How to Train an Intensive Discipler of Others

(AKA: A Philosophy of Education)

“And many years from now
Long after we are gone
These trees will spread their branches out
And bless the dawn”
— Andrew Peterson, “Planting Trees”

What an incredible privilege it is to train others to be disciplers, and it becomes even more exciting when we realize we are training those who will pass on their training to others (2 Tim 2:2). As a team we get to equip equippers all over the world (Matt. 28:18-20; Eph. 4:11-12)! In light of being a team, we desire to be unified in our approach.

When soldiers are in training, there is a set process to prepare them for the rigors of combat. I would argue that training disciplers who deal with an individual’s intense issues is more important and more complicated than the training of a soldier. Our training ought to be more rigorous because the souls of human beings are literally on the line.

With this as an understanding of our context, let’s start to think biblically about how equipping happens. We must have a thorough model of equipping that we can pass on to others. It is obvious from Scripture that the Lord cares about people as a whole and not just as a brain.  For example, we are called to love Yahweh our God with all of our inner and outer person (Matt. 22:36-40). As trainers, therefore, we must be concerned about the whole person and not just imparting head knowledge. The whole person must be trained with solid content, character formation, and competencies (skills) while understanding the central place in Scripture of church community. All four C’s must be present in a well-balanced training program.

Content (Head)

“We have truth in a world of theory” Psalm 19:7 & Psalm 119: 130

Biblical counseling is based upon the premise that we have Truth in a world of theory. We have the greatest worldview in the history of the world. Academic giants like C.S. Lewis, have found their minds and souls satisfied by the rich truths of Christianity found in Scripture. Lewis said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it but because by it I see everything else.”[i]

In particular, Scripture says about itself that God’s word is actually God speaking (2 Tim. 3:16-17; Heb. 4:12). He has not left us directionless on a difficult planet that has been permeated by the effects of sin but has given us specific revelation that tells us who we are, discerning the thoughts and intentions of our hearts, and telling us the redemptive and doxological story of history.

Therefore, it is our goal to give rich and challenging academic content from the word of God. It is imperative that trainees see how we are developing counseling methodologies that are derived right from the text of Scripture or are clear implications from the text.

We must use books that are rich with Scripture, model proper Bible interpretation, and are sound in theology.

Our whole system is based upon a high view of Scripture and scriptural sufficiency to develop a complete counseling system. The God of the universe has spoken through His word and in particular He has spoken about the soul, mind, heart, spirit, conscience, what is wrong with, and how to remedy our desperate situation. In a world trying to understand why humans have personal problems, we have an urgently needed perspective and rich insight into the human experience.

This excellent understanding of content must also include understanding how the psychologies and integrationist psychologies have influenced the local country where we are training. Our counselors must be able to evaluate other worldviews in order to properly interact with them. Students must see how we are drawing counseling implications out of the text of Scripture so they are not led down the path of thinking there are vital external resources outside of Scripture.

We need not be intimidated by the psychologies because our system is deeper and richer. Because Scripture is God breathed it is living and, therefore, as God is inexhaustible in His character, Scripture is inexhaustible in its content. Psychology often claims to be based on science so we need to train our students how to evaluate scientific claims and, in particular, “evidence-based research.” Epistemology is a key concern, therefore there are crucial questions to answer. What authority does science have? How should we view the psychologies? We must prepare them for integrationism and equip them to know how to address integrationism.

Love[ii]Students must be taught to love Scripture like the psalmists (Ps.19:10; 119: 97). For them to catch a vision for loving Scripture, all teachers must be totally committed to the sufficiency of Scripture and model a love and desire for it. As one way to encourage this, all instructors must be ACBC certified.[iii] Students learn best when they love the subject matter so effective teachers must not just teach to know information but also stir students to love biblical counseling and the God of biblical counseling.

A Godward Focus—All of life is about the glory of God. To find out how to live this God-glorifying life one must listen to God’s voice in the Bible. It will bring glory to God if we demonstrate we are following Him and teaching others to do so in fulfillment of the great commission (Matt. 28:18-20). It glorifies God when we use our minds in God-honoring ways and teach our students to think (Phil. 4:8). To help students think, we teach not just what to think but how to think, how to evaluate, and how to be discerning. This can be modeled by asking challenging questions and giving assignments that require them to evaluate thinking.

