I love books. I am a bit of a resource junkie. I spend a fair amount of time in my ministry researching and reviewing resources available for counseling and mentoring. I read good Gospel centered books to sharpen my skills as a counselor, to challenge my thinking, to encourage myself in the Gospel, and to use as helpful tools as I counsel and mentor others.
There are several very good “how-to” books on Biblical Counseling in general that can sharpen our discipleship skills and challenge us to think Biblically about people and their problems. There are also many blogs that cover these same concepts. There is no shortage of reading material for today’s Biblical Counselor or Mentor.
There is also a fairly large array of topical books in the Biblical Counseling realm these days. The list is continually growing. Organizations like CCEF, individual published authors, and individuals who do self-published works are writing great books on topics that pertain to specific counseling issues. I often assign book reading to my counselees as homework on a particular struggle they are having. This kind of assignment can spark some great counseling discussions in our sessions. I also require some of this type of reading in my training program, because I want trained mentors to be exposed to various topics from a Gospel perspective so that they will have a good understanding of struggles that they may encounter as they seek to mentor and help others.
There is a downside here, however, that I want us to consider as we engage in any form of one another ministry. I have had to check myself often as I minister to someone, to be sure I am not relying too heavily on a topical book to guide them, or that I am not jumping the gun and diving in to topical discussions rather than thoroughly covering the basics first.
Because I am so familiar with so many great resources written by my colleagues, I am tempted to listen to my counselee’s struggle and in my mind I am thinking “she really needs to read __________(fill in blank with any number of books on that topic!)”. It may be true that having her read that book will be very useful and helpful, and that it will give her some great counsel while she is reading. It will point her to a Biblical worldview, and to Scripture that pertains to her struggle. But…..here is what I have seen happen too often:
We may jump right in to a topical book together and start to dig in to some discussion over it. But as we talk, I start to discern that she is not quite “getting it”. What seems so clear to me is so unclear to her. She either does not agree with the book, which prevents her from learning from it, or she does not understand its concepts, or she simply does not have insight in to how it applies to her. At this point, I stop to consider why. More often than not, I realize that she can’t discern what God is teaching her in that book because she is still tripped up in her Gospel understanding. If I have neglected to be SURE that she not only understands and can articulate the clear Gospel, how can I expect her to discern the book’s teachings when her “Gospel filter” is clogged?
First, unclog the filter. We do that by covering the basics of the Christian faith before we delve in to topical book studies. Starting with the topical studies is a backwards approach, and won’t bear fruit. In fact, it can tend to confuse someone and sometimes even make them feel condemned or hopeless because they just don’t “get it” and start to feel like they are not a “good Christian” because the book doesn’t resonate with them.
Here’s your clue: If you hear someone say “this book makes me feel like I’m doing everything wrong” or “I don’t get it, I don’t think I’m smart enough to understand” or “I can’t do what this books says, it’s too hard and doesn’t apply to me” or similar comments, this is a red flag. Stop reading the book, take a few steps back, and go back to basic doctrines and theology first. Spend as much time in basic discipleship teachings as necessary. This is good discipleship. Neglecting to do this is sloppy discipleship. Let’s guard against sloppiness in our ministries.
This is a good caution for all of us who help others, whether the person is a brand new believer or has been a believer for years. Be very diligent about this especially when she is a fairly new Christian. Many 1 new believers are not initially discipled well with basic teaching, and instead are thrown in to small groups and topical studies that may be too much meat before they are ready. Start with the milk. It’s refreshing not only to them, but to you as you teach it to them! The Gospel never gets old, it’s a privilege to review it often with others!
Let’s not replace THE BOOK with good books. Take your counselees and mentees back to basics, no matter what their history is or what they tell you about their head knowledge. Walk with them through some good basic doctrine and theology first, to ground them in the Gospel. We can’t expect someone to learn how to apply the Gospel unless they are rooted in it firmly. More often than not, someone seeking counsel either does not have a solid foundation, or they have gotten stuck and in a sense have lost their footing. Start with the first thing, the main thing: The Gospel. Once she has her footing, move on to those great topical books and dig in together and enjoy the fruit you will see!
Hebrews 5:12 “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food…”
1 Corinthians 3:2 “I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready,”
1 Peter 2:2 “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—“
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