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`1William D. Bontrager, J.D.

1710 C.R. 121, Hesperus, CO. 81326

(970) 259-3384



After spending 12 years as an attorney, and another 5 years as a judge, I have, since 1983, been involved full-time in the ministry of reconciliation (including the strange form that ministry of teaching law in the former Soviet Union).

In the process of: working with people in conflict; studying Scripture to discover God's ways and principles; speaking, teaching, and sharing with others in similar ministries -- I have come to have some concerns about the typical methods of counseling utilized today.

This will be an effort to explore areas of concern, and to look at Scripture to see God's methods. But, as we do so, let's keep in mind two things: "My thoughts are not your thoughts, and My ways are not your ways; for as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts" (Is. 55:8-9). And, "For the wisdom of the world is foolishness before God" (I Cor. 3:19).

These verses say to me that we must always have an open mind about all that we do and think -- for we may find that what we most deeply believe and cherish is only foolishness.

With that in mind I want to focus on four aspects of counseling: (1) historical one-on-one counseling vs utilization of a team; (2) the idea of professionalism vs laity; (3) the concept of confidentiality; and (4) that which is given to the counselee in the counseling process.

#1: The most typical method of counseling today involves one person with a problem meeting with one person (usually a professional) and seeking advice and assistance. The counselor -- psychiatrist, psychologist, pastor, priest, lawyer, doctor, etc. -- ushers them into the office, closes the door, spends an hour with them, and ushers them out after setting another appointment date for a week later.

Now, let's look at some problems of reality.

First, in the vast majority of cases, the counselee is talking to someone else, on some occasions, about whatever the problem is -- family member, a fellow-worker, another professional, etc. Thus we have a potential problem called double-mindedness. The counselee may well be getting highly conflicting advice from the various sources. How do we deal with this potential problem?

Second, we can assume that the problem will come up again in the mind (if not actions) of the counselee before the next meeting. Maybe that is why so much mood-altering medication is prescribed by the professionals of the counseling field, and taken by so many counselees -- the medication reduces the frequency and severity of the problem so that we can get from meeting to meeting. Of course, this does not deal with the problem, only masks it.

So we see two problems. What does Scripture say about counseling? In Pro. 11:14, it says: "Where there is no guidance, the people fall; but in abundance of counselors there is safety." Obviously, Scripture supports our seeking counsel. And we do have our "abundance of counselors" in our neighbor, fellow worker, professional counselor, pastor, etc. But is there safety when the counsel is not united, or is there a high risk of confusion?

Let's compare this with Jas. 5:14:

"Is any among you weak (If you are in conflict, you may be properly considered weak)? Let him call for the elders (Note the pluralism of the term; I prefer "wise men and women") of the church (not of the world), and let them pray over him (How will they do this if they are not all together at one time/place, and if they do not all hear, at the same time, the same statement of the problem?), anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord (Is this the rhema?)."

Here, as I see it, is the principle: we are to seek to discover, when we are in conflict, who are the "wise men and women" whom the Lord would have us seek out for counsel and, having discovered them, work with them as a team. They need to know who one another are, and need to be sharing with one another. And we should refrain from seeking advice from others once we have selected the team.

What I expect to see happen under this method is that God will bring the counselors into unity as they pray together, share with one another, and all hear me say the same thing (rather than 5 people getting 5 slightly different versions).

#2: My second concern is the usage of the professional vs the laity. I have no problem whatever with the use of a professional! Often times it is not only helpful but absolutely necessary. One translation of Pro. 11:14 is: "but safety is in a greatcounselor". This would, of course, mean Christ, but we could think of the gifted and trained professional as an example.

But, the professional should be a part of the team, and as much submitted to the team for their assistance as they are submitted to him for his assistance. When the client sees the professional, one of the lay people should go along. If the professional is a lawyer, for example, the lawyer should not do an act for the client without the approval and oversight of the lay people (even to reading letters and pleadings before they are sent out). We need unity of counsel.

By having a team, other team members can fill in the sleepless hours between meetings with the professional -- possibly cutting down on the need for medication. I find Alcoholics Anonymous fascinating in this respect. AA promises its people that if they call for help, whatever the hour, someone will be there to respond. The professional is just a part of the team, often only participating in the group meetings.

