A Crash Course on Counseling

A huge part of pastoral work involves giving biblical counsel to believers (and unbelievers) as they struggle through sin issues, work through relational conflicts, and face up to addictions and other problems. Unfortunately, many pastors have received little if any training for this kind of ministry. This was certainly my case, and I quickly found myself needing a crash-course on counseling. Over the past several years I have found several resources especially helpful in expanding understanding and developing skills for counseling. Here is an annotated list of some of the most helpful resources available for pastors (and lay-persons) concerned with Word-centered counseling. All of these are books I have either read, or are at least familiar with and plan to read.

1. General. Paul David Tripp’s Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands: People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change is an excellent handbook on how to “speak the truth in love.” It provides a flexible and adaptable model for the task of personal ministry to others, summarized in four key words: know, love, speak, and do. Tripp also gives practical advice on data-gathering and helpful insights on how to move from behavioral problems to underlying heart issues. This is the single most helpful book I have read. Along similar lines is David Powlison’s Seeing with New Eyes: Counseling through the Lens of Scripture. While it is not as thorough or comprehensive as Tripp’s book, it is an excellent model for how to use Scripture in concrete counseling situations.

2. Marriage and Family. Three books on marriage that I’ve found especially helpful are Each for the Other: Marriage As it was Meant to Be by Bryan Chapell, Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas, and The Mystery of Marriage by Mike Mason. Few books offer more clarity on the biblical roles and responsibilities of husbands and wives than Chapell’s. (His book is essentially an exposition of Ephesians 5:22-6:9). Gary Thomas’s Sacred Marriage discusses how God uses marriage to further our sanctification. It is also a fine book, addressing many of the more thorny marital problems with fresh insight from Scripture and the spiritual classics. Mason’s book is in a class by itself, a unique series of beautifully-written meditations on marriage, rich in spiritual insight. For parents, supremely helpful is Tedd Tripp’s Shepherding a Child’s Heart, a wisely balanced book which focuses on how the biblical tools of communication and discipline combine to nurture and shepherd the hearts of children with the gospel. This is a hopeful book that bears repeated readings. On a similar note, Paul David Tripp’s Age of Opportunity: A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens addresses more specifically the task of wisely parenting teenagers (as I don't have teens yet, this one is still waiting to be read). Another very helpful book, rich in solid exposition and encouragement is John MacArthur’s Successful Christian Parenting.

3. Conflict Resolution. Ken Sande’s landmark book The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict, should be priority reading for any pastor. I just finished it and it is absolutely excellent. It clearly articulates biblical principles for reconciliation and fleshes these out with concrete, real-life examples. Blessed will be the church enriched by Ken Sande’s valuable books and ministry. Along similar lines, Paul David Tripp’s War of Words: Getting to the Heart of Your Communication Struggles, is a rich, gospel-laden book on how to use our words to speak redemptively, and not for destruction. John MacArthur’s The Freedom and Power of Forgiveness is the best book on forgiveness I’ve read.

4. Dealing with Sin Issues.
The Enemy Within by Kris Lundgaard is contemporary distillation of the wisdom of John Owen, the 17th century Puritan whose definitive work on The Mortification of Sin is still being read today. I like to call Lundgaard’s book “John Owen for Dummies” – for he really does succeed in getting the Puritan theology of sanctification into easy to digest language. Sex is not the Problem, Lust Is by Joshua Harris is an honest and frank look at sexual sin that has proven helpful for both men and women. Edward T. Welch’s When People Are Big and God is Small is a helpful book on dealing with pride, insecurity, codependence, and the fear of man. The same author’s book Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave is likewise excellent, offering gospel-centered, realistic, counsel for dealing with people who with addictions (or what Welch calls “worship disorders”). Elyze Fitzpatrick’s Love to Eat, Hate to Eat discusses the problems of gluttony and eating-disorders. I've not read this yet, but I have read her book Idols of the Heart, and found it heart-probing and helpful.

5. Psychological Problems. Books in this category I know more by partially reading, skimming the table of contents, and reading the reviews of others. Nevertheless, here are my picks. Two books on depression should prove very helpful: first, Martyn Lloyd-Jones’s classic Spiritual Depression: It’s Causes and Cure, a series of sermons from Psalm 42 that are rich with encouragement and biblical insight. Secondly, and more recently, Edward Welch’s book Depression: A Stubborn Darkness is a thorough and compassionate book that understands the complexity of causes behind depression and charts a hopeful path for relief. Welch’s Blame It On the Brain explores the differences between chemical imbalances, brain disorders, and disobedience – addressing issues such as ADD, homosexuality, and alcoholism with merciful and truthful biblical counsel. Joni Eareskson Tada’s When God Weeps: Why Our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty is a good book for people dealing with grief. And Trusting God Even When Life Hurts by Jerry Bridges offers a God-centered perspective on facing suffering and affliction.

6. Other Resources. Finally, pastors would do well to take advantage of two other resources: first, the series of short booklets produced by the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation. These booklets address everything from stress and worry to obsessive-compulsive disorder and homosexuality. They are short, readable, and inexpensive – the ideal resource to pass on to counselees. And secondly, consider subscribing to The Journal of Biblical Counseling, also produced by CCEF. Even better, purchase the first 25 years of the Journal which is now on a fully searchable CD-ROM. This is an invaluable resource offering fast and easy access to some of the best material on biblical counseling ever written.

No comments: