Is there a difference between counseling and discipleship? If so, how would you articulate the difference? Is it merely a matter of intensity (counseling being more focused and intense)? I’m interested in your opinions as to (a) whether there is a difference, and (b) what that difference is.
The difference between counseling and discipleship?
Filed under christian counseling
5 responses to “The difference between counseling and discipleship?”
J. Kirk Johnson wrote an intriguing book entitled “When Counseling Is Not Enough: Biblical Answers for Those Who Still Struggle”. Johnson advocated for more intense personal involvement (personal discipleship) in the lives of those for whom therapeutic counseling alone was not providing “results” (however they may be defined). Johnson by his explicit admission counsels in the vein of Larry Crabb, from a more “relational” perspective. Now that Crabb has been a more vigorous advocate of “spiritual direction” as opposed to clinical therapy, the book I think aligns with the perspective of Johnson’s “literary mentor” so much the more. I’ve been actively involved in discipleship since my Campus Crusade for Christ days as an undergraduate student leader, and today am starting my career as a therapist, and I found the book thought provoking from either point of view.
I’ve become more skeptical of doing/receiving either one in a deliberate calculated way (even though I’m in counseling myself). More and more, I guess I think about each one of my relationships (including counseling, even though it is a paid relationship) in holistic, non-agenda ways. In each of my relationships, there is give and take. In each of my relationships, growth happens. Some of that growth is seen more clearly from a spiritual angle. Some of it is seen more from a personal angle. Or an interpersonal one. BUT, none of the growth is purely one or the other, and (I admit I’m probably overreacting here), ends up feeling contrived and not being a great fit if I am trying to make it happen as an agenda.
I know it can sound like I’m talking out of both sides of my mouth–why am I in counseling, if I don’t like “contrived” change? I guess I’ve found that my relationship with the counselor I see is one of the contexts where change does occur. It’s just I don’t go in there wanting an agenda for change. There is no doubt that my life has been changed by being in that counseling relationship. As it has with each of my friendships. Obviously, not everyone would be okay with paying money for that kind of “organic” (for lack of a better word) change. And not every counselor would be able or willing to take that approach. This counseling has been a good fit for me, because the counselor is more laid back than me, and by letting me be laid back, I feel like I’ve been more freed for change to take place than other counseling sessions where the goal was to identify problems, and then, for Pete’s sake, F.I.X. them.
I view counseling as discipleship, as ministry. I think counseling is a sub-set of discipleship. All Christians are called to be disciplemakers, not all Christians are skilled or gifted in counseling. Where it can overlaps or look similar is in the relationship, the active listening, grace & truth, respect, empathy.
1 Thessalonians 5:14 says “And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone.”
Depending on your style and the course of counseling you have opportunity do warn, encourage, help clients. In relationships with others, with family there will be times when we need to do each of these as well.
The consumer-service provider aspect can affect the relationship and expectations and this often makes it feel very different than what is generally thought of in discipleship. Counseling also differs in that it can more intentional, more intense as you say. Although some discipleship programs like YWAM where you are thrust into christian community, training and service can be more intense than counseling.
The severity of the presenting problem/issues can be a key difference.
During my first years on the mission field working with a resistant people group in Brazil, I found myself in a number of “discipleship” situations that were incredibly time consuming, and where the “disciple” was not growing but rather stuck in a problem which impeded his growth. One day, over some good hot Brazilian coffee, the light bulb came on and it occurred to me that what was happening is that instead of a mutual relationship of Christian growth (my definition of discipleship) we had entered into (without warning) a therapeutic relationship that requires some problem solving in order to facilitate healthy growth (my definition als0). I went into my counseling notes and found a good checklist and spent the next several weeks “redefining” some of these discipleship relationships into therapeutic alliances. Once I sorted out who the disciples were and who the counselees were, and set the ground rules I was a lot less exhausted and was able to see clearly who was growing and was potentially able to reproduce themselves as Christians should — and who was in need of some counseling in order to help work on their problem. I was also able to see who was just flat wasting my time — they did not want to grow — but just push off their problem on the young missionary rather than take ownership.
Now as I prepare Latin missionaries for overseas service, I teach them a module on cross cultural discipleship versus cross cultural counseling — to help them separate the apples from the oranges.
Does that make sense what I just said?
I hope so.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
What is difference between a conuselor and a discipler