The LFAC counseling staff team all had the recent privilege of attending the CCEF (Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation) 2015 National Conference in Virginia Beach, VA. Diego and Cindy, my wife Lisa and I, Lois, and Tammy all traveled south to participate in various sessions related to 'Side by Side Ministry' as it pertains to Christian counseling in the local church. We worshipped and sang with almost 2000 people, together - that was amazing. We made new friends together. We ate many meals together. Someone described one particular meal as "a party in the mouth." It was pretty tasty if I do say so myself. We also fellowshipped together. We shared our hearts together. We served one another together. And we laughed together. I mean, we laughed together. A lot. Often. It was a tremendous blessing to all of our respective ministries as the LFAC Leadership made this investment in each of us. We were blessed.
Many of my professors from the mid to late 1990s not only worked for CCEF, they also taught at both Westminster Theological Seminary and Biblical Theological Seminary. I have had the privilege of sitting under the teaching of Dr. David Powlison, Dr. Ed Welch, and Dr. Paul David Tripp for many seminary classes. I would later work with these men as a staff counselor at CCEF myself. When I was there, I felt so small - they were the gurus of what we do as Counselors. Ten years ago when I did some part-time counseling for CCEF as a local pastor, I was so out of my league. I was always impressed with the deep humility and concern that these men have had for me in my life and my ministry. When I was a green in the early 2000's and new at CCEF, I counseled out of Paul David Tripp's office (Paul is still affiliated with CCEF but started his own ministry a few recent years ago). Using his office back in 2005 was quite intimidating to me, but I adjusted and made it work. One evening about 8:45 PM, with the session nearing the end at 9 PM, my eyes caught movement just under his office door out in the hallway. I could see shoes just standing by the door way but just waiting - they didn't move. I finished the session just after nine and dismissed the couple. There stood Paul Tripp. He casually walked in and over to his desk and said to me, "Sorry Thor, I forgot my briefcase." I replied, "Oh Paul, you should have just knocked and I could've gotten it for you. I'm sorry you had to wait." Paul look at me directly and then said, "I've been doing this way too long to not know that you never know what's going on in a counseling session...especially at the end. I was happy to wait." With a reassuring tap on this young shoulder, he quickly left the office. He will never ever know how his humility and his patience left a 'spiritual fruit' impression on me that night. It was not a long moment by any means but his words have lasted. I saw humility and patience on display in that man that I will never forget.
Dr. Edward T Welsh and Dr. David Powlison each spoke several times during the training conference last week. Introducing Ed, Dave said to nearly 2000 attendees, "Ed Welch does not consider himself to be his own resume." If you've heard Ed speak or teach, he's quite gentle and very unassuming as a leader. He defines both "gentle and humble of heart" during the conference. Later that day, Ed came up to me and gave me a great big hug. It had been like ten years since we had seen each other. Asking me what was new in life, I told this old trusted professor of mine the story of the last ten years, introduced him to my wife Lisa, and safely told him that I'd been through a divorce and how my kids have suffered (it was like the 60 second version of my story). With heartfelt sorrow and genuine grief, he looked at me compassionately and sincerely stated, "Thor, I'm so sorry to hear you went through that." It wasn't what he said - it was HOW he said it. This genuine embrace that let me be real. Ed's caring curiosity made me feel unashamed in the moment. He, like Paul, practices what he teaches concerning side-by-side relationships.
Leaders, in humility, we must practice what we preach, teach, and counsel. It is necessary that we show forbearance and patience to others that we train and equip and prepare to do the work of the ministry. It is necessary that we steward our words to them and speak similar affirmations and encouragement. It is necessary that we authentically care for them and hear their stories. It is necessary that we use every opportunities to touch others' hearts with the heart of our Lord Jesus and with the Gospel. Lived-out humility is a necessity to living on mission - and to living out this mission called the Christian life. It is desperately necessary that we do so.
Recently, I was asked by my dear friend Foye Belyea to join him to help teach and facilitate a theological class at my alma mater Cairn University (PCB, PBU). Honestly, after a full day of counseling, I wanted to grab a bite to eat and have fellowship with my brother whom I had not seen in a couple years. After the class, instead of going to eat immediately, seven students approached each of us to talk and for counsel. We talked and listened and prayed over them for almost two hours after the class lecture had ended. We finally went to eat around 10pm, but we were utterly exhausted. Yet as we broke bread, a deeper bond of humble friendship and strength was welded. We served together - we sacrificed time together - we let the Spirit make an impact on those college students bound for minutes that will not be easily forgotten by them. All we did was give some time, some encouragement, some care and some Christ-like love to some hurting college students. But humility and patience were on display. The encouragement of the Holy Spirit prevailed as well. It was worth it. It was desperately necessary.
Let me leave you with a prayer principle. It may not seem related to all that I have just said about the necessary qualities of a spiritual leader and humility, but it may be something many of you can use as leaders. We pray because we need the humility of an unknown answer from God. In other words, "prayer acknowledges our own weakness and makes humility matter UNDER God" (David Powlison, CCEF 2015). You see, whether I counsel or I preach or have fellowship and prayer, this displays honest human need while exhibiting a humbled stance UNDER the sovereign God. He actually cares about my and your heartaches and struggles. Prayer puts us UNDER God. Humble prayer aligns us away from our perceptions and our interpretations and moves us closer to God's grand reality. Prayer shows and actually sows distrust in our own resources and aims us on the real resource - mainly Christ, Who displays real trust and in Whom we trust. "To not pray is insane" (David Powlison CCEF 2015). To not pray is proud and arrogant. Therefore dear ones, be humble and pray. Don't be insane. Pray with and for people. For it is the defining mark of humble prayer that combats pride and ACKNOWLEDGES WE ARE UNDER GOD. And it is desperately necessary.