Five years ago I met Nate Howard at a Living Faith Alliance Church Sunday worship service. After a few weeks or so, we met for a cup of coffee to swap stories and share our lives and ministries. I remember Nate's eyes widening with a smile when I said to him, "Nate, counseling is so much more than therapy and diagnosis. In fact, I don't really know too much about psychology. I just love people. And I believe that counseling is a relationship of training. Counseling IS discipleship. It IS an extension of the Great Commission and a big part of disciple making. Counseling IS discipleship." Following an honest smile, Nate said to me, "I'm glad to hear you say that, Thor. I agree. Counseling IS discipleship. And here at Living Faith Alliance Church, we are committed to good Christian counseling. We need strong counselors." We continued to have a discussion that centered on the one to one ministry of biblical Christian counseling and pastoral care, not just for hurting and struggling people, but also for the lost, for the one wanting to grow spiritually and in God's Word, and for believers in Christ who may need marital counseling. You see, Nate knew that counseling is a form of discipleship for the body of Christ believers.
During that initial encounter, something else stood out. Besides an operating spiritual discernment, our stories became linked because we "shared in the fellowship of sufferings." These shared stories weren't full time of emotional sensationalism and typical cultural transparency. They weren't meant to "tickle ears" or spoken with the guile of maneuver. Instead, two "called but broken shepherds" shared some skin of life and some of the pains of family and of ministry. This showed me that Nate and the leadership of LFA understood in discernment what I call "the theology of suffering." (By the way, beware of the Christian leader who has a poor biblical understanding of the theology of suffering. It usually reveals weak doctrine in other theologies such as the theology of sin and the theology of sanctification. It shows the cracks in the foundation of biblical thinking. These 'false teachers' rely on emotional experiences and the testimony of a works-righteousness more than they do God's Holy Word, denying the Sovereign LORD). LFA is not only committed to making disciples but also preaches and teaches the Bible with strong conviction and wisdom. God's Word is given an authority here at LFA that I rarely find in other churches. As the truth is spoken, something greater from His Spirit is passed around at LFA. I have witnessed truth, pain, relationships, growth, marital reconciliation, divorce's dilemma, redemption, broken families, suffering children, salvation, enlightened moments of discernment, spiritual renewal, [reproduced disciples who, in turn, disciple of others], stories and testimonies, abuses healed, church discipline, transformed hearts, and well-stewarded words, etc. - a witness to the work of King Jesus as He gains rule over the hearts of men and women no matter what the circumstance or situation.
What maybe Diego calls healing and restoration, I would agree and also term it "resurrection." This IS this Gospel that we share. It's not just an event; it is your life. Counseling, strong biblical Christian pastoral counseling is more than discipleship. It IS the Gospel of imparting resurrection to others. But know this: the task of resurrection is only preceded by a cross-bearing that requires us to weepingly walk through seasons of sadness and hurt with an empathy that has born the same. This is the Gospel, but forgive me for starting to preach. I love this stuff! It gets me up in the morning because the joy of the LORD has been and is my strength. The LORD has thundered and hammered that anvil into my life and continues to do so. And like you, I await with patience for a greater resurrection. I think CS Lewis and AW Tozer both knew that men and women who had suffered as believers in kingdom service were formidable foes to the the enemy of our souls, the devil called Satan the accuser. This abrasive work of God's Spirit was like sandpaper to the bleeding heart of the suffering saint - which resulted in a greater created masterpiece - a resurrected one. A servant of Christ. A cross-bearing, cross born saint. Resurrected saints live on mission and in turn produce resurrected saints.
When Nate and I met at the intersection of "cross-bearing," I believe the LORD catapulted a friendship of trust and pastoral camaraderie. Whether Pastor Nate or the other pastors or many of you entrust the counseling needs of others to me, I do not take this lightly. It is a blessed privilege to care for and speak into others. It IS a calling; it is an entrustment - but like the Gospel, it is an unmerited favor and not deserved. I don't say this with a false humility. I say it with grateful privilege and honor. I knew when Nate said to me all those years ago, "Well, how soon can you get here?!" that counseling is a huge part of discipleship here at LFA. What Nate was really saying (paraphrased & interpreted - not quoted) was this:
- Counseling is discipleship, and LFA is committed to it
- We are committed to counseling individuals, marriages, and families
- Suffering uniquely qualifies some to love and to serve and to wisely counsel others with empathy and truth and discernment
- We need you here and are glad to have you here
By the way, as a note to leaders who serve with and over volunteers, Nate never ceases to thank me for the role that I am blessed and called to play in counseling at LFA. I'm sure many others can identify with #4 above. It's such a real encouragement to receive gratitude and have someone say, "I'm glad you're here." Sheep need to hear this, and so do shepherds. And know this, counseling isn't reserved for the private ministry of the Word behind a closed door. David Powlison of CCEF has always said that "all of life is counseling." I think he's right. As you ponder this article of words, here are some questions to consider:
- Do I need counseling as a form of discipleship training?
- Is the Spirit of the Lord calling me toward talking to a counselor at LFA?
- What stops me from obeying that call? Why will I not invest in it?
- Has your story of suffering shaped you for a greater ministry role?
- Have I thanked someone who has impacted me for Christ or loved me well?
- Who do I need to share a meal or cup of coffee with?
--Thor Knutstad, Pastoral Counselor