GospelThe greatest gift we can give any culture around the world is a clear message of the problem with mankind, how this has impacted our relationship with our Creator, and what He did about it to remedy our greatest need. Our presentations of the gospel must be clear; we are calling precious people around the world to turn from their own idolatry through repentance and place their faith in Christ alone as a payment for sin (I Thess. 1:9). They must believe not only that He paid the price for their sin but rose again to defeat sin and death. The gospel is not just a message to believe but a person to follow so when a person repents, he or she becomes a follower of the Master. In fulfillment of the Great Commission, we are calling individuals to become disciples.

Character (Heart)

It is equally as important that the inner person of our trainees be purposefully developed toward Christlikeness.

Even though our whole system is based on Truth with a capital T, and content is the foundation of our system, a counselor who has not grown to apply the principles taught by the system is inconsistent. We do not desire to produce counselors who are potentially hypocritical; we must have counselors who not only know truth but are equally strong in grace just as our Lord was “full of grace and truth.”

It is much easier to learn academic content than it is to train a heart. A head can be filled with proper information while the heart has wicked or improper motives. In fact, the most academically advanced seminary professor still has remnant sin.

Therefore, we must look at our training as mentorship not just lectureship. Our trainees are apprentices, not just people sitting in rows absorbing information. It can be devastating to ministries when a biblical counselor has not grown to apply biblical truth to his or her own life, so we must include regular personal sanctification projects throughout our curriculum. This takes purposeful effort not just for the trainee but also the teacher to mentor future counselors toward spiritual growth.

It is a particular weakness in typical biblical counseling training that future counselors do not understand their own heart desires or false worship tendencies. For example, if a counselor has not realized his tendency toward being controlling, he may dominate counseling sessions. If a counselor does not understand her propensity toward people pleasing, she will struggle to say hard things to counselees.

We must disciple/mentor our future counselors to be heart aware. There are great advantages to having students do personal growth projects. Through mentored sanctification, future counselors also see the effort it is going to take for counselees to do homework or grow spiritually.

Love—As disciplers, counselors must be people of Christlike character and if there’s any word that captures God’s character, it’s love. “Love one another” is the most often repeated command in the New Testament and our Lord says this is the way the world will know we are His disciples (John 13:35). Personal growth in dying to self and loving God and others needs to be encouraged regularly in our training. To serve others as counseling requires, our training must encourage selflessness/sacrificial service. Humans are naturally selfish so we must be purposeful in mentoring our students toward self-giving love that is moved with compassion toward others (Matt. 9: 36; Col. 3:12).

A Godward Focus—One of the greatest gifts we can give our trainees around the world is a Godward focus in their inner persons. Religion has a bent toward behaviorism and it is easy to turn the Christian life into a list of rituals, rules, and events rather than an inner disposition of living as a worshiper every day. Our trainees must know that “whether we eat or drink or whatever we do we do all to the glory of God” (I Cor. 10:31). This is not just outward actions but an inward attitude of the affections.

Gospel—Our Savior was “full of grace and truth”(John 1: 14). We must therefore train Christlike counselors who are gracious and merciful just as our Father in heaven is merciful. We must train counselors who are kind (not harsh) because “the kindness of God leads us to repentance” (Rom. 2: 4). Our trainees must be gospel saturated not only in knowing the gospel message but just as importantly in their characters.

Practical ramifications:

  1. Mentored personal development (sanctification) projects must be a regular part of training.
  2. We must work hard at helping each student understand their own heart propensities so that they understand how the desires of their hearts will influence their ministries.

Competencies (Hands)

Prov. 18:13 “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.”

Prov. 18:17 “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.”

It is feasible that a future counselor could be a growing Christian who knows much about the Bible but lacks the skills necessary to build relationships, gather good data, and assign great homework. In other words, he could have content and Christlike character but lack competencies necessary for good counseling discipleship.

It could also be argued that if someone is truly Christlike, they will have relationship skills that care about other people and know how to engage others. If they do not, this should be addressed through the character-development aspect of our training.

