I’m home. Thanks to those who were praying for me. This past week I had the privilege of attending the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors’ (ACBC) annual conference in Indianapolis, and it was a tremendous experience. The associational anniversary of forty years was jam-packed with solid sessions on biblical counseling.
Momentum is on our side, and it was in full view at this conference. There are many who desire to move away from some form of Christianized psychotherapy—an integrated approach of secular thought and the Bible—to a biblical method of problem-solving. They are seeing the truth of God’s Word for what it truly is: “everything we need for a godly life” (2 Peter 1:3).
It’s a refreshing resurgence in what is known as the “nouthetic approach,” (from the Greek New Testament word νουθετέω; see Romans 15:14; to look to Scripture in every confrontation, concern, and change that is necessary). The introduction to a book given away at the conference, Sufficiency: Historic Essays on the Sufficiency of Scripture, explains:
The inspired Scriptures alone reveal God’s understanding of what is wrong with us, explains who we are supposed to be, and shows how God intends to change us through the work of our precious Redeemer, Jesus Christ. And so, by God’s grace, our commitment to Scripture continues because we are convinced that apart from it we cannot help the people we are called to help, and our movement cannot—indeed, it should not—endure.1
Let me draw the battle lines. Psychiatry means “healing the soul,” but it is ill-equipped to do so. It has nothing to offer in terms of real hope or a healing that lasts. It focuses on self not Savior. Bob Kellemen and Steve Viars write in the introduction to Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling:
Biblical counseling does not offer a system or a program, but rather it shares a person—the Person—Jesus Christ… [it] is ultimately not about the counselee or the counselor, but about the Divine Counselor.2
I need to move on and share some of the conference highlights, but before I do—first, let me state that I serve in a church were the leadership believes it is important for its pastors to attend a large conference of his choosing each year. One that will equip, encourage, and edify him in prep for the work that lays ahead. I am grateful.
If you are reading this and your pastor does not receive such a blessing, then please share this article with one of your elders. (After all, it’s pastor appreciation month.)
Second, I chose this conference over many others because pastoral ministry involves the constant care and counseling of souls. Personally, it is an area of my ministry that continues to grow. ACBC is on the front lines of this, providing the necessary training and certification to equip us to be better biblical counselors, vehicles of God’s grace. That’s why I was in Indy.
So with that out of the way, let me briefly share with you two powerful takeaways that I received from the conference:
The first plenary session was given by Dr. Heath Lambert, the executive director of ACBC, and it may have been the best message of them all. Perhaps it is because he has a pastor’s heart. Lambert serves as an executive pastor at First Baptist Church in Jacksonville and his exposition of 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 was masterful.
This is the passage where Paul begs three times (all in failure) for God to remove a “thorn in the flesh.” While we are not entirely sure of what the thorn is, we do know it is causing Paul some deep anxiety.
God’s grace is normally defined as His unmerited favor; and there is nothing wrong with that. However, that meaning implies the removal of the pain—God loving us when we get relief from our struggles.
It may be a reason why we desire relief instead of power in the midst of our trials. It is only when we get relief that God loves us, right? Wrong.
Grace is present even when the pain will not go away. Lambert stated, “We need weakness to shatter self-sufficiency.” That is why Paul declares that “I would rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me” (v. 9).
I had never given thought to the concept offered by Lambert that “grace is the receipt of power in the midst of pain.” What a precious truth. “God’s grace is sufficient for counseling because God’s grace is sufficient for our pain.” Lambert has given me much, so much to think on and incorporate into my counseling of others.
Another power hitter (it’s October-baseball, you know) is Dr. David Powlison. He delivered with an inside-the-park home run. The message included six points on how we can be vehicles of grace to one another.
No one else was more qualified to dissect what faithful, loving, and relevant counsel from the Bible looks like. Powlison is the executive director of the CCEF (Christian Counseling and Education Foundation) and has over thirty years of counseling experience.
His message leveled the playing field by emphasizing how grace can be brought into the counseling room. “Biblical counseling isn’t counselor to client. It is human to human.”
The problem with mentioning a few is that you leave others out. Let me add Dr. Lee Edmund‘s breakout session on “Mental Illness and the Nature of Man” and Dr. Wayne Mack‘s conference closer “Questioning God’s Love For Us” as two more essentials.
These were strong topical messages with a number of helpful steps to address the ailing heart of man. Ultimately, both speakers wisely concluded that we must come to a realization of who we are before God in order to keep ourselves from descending into ungodly patterns such as anger, depression, self-pity, and even suicide.
RECOGNITION OF WIVES
The ACBC leadership also took time out at the conference to honor two wives for their faithfulness in each of their husband’s respective ministries. Nan Powlison and Carol Mack were publicly called and commended for their selflessness, and for the immense value of their service to the glory of God.
As my wife and I celebrate our twenty-first wedding anniversary today, I’m reminded of the same. My ministry is also hers. I simply could not and would not be able to do it without her constant care and consistent counsel over these many years. What she does for me behind the scenes is incalculable. She is a vehicle of God’s grace; and I am blessed beyond measure to have her in my life.