Last week was the annual conference of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors. It’s always a few days of good conversation, thought-provoking lectures, and helpful workshops. This year’s theme was the 40th Anniversary of the organization. Since I have not been around this organization for 40 years – I haven’t even been alive that long – I wasn’t entirely sure what I was going to get out of this conference. I’ve only been involved in Biblical counseling for a few short years (the last 8 years to be a bit more accurate). I found, however, that there was much to appreciate from this year’s gathering. The conference was, in many ways, a celebration both of the enduring legacy and continued development of Biblical Counseling over the years.
The plenary session speakers and their various topics represented this. The speakers ranged from those who were present at the birth of the organization in 1976 (Steve Viars, David Powlison, and Richard Ganz) to newcomers who are on the forefront of ongoing development (Heath Lambert and Jeremy Pierre). A panel discussion with some of the long-standing ACBC members (including Wayne Mack and George Scipione) recounted the history and challenges of ACBC (then NANC). It was fascinating to listen to their war stories, their perseverance, and their faithfulness to the cause of Biblical Counseling. Lambert and Pierre took the conversation further as they each discussed areas of more recent development in the practice and theory of Biblical Counseling. Lambert addressed the reality of suffering, emphasizing a nuanced paradigm for counseling those experiencing the brokenness of our world. Often Biblical Counseling has been accused of focusing only on sin, and turning even heartbreak into an issue of moral failure. Lambert did not give credence to this particular accusation, but he did develop a solid theology of suffering and provide a helpful framework for looking at the subject as counselors who want to provide the best hope and help to those in need. This same nuanced framework was seen in Dr. Kellemen’s lecture during one of the breakout sessions I attended. Pierre discussed a holistic picture of the human experience. Where Biblical counseling can sometimes tend towards a sanctified version of cognitive behavioral therapy, Pierre noted that more biblically faithful anthropology will highlight the complexity of human experience. This too is a growing area of development within the movement and one I am immensely grateful for.
The breakout sessions were also helpful. I am not always satisfied with the sessions I attend, as they tend to spend so much time focusing on basics that they never really get to the practical application or depth that I would like. I had a few experiences like that again this year, but two of the four sessions I attended were immensely helpful. Brad Brandt’s teaching on helping counselee’s resist temptation was very practical and immediately helpful to cases I have at present. Dr. Randy Patten’s discussion on organizing and formalizing a church counseling ministry was also very practical and insightful. I was encouraged that out of the eleven points Dr. Patten discussed Cornerstone is actively practicing or working towards many of them. It served as an encouragement that we are going in the right direction with Cornerstone Counseling Ministry.
My favorite part of the conference is always the professional and personal connections I get to make. I love catching up with old friends, getting time to ask questions of other professionals, and developing new relationships with other counselors. It is a great time of personal development in that regard. Though the size of the conference is continually growing, I am grateful that it is still small enough that it feels like I am going to a class reunion, visiting with old friends, and touching base with colleagues. It’s a thoroughly enriching time.
Overall the conference was an encouragement. It was a reminder that some things within Biblical Counseling have remained the same for these 40 years, namely the commitment to the sufficiency of Scripture. God’s Word is sufficient for helping people change. That commitment continues to shape the way this organization approaches a diversity of problems and contexts. The Scriptures are the grid through which all challenges, theories, and practices are run. The Bible shapes Biblical Counseling. In other words, “Biblical” remains the key word in the description of our practice.
I am also grateful, however, for the continued development of ideas and practices among the community. As a group we are not done learning, exploring, and seeking to understand how to help people with and according to the Word of God. We do not look back over the 40 years and say, “We’ve arrived.” The litany of books and resource continues to grow. The addition of new counselors continues to grow. The conversation at the theory and practice level continues to add clarity and nuance to the foundation we have long had. I often say to our trainees, it is a great time to be involved in Biblical Counseling. There’s a lot of exciting work happening and I am deeply encouraged by that.
40 Years of ACBC! That’s a long time. Not everyone loves this organization, and I understand why some people are frustrated with them. I disagree with those people, but I am not insensitive to their complaints. I am immensely grateful for this group. I am grateful for their commitment to the inerrant and sufficient Word of God. I am grateful for their willingness to keep conversing, learning, studying, and sharpening. I am grateful for ACBC.