Training Biblical Counselors Globally: An Interview with Wayne Vanderwier

Recently, I was privilged to be able to get some time with Dr. Wayne Vanderwier, director of Overseas Instruction in Counseling. Wayne has been leading the charge of Biblical Counseling training globally and it is my joy to share with you a glimpse into the work he is doing. OIC is well worth your prayer and financial support and I highly commend this project, and this interview, to you.

DD: What is OIC?

WV: OIC is a young, faith-based, missionary organization that focuses on the training of biblical counseling trainers around the world. Our nine missionary families will serve in 21 nations in 2017, conducting nearly 30 training programs.

Toward what goal? Our strategic objective is to assist in the initial creation and/or continuing development of national, culture-specific biblical counseling certifying organizations. Said differently, and in a way familiar to American biblical counselors, we’re helping to establish ministries that are like the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC). However, these organizations have no organic relationship to ACBC. Rather, they are developed by nationals and for nationals who are charged with the development of their own culture-specific certification protocols.

DD: How did you become aware of the great need for Biblical Counseling training overseas?

WV: God alerted me to need for this kind of ministry when I began traveling to teach in other nations. I had not received any biblical sufficiency-based soul care training in seminary, so when God appointed me to my first church He made it clear that I needed help to learn how to help others.

I was privileged to receive biblical counseling training, to train biblical counselors in the church I pastored, and to teach biblical counseling in American colleges. God surprised me when, in 1994, I received an invitation to teach biblical counseling at a Bible college in another country.

That’s when I had this thought: If I didn’t get biblical counseling training in my (biblically-based, theologically-conservative) seminary in the States, what about pastors in other nations, especially less developed nations? In other words, “Who Is helping the pastors (in other countries)?” That question needed to be addressed. God has allowed OIC to be a part of the answer to that question for the last eleven years.

DD: Why is there such a deficit in this kind of instruction and training globally?

WV: I think there are numerous reasons:

1) The biblical counseling movement in America is still relatively young. It struggled to gain traction in leading churches, denominations, and theological schools during its first several decades. So, understandably, the energy and resources to train biblical counselors and develop the movement remained “local.” As a result, there has been “a deficit in this kind of instruction and training globally.”

However, God has been gracious to ordain that in the last decade or so there has been a growing awareness of the need for biblical sufficiency-based personal ministry training in nations around the world. This happened, at first, as American missionaries who were trained in biblical counseling went to plant churches and help national pastors in various nations. It continued as foreign nationals traveled to America to receive the biblical counseling training about which they’d heard in US-based training centers and/or theological schools.

2) Another reason for the deficit in biblical counseling training globally is that the level and quality of available theological education varies widely from country to country and from continent to continent. Recognizing this reality, many missionary organizations have wisely invested their resources to address this need. Since personal ministry training typically follows theological training – and it should! – this “next step” in pastoral training is rarely done.

The good news? Once theoretical (or systematic) theology has been taught, many pastors ask how to practically apply these critical concepts in the lives of hurting church members. That kind of questions opens the door to our kind of training.

3) This “deficit” also exist because, just as was true in America some years ago, there is an almost unchallenged respect for a “Christianized psychology” approach to people-helping around the world. Training pastors and people who have been “psychologized” is challenging work! Some national partners specifically request that we teach polemic sessions. Others ask that we avoid including those lessons. We have the flexibility of custom-designing our curriculum to meet what our national partners know will work in their context.

4) A deficit in training also exists because, in many places, there exists a deficit in local language resources. Especially when we are “first-in,” our training program participants desire and need biblical counseling textbooks. OIC has addressed this need. God allowed us to spearhead the translation of the one and only biblical counseling textbook in Hungarian. And, in the Arabic language, we have blessed of our Lord – and through generous supporting churches and families – to have put 24 textbooks and 35 topic-specific booklets into print.

