One of the areas in which most of us are poorly trained by the seminaries is counseling. We spend much time studying good and important things, but considering the inordinate amount of time that most pastors spend on speaking Gospel truth into people’s lives, you’d think we would do a better job of preparing people to do just that. I’m finding in 15 years of ministry, that I’m woefully under prepared for the counseling that I do, and that I am looking for further training. What is wonderful though, is that there is a great abundance of resources being published to help address these most pressing needs. Robert Kelleman, in his new series, Equipping Biblical Counselors from Zondervan is filling a large gap in those resources. His newest, Gospel Conversations: How to Care Like Christ, is exceptional, not just for pastors and counselors, but for all in the body of Christ who want to minister like Jesus did.
Kelleman’s previous book in the series, Gospel-Centered Counseling: How Christ Changes Lives and another companion book edited by himself and Jeff Forrey, Scripture and Counseling: God’s Word for Life in a Broken World (both from Zondervan), offer helpful resources to most pastors and counselors and the dedicated layperson. The first offers a helpful look at the entire counseling process and the theology behind it, in particular, the 8 ultimate questions of life to apply Christ’s truth to, and whereas the second devotes copious resources to understanding how biblical counseling uses God’s Word as it’s source. Both are excellent, but where Gospel Conversations shines in that it is designed for all of us in mind.
Gospel Conversations, though is written as a second work following Gospel-Centered Counseling, in that it is the continuation of that discussion and bringing what we’ve learned into actually doing counseling. The beauty of this though is taking the principles that Kelleman lays out and seeking to apply them to all our Gospel conversation, not just to the formal counseling situation (think Tripp’s, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands).
Kelleman employs his “four compass points” of biblical counseling to speak Gospel truth into any situation. These points are:
- Sustaining – “It’s normal to hurt.”
- Healing – “It’s possible to hope.”
- Reconciling – “It’s horrible to sin but wonderful to be forgiven.”
- Guiding – “It’s supernatural to mature.”
Kelleman uses these four points to build off speaking the truth in any Gospel-focused conversation, whether it be formal counseling or simply speaking to a brother or sister.
These points are developed along 5 or 6 further points of development (21 in all) through the handy acronyms of GRACE, RESTS, PEACEE, and FAITH. Each one develops the points further into helpful characteristics for counseling. For instance, under the 5 Sustaining counseling competencies of GRACE, Kelleman wants us to develop the following:
- Grace Connecting
- Rich Soul Empathizing
- Attuned Gospel Listening
- Comforting Spiritual Conversations
- Empathetic Scriptural Explorations
All of these points, rooted in God’s Word, provides a helpful map of helping each person in each situation. So many Christians, “don’t know what to say,” when people are hurting. Myself, with the recent loss of our unborn baby, struggled through some severe depression. So few had anything helpful or sustaining to say from God’s Word. How wonderful would it have been been to hear the kind of words outlined above through that acronym, and which Kelleman develops further, to help to sustain me in my dark depression?
Keep in mind, this isn’t an easy book. It’s certainly prepared as a textbook format, and Kelleman, while offering some foundations of biblical counseling in the beginning, also presumes we’ve got a good understanding of those foundations before we begin. That being said, for those who are interested and willing to be stretched and grow in how they speak Gospel truth into people’s lives will be richly rewarded, not only through how they apply the Gospel in their own lives but how they apply it in each others as well. You’ll apply Gospel truth to a number of real situations that will shape how you apply those same truths to those whom you meet.
Are you frustrated that you “don’t know what to say,” or frankly, that what you do say is unhelpful (often too, the case for Christians), then I would recommend Gospel Conversations, as a helpful tool to train you to speak the Gospel into any and all of life’s circumstances.