsel. But I’ve found that counselors-in-training grow the most after a counseling session. We’ll listen together to their recorded session. We’ll review their case notes. I’ll affirm and build on their strengths. And, together, we’ll identify and address their weaknesses. Think of Consider Your Counsel as biblical counseling supervision in writing.

Q: Did you have any hesitations with writing a book focusing on mistakes in biblical counseling?

My only hesitation in collating these ten mistakes into book form is that I do not want to foster a negative perception of the modern biblical counseling movement. I’m a big fan of biblical counseling and biblical counselors. I’m a biblical counselor. I’ve invested over thirty years into providing biblical counseling, equipping biblical counselors, and supervising biblical counselors.

The vast majority of the content I’ve written in more than 2,500 blog posts, more than 150 published articles, and more than twenty books and booklets focuses on a positive presentation of biblical counseling and Christian living. That said, there’s something very healthy and humble about a movement self-assessing, self-critiquing, and self-correcting—biblically, wisely, collaboratively, and graciously. Indeed, the modern biblical counseling movement was launched with the concept of confronting out of concern for change. And biblical counseling is well known for self-counsel and self-confrontation. So, it would be unusual for us as biblical counselors not to consider our counseling individually and collaboratively.

Rather than focusing on critique, this book highlights tendencies I’ve noticed in the thousands of biblical counselors I’ve trained and the hundreds of biblical counselors I’ve supervised. I poured over my supervision notes asking, “What patterns, themes, and threads of blind spots do I detect in rookie and veteran biblical counselors—myself included—that we need to address so we can become more competent counselors?”

Q: What are some of the ways you draw the positives out of the negatives?

When I supervise counselors, I spend a good deal of time affirming the positives I see. For instance, “That was great how you interacted there. Keep doing more of that!” or “Wow! That was amazing how you connected Scripture to life there. What biblical insights led you to pursue that helpful direction?”

Even if I detect weaknesses or “mistakes,” my aim in discussing them is to help counselors-in-training to mature. For instance, “Your interaction there seems a tad off track in this specific way. Let’s talk about what might have been going on there. What way of thinking about counseling might have led to that interaction? And let’s ponder what you—and I—could learn from this.”

That’s the plan in addressing these ten common counseling mistakes—growing together. I spend less time highlighting the mistake and most of my time devoted to describing a biblical alternative and what a more biblical approach might look like. Think of this book as supervision by writing. My chief desire in crafting this material is that it would be an encouraging refresher tool for us as biblical counselors.

Q: We won’t go through every single mistake here, but what was the number one mistake you observed among counselors?

The modern biblical counseling movement does a fine job at data collection. We’ve been accurately taught to heed biblical wisdom about listening before speaking, such as, “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame” (Proverbs 18:13).

We wisely use personal information forms to collect pages of information and reams of data about our counselee. We learn important information about their unique situation, their family background, the suffering they have endured, the besetting sin they are battling, their relationship to Christ, and so much more. All of this is very good, healthy, helpful, and wise.

We should continue to collect data. And yet . . . people are not car engines we fix by reading a mechanic’s manual. People are not computers we treat by reading the operator’s guide. We are relational. Soul connection in counseling is theological because God designed us to relate intimately to him and to one another. Counseling that stops at data collection is not biblical counseling. Data collection without soul connection can end up treating image bearers like lab specimens to be analyzed and dissected. It can become aloof, impersonal, and uncaring—and even un-Christlike. In our biblical counseling, would people say of us, “I feel like a soul to be heard, known, understood, and cared about”? Or would they say of us, “I feel like a specimen to be probed, dissected, examined, and diagnosed”?

Q: What is the negative result when we devalue emotions rather than recognize them as a vital part of how God fearfully and wonderfully made us?

Let’s start with the second half of that question. It surprises many Christians to realize that the oft-quoted passage in Psalm 139:13–14 about being fearfully and wonderfully made highlights our emotionality. Read the passage as follows, with my highlighting the meaning of the Hebrew word for “inmost being:”

For you created my emotions/inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

Our emotions are the one aspect of our inner nature that God highlights as being fearfully and wonderfully made! We tend to look at our feelings, our moods, and our emotions as the one aspect that is not fearfully and wonderfully made. We might say, “Don’t trust your feelings.” But biblically, we really should say, “Don’t trust your desires, thoughts, motivations, actions, and feelings—unless they are surrendered to the Spirit.” Feelings—like the rest of our inner nature—can be beautiful—fearfully and wonderfully made—when renewed by salvation and sanctified by the Spirit.

As biblical counselors, we need to learn to help counselees to value their feelings, to identify what they are feeling, and to take their feelings to God—to soothe their soul in their Savior.

Q: Tell us more about the counseling assessments that correspond with each chapter.

At the end of each chapter, readers find four biblical counselor self-assessment questions. I then collate those at the end of the book into a forty-item self-assessment. We talk about self-confrontation for personal growth as biblical counselors. Consider Your Counsel offers this forty-question self-assessment for competency growth as a biblical counselor. I’ve said that the book is like supervision in writing. Another way to think about these questions is that the book is self-supervision in writing—readers can easily use these questions to gauge their growth as a loving, caring, competent biblical counselor.

Q: What final encouragement would you give a counselor who sees that they’ve been making one or more of the mistakes mentioned in Consider Your Counsel?

We all make these mistakes, including me. Growth as a counselor is not about perfection. Instead, growth as a counselor is a process that takes place over time. The real “key” is humility. Do I have the humility to step back, realize that my worth is in Christ and not in some imagined perfection as a counselor, and then seek to ask the Spirit to help me to grow in each of these ten areas? Personally, ever since I wrote the book, these ten areas are like a neon light reminding me to keep pursuing greater compassionate competency as a biblical counselor.

Consider Your Counsel Cover 1

Consider Your Counsel: Addressing Ten Mistakes in Our Biblical Counseling

Bob Kellemen comes alongside counselors and shares where he and others have missed the mark. Drawing on more than three decades of counseling supervision experience, he unpacks ten of the most common missteps that he has noticed in his own counseling, as well as those he has mentored.  

About the author

Bob Kellemen

Bob Kellemen, PhD, is the Vice President of Strategic Development and Academic Dean at Faith Bible Seminary in Lafayette, Indiana and the founder and CEO of The RPM Ministries. He is the author of many books, including Counseling Under the Cross: How Martin Luther Applied the Gospel to Daily Life, and Consider Your Counsel: Addressing Ten Mistakes in Our Biblical Counseling. Bob and his wife, Shirley, have two children and two grandchildren.

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