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Your concerns are excellent and need exploring. Thank you for asking. I trust that I will be able to give you a few ideas that will settle your soul while providing a reasonable path forward. Also, please share this article with a close mentoring friend who will give you feedback about some of the questions that I will ask you. First, let’s take a look at your questions.
If you do not experience a “sense of fearfulness” when you care for others, there is something wrong with you. The most experienced disciple-makers do not “feel fear” the way that you have described, or how most people think. But skilled biblical counselors and disciple-makers are mindful of the sobriety of the task. They never get over that.
When I say a “sense of fearfulness,” I include the word sobriety, which is why I say there is something wrong with the person who does not have a sense of seriousness for the task of caring for others. Though the experienced discipler is not under the control of fear, they willingly submit to the seriousness of what they are doing. You’re right, teachers are held to a higher standard (James 3:1).
There is a progression in maturity with all disciple-makers. Initially, you will be afraid (fearful), which is normal. The more you do it, that type of fear weakens, as your trust in God increases. You’re learning how to rely less on yourself and more on the Lord; it’s the same process for everyone.
Thus, there should be a “sense of fear” at every point of your discipleship journey, but the “type of fear” changes all along. It is similar to the “fear of the Lord progression.” Initially, we fear Him, as in being terrified of God because we are under His judgment (pre-salvation). As we mature in our relationship with Him (salvation), the fear changes from terror to reverential respect, awe, and worship (sanctification), which we also call the “fear of the Lord.”
But it’s not a young, novice Christian fear, but a “fear” that the mature Christian has because of his immersion in theological study. He has added the meat of God’s Word to his former “milk diet.” See 1 Peter 2:2; Hebrews 5:12-14.
I hold to the theory that Malcolm Gladwell put forth in his book, Outliers. He said that it takes 10,000 hours to become proficient in a skill. Of course, the “10K hours” are not a hard set rule, but I do agree with the concept. It makes sense, and it has been my experience when training Christians in discipleship and formal counseling. If you think about a skilled musician, baseball player, public speaker, or motherhood, you know it takes time.
Nobody becomes a maestro when they first pick up the baton. The way that I talk about this in our Mastermind Program is that our students must “get their reps in.” There is no way around this idea. You have to work at your craft if you want to excel at it. And this is where many Christians stop. They don’t want to put in the effort to learn how to care well for others.
They will quickly choose to “pass it up the chain” than be obedient to Christ’s command to go and make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). I don’t make this statement with an attitude of unkindness. I understand fully, and your questions merely affirm the expected fear when taking care of people. I get it, though it’s a pastor’s dream when his folks are eager to learn and practice soul care.
Because of the “10,000 hour concept,” you can expect that you won’t do it well initially. There is no way around the “novice phase” of soul care. The tension is twofold: you’re not good at it in the beginning, and you can’t become proficient without doing it. Even watching someone do it is okay, but they are not you, and you can’t learn what you need to know by observing someone. You learn by doing.
It would be like learning how to play the piano or catch a football by watching folks do it on YouTube. Becoming proficient at anything does not work that way, and if all you do is sit in the stands watching the pros play, you will never learn how to do it well. You must get on the field.
Then there is the other matter about your uniqueness. You will never play the piano or become a football player like anyone else, which is another reason why watching someone do it is incomplete. You want to be you, not someone else. Some of our students make this mistake. They watch how I respond to our free and private forums, for example, and then try to imitate me. That approach is unwise, and it won’t work.
You have to counsel according to the gifting that the Lord has provided for you. One of the worst things you could do is attempt to force-fit yourself into the mold of another person. You would be a caricature of yourself, not authentic. You would never be comfortable in your skin, and others would feel the lack of authenticity between who you are and how you disciple.
You’re going to make mistakes. I wish I could tell you something different. How many novice preachers stepped down from the platform, and started replaying the tape of their sermon? All of them, if they have any self-awareness, know they need to be better at their craft.
But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you (James 4:6-8).
If you are trying, if you’re sincere, if you’re authentic, and if you’re humble, you won’t make a mistake that will damage anyone. I’m not saying that counselors never hurt people; that is not true. Sadly, the dark side of the biblical counseling movement is full of folks who abuse, harm, or hurt people. It’s real, but that is not you. Sincere and honest counselors have the Lord’s favor on them.
Humble disciplers know their limits. They ask for forgiveness when they say it the wrong way, or are harsh. They are teachable and insist on others helping them to mature with their craft. They know who they are, their current gifting, and have enough self-awareness to “stay in their lane,” and only advance when it’s right. Competent friends will help you affirm where you are.
To combat your fear, you need to become a “good sovereigntist.” What I mean is that while the tension is real, you must put the accent mark on God’s sovereignty because that is real too. You will have to decide if you’re going to be fear-centered or God-centered; it’s your choice. If you need help changing because of fear, inhibition, timidity, or anxiety, please find that help.
Here are a few tips about how to mature in your counseling gift while in the novice stage. I’m not suggesting that you are a novice, but there will be thousands of folks reading this article or listening to the podcast, and many of them will be new at discipling others.
One of the things that we do in our Mastermind Program requires our students to answer questions on our free and private forums. This opportunity gives me a way to observe and help them grow in their gift. And I meet with each student monthly to talk privately about them, counseling, and other things happening in their lives. (I do this for active students, doing the program.)
The more you do it, the better you will become at it. As mentioned, you cannot speed up the process, and you must “get your reps in” to counsel well. But there is one more thing. God did not create all disciple-makers equally. There are gradations in gifting; each person has their strengths and weaknesses, and God’s favor on a person means something too.
There is a reason the best basketball players are the starters, and the others serve in other ways. God did not create all basketball players equally. I do not know what your “gifting limit” is, but I know that you have one. Part of what I’m saying to you is subjective—God’s favor, but other aspects are not—objective skill, affirmed by others.
One caution is to make sure that your burden to care for souls is not greater than your ability to do it at a high level. I don’t want to talk you out disciple-making, but you must know your limits, so you’re in the best possible place to care for others. Some people are habitually anxious and fearful, and to some degree, they will always be this way. Though they will find much help through the transformative gospel, they will never iron all the wrinkles out of their sanctification, which is true for all of us.
Realistic expectations are vital. A burden to make disciples or become a biblical counselor does not mean you have the necessary gifting to be one at a level that is outside your God-given skillset. Everybody should be caring for others, but make sure that you are not driving past your headlights.
There is an internal and external call. The internal call is your desire to do whatever it is that you want to do. The external call is when others affirm that you have what it takes to do that. If Christians followed this advice, there would be far less abuse in the church.