Counseling the Suffering: A Self-Evaluation


Over the last three months, I have had the privilege of taking a course at Faith Baptist Theological Seminary entitled “Counseling the Suffering.” Below is my final assignment that I submitted this morning in regards to my strengths and weaknesses of my own personal counseling ministry at Prairie Flower Baptist Church. I trust that this self-evaluation/critique will encourage your hearts and help you as you seek to biblically counsel your own friends and family who are suffering through the most difficult aspects of life.

Counseling an individual in the midst of their suffering has been, and will probably continue to be, one of the most difficult aspects of my pastoral ministry. For this reason, I have almost begun to loathe Christian movies for their straightforward case studies and cliché (oftentimes cheeky) Christian responses to people in difficult situations. The simple fact remains that people are complex, problems are often overwhelming, and God’s grace and strength often appear elusive, or even worse, non-existent.

The course “Counseling the Suffering” was not only my first experience in the world of graduate studies, but it was also profoundly helpful to my life and ministry as a small-town pastor in Washington, IA. Indeed, the town I pastor in may be small, but there are people here with big problems and difficult situations. In the end, I thank God that though people’s sin and suffering may be great, His grace is greater still (Romans 5:20)!

As I analyze my ministry to people in suffering, I have concluded that there are strengths and weaknesses to my counseling approach and methodology. By God’s grace, I will continue to grow in my strengths and improve in my weaknesses. Below is an honest assessment of these strengths and weaknesses:

Strengths in Counseling the Suffering

(1)   I have an immense appreciation, respect, and trust of the Word of God as it relates to any counselee in their suffering (2 Tim 3:16-17). I honestly and unapologetically believe that God’s Word offers true insight, hope, and light to all people, but especially those in the midst of difficult life situations. I often find myself scanning different Scripture passages in my mind’s eye as a counselee is describing their situation or painful experience. Indeed, I often turn to the book of Psalms as the words there beautifully speak to us and for us in the midst of our suffering and pain. I am able to offer so much comfort and hope to my counselees as I firmly cling to the truth of the Scriptures.

(2)   I also have a profound awareness of the importance of biblical community to a counselee’s growth and development (Heb. 10:23-25). I understand that I am not the fountainhead of all wisdom and knowledge and that my counselees will greatly benefit from the support, accountability, and insight that is offered in the wider community of grace. Thus, I always require my counselees to be involved in the Sunday morning worship service; and I always strongly recommend that they plug themselves into one of our six Growth Groups (i.e. sermon-based, small group Bible studies). Truly, I have seen many of my counselees survive because of my one-on-one time with them, but thrive within the context of biblical community.

(3)   I do believe that I provide a healthy balance of journaling, reading, and reflective homework to my counselees. Sometimes I will simply assign a “prayer challenge” to my counselees (i.e. pray about this situation every day for the next two weeks, etc.). However, at times, depending on the situation, I will assign no homework at all. I study my counselees to determine what is best for their unique situation. In the end, I have found that homework assignments increase my ability to “read” a counselee’s interest and progress in counseling while simultaneously giving to them practical resources that will help them in their trouble.

Weaknesses in Counseling the Suffering

(1)   Quite simply and plainly, I am impatient with my counselees. After meeting with them for three or four sessions, I desire visible, concrete progress. However, oftentimes, there is a maddening rhythm to my counselees, and their progress is often played in the key of two steps forward, three steps back.

(2)   I also have a difficult time truly listening to my counselees. In other words, I often find myself thinking about what to say next or how to respond to what they’re going through, rather than actively listening to the exact details of their dilemma. Indeed, I do more talking than listening in most of my counseling sessions. More often than not, I confuse preaching for counseling and end up simply lecturing my counselees.

Addressing Weaknesses in Counseling the Suffering

Beyond making these weaknesses a matter of prayer, I will, by God’s grace, endeavor to do the following:

(1)   As it relates to my impatience, I will build into my counseling routine frequent reviews of past concepts. In other words, if we are meeting for seven or eight sessions, I will only have three or four key concepts to discuss with them and the rest of our sessions will simply be a review of past concepts. Perhaps it will be better to have three or four concepts that are firmly imbedded into my counselee’s life rather than seven or eight communicated concepts with no firm root.

