The Lay Counselor’s Manual

Biblical Counseling - man reading a Bible
by Luke Bush

When people think of Biblical Counseling, the default person to think of is the pastor. That is one of his primary duties as a shepherd after all. What many people don’t realize is that we are all called to this ministry (1 Thess. 5:11; Heb. 10:24). We as Christians give counsel every day. It may not be in the formal setting, but how often do we give advice over coffee, or encourage a hurting brother or sister in their home, or rebuke someone over a phone conversation. We are constantly giving counsel.

One of the most important things to remember in counseling is that apart from the Holy Spirit working in the counseling scenario, there is no hope (John 14:26). The Holy Spirit is the one who changes the counselee, not us. However this doesn’t negate our responsibility to be competent in the counsel we give. Proverbs 27:14 says “He who blesses his friend with a loud voice early in the morning, it will be reckoned a curse to him.” This verse shows us that despite having good intentions when trying to help someone, we can still do more harm than good if we are not using proper discernment.

Tell me if this scenario sounds familiar: A friend who is suffering from depression comes up to their friend in church in tears explaining how terrible of a mother she is, how her life is useless, and how she is such a terrible person. So their natural response is to be sympathetic and try to comfort her by telling her, “you are being hard on yourself. You life isn’t useless, you are an excellent mother.”

As they tell her this, she is not a believer and is currently dead in her sins and she has been secretly been neglecting her family for years due to a re-occuring drug problem…

We will all have to give an account to our King one day of the stewardship we had over the way we spent our time, how well we equipped ourselves to be ready for the good works He laid before us, and the counsel we give to others (Rom. 14:12).

So what are the qualifications of a counselor?

They must first have scriptural knowledge of the will of God (Rom 15:14; Col. 3:16). Second, they must have divine wisdom in one’s relationships to others (Col. 3:16). Thirdly they must have good will and concern for other members of the body of Christ (Rom. 15:14). An effective counselor must be a person of faith and hope, whose full authority and means of helping others is the Word of God (2 Tim. 3:15-17).

So as a lay counselor, how do you help someone truly change?

The first thing that must always be diagnosed when helping someone is whether or not they are a genuine christian. If they are outside a Christ, they have no hope, and the only thing they can do is switch from one idol to another (John 15:5). If this is the situation a counselor is in, the focus is now to be shifted from counseling to evangelism.

If the person is a genuine believer however, you must first give them hope. They must first be assured that they are freed from their sin and a slave to Christ (Rom. 6), they are a new creation  (2 Cor. 5:17), and if they confess their sins, God is faithful and just to forgive and cleanse them (1 John 1:9).

Getting to the root of the problem

There are three levels to a problem when someone comes in for counseling:

-The Presentation Problem: This is the problem that the counselee will come to you believing is the real issue. However, the issue that is usually presented is rarely the actual problem. It is typically just a symptom of a bigger issue. For example, some one comes to you broken over their porn addiction and wanting to change. Porn isn’t the issue, their idolatrous heart is. Unless the root problem is addressed, they will just either switch to another idol, or eventually relapse.

-The Performance Problem: This is how the problem affects everyday life for the counselee. When someone is struggling with a particular sin issue, that sin will manifest itself in every area of that person’s life. It will affect their church life, family life, work, free time, etc. An example of this may be that the counselee’s porn addiction causes them to be late to work everyday. Or that the guilt from habitual falling causes them to go into deep depression.

-The Root Problem: This is what needs to be addressed to create lasting change. As Jesus says in Matthew 23:26, “First wash the inside of the cup and dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.” In order to find the root problem, you will have to ask good questions and be a good data gatherer. When trying to find the root, it’s important that you don’t normalize your own personal experience and what has worked for you onto the counselee. Just like how God brings believers to Christ in different ways and means, the same applies to how God gives people victory over sins in their life. For one addict, the root problem may be that he idolizes comfort. While the addict right next to him, idolizes power/control. You must be careful that you are correctly diagnosing the correct root problem for the individual.

How to fix the root problem

The way you create lasting change is by using the Word of God to restructure the individual’s life. Ephesians 4 talks about how change is made by putting off unrighteousness and putting on righteousness. You must find the idols of the counselee’s life and cut them out (Matt. 5:27-30) and replace it with righteous habits. This aspect is crucial for counseling. This is where homework comes in. The counselor must give good, solid, and relevant homework that will accomplish all this. Not only that, but you must also get the counselee to a point where they aren’t dependent on you. When discussing this topic with my counseling supervisor, he asked me, “When you teach people guitar, what’s the secret to making them into a really good musician?” The answer is, you teach them how to teach themself.

You must not only teach them what scripture says about their situation, but how to form habits for righteousness. They must learn how to be disciplined in devotion and prayer. They need to know how to seek out accountability, how to put on the full armor of God to fight the spiritual war (Eph. 6), how to put up safeguards from relapsing and how to grow in holiness.

Conclusion

Counseling someone is not the same as a bible study. Yes, there is teaching involved, of course you are studying and meditating on scripture. But the thing that separates counseling from a bible study is that you are guiding them in applicable ways of how to apply what God says about their situation. You are digging deep into their lives to find the root issues that they may not even know exist. You are not just giving advice, but you are assigning homework, having the cut off certain strongholds in their life, getting them to for habitual patterns of righteousness. So my prayer for everyone reading this, is that you take their calling of being “Lay-Counselors” to heart, and begin diligently equipping yourself to be ready for the next time God puts someone in their path to give counsel to (whether it’s in the counseling room or over coffee.)

Luke Bush is from Conway, AR. He is currently enrolled at Grace Bible Theological Seminary and ACBC.

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