Soul-care was a central mission of the Church long before the advent of modern counseling. In fact, many concepts of counseling were articulated in the early church fathers’ writings on pastoral care. With nearly one in four adults manifesting symptoms of distress in any given year, future church leaders need to learn information and skills to assist others–whether within the context of ministry or professional counseling.
One’s perspective on counseling is dependent upon one’s value system: theological foundations and psychological foundations. Just as a beautiful home cannot be constructed without an adequate foundation, a good counselor needs adequate foundations in both biblical worldview and psychological orientation. Good practice is preceded by good theory and, for the Christian counselor, good theory is built upon good theology.
Christian counseling has been defined as the integration of theology and psychology. Many techniques developed by secular theorists and practitioners are the same used by those practicing Christian counseling. The distinctions that separate Christian counselors from their secular counterparts include unique assumptions concerning the attributes of God, the nature of human beings, the authority of Scripture, the reality of sin, the forgiveness of God, and hope for the future. Christian counselors have unique goals related to spiritual growth. They have unique methods that are consistent with biblical teachings such as prayer, Scripture reading, confrontation with Christian truths, and encouraging church participation. Christian counselors demonstrate unique characteristics to include a deep commitment to Spirit-filled servanthood, a dedication of God-given abilities and a desire to help others in their move toward personal wholeness, interpersonal competence, mental stability, and spiritual maturity.
For the Christian counselor, good theory is built upon good theology.
Christianity provides a basic framework that reminds each person that they are precious to God and have inestimable value because they are created in His image and for His glory. Christian counseling affirms the Bible as the primary source for all meaning and purpose, the guidebook given by God so that believers may live in communion with Him. While not claiming to be a comprehensive textbook, the Bible does address issues pertaining to loneliness, discouragement, relationship conflict, grief, anger, and a host of other issues often addressed in counseling.
It is not unfaithful to God’s Word to expand our knowledge and understanding by studying His created works, His general revelation. John Wesley recognized that theological methodology should include Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience; psychological information, as both a function of reason and experience, should be integrated into the preeminent theological construct: Scripture. Counselors who are committed Christians are going to have fundamentally Christian views of persons, conceptualization about the cause of problems, goals for therapy and techniques to facilitate change.
Helping those in distress is not optional according to Scripture. The claims of the gospel are all-encompassing and should penetrate every area of a Christian’s life. For the Christian counselor, the question is not whether or not psychology relates to Christian faith, but how. Secular counseling strategies may be appropriate – provided that they do not undermine biblical teaching.