Another thing that the team members bring to the process, which the professional usually can't, is the ability to get deeply and emotionally involved with the person in need. Job's three friends (who get a lot of bad press in the Church) gave up their affairs of life (hard for the professional with his list of appointments), traveled a distance, and then sat on the dung heap beside Job for 7 days before even conversing! (Job 2:11-13) An office bound person can't do these things.

#3: My third concern involves the matter of confidentiality. Obviously, the use of a team throws confidentiality out the window. But the real question should be whether the thing we practice and call confidentiality is Biblical.

I am going to define the world's concept of confidentiality as follows: "I can tell you any thing I want to, and you can never do anything with what I tell you." If this is an accurate definition, then I must say that my search of Scripture has not yet shown me a Biblical foundation for such a definition.

Yes, I should not "uncover the sin" of others, or be a gossip or a whisperer -- but there is also the matter of "taking one or two as witnesses", and even "telling it to the church" (Matt. 18:16-17). How do these matters fit together?

What my study and life has led me to conclude is that I must treasure up in my heart the things people say to me. But I must also be prepared, as the Holy Spirit leads and guides, to care-front as needed, including sharing what I have been told in the presence of the person and others who are there to witness our conversation and speak God's truth to us. Thus, I do not grant confidentiality -- as the world uses the term -- to anyone.

Let me try to flesh this out. Someone comes to me and asks for advice on how to overcome a trait of a lifetime -- let's say it is gambling. I can counsel that person easily. But, I know the need for a team, and that is a part of my counsel. If they will not heed the advice to form a team, and want me to be their sole savior (there is in this a denial of accountability; rebellion), I will probably refuse to continue offering help. But it is highly unlikely that I will bring in a "witness" to confront the person on their refusal to follow my guidelines.

However, I may also discover in the process that his gambling is destroying his business (he has employees dependant upon him), his family (who are also dependant upon him), and that he is doing some illegal activities to hide his losses. Now I may need to confront him with "witnesses" for the sake of doing justice relative to these others. I may even need to report him to law enforcement (Rom. 13:1-7) if he won't listen to the witnesses.

Again, each step of this process must be lead and directed -- in manner as well as in scope -- by the Holy Spirit.

Let's try another one. Someone comes wanting counsel concerning divorcing their spouse. I tell them what I see Scripture saying, but they refuse to listen. Do I chase after them? Probably not. Or they ask how to behave when their spouse has filed for divorce against them, and I share what Scripture seems to say, and they do not listen. I do not chase them.

In all settings, the question I must always ask myself is: Have I been faithful to what God has asked of me in this matter? If I can answer that affirmatively, then I need do nothing more.

#4: Well, this had led us to the edge of my last concern: what are we to give to the counselee? To me, this is probably the most important of the four matters, for the other things are mere form -- this is substance.

The first thing I note is that we are all called "ministers of reconciliation" and "ambassadors for Christ" -- II Cor. 5:17-20. Thus I should be calling the counselee to greater reconciliation to God and to man. This involves issues of confession and forgiveness. [See Confession and Forgiveness -- Keys to Reconciliation]

Then, I note that we are all called to "make disciples" of Jesus Christ -- Matt. 28:19. Making a disciple merely means helping a person grow in their relationship, understanding, and commitment to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in that aspect of their life which is at issue at the moment.

Then, I note what Jesus gave to two deeply troubled disciples after they found the tomb empty -- He gave to them "all the things concerning Himself in all of the Scriptures" (Lk. 24:27; 44-47).

This Scriptures tie us back to Matt. 18:16 where the witnesses are expected to histemi (set forth with boldness) the rhema (living and active word of God). In II Tim. 3:16, we are told what the Scriptures are useful for: "teaching (in our general life), reproof (telling us we have done a wrong thing), correction (telling us what to do about that wrong thing), for training in righteousness (so that we may be again right with God and man)."

And I believe that this rhema is the "oil" with which we can anoint "weak" people when in conflict (Jas. 5:14) so that they may deal with the conflict according to God's ways and not man's ways. In short, we give to them "The Great Counselor" -- Pro. 11:14.

I consider myself a professional in the field of helping people in conflict -- whether the exact conflict is within themselves, or with another. As I have done so, these matters have: (1) become my issues; (2) have led me to these conclusions; and (3) have led me to work in the way described. I commend them to you for your prayer and consideration.