To venable (verb): To randomly muse upon this and that.

Archive for the ‘Counselling’ Category

Social (And Pastoral) Interaction

Having been challenged helpfully recently about being too private and not sharing enough about myself, I have been led to ponder upon the whole issue of social interaction. This also bears upon how we interact with people from a pastoral point of view; there are lots of cross-overs.

  • We must consider everyone to be more important than ourselves. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves (Phil. 1:3) is what Paul says to the Philippians. We must view all our interaction with others in this light. You are more important than me should always be our mantra.
  • Listening to the other person is such an important thing. Take a look at Luke 24 and see the Lord listening to the two on the road to Emmaus. I have written about that here.
  • Asking Questions. Good listening also involves asking good questions. In all this we showing that we are interested in the other person.
  • We need to share with each other. Just seeking information from the other person can be seen as manipulative even prying. A readiness to share gives an indication of me trusting, even honouring, the other person. You are doing this because you are committing certain information to them for their stewardship. This can, also, lead to the other person being willing to open up to us.
  • In order for others to care we need to share. In Gal. 6:2 we are called to share  Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. If you do not know my burden then you cannot bear it. However, if you make it clear to me that you will not bear my burden then I will be most disinclined to share it.
  • Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honoured, as happened among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith (2 Thess. 3:1-2) is what Paul says to the Thessalonians. One reason to share with others is to give them material so that they can pray for us. Do we want others to be praying for yourself? Then get information to them about yourself.
  • Interaction and sharing lead to flourishing and growing relationships. Relationships grow when there is the obvious willingness to be involved with another person and share time and life with them. By showing keen interest in another person and wanting to spend time with them you indicate that you want them to be a part of your life.
  • If there is a certain activity or work that the other person is doing and you show no interest in it then the message you are giving is that you are not interested them. If the other person perceives this, then they are unlikely to want to share much of their situation with you.
  • If you are in pastoral ministry then you have a calling to care. In fact if there is no desire to care in your heart then you should not be in that position. In caring you take an interest in the other person, and you want to know about them and listen to them. In fact you should always be wanting to be increasingly aware of the sheep under your care. As a result there can be the danger that you don’t reciprocate with sharing about yourself. It can be with the best of intentions. However, the other person can come away feeling short-changed because they have given you a lot and you have given them nothing.
  • Times also change in relationships. There can be seasons when you need to share with another person and they need to share with you.
  • A further perspective here is that leaders create cultures. If the leader is self-obsessed and always vaunting himself above people, then that will creates that kind of culture. If a leader is too quiet and shares nothing then you will end up with a very secretive community.

Lots for me to continue to think about for life and mins try.


Fundamentals Of Care / Counselling

The community of God’s people should be a community of love. That is our calling. Our Lord Jesus said: By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Our love has multifarious ways of expressing itself. One particular way is in how we help one another, with our character flaws and failures, to walk for the Lord as we ought.

One thing for sure though, we should be committed to helping one another. To allow there to be deficiencies in each others lives and never get involved to help is not loving. We need to remember the basic call of our Lord for us in our lives, following the original eleven, is Go therefore and make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19a). In your church you should be continually working towards all of your fellow brothers and sisters in church membership being formed into Christ-likeness as disciples of Christ.

But how should we get involved? There are three stages we need to go through.

Examination. We need to take time to thoroughly establish what the issue might be. This would normally involve speaking with the person as regards to things going on in their life. We might ask why they did a certain thing. And we will very, likely ask other people as regards to any concerns they might have.

Diagnose. Having considered the matter fully, and sought the Lord in prayer, we reach a conclusion about what the problem is. Sometimes this might be a tentative conclusion at other times it will be firmer. Whatever way it is we will be loving and kind and gentle in the way we express our conclusion. The other person must know that we have their best interests at heart.

Remedy. Finally we will seek to offer a remedy. To offer a diagnosis without a remedy can be cruel. There may be times though when you have to go away and seek further counsel before you can give a remedy. As regards to the remedy, it may be  giving specific biblical exhortation. It may be recommending certain changes in lifestyle. It may be simply talking through the issues with the person. It may be getting others in to help.


So love gets involved in each others lives in the church. This is not out of busy-body activity, but out of love.

In the process described above the similarity to a medical approach should be evident. There is a sense that love makes us doctors to each others souls.

Finally to finish on a medical thought we need to remember the truth of Matthew 7:3-5 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye’, when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. Before engaging in eye surgery on another do some I surgery on yourself to cure yourself first.

