The most obvious way to explain biblical counselling is to identify it as the provision of counsel that comes from the Bible.
If, as the Bible asserts, God has by his divine power ‘given us everything we need for a godly life’ (2 Peter 1:3), we should expect the Scriptures to speak into all the difficulties and struggles we experience in life.
Scriptural truth is not, of course, just one more source of wisdom that we might place alongside those the world provides. As the apostle Paul puts it, in declaring Christ he speaks ‘not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words’ (1 Corinthians 2:13). In Jesus’ conversation with his disciples, he identifies his word as being full of the Spirit and life (John 6:63-68). By hearing and applying God’s word we are able, wonderfully, to live to his praise and glory.
This is not to suggest that the application of spiritual truth to modern problems is simple and straightforward. But it does mean that in order to move beyond secular solutions and address the ultimate needs of the human heart it is the Bible that will provide the resources we need.
We can identify three ways by which we engage with God’s word. Two are more obvious: God’s word is preached in public and read devotionally in private. The third, and much neglected, way we engagewith God’s word is in conversational ministry. This happenswhen biblical truth is spoken by one person to another. Many phrases are used to describe this activity. We could call it interpersonal ministry of God’s word or soul care or individual pastoral care or simply the work of ‘encouraging one another daily’ (Hebrews 3:13). Historically it has also been called biblical counselling.
Such conversational ministry can take place both formally and informally. Sometimes we schedule a series of meetings to address specific issues – vocational counsellors provide that kind of support. More often biblical wisdom in passed on in ordinary daily conversations – in church and family and other social contexts.
Frequently, those conversations will happen between believers, but they also happen in conversation with our non-Christian family and friends. To those without an ethical framework for decisionmaking, a coherent biblical worldview can be intriguing and attractive. Hearing a thoughtful biblical perspective on a life struggle can be the first step toward an exploration ofthe Christian faith.
As will be becoming clear, what is meant by ‘biblical counselling’ is extraordinarily broad. It ranges from the formal to the informal and from an organised ministry to a natural part of the Christian life. In one context it may involve the ministry of an experienced and trained individual. In other contexts, it is just part of the way we care for and love our neighbour.
A Historical Perspective
Conversational ministry is, of course, as old as the church.
Christian believers have always sought to love others by showing them how God’s truth is relevant to their struggles. The contemporary ‘biblical counselling movement’, however, has a more specific history. It began in response to the psychological theories and therapies which arose in the middle of the 20th century. At that time in Western culture psychologists, counsellors and therapists began to replace pastors as the main source of help for life’s struggles. The biblical counselling movement originally began as a kind of protest seeking to defend the distinctive role of the church and Bible in the care of those who were struggling. Without dismissing the input of others, this meant restoring confidence in what the Christian faith had to offer.
CCEF (The Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation in Philadelphia) has been at the forefront of this movement since its foundation in 1968. In recent years books and training courses reflecting this approach have become more widely available in the UK.
BCUK was established by pastors, doctors, accredited counsellors and church workers who had themselves benefited from the thinking of the biblical counselling movement and wanted more UK churches to do so, too.
Biblical counselling and the church
The Bible tells us that every believer is called into the body of Christ (Ephesians 3:6) and that church communities glorify God by becoming increasingly mature – that is, by growing into the stature of the fullness of Christ himself (Ephesians 4:13).
The Bible tells us that every believer is called into the body of Christ (Ephesians 3:6) and that church communities glorify God by becoming increasingly mature – that is, by growing into the stature of the fullness of Christ himself (Ephesians 4:13). This ambition to grow ever more like Jesus is central to the biblical counselling vision.
God promises that as believers ‘speak the truth in love’ (Ephesians 4:15) the Holy Spirit brings gospel truth to bear upon our many struggles with sin and suffering. Through such ministry God grows us into distinctive communities with increasing levels of honesty, humility and grace. And it is these things that make us effective as ambassadors for Christ. BCUK encourages and supports this vision by education and training, by resourcing and mobilising and by fostering a network of individuals and churches who share this vision.