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It would be exceptional for any certified biblical counselor to disagree with my prop statement, but many counselees do make the “qualified assumption,” to their detriment. It’s because of these unfortunate misunderstandings about receiving biblical counseling certification from an organization that I’m doing this episode.
At no point in this podcast will I say it’s wrong to go through a biblical counseling certifying organization, assuming it’s a biblically solid one. I’m not saying it’s a bad idea, assuming the training organization is excellent in providing training. I’m addressing another issue entirely here.
The most significant problem around this subject is the false formula that says certification equals competence, which is my only point. Certification does not equal capability! It’s not possible to make someone competent in counseling. It’s not our job, and we must be clear about this potential misunderstanding.
Though every Christian is a counselor (Romans 15:14), in the loosest sense of that word, all Christians do not have the necessary gifting to counsel well. If you’re banking on your counselor’s certification as the litmus test for finding competent help from him or her, you may be making a grave mistake.
Here are a few of the most common complaints that I have heard from those who have been hurt by certified biblical counselors. Harsh, unkind, impatient, doesn’t listen well, demanding, no compassion, simplistic advice, and their lives and marriages do not model an example you’d want to follow.
I am not making this up, and, for the record, I have no ax to grind. I’m not angry, nor do I have an ill-intended agenda. I have heard too many sad stories not to address this problem. I hope that all of us will do better when it comes to communicating what it means to be qualified to do soul care. Some biblical counselors do this well. But many do not, and this much change.
Sadly, we had rather “out” Joel Osteen than to address in a public and caring way some of our blindspots, failures, and cover-ups. If there is self-imposed self-censor or fear of not being part of the connected crowd, then that’s on you. If you’re a biblical counselor and think this way, then you’re not qualified to care for souls since you’re not willing to address your personal fears and ambitions.
In our training, we clearly communicate that completing our program does not make you a competent biblical counselor. It would be like saying that if you can play Little League Baseball, you will make it to the Major Leagues. How disappointing would it be to believe such a false continuum?
We will cooperate with the Lord, the best that we know how, to serve you, the best that we know how to help you fill up your competencies, whatever they may be. We don’t hint or say outright that if you finish our training, you will be able to counsel competently.
The overwhelming majority of folks who go through our training make excellent friends and solid disciple-makers in the context of their families and local churches. It’s exceptionally rare for someone to finish our training and can do high-end, formalized counseling in a professional-type setting.
Nobody can create competence. At best, all schools and training organizations can only amplify and enhance pre-existing qualities that the person has received from God. Every individual in the body of Christ must know this undeniable truth and don’t fall for the false formula—certification equals competency.
Part of being a qualified, certified biblical counselor is emulating the counsel that you’re providing: he’s modeling what he is providing. The reason for this vital need is that he will provide some of the most delicate care a soul will receive. Some situations, like sexual and physical abuse, require a person who knows how to care for these souls. And part of his counseling is practically living his soul care practices.
If the person who is doing biblical counseling at this level is not living it, there are integrity issues, which always point to more profound problems of the heart. How would the doctor perform surgery on himself, if he could? And how does the biblical counselor care for his soul? Complex counseling demands that the counselor is practicing what he’s preaching.
Some Christians believe they can counsel once they get their certification. They probably can at a basic level. Perhaps you will hear them say something like, “I’m not certified yet.” Or, “Once I’m certified, I’m going to start my practice.” Hopefully, there is more evidence of qualification than finishing their training.
Some pastors will only send their church folks through certification so he can have “certified biblical counselors” in the local church. While competent training is vital, regardless of the organization providing it, the unintended consequence of not communicating well that certification does not equal competence could be tragic.
The more significant question is not whether they are certified biblical counselors, but did they receive superior training that maximizes whatever gifting that was given to them by God. Where their certificate came from hardly matters as long as it’s outstanding training and they are competent at administering counsel.
Some argue that by having believers go through certification there will be less likelihood of legal ramifications if there were litigation. This argument is losing force by the day. The growing hostility in our country toward Christians will soon be at the point where if you’ve gone through any biblical training, it won’t amount to a hill of beans.
Some places in Europe make it illegal to say you’re a biblical counselor. It does not matter what’s hanging on your wall. And that worldview will be on our doorstep soon. Rather than making combatting the courts a significant plank in your argument for certification, it would be better to focus on the best training that you can provide your people so they can busy themselves with the work of making disciples (Matthew 28:19-20).