Hyperbole And Shock

The use of hyperbolic language is a legitimate tool in seeking to minister into the lives of others. Similarly, speaking with an intention to shock people has a proper place in the aresnal of artillery that can be used in seeking to get people to consider their situation before God. However, I suggest that they need to be used sparingly.

A passage which is filled with hyperbole and shock is Matthew 23. Here our Lord is seeking to get the self-righteous religious Pharisees to think about the perilous position they are in. They have been so self-affirming about their ways and self-confident in their position before God that shock tactics are needed.

This approach by our Lord is not used regularly. It is only used in specific contexts when it is necessary to get people, who are steeped in their ways and traditions, to examine the full implication of their position. The normal ministry of our Lord is to listen, converse, persuade, exhort and generally walk with people so as to bring them into line with God’s will and thinking.

We should take heed to this. To be using shock tactics and emotive, even incendiary, language too often means that it loses it’s effect. Shocking people too often means that they become inured against the shock.

Let us look at a further example if the use of shock tactics. Let us look at the ministry of the Lord to Peter in Matthew 16:21-23:

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

It is interesting here that the Lord from initially speaking to the disciples as one group takes Peter aside. He then rebukes him apparently on his own. It is as if Peter alone needs to be shocked here by the content of his response to the Lord’s declaration of His mission. Addressing a group to shock one person is not necessarily a good approach; there may be a lot of collateral damage from disturbed souls. Taking the person aside who needs speaking to is likely the best approach.

This reminds me of the need for much wisdom in pastoral ministry. There are times when the power of the Word needs to come to the gathered group; there are other times when a person needs to be spoken with individually.

Further, sometimes we need to intervene quickly in a situation, like with the Lord and Peter, and give a message to startle someone because that person is starting on a disastrous road. We need so much wisdom in these things, but let us be careful in our use of language in ministering to one another.


Are You Ok, Meghan?

Please see this video here at approximately 1.56 in. It is a fascinating interaction. It shows how the Duchess of Sussex obviously had a heart-cry that people would really take a interest in her welfare. This had particularly been the case subsequent to the birth of Archie, her son.

So I want to ask you; will people leave your church tomorrow with a heart-cry that no-one had shown an interest in them? I want to challenge you (and me) to be the ones who make sure that does not happen. So to the person:

  • Whose spouse has turned from the Lord, ask them how the situation is now.
  • Who has been out-of-work, ask about the job applications and their prospects.
  • With a difficult marriage, ask about the present situation.
  • who is struggling with depression, ask how they finding help to get through the situation.
  • With health difficulties, enquire about their health.
  • Recently diagnosed with serious illness, express your concern for them and ask whether they need any help.
  • With young children, ask how they are coping with all the demands of full -on parenting.
  • Who is a full-time, carer ask how they are coping with the relentless demands of that situation.
  • In work, ask how they are coping with the demands laid on them.
  • At school, ask them about their studies and the pressures they are experiencing
  • Who is a parent ask how their children are getting on spiritually.

Overall right now get your heart in tune with God’s and go and care for your brothers and sisters tomorrow in church. If such is the case you will be engaging in a big, big ministry. And that ministry will be even bigger if you pray with and for those people.

And if you are the person with that heart-cry yearning for others to take interest in you Can I say four things:

  1. It may be best you find someone who you know well, who you are sure will show interest in you and listen.
  2. You go up to others ask them about their difficulties and situations. An outward loving interest in others can be the means the Lord uses to help you through your perplexities.
  3. If no-one shows interest in you; remember that you have a Father in heaven who will always care for you and take an interest in you.
  4. Don’t berate the state of your church if no-one takes an interest in you. We do not always get everything right for each other. Sometimes we fail each other. Your best response to such failure is to be a loving example yourself.

Depression – What Not To Say

As I have observed here staying quiet and listening can be one of the best responses we make to those in need. Notwithstanding that it is good to show our interest in others by actually speaking to them, being quiet and listening is vital. With depressed people we can so easily think that we have to give our advice to seek to give them help. In such a situation we can blurt out all kinds of unhelpful things. So here are some things not to say to the depressed:

Just Relax “I would love to be able to do that; to just relax and feel my being eased. Don’t you think I want to be relaxed!” is how the depressed person would want to respond to this. A far better way is to know the person and to guide them into the ways that help them to relax.

You’re better off than a lot of other people – to which the depressed person may well say: “I know that I am, but that does not alleviate the pain that I am feeling.” When dealing with depressed people you need to know that at the heart of the experience of depression is that of a mental dysfunction. Physical and circumstantial re-arrangements may have little impact upon their mental and emotional well-being. Their circumstances may be far better than that of others, but that is not the issue

You need to get better sleep. “If only I could! I would love to be sleeping better. However, I am so mangled with stress that sleep is so often elusive. And then there is that waking up with a feeling of hopelessness and disarray.” So says or thinks the one assailed with depression.

