Does biblical counselling detract from evangelism?
One way a church might choose to measure the priority it sets on evangelism is to measure the total number of man and woman hours they give to it.
With this mindset it is easy to see how every activity that isn’t outreach could seem as if it detracts from evangelism. Indeed, it could make it hard to prioritise anything in church life other than key activities like preaching or small group Bible study. Biblical counselling would certainly fall into the category of a luxury that risks detracting from a church’s evangelistic efforts.
But there is, of course, much more to church than evangelism. Obedience to Christ means growing the whole church body toward maturity. Or, to put it another way, obedience to Christ means observing the two great commandments – love of God and love of neighbour (Matthew 22:37-39).
That requires a whole range of church activities – it will certainly include care for the most needy because that is presumed in love of neighbour. Thoughtful, wise and loving pastoral care for the problems of life must be a part of that – and these things are central to the vision of biblical counselling.
But we can take this argument further. For, far from detracting from evangelism, there are many ways by which a biblical counselling mindset will actually enhance our evangelistic endeavours.
Consider these four:
By encouraging personal ministry of the word and growth in personal sanctification, biblical counselling places an accent on greater Christ likeness. It will, generally, be the case that those who are mature in Christ and live like him in humility and love will, on the whole, be better ambassadors for Christ and will communicate him more effectively than those who are immature and not much formed into his likeness.
Biblical counselling sets a vision for a community that gives itself to mutual care and one-anothering. And, according to Jesus, a community of that kind is axiomatic to evangelism: ‘By this everyone will know that you are my disciples’, Jesus said, ‘if you love one another.’ (John 13.35).
Biblical counselling improves our capacity to apply the riches of the gospel to the realities of life. Christian believers who have had the gospel speak into their own struggles are much better equipped to help others. For example, someone who has experienced Christ’s gospel changing their own heart and enabling them to respond patiently and wisely with their teenage child, can speak of these things to others. While their non-Christian friend may not be particularly engaged by a conversation about Jesus, they may be desperate to talk about the struggles they are having with their teenager. If we can speak with authenticity about the way Jesus made a difference when we had similar struggles, we will have their attention. Of course, our testimony about Jesus has much more to it than the ways he has helped our family dynamics, but it may prove a great place to start.
A biblical counselling vision engages with the reality of the sinful struggles that all of us have. It keeps pressing upon us our need for repentance and change. Anyone who is constantly grappling with their own sin and their own need for growth will tend to be marked by humility. We will speak more honestly and lovingly to others about sin and repentance if we are aware of sin’s impact in our own lives and our own need for repentance. Jesus’ illustration about specks and planks makes only too clear just how important such awareness will be (Matthew 7:3)!