Some people will only meet with a certified biblical counselor, wrongly assuming that certification equals qualification. These individuals do not know how to vet a person to discern if they possess the skill to do intense and intricate soul care. I understand their dilemma.
The onus is not on them to know better, at least not initially. The responsibility is on us to make sure that we’re clear about what the inquirer needs for their struggles. If you don’t know what to look for, you will look for the certificate. You can learn more about what to look for by reading the embedded links in these Show Notes like this one.
For the certified biblical counselor, you need enough self-awareness and a lack of selfish ambition so you can be more objective about your abilities. Because being certified is not that hard to attain for many people, we can succumb to the temptation of getting something that can be more about our identity than our capabilities.
Some certifying organizations use recurring memberships as part of their revenue stream to keep the organization alive. Some ministries that provide biblical counseling training use the certification option as a hook to get folks to take their training. Is that wrong? Not necessarily.
I don’t fault an organization, necessarily, for creating an endless financial loop that makes sure the organization survives, e. g., if you want to maintain your certification, you have to pay annual dues. What they have to do is elevate the value of their certification to motivate a person to pay to keep it. Of course, part of elevating the value is that we can be unclear about what it actually means. And the certificate holder can think they are something that they are not.
For the record, our ministry does a similar thing conceptually. The difference is that we don’t create something that people “have to pay” to maintain. We ask the Lord to convince folks that our ministry is valuable to the body of Christ. Our supporter’s reward is the satisfaction that they are helping people change and there is more reward in heaven. Thus, we do fundraising and have voluntary memberships where folks can support us.
I understand the reason and the need for finances. Still, when you tie it directly to certification, there can be a temptation to provide certification for anyone for finishing without carefully qualifying or clarifying that person’s practical competence.
What I’m saying here is sensitive to some people, especially if they run a fledgling organization, or they have connected their financial viability to staying a certifying organization. While I don’t necessarily struggle with some of their methods for staying afloat, many of us have not done a great job explaining these potential problems.
The point here is that this does not have to be an issue if the training ministry or certifying organization is doing vital self-examination to guard against pragmatism: gaining more individuals for the survival of the organization. To dismiss this potential temptation would be ignorance, minimally, if not damaging to many lives.
Sadly, the primary criterion that some potential counselees look for is if the person has received certification. While excellent training is proper, there must be more due diligence. The more astute biblicist will take it one step further than merely checking for certification by asking if the person is an integrationist.
While being well-trained and biblio-centric are vital, if those are the only things that matter, then anyone “who believes the Bible” and opposes secular psychology may be on your list. It would be best if you did more examination when it comes to entrusting your soul to someone.
A few thoughtful questions to get the ball rolling are: Who trained them? Where did they receive their training? Is the training organization credible? And then, how do you know what is credible? It would be wise to borrow brains about these questions. Perhaps your pastor would be a useful resource. Also, you’re welcome to ask us about these matters on our free forums.
Like a resume, you want to vet the person with whom you’re going to bear your soul. What do other people whom you trust say about this person? What is their reputation as a counselor? Think of your data-gathering like you would if you were considering seeing a doctor. You want to know more than where he went to school.
Does the person have the skills to help you with your questions and issues? It’s the youth pastor dilemma, a young man with no wife or children has a hard time walking a couple through how to deal with their teen who just announced that he was gay. God did not create all youth pastors equally, no matter what is hanging on their walls. And neither are biblical counselors equal.
For more thoughts on vetting your biblical counselor, please read these articles here and here. Also, if you’re interested in our biblical counseling training, you’re welcome to read our introductory material. If you have more questions about this podcast, please go here.
As I mentioned, I have no ax to grind, and I’m not angry. But I have grave concerns about this wrongheaded false formula that certification equals qualification. Don’t believe it before you verify it.
If you train folks in biblical counseling and you use certification as part of your “pitch” to get them in your training, will you humbly examine yourself to see if there is the “pragmatism temptation?” Will you also reevaluate the clarity in which you communicate what certification means and what it could never mean for some folks who finish your training?
Rick Thomas leads a training network for Christians to assist them in becoming more effective soul care providers. RickThomas.Net reaches people around the world through consulting, training, podcasting, writing, counseling, and speaking.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology, and in 1991 he received a BS in Education. In 1993 he was ordained into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University in Santa Clarita, CA. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).