(2)   As it relates to my listening issue, I will endeavor to take more notes during my counseling sessions. This will help me to focus more on what my counselee is saying rather than what I am thinking to say next. In fact, note taking will increase the quality of my counsel and advice as I am specifically addressing what the counselee is talking about and not what I think the counselee is talking about.

In the end, I find it a comfort that God, despite all that I am and all that I am not, can and will use me in the life of my counselees to the praise of His glorious grace. And by God’s grace, I will grow in my strengths and improve in my weaknesses; and as I do, I will find it an ever-increasing joy to counsel those in suffering.

“Why I Go To Church” By Paul Tripp


Church is wonderful. Church is important.

Church is meant to remind us of the miserable condition in which sin left us and our world, and of the glorious rescue of redeeming grace.

The songs we sing, the Scriptures we read, the sermons we listen to, and the prayers we engage in are all designed to keep us from ever taking the person and work of Jesus Christ for granted.

Despite all of this, there are some Sundays when I don’t attend church with a good attitude.

I know you are more like me than unlike me.

While there are many Sundays that we are excited for church, there are those “other Sundays” when you just don’t want to be there.

On more Sundays than I wish to admit, I grumble my way into the worship service. There are some weeks when I’m just running through the motions, going to church because I’m supposed to.

(Sometimes I go because my wife makes me! But I know that has never happened to any of you…)

But on these Sundays, something happens: the glory of God confronts my fickle heart.

God ordained for us to gather for worship because he knows us and the weaknesses of our grumbling and easily distracted hearts. He knows how soon we forget the depth of our need as sinners and the expansiveness of his provisions in Jesus Christ.

He knows that little lies can deceive us and little obstacles can discourage us. He knows that self-righteousness still has the power to delude us.

So in grace, he calls us to gather and consider glory once again, to be excited once again, and to be rescued once again.

It’s not only that these worship services remind us of God’s grace; these worship services are themselves a gift of grace.

Going to church is designed to confront you with the glory of the grace of Jesus so you won’t look for life, help, and hope elsewhere.

Are you allowing yourself to be confronted?

Reflection Questions:

  1. Why are you not excited about worship services sometimes? Examine your own heart and resist finding flaws with your church.
  2. What temporary earthly glories tend to get you more excited than the Glory of God?
  3. What practical steps can you take to get more excited about the Glory of God?

Book Review: When Trouble Comes


I’m currently taking a class at Faith Baptist Theological Seminary entitled “Counseling the Suffering.” As part of my course requirements, I had the privilege to read a little book entitled “When Trouble Comes” by Jim Berg. It was a quick read with a heavy impact upon my heart and soul. In this book, Jim Berg outlines a “spiritual CPR” plan that will stabilize an individual when troubles/disasters fall their way. I found this plan to be helpful, biblical, and memorable. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is currently suffering or knows someone who is struggling with some sort of grief or despair. 

According to the book, the “spiritual CPR” plan or “Truths for Times of Trouble” is as follows: 1) The greatest danger is always the flesh, 2) The gospel is always the answer, 3) God’s glory is always the goal, and 4) God Himself is always enough. Let me briefly give some thoughts on each of these truths.

First, Jim Berg makes clear that “the greatest danger is always the flesh”. By this statement, he is calling our attention to the fact that in the midst of trial and heartache there is always dangers to avoid and opportunities to be gained. In other words, our own sinful bent towards self-centeredness and cruelty is a danger or pitfall to avoid, but glorifying Christ is an opportunity to be gained during any tragedy.

Second, “the gospel is always the answer”. By this statement, Jim Berg focuses our attention on the fact that the Gospel that was powerful enough to save us from ultimate destruction (i.e. Hell) is certainly powerful enough to save us from the troubles and heartaches of this life. However, this salvation may not come in the form of the elimination or alleviation of the pain, but in our maturation and growth despite the pain. Berg challenges us to believe the Gospel and to live in light of it as we experience our troubles.

