You Can’t Take People Where You’re Not Going

leading_group_members_to_change_529327819I have no clue why I assumed the lead. We were walking through a crowded street in an unfamiliar city and somehow I ended up leading the pack. I had never been in this city and I had no clue where I was. But I took off and people followed. It was a disaster waiting to happen; thankfully, a friend who knew the city and knew where we were stopped me. It was not my intention to get us lost but I surely would have done that because I couldn’t take people to a place I had never been. This same principle applies in counseling. You can’t take people where you aren’t going.

Being an effective counselor requires a great deal more self-evaluation than I was prepared for when I first got involved in ministry. To be a good counselor I need to regularly evaluate how I am doing at communication, the counsel I give, the compassion I demonstrate, the patience I show, and the quality of my listening (among other things). I also need to evaluate the state of my own spiritual life and personal development. My personal growth will affect the ways I counsel and care for others. My experience of God in any given season will manifest itself in the ways I counsel others. If I am self-righteous I will look down on my counselees, become impatient, get frustrated, and frustrate. If I don’t have a great appreciation for God’s grace in my own life I will lack compassion for those I help, I will become angry at their lack of discipline or consistency. My own spiritual growth plays a huge role in the ways in which I counsel others.

I heard this point communicated multiple times, in different ways, at the most recent ACBC national conference. It has significantly stuck with me. Brad Bigney in a particular break out session spoke about the importance of understanding the role of the counselor. He suggested three views of the counselor: (1) Counselor as trainer/coach; (2) counselor as detective; (3) counselor as maitre d’. Though each perspective has some truthfulness to it, the first two will be deficient. It is the final view that is most conducive to “leading people to the goodness of God.” He urged us to stay close to the goodness of God that we might better invite people to experience it. In this way, counselors know exactly how to lead people to the goodness of God because they have gone there themselves.

There is a way to do Biblical counseling that is utterly simplistic and ineffective. We can quote Bible passages to people. We can assign them to memorize Scripture, give them Biblical principles, and customize homework. But if we can’t lead people to the goodness of God we will cultivate either legalism or despair in those we seek to help. Legalism will arise in the heart that accomplishes all the tasks, memorizes all the passages, follows all the rules. Despair will arise in those who sense their own weakness and failures, who can’t consistently live up to the standard. They will lack the motivation to obey because they don’t experience the goodness of God. To be good counselors we need to have the kind of personal growing experience with the Lord that says, “I’ve been where you are and I can take you where you need to go.” Counseling is more an invitation than aloof instruction. We are fellow travelers who have walked the path, not a spiritual GPS who shouts out directions from afar. This requires that we have tread the path to the goodness of God over and over and over again. We need to be so familiar with the grace, love, and presence of God that we have no trouble pointing it out to others and inviting them to walk the path with us.

Counselors, you can’t take people where you’re not going. If you’re own spiritual life is pathetic then you cannot lead others to a healthy walk with the Lord. If you are not spending time with God you can’t guide others to the joy of his presence. If your prayer life, time in the word, fellowship with the saints is paltry you cannot promote health for others. Counselors must stay close to God. They must regularly taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8). You can’t take people where you’re not going. Counselor, make sure you are consistently pursuing the Lord, so that you might better lead others to Him.

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