How are your wife and family coping with your depression? – “Oh no I’m not just in a mess myself, but i am causing all kinds of difficulties for my family” thinks the depressed person. Ask the family directly, if it is appropriate, about how they are getting on, would be a better approach in exercising your care for the family.

Cheer Up – “Oh I do wish I could be brighter and not so deflated by life, but it’s not just about cheering up.”

Pull yourself together. “If only I could. I would love to be back together like I have been in the past. But my being is now in a state of disrepair and I can’t get things together.”

Christians should not get depressed – Urrh, what about Elijah then in 1 Kings 19? The man who had it all together in facing the prophets of Baal in chapter 18 is now in disarray under the broom tree. So we read: But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” (1 Kings 18:4). And what of the soul’s cast downcast condition related by the sons of Korah in Psalm 42? Is that not depression?

Christians should not take medication for depression. This may be true for some people who have a variety of depression that is more appropriately dealt with by counselling or lifestyle changes. However, for many the chemical imbalance that leads to reduced serotonin levels is appropriately dealt with through medication.


  • please do not shun people with depression and do not feel you have to avoid the subject when speaking with them. However, do be careful with what you say.
  • remember that depressed people likely do not have a great capacity for interacting about matters, so short times with them is probably best for them.
  • before you say anything pray to the Lord for wisdom.


Here is a fascinating article about the seeking of advice by parents. Tim Challies makes two recommendation for parents:

  1. Find a couple who have parented children and their children are now into their twenties. Such children you perceive to be wholesome, well developed individuals. Seek out such a couple and speak to them about parenting. Seek their advice.
  2. Get that couple to observe your family and to give their view of your parenting. You give  them a free invitation into your family and welcome their counsel.

This seems to be such sound counsel and well worth heeding for the parents of any younger children.

However, the principle also applies in all sorts of areas of life. It can apply at work and in engaging in different kinds of service.

If you are a preacher seeking to taking your first steps in preaching then follow the two stages Tim Challies mentions and you will be well.

Similarly for those who are married seek out a godly couple who have progressed healthily in their marriage over many years.

We need to be deliberate about these things. We need to be open to being corrected.

I fear that there is so much wisdom and good counsel that goes untapped because we are all so self-contained. Dare I say that at the heart of this issue is a sense of  pride that I will be able to do it myself.

The article also refers to the problem of millennials just looking online for advice and the constant tendency to only reference your peers for advice. When seeking advice it is best as a general principle to go to those who are older: those who have passed through the seasons of life.

Our churches, families and communities will be prospered and helped when we are seeking and giving advice with freedom and receptivity.

Imposing A Narrative

What I am thinking of here is the issue of how we respond to peoples’ situations. This can be an issue for parents with their children, friends with one another, employers with their employees. In fact it applies in many situations. I want to think about how we interact we the situations of others.

General. In all situations we must impose the narrative of the gospel to understand the situation we are dealing with. The malaise of this world, as manifest in peoples’ lives, is caused by the entrance of sin into this world. The remedy for the issue of sin is the blood of our Lord Jesus. His salvific work to redeem lives, will work ultimately to retrieve this world form disorder and chaos.

There must be great wisdom and sensitivity in applying the gospel narrative into the situation with which we are interacting. Simplistic cause and effect reasoning are very much cautioned against in Luke 13:1-5. That passage reads:

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

However, that passage also indicates that in a destabilized world, it is sin in the world that is the root cause and as sinners we need to repent. In all this our Lord is imposing a gospel narrative on the situation.

Specific. On the other hand when we come to deal with specific situations we need to be wary of imposing any pre-conceived narrative. I have been very much aware of this through my being afflicted with depression. People may or may not have been right about the narrative they were bringing to my situation. However, what took me aback, at times, was the unwillingness to actually establish with me what had happened to me. People either would not ask or, if they did ask, would not listen to what was said.

I am arguing that always before we jump to conclusions we should stop and consider what has happened. This means we actually listen to the person and find out what there experience is and what they have been through to get there.  For parents, I feel we will fulfill the requirement to not exasperate our children (see Eph. 6:4) if we follow this approach.

Always remember, as well, that even though two people are experiencing something identical that does not mean that the causes of that experience are the same. So don’t assume when you come across someone displaying certain things that you have seen in someone before that the cause is the same in both cases.

It is very frustrating to be on the end of certain counsel or certain views about your situation from people you believe have not taken time to find out about your situation.

