For much of the history of the Christian counseling movement the professional counselor, who has spent hundreds of hours in class and in counseling sessions in order to be certified as a counselor, has been the go-to person for counseling. Whether it is a local church pastor, educated layman, or a counselor with an independent practice, a certain mindset about what makes one a qualified counselor and what qualifies as preparation has dominated the practice.
But is this the only way? Must one spend hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars on classroom and hands on training in order to be a qualified Biblical counselor? Has the professionalization of the Christian counselor taken counseling right out of the church? Who was competent to counsel before contemporary competencies were developed?
Robert W. Kellemen, executive director of the Biblical Counseling Coalition and author of and contributor to several biblical counseling books like Gospel-Centered Counseling and Scripture and Counseling, has written Gospel Conversations: How To Care Like Christ as part of the Equipping Biblical Counselors Series (Zondervan, 2015). This is a hands on manual for equipping members of local churches to be biblical counselors. Kellemen is trying to help churches move from being “a church with a biblical counselor to a church of biblical counseling.” (353)
Gospel Conversations is about equipping willing Christians with the tools necessary to become competent biblical counselors. These tools center on what Kellemen calls The Four Dimensions of Comprehensive Biblical Counseling Equipping as found in Romans 15:14:
- Christlike Character – This is the person who Paul says is “full of goodness” in heart and being.
- Biblical Content/Conviction – This is the person who Paul says is “complete in knowledge” in their head.
- Counseling Competence – This is the person who Paul says is “competent to instruct” with their hands.
- Christian Community – The “one another(s)” are the other Christians to whom Paul says biblical counselors are ministering to.
Essentially, Kellemen believes that competent biblical counselors can be developed in the context of the local church community without the need for hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars of professional training. This is the heart of this book. Citing the research study conclusions of J. Durlak comparing the effectiveness of professional counselors to that of paraprofessionals (laypeople), Kellemen believes that professional training is not the primary means for developing competent counselors. The primary means are the personal characteristics of the counselor themselves (83). As such, these personal characteristics can be taught and can be taught in the local church. “We learn to become competent biblical counselors by giving and receiving biblical counseling in the context of real and raw Christian community.” (17)
The way these character traits are taught is through a small group of people who are willing to develop and use them. That is what the structure of this book is centered on. It requires one person to lead a small group of laypeople who want to be Romans 15:14 counselors in their local church. At the heart of the book is the idea that equipping Christians to be counselors is best done relationally. This allows the trainees to be shaped by the very principles of counseling that they are seeking to help others with. They are shaped by what they are sharing.
Gospel Conversations is a go-to training manual by which church leaders can develop and equip Christians to do the work of the ministry through counseling. Kellemen is not trying to replace professional Christian counselors but, rather, enable the church to develop more counselors to work within the church. There will always be a need for professional counselors who can deal with trauma, severe depression, deep seeded addictions, etc. However, there is much that can be done by brothers and sisters in Christ who know the Word, know people, and are shaped by the counsel they seek to give. This is a must have tool to help pastors train lay-Christians to be competent to counsel.
I received this book for free from Zondervan through Cross Focused Reviews for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”