Professors take biblical counseling class on the road
FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) –Counseling professors John Babler and David Penley offer a seven-session certification in biblical counseling each fall and spring at Southwestern’s Fort Worth campus, where they teach candidates the need for, purpose of and how-to’s of biblical counseling. In the last several years, the duo has broadened that training to include sessions at churches as far away as Philadelphia.
Through their counseling training program, Babler and Penley seek to equip a broad scope of people in informal lay counseling. In addition to the seminary’s master’s and doctorate programs in counseling, they also see a place and a need for training a wider cross-section of the church in biblical counseling.
“You’re a counselor whether you recognize it or not, whether you want to be or not,” Babler said, explaining that giving advice or guidance is, in effect, counseling. “One of the things we emphasize is the importance of informal counseling.”
Yet, without learning how to counsel and learning the importance of counseling with Scripture, people often simply offer common sense and lessons from experience instead of biblical truth when giving informal counsel, Babler said.
And that is where the biblical counseling certification comes into play, available to equip the church body in a ministry Penley says has long been its responsibility anyway.
“We kind of look at it as part of the ministry of the body that’s been in the Bible all along,”
Penley said. “It allows [church] staff to focus on those counseling situations that are perhaps more in-depth, whereas many times a lay person can help someone talk through something and see something from a biblical perspective, and it won’t get to the point where it has to go upstairs, so to speak, to the pastor or staff members. I think there is value in having people trained in your church that you know have the training and the confidence to minister to folks in that way.”
Whether formal or informal, both Penley and Babler emphasize the fact that the Bible is sufficient for every counseling task.
“No secular theory or tool will do what Scripture says God will do,” Penley said.
Babler agreed, saying that counseling the biblical way is neither late emerging nor less effective than the psychology-based discipline.
“Jesus is and was the Wonderful Counselor,” Babler said. “I’m not willing to let the world take the Word away from us.”
So, Babler makes a point to bolster and undergird the discipline of biblical counseling wherever he goes, always looking for opportunities to help others understand its value and necessity.
Lee Ann Lee, children’s minister and biblical counselor at First Baptist Church of Crosby, Texas, invited Babler and Penley to offer the counseling training program at her church after meeting Babler when he taught a Crisis Counseling Course in Houston. At that point Lee planned to pursue licensure for counseling after finishing her undergraduate degree but soon changed her plans and enrolled at Southwestern’s Havard campus to complete a Master of Arts in Biblical Counseling instead.
“When I first started taking the classes, I was a skeptical person,” Lee said. “I was somebody who thought, ‘Hey, I need to go get my license so I can help people with real problems. I was kind of skeptical of what a church counselor could provide.”
Yet, what she learned in Babler and Penley’s class helped her to see that Scripture is more than sufficient for any counseling task and that biblical wisdom is more than appropriate for those “real problems.”
“I have completely—from the things that I have learned—discovered if God is who He says He is, if the Bible is what it says it is, then the Bible has the answer for every problem that we face,” Lee said. “The Bible is absolutely superior to any other option.”
Lee has seen an overwhelming response from members of her church in the counseling certification class Babler and Penley agreed to offer on site at the church in Crosby, just outside of Houston. With about 30 members taking the class, Lee says the certification course is already helping people to counsel others in their church and community through issues such as marriage difficulties, among other things.
“The biblical counseling course has helped to prepare me to better help those I am already in a position to help,” class member Michelle Holloway told Lee. “It is showing me how to integrate Scripture into a counseling format and show others that the Word of God is truly sufficient to handle any and all problems.”
Another student, Andrew Harpold, said that similar to Lee, the classes have helped him see the value and superiority of the Bible in counseling.
“I have studied secular psychology all of my college career and would sit in class knowing that these theories did not support the biblical view,” Harpold said. “The biblical counseling class showed me that the Bible has enough to say to sufficiently counsel someone.”
Lee said with the infusion of biblical counseling training into their congregation, the church hopes to begin a lay counseling ministry in November. Though the details have yet to be set, Lee is confident that the church’s decision to incorporate biblical counseling through lay people will lead in a God-glorifying direction.
“Through taking the classes, I became convinced that having a lay counseling ministry could be very important, and our pastor said that that’s a direction that he would like to see us go.” Lee said. “If we are in relationship with other people, we are going to have opportunities to counsel people, so this is just a way of equipping the body of Christ to minister God's Word. Everyone is coming out of this stronger themselves in their own walk with Christ. They're growing, and as a result of that they're able to share with other people, and that’s fantastic.”