So my conclusion is when interacting with any situation always impose a gospel narrative, but never impose a personal narrative.

Nouthetic Counselling and Depression.

From Wikipedia we get “nouthetic counselling” defined as a form of Evangelical Protestant pastoral counselling based solely upon the Bible and focused on Christ. It repudiates mainstream psychology and psychiatry as humanistic, fundamentally opposed to Christianity, and radically secular. Jay Adams who has been a key figure in driving forward this approach to counselling defines it as biblical counseling characterized by confrontation, concern, and change in the life of a Christian.

I would be a firm advocate of this approach to helping people move forward through the problems of life. To feel that we can move forward and live healthily and profitably without the informed wisdom of the Lord’s Word is a fundamentally flawed approach. The Word of God keeps us on the right track through all the pains and upheavals of life.

However, the problem with nouthetic counselling is when it overreaches itself. When it is concluded that all problems of the mind and emotions can simply be resolved by hearing the Word, believing it and responding to it in obedient faith, then there is a problem. Let me be clear we must hear, believe and respond to the Word with believing faith. However, it is dangerous to conclude that medication can be of no help in the mental and emotional realm. I have written here about my journey in taking antidepressants. My experience and the experience of many others is that the chemical input supplied by the medication provides the means of stabilising me mentally and emotionally so that I function.”normally”.

It is the medication that has been critical in bringing me through and out of the pit of depression. However, I am also aware that I need the ongoing application of scripture into my life to live godly in Christ Jesus through and out of depression and in all things.

Not Many Listeners.

One thing that has struck me during my recent struggles with depression, is that there are not many listeners around. The ministry of listening seems to be much undervalued and little practiced. I have written about this previously here. I want to encourage you as regards to the value of this ministry. I want to encourage you to the ministry of listening. I want you to think about the blessing that you can bring as a listener.

So many think that they cannot help other people because they will not be able to say the right thing to help someone with their problem. But that is not the best way to think about speaking with people who have issues in their lives. Rather, it is through being a listener to someone recounting their struggles and difficulties that you can be such a help. So very often it is in the speaking out of a matter that someone is helped. Your listening, not your speaking will be the key to helping someone. When someone talks something out they can very often sort something out. This is because the talking leads to sifting through the issue in their hearts and minds.

Moreover, the fact of having someone to listen to you can be such blessing because you realise that someone is out there who cares; I am not isolated and on my own.

In engaging in listening ministry the key is to be willing to be quiet; not to feel that you have got to interject and make your point. It is also important to be able to ask relevant questions. I suggest there needs to be a mixture of open-ended questions, which help people to work through their situation, and specific questions, which make people focus on the issues. Such questions as “What led to your problem?” or “How are you understanding matters now?” would be open-ended questions. Such questions as “When did that happen?” or Who said that?” would be direct questions.

Above all meditate and learn from the example of our Lord in Luke 24. I have written here previously on this. On the road to Emmaus we see our Saviour as the perfect listener.

So please please think about how you can be of much service to the church and people generally through the ministry of being a listener. And dare i say, any engagers in this ministry will be so valuable to the Lord.

Make Sure You Listen.

Are you a listener? If not you could well be messing your life up. Listen here to two eminent men commenting upon listening.

Tim Challies has written here about “Why people aren’t Christians”. One of the reasons he states is that, They don’t stop talking long enough to listen. He expands upon this by saying:

I have noticed this with a surprising number of people. They have told me the worst possible news – that our future state depends upon doing enough good deeds to balance out all the bad ones. Meanwhile, I’ve got the best possible news – that they can give up that impossible pursuit and, by grace, receive the merits of what Christ has already done. But they won’t listen. In fact, they won’t stop talking long enough for me to tell them that. And when I try to get a word in edgewise, they cut me off and talk even more. What should be an exchange of ideas and information becomes a one-way torrent and they never get to hear the news that could change their lives. Perhaps they aren’t Christians because they won’t stop talking long enough to hear the news that could transform them.

Sir Alex Ferguson in his book on leadership entitled Leading says on P.13

Many people cannot stop long enough to listen – especially when they become successful and all the people around them are being obsequious and pretending to hang on their every word. They launch into monologues as if suddenly they know everything. Putting these megalomaniacs to one side, it always pays to listen to others. It’s like enrolling in a continuous lifelong free education, with the added benefit there are no examinations and you can always discard useless comments.

So take stock here Philip and ponder upon whether or not you are a listener. If you are a poor listener or worse still, a non-listener, you may be seriously prejudicing your future:

I have written previously and mused on similar issues here

Tag Cloud