Give Christian Counsel Skillfully
IN THESE critical times mature Christians frequently are asked such questions as these: “My son is rebellious; how can I control him?” “I have committed a sin; what shall I do?” “My husband does not give us enough money for food and clothes. Would it be wrong for me to get a job?” “Our daughter wants to marry out of the faith. Shall we give our consent?” “I was too young to understand what I was doing. Should I be rebaptized?” These are typical problems that bring inquiries for Christian advice.
Those who are asked to give counsel in such matters know it is a serious responsibility. It is also an obligation that must be skillfully met. God’s Word repeatedly points out this obligation to mature Christians and particularly to those who occupy positions of oversight in the congregation. For instance, in Paul’s letters we read: “We, though, who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those not strong, and not to be pleasing ourselves.” “Brothers, even though a man takes some false step before he is aware of it, you who have spiritual qualifications try to restore such a man in a spirit of mildness.” “Keep comforting one another and building one another up.” “Speak consolingly to the depressed souls, support the weak, be long-suffering toward all.”—Rom. 15:1; Gal. 6:1; 1 Thess. 5:11, 14.
To meet this obligation skillfully the mature Christian need not concern himself with studies in psychology, as so many seminary students are doing. There is as much confusion and disagreement among psychologists and psychiatrists as there is among Christendom’s religious sects. Far better is it to know nothing of such secular wisdom than to adulterate or slight God’s Word because of it.—2 Cor. 4:2.
WHAT THE COUNSELOR NEEDS
To give Christian counsel skillfully the counselor must have implicit faith in the Bible as the divine revelation that is “beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness.” (2 Tim. 3:16) That is the first requirement. Next comes a good knowledge of Bible principles and Bible counsel on specific matters. The counselor must appreciate that the inspired Scriptures are the basic organization instructions for Jehovah’s people. His obligation is to uphold Jehovah’s sovereignty and righteous laws at all times. To do this effectively the skillful counselor will need maturity, understanding, good judgment and balance. In addition, the Christian counselor should be producing the fruits of God’s spirit in his own life. These are love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, mildness and self-control.—Gal. 5:22, 23.
The Christian who counsels should take no pleasure or pride in finding fault, but should rejoice at finding the truth of a matter. He needs to be approachable and tactful at all times, yet never will he compromise Christian principles so as not to hurt feelings. He must show no partiality. He is not a boss, a crank or an extremist. (Mark 10:42-44; 1 Pet. 5:3) The Christian principles that he recommends to others must be practiced by him himself in an exemplary way. Then he is in position to counsel with authority and confidence, knowing that Bible principles really work.—1 Tim. 4:12.
In order to give skillful counsel the mature Christian also needs to listen. He must remember that there is “a time to keep quiet and a time to speak.” (Eccl. 3:7) Listening comes first, as the proverb says: “When anyone is replying to a matter before he hears it, that is foolishness on his part and a humiliation.” (Prov. 18:13) This should not prove too difficult, since one troubled enough to seek counsel usually is very willing to talk. Encourage him to do so. Listen and get the problem well in mind. Indicate that you are not there to criticize but to help. Let him feel that you appreciate your own limitations and shortcomings, that you are no superman. This will aid the one hesitant to talk and he will unburden his problem more freely.
By use of questions the facts are sometimes brought to light and the disturbed one sees his problem more objectively. They also enable the counselor to see beneath the surface and so better appreciate what counsel will do the most good. Inquire whether the perplexed one has done any research in the Bible for a solution to his problem. Has he looked for counsel in the Watch Tower publications? Has he applied the counsel found there to his own case or reached any conclusion? By asking questions you may help him see the point that needs improvement on his part without your pointing to it directly. If he states the problem and the obvious answer himself he may be more inclined to see the correctness of the remedy, for he has had a part in identifying the trouble and prescribing the cure.
You will find that at times all that is necessary is a sympathetic ear while the distressed one shares his burden with you. It may be a trial that has to be endured or a situation that cannot be altered this side of God’s new world. But it will be your privilege to give encouragement and advice on how to make the burden as light as possible. Point out Jehovah’s love and Jesus’ invitation to cast our burdens on him. Help the troubled one draw comfort and strength from Bible promises.—2 Cor. 1:3-7; 2 Thess. 3:13.
WHAT PRINCIPLE IS INVOLVED?
To give skillful advice, as the problem unfolds you must ask yourself: What Scriptural principle is involved? What Bible principle has been ignored or violated? What principle should be extended to fit this particular case? What Scriptural counsel has not been followed? Encourage application of that counsel and obedience to that overlooked principle. This should be done with kindness, understanding, tact and love. (1 Thess. 2:7, 8) At times the remedy consists of simply taking a practical view of the matter, but often this is something difficult for the one whose problem it is.
It is possible that the inquirer has become self-deceived—something very easy to do. The Bible takes note of this when it says: “The heart is more treacherous than anything else and is desperate. Who can know it?” “All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but Jehovah is making an estimate of spirits.” (Jer. 17:9; Prov. 16:2) The counselor cannot go along with the deception. He cannot be swayed by sentiment. Point out the Scriptural counsel without fear. On occasion firmness may be required. If so, and a reproof is in order, administer it with kindness, entreating the offender as you would your father, mother, brother or sister, as the case may be.—Eccl. 7:5; 1 Tim. 5:1, 2.
