Ep. 210 Six Non-negotiable Qualities of an Excellent Counselor

Shows Main Idea – Most Christians know that all Christians can counsel (Romans 15:14). Biblical counselors have been beating that drum for years. And we also know that there are gradations within the counseling demographic; some are formal, and others are informal counselors. The question is, what makes an excellent counselor? What are the needed qualities to be a good one? There are six of them.

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Show Notes

In this podcast, I’m addressing those six qualities in order of importance, though all of them are non-negotiable.

  1. Theology – Biblical counseling is the application of theology. If we’re not applying theology in our counseling practice, then what we’re doing is inferior to the best way to help others. If you want to counsel the best way, you must have theological training. You cannot counsel what you do not know, and you have to be a seasoned student in sound theology.
  2. Suffering – Every counseling situation has something to do with suffering. Sometimes the pain is profound. Other times, it’s minor. But in every case, there are struggles, disappointments, tensions, confusion, and problems. If you do not know how to suffer well, you will not be able to help others well.
  3. Application – Being smart theologically and having gone through tremendous suffering does not make you an excellent counselor. You must have the gifting from the Lord to connect God’s truth to the souls of others in reasonable, practical, and resonating ways. This kind of counseling is not pat answers or cliche-speak.
  4. Internal Calling – You must sense the subjective inner calling from the Lord to care for souls in formalized biblical counseling contexts. A burden to help others does not mean God has called you to do it. Many Christians have burdens to counsel, but they are not good at it. Knowing theology or great suffering are not enough either. You must sense this calling in your soul.
  5. External Calling – There will be other people in your life who believe you have the ability to help folks in a formalized way. They have experienced your soul care skills personally, or they know others who have benefited from these gifts that God has given to you.
  6. Gathering Ability – People seek you out because they want you to care for them. Jesus had a “gathering ability.” Wherever He went, folks followed. Are you a “counseling people magnet?” Are individuals looking for you, asking you questions, desiring to sit with you to receive in-depth soul care from you? You can’t hide what you possess, and you can’t export to others what you don’t have. If you have it, people will want it.

Follow-Up Thoughts

1 – Theology – You don’t necessarily need a Bible degree. But you must have a passion and solid work ethic when it comes to studying God’s Word. You must know Systematic and Biblical Theology. You have to understand theological terms and what they mean practically. It’s vital to know the Bible from cover to cover.

In a counseling session, your mind should function as a fast-moving index that is rolling through God’s Word repeatedly as you’re listening to a counselee. You’re asking the Lord to give you insight from His entire counsel. It won’t do to know a handful of Scriptures and plaster them over every person you meet.

The Old Testament stories must be as familiar to you as the back of your hand. And you can connect them biblically, quickly, and practically to the person you’re helping. You do this pneumatically rather than pre-planning. You never prepare the night before for this kind of counseling. You’re walking in the Spirit, and He’s accessing the work that you’ve done for years, as you have poured God’s practical Word into your mind.

2 – Suffering – The suffering in view here is in your past, not your present. A person going through something is too subjective and emotional to help others. They are tempted to map their current hardship over the person they are helping. They have not worked through their suffering, which distorts clarity when trying to care for someone.

I’m talking about a seasoned sufferer. He has gone through all the stages—whatever they are—and can look back on the pain with gratitude, hope, clarity, and practical wisdom. This person’s suffering is not making them into something but has already completed the task. The seasoned sufferer brings the “benefits of suffering” to the counselee.

Things like wisdom, patience, courage, compassion, hope, grace, kindness, rebuke, toughness, self-control, perseverance, insight, discernment, and understanding. These gifts come from a person who is on the other side of the crucible of suffering. God forges these things into His candidates, and they come out golden. High-end, formalized counselors are not rookies. They have been tried and tested by the fires of personal suffering.

3 – Application – Some folks know a lot about the Bible and have experienced a lot of pain, but they are not excellent counselors. The reason is that they do not know how to connect God’s Word in such a way to a hurting soul that it makes sense to that person. You can’t overstate practical wisdom.

God gives some folks the ability to get in the trenches with a sufferer and walk them out of it. Other theologians, who have suffered a lot, cannot do this. Though you can learn a lot about psychology—the study of the soul, according to God’s Word—it does not mean you can practicalize it in real-time and relevant ways.

It’s analogous to studying your favorite sport. There are many intellectual general managers (or coaches) of sport’s teams, but they were lousy athletes. They understand the game inside and out, but they can’t perform it on the field of play. A Christian can be similar in that they don’t have the mind to counsel well. You can know a lot about the Bible, but only God gives the gifts to “perform well.”

4 – Internal Calling – Many Christians “feel the burden” to help others. Most of the time, it’s because they have gone through something horrific. They have a passionate and genuine desire to help others from having similar experiences. They want to serve. But they are not gifted for this kind of work.

The internal call is subjective, and it can’t be the only reason you want to get into counseling. There must be an external call, too, in addition to these other non-negotiables.

5 – External Calling – Someone besides your mother and spouse sees these counseling qualities in you. Our friends can be sympathetic toward us and affirm us without wisdom or careful analysis. But if you have the gifting, there will be those who have “experienced you in transformative ways” or those who have heard about you.

I’m speaking of your reputation. It is who you are, and you can’t escape it. People that know me in my town will tell you that I’m a counselor. That is the first thing that comes to their minds. Even when I was a pastor, folks would ask if I was the counseling pastor.

Nobody would ever come up to me and say I’m that singer or actor or athlete. I am not those things, and never will be. But there have been a zillion affirmations about counseling. And though that is not what I want to be known for, it’s inescapable.

6 – Gathering Ability – I have known a few ambitious men who wanted to be a high-end, formalized, biblical counselor. Sadly, nobody else had that perspective. No matter how hard they tried, folks were not lining up to meet with them. Bloggers, pastors, singers, actors, and business people can be similar.

The bottom line is that if you’re good at it, others will gather around you. If you’re not good at it, you won’t draw attention or requests from others. This reality is only unfortunate if your ambition won’t accommodate another option for your life. If you’re a square peg, the best thing you can do is find a square hole. If not, you’ll always be discontent, which will bleed over into how you do life and relationships.

Call to Action

If you’re interested in becoming a seasoned, gifted, biblical counselor, here are a few things for you to do. Get with someone who knows you, loves you, and won’t “rubber stamp” you. And ask them these questions.

  1. Do you consider me to be a sound and knowledgeable theologian?
  2. Am I beyond my suffering in that I’ve matured in specific ways but I’m not managed by the pain any longer?
  3. What are some of the character qualities you see in me, which are the fruit of my life experience?
  4. Would you want to meet with me to work through a significant relational or personal matter?
  5. How would you characterize my counseling ability?
  6. What do you think others believe about my ability to do soul care, without naming names—if you have any insight into this question?

If you’re interested in training for biblical counseling, I recommend that you check out our Mastermind Program.

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