Most Christians desire to give biblical counsel to those in need. Christians have been given amazing insight to humanities’ problems through the wisdom of God found within the Bible. But knowing the truth and counseling other people to understand the truth are entirely different.
So here are 3 tips for Christians who desire to offer biblical counsel to those in need.
Tip 1: Christians Must Show They Care Before They Offer Biblical Counsel
During my years as a pastor, I had a reoccurring experience while counseling people at public places like coffee shops or restaurants. I would be right in the middle of offering biblical counsel to someone and a nearby Christian who neither of us knew would over hear our conversation and chime in with their thoughts.
When this first happened to me, I thought it was kind of neat that another Christian was nearby and desiring to help. But after the fourth of fifth time of this happening over the years, the novelty of it wore off. The “chime in Christian” usually began with something like, “I hope you don’t mind if I interrupt, but I am a Christian too and I heard you talking and I just couldn’t help to share a few thoughts . . . .” The person I was counseling and I would then sit politely until they were done and graciously thank them, and then we would pick up where we left off.
The reason chime in Christians are usually so ineffective is because people in need find it hard to receive counsel if they don’t know the counselor cares. I’ve learned the hard way that even if you know the solution to someone’s problem, it’s not always helpful to just blurt it out. It can be seen as rude when someone talks for five minutes and then the counselor immediately offers a biblical solution.
Even if that biblical truth is exactly what the person needs to hear, they often won’t hear it from you unless they’ve first felt heard. Good Christian counselors usually can spot the problem and know the solution before the person can finish her opening remarks. But great Christian counselors only offer biblical advice once they are sure the person in need genuinely knows the counselor cares for him or her.
In Dr. Dobson’s book called Brining Up Boys, he instructs that during the teen years, kids will find it much harder to listen to the advice of their parents if they felt unloved in childhood. He instructs parents, “The best way to avoid this teenage time bomb is to diffuse it in childhood . . . Begin now to build a relationship that will see you through the storms of adolescence.” Dr. Leman in Parenting Your Powerful Child states, “They don’t care what you know . . . until they know that you care.”
Just like parenting, if people don’t know you care, they will find it harder to trust your Christian counsel.
Tip 2: Christian Counseling Is Not Dumping Biblical Knowledge
People like to air their opinions, which is very different than biblical counseling.
The biggest difference between a good biblical counselor (or teacher) compared to the average Christian without these skills is not knowledge (though counselors should generally be more knowledgeable). The biggest difference is that a person gifted at Christian counseling or teaching can transfer knowledge to others in ways where the person in need listens, understands, and then acts.
There are a lot of biblically smart people in church. There are far less people who know the Scriptures and have the ability to inform others through good communication and an inviting presence. To have the ability to communicate and not dump biblical knowledge is what differentiates counseling and sharing your opinion about what you think someone should do.
Certainly counseling and teaching requires preparation, good outlines, solid biblical principles, and other “mechanical” components. But so much of effective counseling is done not through speaking but through “communication.” Anyone can speak. Communicating, however, is an art, not a science.
Communication is not about dumping knowledge; it’s about downloading information.
Effective communicators know how to help people understand what they are saying. The only way to get good at communicating is to do it. You can read books and form outlines to help you speak clearly, but to learn the art of communication, there’s no substitute for just sitting down and doing it.
Of course people should accept truth for truth no matter how it is presented, but to be the best Christian counselor possible, we should seek to remove all stumbling blocks that may hinder our presentation of God’s truth.
In Charles Spurgeon’s book, Lectures to My Students, he spends two chapters discussing the pitfalls that odd mannerisms, personality traits, and off-putting habits can have on the effectiveness of a minister. For example, he states:
Life is made up of little incidents, and success in it often depends upon attention to minor details. Small flies make the ointment to stink, and little foxes spoil the vines, and therefore small flies and little foxes should be kept out of ministry. Doubtless, faults in even so secondary a matter as posture have prejudiced men’s minds, and so injured the success of what would otherwise have been most acceptable ministries.”
Our presentation, personality, and social interactions must not be viewed as unimportant in Christian counseling. Communication style is not to be completely overshadowed by biblical knowledge. Certainly the truth is most important. But what good are you to those in need if what you know can’t be received?
We must see these communication tips as tools to be used in presenting the truth.
Tip 3: Good Biblical Counseling Is Gracious, Not Harsh
Notice that in the beginning of most letters by Paul, he spends significant time expressing his love and affection for the audience he is writing to.
Paul was very knowledgeable and very bold in his counsel. Through his letters, he counseled in a straightforward, no fuss type of way. But before he counseled, he made sure the people knew he cared (Romans 1:8, 1 Corinthians 1:4, Ephesians 1:16, Philippians 1:3, 1 Thessalonians 1:2, Colossians 1:3, 2 Timothy 1:3).
Put simply, to be more effective in counseling and helping others, some of just need to smile more. Some of us are unable to use the knowledge we gain to help others because we don’t put forth the effort in simple courtesies. A harsh word, even if it’s true, is often too hard for people to receive.
This is why graciousness, humility, gentleness, kindness, and other similar qualities are so essential for good biblical counseling to take place by Christians. These are more than tips. These are essential tools in biblical counseling.
We may think it cheesy or fake to be nicer than our natural personality produces, but if you want to be effective in helping others, these three tips will help you offer good biblical counsel as a Christian.