5) Finally, there has been a deficit in global biblical counseling ministry because of the way it is approached. While both are valuable, there is a world of difference between “talking about biblical counseling” and “training biblical counselors.” The first is easier; the second more difficult.

Since the very beginning of the modern biblical counseling movement, gifted men and women have traveled to far-away places to conduct biblical counseling conferences – what I call “talking about biblical counseling.” These are necessary and valuable introductions to the concept of personal ministry built on biblical sufficiency. Pastors and other Christian leaders who lack university degrees in psychology sometimes feel intimidated and inadequate, a sense that is mitigated only by the realization that God’s “divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). Those we train feel encouraged and emboldened by the truths like those found in 2 Tim. 3:16-17, Col. 1:28, and Gal. 6:1-2.

But “training biblical counselors” requires an on-site, multi-modular, curriculum-driven, between-sessions-projects-inclusive, practicum-inclusive, strategic-objective-focused, pastor-and-church-strengthening training program. In the very first session of Module 1 (M1) of our Church Leadership Training program we emphasize this point: This is NOT a series of seminars or conferences – not a “talking about” but a “training in” program. By the end of the training program, our students are actively providing biblical counsel to fellow believers in their own communities.

DD: How have you seen Biblical Counseling training benefit the global church?

WV: Biblical counseling training returns the church to its core mission, the commission given to her by her Lord, “In your going, make disciples …” Our experience is that individualized redemptive discipleship works best in the context of a church that is intentional in its disciple-making focus. Therefore, our training includes instruction on how to shift the church culture and on what elements are necessary in this kind of church.

DD: How might Biblical Counseling be related to global missions?

WV: Any Christian with even a passing familiarity with the development of the churches in the New Testament knows of the church-planting ministry of the Apostle Paul. But many Christians are not as aware of the follow-up visits both Paul and others for the purpose of church-strengthening. (Acts 14:22; 15:41; 18:23) This is also missions!

DD: What are some of the unique challenges to Biblical Counseling training in other countries?

WV: In a word, culture! In another place I wrote:

“We consistently hear two things from our national partners: 1) Americans are arrogant, and 2) Americans think we’re stupid.

The first assessment stems from and is strengthened by the failure of most Americans to take the time to get to know a culture in which we desire to serve. As a result, American-developed biblical counseling training programs are usually not adapted, in content or delivery timing, to the host culture. Only biblical humility can engender cultural sensitivity.

The second assessment stems from and is strengthened by training programs that rarely go beyond the introductory level. This seems especially true when our training must be done through interpretation. This does not mean that the cross-linguistic nature of the training exercise causes Americans to think the national hearers are less intelligent, but it does mean that American biblical counseling trainers who travel overseas often mistakenly believe that they are the first voice their audience has ever heard on the issue. In our highly-connected world, this is rarely true.”[1]

DD: How can those interested support OIC? How can churches work toward the goal of global Biblical Counseling education?

WV: What a wonderful question – one that I’m rarely asked! Because we are a faith-based ministry we are always asking our Lord to direct us to churches and families that share our desire to blend our two great passions – biblical counseling and missions.

The most important kind of support that can be offered to OIC is prayer. Our representatives face significant challenges and need God’s people to stand with them by kneeling before God on their behalf.

Financial support is also important. Churches can “work toward the goal of global biblical counseling education” by initiating a local-to-global partnership with OIC through regular financial support. God has been gracious to allow us to have such partnerships with 30 churches both domestic and overseas. Our expanding opportunities require us to expand that support base. Pastors are welcome to contact me (Wayne@DiscoverOIC.org) to schedule a church presentation.

___________________________________________________________________________

[1] https://www.biblicalcounselingcoalition.org/2017/01/19/reflections-on-doing-international-biblical-counseling-training/

Comments

  1. David Ngwa says:

    Coming from a less developed nation of the world and as one who has had a heart for Biblical Counseling for several years now, I’m so so blessed reading this interview with Dr. Vanderwier.

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