A counselor who does not know how to counsel is an oxymoron. We not only train counselors in high-quality content and work on their inner person for the glory of God, but we also teach them skills. Skills, like being relational, knowing how to ask good quality questions, knowing the counseling process, preparing an agenda , dealing with difficult people, leading a counseling conversation, and not lecturing, are crucial skills for a future counselor to learn.

Our training at the CLT and academic levels must incorporate skill practice. Almost every module or academic class should have some type of skill practice for future counselors. This would culminate in upper-level classes that are practicums where skills are practiced and evaluated.

Love—It is loving to have good skills as a counselor. For example, if a counselor loves his counselees, he will be an active listener. A good counselor cares about others’ stories and therefore actively engages in relationship building that hears a person’s story. A loving counselor listens so well that he or she can repeat back in their own words what the counselee has been sharing. OIC trainers must train counselors who, out of love, work hard on relationship skills.

A Godward Focus—In Christ, God the Father moved toward us. The Godhead cares so much about relationships that the Father, at great personal sacrifice, gave His only-begotten Son for our salvation so we can be reconciled to Him and the Holy Spirit empowers us to die to self and live for God and others. Therefore, it will glorify God if relationships are this important to us as well. We must train our counselors to be relational. A nonrelational biblical counselor or equipper of counselors is an oxymoron.

Gospel—If you brainstorm words associated with the word “gospel” you would come up with words like forgiveness, reconciliation, mercy, grace, and adoption. These are all relationship words and highlight the importance of Gospel-saturated relationship skills that we must be teaching our trainees.

Church Community (Home)

Humans are relational beings and long for meaningful relationship. Our Lord has designed His Church to be a place where “brothers and sisters in Christ” can flourish in “one another” relationships. Even though we are a parachurch organization, our goal is to help strengthen the Church to fulfill its mission. We desire to see the potential of every local church unleashed for the glory of God to fulfill the Great Commission. We must teach students to be loyal to the local church and see biblical counseling as a local church enterprise and responsibility. We must help pastors own their responsibility to shepherd their own flocks, which includes care of souls.

Our students must catch a vision for the high priority of “one anothering one another,” and speaking the truth in love to one another.

In other words, our students must have a strong and clear ecclesiology. This ecclesiology must be worked out into the practicalities of how a church is structured to care for one another and how intensive discipleship can thrive in a local church. Pastors must understand their role of not doing all ministry but instead equipping the saints for the work of the ministry (Eph. 4:12). Praise God for the local church!

Love—the characteristic that is to be true of every local church is love (Rom. 13:8). This “one another” command is found throughout the New Testament and is the most repeated. It is clear in the New Testament that loving others leads to holiness (Rom. 13: 10). Therefore, if we are to be a holy people for God then we must die to self and love others.

Loving others through the church highlights the importance of conflict resolution skills being taught around the world. Many shame-oriented cultures seek to save face by not dealing with conflict and therefore we must teach how godly people deal with relational tensions.

Godward Focus—Our God, the great God of the universe, has ordained the Church to be His vehicle for the Great Commission. Therefore, it will glorify Him if we emphasize the church as much as He emphasizes the church. It will glorify Him if we help fill the earth with worshipers through His chosen vessel.

Gospel—the central message of any local church needs to be the gospel. The good news is not biblical counseling; the good news is that our sins can be forgiven, and we can be reconciled to God through our Savior Jesus Christ. This salvation then changes us to be God-glorifiers who love God and love others, especially those of the household of faith (Gal. 6:10).

Practical ramifications:

  1. Pastors must understand their role in a church is making disciples.
  2. Church leaders must understand how to structure their ministries so that mutual care for spiritual growth takes place throughout the ministry.

A Closing Prayer

Lord, we desire to equip your saints to do the work of the ministry, but we are frail and dependent upon You. We therefore beg you to empower us by your Holy Spirit as we travel the world. We are passionate about your Great Commission and desire to see the earth filled with your glory as churches and leaders around the globe catch a vision and are equipped to do intensive discipleship.

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[i] C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory.

[ii] It will be the goal in each section to comment on 3 significant areas of theological focus for Christian education. The centrality of love, a Godward focus, and the gospel. Each contributes uniquely to a thoroughly biblical view of education

[iii] As of 2023, all instruction that is to count for possible ACBC certification must be done by a certified ACBC member who is also approved by OIC.