The Christian overseer may be approached by one troubled by a dispute with someone or complaining about having been offended. First, see exactly what the offense is supposed to be. If the matter was really trivial, you may be able to help him see that, so ending the matter. If not, ask if the procedure Jesus established for settling disputes has been followed. (Matt. 18:15-17) Has he personally endeavored to come to an understanding with the other person? The disagreement probably can be settled in this way before it becomes a problem that requires the overseer’s attention.
Very often the one seeking counsel could have found it in the publications of the Watch Tower Society, such as the Watchtower magazine. For example, a Christian may ask if he and his family are Scripturally free to have any kind of association with a close relative that has been disfellowshiped. The counselor should give him a clear answer and make sure the principle is understood. Then encourage the inquirer to take the Watch Tower Publications Index and look under the main heading “Disfellowshiping.” There he will find an entry, “association with disfellowshiped,” followed by references to certain issues of The Watchtower. Supplements to the Index should always be checked for the latest information. Invite the inquirer to do the suggested reading as background to the answer you have given him. This will give him much helpful information. Invite him to report back to you what he has learned. This will help him to exercise his powers of discernment, so necessary to bearing his own load of responsibility as a Christian. It is one way of aiding the congregation to attain maturity and oneness in the faith.—Eph. 4:13, 14.
When a married Christian seeks advice on a marriage problem involving an unbelieving mate, the counselor should not overlook the possibility that the dedicated Christian may be failing to apply Bible principles in the marriage. (Luke 6:41, 42) The friction existing may be due to unwise actions on both sides. The question method can be used to determine if a Bible principle has been ignored. Has the Christian wife fully recognized the family headship of the unbelieving husband? Is she forgetting to show deep respect, and instead treating him as though he were a disfellowshiped person? Has she respected his freedom of worship in his own home? As a Christian woman, has her real adornment been “the incorruptible apparel of the quiet and mild spirit, which is of great value in the eyes of God”? (1 Pet. 3:4) If the husband is the believer, has he fulfilled his responsibility as family head, providing for his own and loving his wife as his own body? Has he copied the example of Jehovah and Christ, or has he been overbearing and inconsiderate?
Again, in addition to giving oral counsel, the overseer can show the inquirer how to locate helpful advice in the Index under the main heading “Marriage.” There you will find such entries as “divided household,” “husband’s role” and “wife’s role.” Note the cross-references to “Husband” and “Wife,” where more information is listed under such entries as “consideration for wife,” “unbelieving wife,” “love for husband” and “subjection to husband.” Those who do not have the Watch Tower Publications Index in their language can use the indexes and the Table of Contents in the other books of the Watchtower Society. Here is counsel that deserves more than a casual listening to; it deserves prayerful study!
Incidentally, marriage counsel is usually more effective when the congregation overseer or other mature counselor can speak to man and wife together—perhaps after separate inquiries have been made and individual views presented. Invite the unbelieving mate to come to the discussion. Be willing to hear both sides of the story. Use the question method to help them see where both can contribute more to the success of the union.
LOOK FOR THOSE IN NEED OF HELP
At Isaiah 1:26 Jehovah promised: “I will bring back again judges for you as at the first, and counselors for you as at the start.” That promise has been kept in appointing overseers in the Christian congregation today. (Acts 20:28) As one of these overseers you will want to look for Christians who are spiritually sick, weak or strayed from the flock. (Ezek. 34:1-16) This searching has good results, as verified by the comment an outsider made about Jehovah’s witnesses: “These people are really good Christians; their brother has not been going with them these days, so they came to strengthen him, and now look how happy he has become. If our priests had been doing the same thing we might not have gotten lost from the church. I am going to look into this religion more fully.”
As a Christian counselor you must always remember that “a righteous man’s supplication, when it is at work, has much force.” (Jas. 5:16) Pray with the troubled one in addition to applying the soothing counsel of God’s Word. Ask Jehovah to give that person his holy spirit, with wisdom to apply Bible principles and strength to endure what cannot be quickly remedied. (Jas. 1:5; Phil. 4:13) In particular should the counselor be aware of situations requiring the application of Christian love. It is difficult to imagine a problem that would not be helped by greater love of God and neighbor. Love never fails.—1 Cor. 13:4-8.
An extremely difficult problem may require that you take the matter under consideration. Either the circuit servant, if he is visiting the congregation, or the Society’s branch office may be appealed to for assistance. You may need time to do some additional research locally. In this connection it is important to remember that when you prescribe a schedule of Bible study, meeting attendance and regular field ministry for others, the same formula is also necessary for you. Pay constant attention to your study and ministry. (1 Tim. 4:15, 16) Keep up to date on the increasing understanding of God’s Word.—Prov. 4:18.
By doing these things you will be able to give Christian counsel skillfully. To Jehovah’s people needing comfort and advice you will “prove to be like a hiding place from the wind and a place of concealment from the rainstorm, like streams of water in a waterless country, like the shadow of a heavy crag in an exhausted land.”—Isa. 32:2.