Toward “Air Traffic Control” in International Biblical Counseling Training: An Appeal for Inter-Agency Cooperation

Dr. Wayne A. Vanderwier

Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! (Psalm 133:1)

Eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:3)

It just happened again.  Overseas Instruction in Counseling was preparing to enter a new country. We had responded to an invitation from influential national leaders by conducting several “relationship-building” trips to their land. We had begun the cultural learning process. (I’ve written about that hereand updated our cultural learning tool here.) Our national partner ministries that would host our training in multiple locations were chosen and prepared.

And then it happened. We heard of another biblical counseling-friendly ministry that was planning to enter the same country.

Isn’t that OK? Don’t we want more biblical counseling training overseas? Yes, of course.

But our own history teaches us that simply adding more training organizations, opportunities, programs, etc. can lead to increased tension and confusion. Tension could exist between well-intentioned ministries competing for the attention of (a sometimes very limited number of) potential trainees. Confusion about the nature of truly biblical counseling could be created among foreign nationals resulting in a “I follow Paul” or “I follow Apollos” … (1 Cor. 1:12) situation.In addition, turf wars waged by “competing” ministries over territories (geographic or denominational) and their desire for name recognition and brand preeminence can damage the cause of Christ in general and the movement of biblical counseling in particular.

OIC desires to work cooperatively and collaboratively, never competitively, in any country with others who have a heart for international biblical counseling training. Our quick initiation of an offer of partnership and the gracious response of the other ministry averted the potential for damage in this case.

What Would Help?

When Garrett Higbee became the Director of the Biblical Counseling Coalition, he asked that I serve the Coalition as the International Ministry Team Leader. In making this offer he used the analogy of “air traffic control.” And I was excited! While I hadn’t thought of using that term, I had recognized, through many stories like the one recounted above, that some kind of coordination in international biblical counseling training – or at least having a forum for information-sharing – would be invaluable.

A more recent conversation with our current BCC Director, Curtis Solomon, confirmed the need for and his endorsement of this kind of function. This is something that, it seems to me – and to him – must be donein some way through some organization. The nature of our Coalition, a cooperative of biblical counseling leaders representing churches, schools, counseling centers, and para-church organizations, makes it the appropriate place for initiating this kind of effort.

How the Analogy Is Helpful

When our children were young and we would see a tall tower or smokestack that had flashing red lights we would ask them, “What do those lights says?” The answer? “Don’t bump into me, airplanes.” Similarly, it would be good if biblical counseling training ministries didn’t bump into each other!

Air traffic controllers work at or near airports to monitor the movement of aircraft within a specific region. They inform pilots of nearby planes and potentially hazardous conditions. They communicate with pilots concerning available runway space and maintain a coordinated traffic pattern.

These functions – monitoring, informing, communicating, and coordinating– when applied to international biblical counseling training, would help avoid ministry collisions.

Where the Analogy Fails

Federalized aviation organizations, in pursuit of their mission to maintain the safety of air travel in and through their countries, have the authorityto limit the number of planes in the sky in a given space and to direct the path of each plane.

No one I know – certainly not me – wants to “federalize” international biblical counseling training. I suspect that such a goal, were it attempted, would be impossible to achieve.

We certainly do not want to discourage or control whatever biblical counseling training a church or school or para-church organization believes God would have them do overseas.

The analogy fails in one more critical aspect. While there will always be the need for air traffic controllers to monitor the skies, the goal of all international biblical counseling training is to transfer some information about and do some training in the ministry skill of biblical sufficiency-based soul care, then leave. Our OIC strategic objective, “assisting in the initial creation and/or continuing development of national, culture-specific biblical counseling certifying organizations,”has been and is being fulfilled in numerous countries. (I’ve written about this concept hereand hereand given an illustration of its completion here.)

Will the need for communication among these organizations still exist? Yes. But that is a subject for a future blog.

So, What’s the Vision?

The International Ministry Team of Biblical Counseling Coalition would like to advance the development of the biblical counseling movements in nations around the world through communication and, where possible and appropriate, coordination (and even partnerships?) among like-minded ministries.

Has This Happened?

YES! And with wonderful, God-glorifying results!

Our OIC partnership with the International Association of Biblical Counselorsin Uganda has been a blessing to many hundreds of Ugandan pastors and other Christian leaders (283 pastors; 481 participants) in the four locations in which we’ve served. Both Ed Bulkley and Kevin Hurt (IABC president and executive VP, respectively) have traveled to Uganda to work with our OIC E. Africa Director, Tom Maxham, in conducting our OIC Church Leadership Trainingprogram.

OIC has partnered more recently with the Slavic Gospel Associationto train pastors in both local church-based and academic programs. Our OIC Russia Director, Stepan Pavlyuk, has been personally blessed and strengthened through our partnership with new friends at SGA.

Have These Efforts Ever Failed?

Unfortunately, the answer to this question is also, “Yes.” Our attempts to reach out to, meet with, and seek a collaborative relationship with some other biblical counseling-friendly ministries desirous of working overseas have been rebuffed. It remains one of the great ironies of Christian ministry that biblical counselors, people trained to bring about reconciliation (God with man; Man with man), can’t get along!

Will You Help?

Air traffic controllers are only as effective as the information they have. Cooperative work among ministries seeking to do international biblical counseling training and the potential for ministry partnerships is only possible if we know who is doing (or planning to do) what among the nations.

I’m privileged to have the opportunity to help coordinate efforts among members of the BCC and will soon be gathering information from them regarding their international efforts. I’d love to have that kind of information from you, too. You can email me at Wayne@DiscoverOIC.org.

Let’s work together for the global advance of biblical sufficiency-based soul care ministry, OK?

Join the Conversation

Where have you, where are you, and where do you plan to do biblical counseling-related ministry through your ministry overseas? What has been the nature of that work – conferences, academic programs, church-based (pastor-focused) programs? What have been the requirements for those participants engaged in your overseas ministry? What have you found to be the greatest challenges in your international work?

This post is also available in: Arabic Japanese Portuguese (Brazil) Spanish

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