Third, the author states that “God’s glory is always the goal”. Here we are told that this is the ultimate end state of all pain and suffering. Thus, a key question to ask in our pain and suffering is: Are we suffering well? That is to say, are we glorifying God in how we act and react despite the difficult situations in our lives?

And fourthly and finally, Jim Berg states that in any trouble “God Himself is always enough”. In other words, He is our fortress, our rock, and strength and we can run to Him in our time of trouble and grief. Why? Because He’s always there and He Himself is always enough.

The Importance of Church Membership


This Sunday, March 5, we will welcome three more people into the membership of Prairie Flower Baptist Church. Ultimately, this is what it’s all about, namely, seeing people saved, baptized, and added to the church. Successfully adding new members to our roster proves that, at some level, we are staying true to our mission and vision “to be a strong church [numerically and spiritually] that makes disciples for the glory of God.” Indeed, this is the kind of stuff that really excites me as a pastor.

In fact, after this Sunday, we would have successfully brought into membership seven new people this year. That’s really exciting, especially considering that we’re not even a quarter of the way through the year! But some of you may wonder, what’s the point of church membership? Does membership really matter? Is church membership even biblical? In short, yes, church membership actually matters and is not only biblical, but practical and pastoral. Let me explain…

Church Membership is Biblical – The Bible vividly explains the nature and purpose of the church by means of using body member imagery. For example, Romans 12:4-5 states, “For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.” Also, 1 Corinthians 12:12 states, “For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ.” Indeed, such language in these texts of Scripture are metaphorical and symbolize our spiritual union with Christ (and other believers in Christ), but if that’s the reality for us theologically and spiritually, shouldn’t that be a reality for us practically and physically (cf. Acts 2:41, 47)? Which leads to my second point…

Church Membership is Practical – The church has business, legitimate business, which it must accomplish. For instance, we must be a missionally-minded church (cf. Matt. 28:19-20). Locally, we do this by preaching the Gospel right here at PFBC. But globally, how do we accomplish this? Answer: By sending and supporting foreign missionaries who can preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth. But here’s the rub, we CANNOT send and support EVERY single Gospel-centric, Bible-preaching missionary. We simply can’t do that. Why? Well, we have limited resources and funds and we must, as a local church that is properly stewarding our resources and funds, determine who we will send and who we will not send to the mission field. Question: When it comes to the business meeting to make the determination to support so-and-so, do you want the first-time visitor to vote on where our church funds are being designated? I would hope not! We need to know, as a church/organization, who has the right to vote/make decisions on such matters and who does not have that right. Bottom line: We need church membership for such practical purposes. But there’s a third reason for church membership…

Church Membership is Pastoral – As a pastor, I am commanded in 1 Peter 5:2, “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you…” This act of shepherding is an active, dynamic caring for your spiritual life. However, I can’t do that effectively without knowing if you are under my leadership/shepherding role. Another very clear Scripture text is Hebrews 13:17, which states, “Obey your leaders [i.e. pastors] and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” So, who should you be obeying and submitting? Every pastor and church leader out there?! I think not. Also, in regards to pastors, who are they keeping a watch for and who are they giving an account for? Every random person that comes through the doors of their church building?! I think not. Church membership effectively tells you, as an individual, who to “obey…and submit” to, and it tells me, as a pastor, who I’m to “watch over” and who I will “give an account” for. Thus, I think it’s clear that church membership is vital for these pastoral reasons.

In the end, if you’re a regular attender, but you’ve never joined your local church, I would submit to you that you are like that kid in the neighborhood who always comes to the house for dinner. You’re always welcome. And you will practically be treated like a member of the family, but in the final analysis, you’re simply a friend of the family and not actual family. I would challenge you: Won’t you consider joining your faith family – your local community of grace? Why should you? Because membership actually matters.