Journey to Biblical Counseling: An Interview with Bob Kellemen
Welcome to the first installment of Counseling One Another’s new feature Journey to Biblical Counseling. Here I interview various pastors, teachers, equippers, authors, and leaders in the biblical counseling movement. What led them to biblical counseling? What were some of the influences the Lord used in their journey? How do they now define biblical counseling? These are just a few of the questions they will answer. Our special guest for this inaugural edition is Dr. Bob Kellemen of the Biblical Counseling Coalition and RPM Ministries.
Bob, what is your current involvement in biblical counseling?
I’m the Executive Director of the Biblical Counseling Coalition where our mission is to promote personal change centered on the Person of Christ through the personal ministry of the Word. I also equip pastors and lay leaders for biblical counseling in several seminaries, including Capital Bible Seminary in Lanham, MD. Through RPM Ministries I speak, write, and consult with the goal of equipping God’s people to change lives with Christ’s changeless truth. I’ve also authored nine books on biblical counseling and Christian living, including Equipping Counselors for Your Church.
In 50 words or less, how do you define Biblical Counseling?
I can get close to 50 words…‘Biblical counseling is Christ-centered, church-based, comprehensive, compassionate, and culturally-informed personal ministry that depends upon the Holy Spirit to relate God’s inspired truth about people, problems, and solutions to human suffering (through sustaining and healing) and sin (through reconciling and guiding) to equip people to exalt and enjoy God and to love others (Matt 22:35-40) by cultivating conformity to Christ and communion with Christ and the Body of Christ leading to a community of one-another disciple-makers (Matt 28:16-20; Eph 4:11-16).’
How does your definition, today, differ from your thinking 5 or 10 years ago?
That’s a great question! All the components would have been there 5 to 10 years ago, but I highlight some of them more overtly now. For example, the modifiers ‘Christ-centered, church-based, comprehensive, compassionate, and culturally-informed’ were always part of my thinking, but now I embed them in the definition. Also, the phrase ‘that depends upon the Holy Spirit’ was always core to my thinking and practice, but now I make it central in my definition. And the final phrase, ‘a community of one-another disciple-makers’ has always been part of my equipping heartbeat—but it is more overt in my definition now. I guess 5 to 10 years ago I would have made your 50-word limit!
What people, circumstances, influences, etc. did the Holy Spirit use to move you from your former thoughts to your current convictions?
To answer that question, I have to go back to 1974. I was saved in a church pastored by two early leaders in the modern biblical counseling movement—Bill Goode (Faith Baptist Church of Lafayette, IN) and Ron Allchin (now of Biblical Counseling Center in Arlington Heights, IL). Even before I knew they were ‘biblical counselors,’ I experienced and benefitted from their personal ministry of the Word. Move forward a decade and in 1984 another event shaped my biblical counseling. Students at Grace Theological Seminary were in a ‘counseling war’ over competing views of biblical/Christian counseling. It was then that I decided to study the Scriptures from cover to cover to develop a biblical theology of people, problems, and solutions. I also decided to search church history—especially prior to the advent of modern secular psychology—to learn from the ‘great cloud of witnesses.’ I learned from the Scriptures and the great soul physicians of the church (the Church Fathers, the Reformers, the Puritans) that the personal ministry of the Word always combined truth and love and always dealt both with the evils we have suffered and the sins we have committed. That’s a concise summary of my approach to biblical counseling: truth and love for sin and suffering.
What do you see as the relationship of biblical counseling to the local church?
I think we have to answer that question from two perspectives: 1.) Pastor and People, and 2.) The Pulpit Ministry of the Word and the Personal Ministry of the Word. As I develop in Equipping Counselors for Your Church, the primary calling of the pastor-teacher is to equip God’s people for the work of the ministry. Paul describes that work as speaking the truth in love so that we all grow up together into the Head—Christ (Eph 4:11-16). The core calling of every member is the one-another ministry of gospel conversations that point one another to Christ and growth in Christ. That’s the pastor/people perspective. The pulpit/personal ministry of the Word perspective teaches that just as the pastor relates truth to life from the pulpit, so pastor and people relate truth to life in the office, at the McDonalds, at Starbucks, and over the backyard fence. Of course, that does not mean that the personal ministry of the Word is ‘preaching at’ people. But it does mean that we have the same confidence in God’s Word to change lives in the pulpit and in personal ministry. In this sense, every church should be a ‘biblical counseling’ church—not just a church with biblical counseling, but a church of biblical counseling—where every conversation, every relationship, is saturated with confidence that God’s Word provides wisdom for life in a broken world.
Is biblical counseling for every believer? Why or why not?
I’ve certainly laid a foundation for the answer to that question in my previous response. But there’s so much more to say. My one-word answer: ‘Yes!’ The Apostle Paul says it like this in Romans 15:14, ‘I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge, and competent to disciples one another’ (my translation from the Greek). Paul starts with redundancy for emphasis: ‘I myself/you yourselves.’ He wants the ‘average, ordinary Christian in the small house churches in Rome to understand that they are competent to counsel. Of course, in the context of saying they were competent, he also says they need equipping. In fact, I see a four-fold model of biblical counseling equipping in Romans 15:14. (1.) Christlike Character (‘full of goodness’), (2.) Biblical Content (‘complete in knowledge’), (3.) Relational/Counseling Competence (‘competent to disciple), and (4.) Christian Community (‘brothers/one another’). Any counseling equipping that wants to call itself biblical must include equipping in all of those components. And when it does, we should agree with Paul that every equipped believer is competent to counsel.
If you had the power to immediately change one thing in the ‘Biblical Counseling Movement,’ what would it be?
The Biblical Counseling Coalition is working toward the one thing—collaborative relationships. Many amazing developments are occurring in the biblical counseling world, but if Christianity as a whole is going to be ‘won over’ to confidence in and competence at biblical counseling, then we need to work together to produce robust resources that equip the equippers. I long for the day when all Christians believe that God’s Word is robust, rich, and relevant for life in a broken world. I long for the day when all churches promote personal change centered on the Person of Christ through the personal ministry of the Word. That will only begin to happen if leaders in the biblical counseling world continue to work together to advance the cause of biblical counseling.
If someone wanted to be equipped to better serve the Lord through the ministry of counseling, what do you suggest should be their first few steps?
I would encourage them to look for a church, para-church ministry, or school that provides comprehensive equipping. I mentioned the Romans 15:14 model. I think some equipping in biblical counseling can be somewhat deficient in one or the other of those four aspects. For example, some equipping might spend less time on the character of the counselor. That can’t be. We learn to be biblical counselors by giving and receiving biblical counsel in community. As our lives are changed by God’s Word, we become more empowered and better equipped to minister God’s Word to others. Another example—some equipping might spend less time on the relational aspect. However, we are to speak the truth in love. Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 2:8 that because the people were so dear to him, he gave them not only the Scriptures but his very own soul, because he loved them. So, I encourage people to look for equipping that is more than a ‘brain dump,’ but that helps them to grow in loving, relational, soul-to-soul connecting. Other equipping might minimize God’s truth—that’s horrendous. That’s why I wrote Soul Physicians which seeks to provide a comprehensive biblical theology of biblical counseling. My point—if you want to be equipped to serve the Lord and His people through biblical counseling, then look for training that comprehensively equips you in the ‘4Cs’ of Christlike Character, Biblical Content, and Counseling/Relational Competence in the context of Christian Community.