Strength in Numbers: The Team Approach to Biblical Counseling
*Title: Strength in Numbers *Author: Dr. Mark E. Shaw *Publisher: Focus Publishing (2009) *Category: Church, Biblical Counseling, Ministry
Reviewed By: Bob Kellemen, Ph.D., LCPC, Author of Soul Physicians, Spiritual Friends, Beyond the Suffering, Sacred Friendships, and God's Healing for Life's Losses.
Recommended: Strength in Numbers is a helpful introduction to biblical counseling done two-by-two by God's people in the local church.
Review: Biblical Counseling Two-by-Two
Dr. Mark Shaw, author of Strength in Numbers, is passionate about team biblical counseling. By "team" he means counseling in tandem--in teams of two. The title, subtitle, and cover image (a team of eight holding hands) initially led me to think the book was about how to become a church where biblical counseling principles of Christian living infiltrate the DNA of everything a church does. Though Pastor Shaw's writings support that concept, readers should realize that "team" in this book means co-counseling with one other person.
Team Biblical Counseling
Shaw builds his approach to two-person counseling from passages such as Luke 10:1; Mark 11:1-2; and Mark 6:7, where Jesus sent his disciples out two-by-two. Shaw also uses Paul's ministry with Barnabas, Silas, and Timothy to support his tandem counseling theory. Additionally, Shaw shares a litany of reasons why tandem counseling can be better for the counselors and for the counselee.
What Shaw pictures and promotes involves two counselors in every counseling session. Sometimes his model would involve a "Paul/Barnabas" pairing of a more experienced biblical counselor mentoring a counselor-in-training. Other times his model includes a "David/Jonathan" pairing of two equally experienced counselors working together with a counselee in ongoing sessions.
Wisely, Shaw acknowledges that "the Lord is not limited to one model of ministry..." (p. 41). In other words, while Shaw prefers and practices two-person counseling, he does not claim that it is the only right approach or that "traditional" one-person counseling is "wrong." This is important since other verses could be marshaled that teach and illustrate one-to-one ministry, and theological and logical reasons could be offered in support of individual ministry. Also, church history is replete with examples of individual spiritual direction from the Church Fathers, through the Reformers, to the Puritans.
What Is Biblical Counseling?
Even before addressing team biblical counseling, Shaw introduces his readers to what he means by biblical counseling. First, he distinguishes it from secular psychological therapy and from "integrationist" approaches (which he defines briefly as "mixing" biblical truth and man-centered theory).
Second, Shaw relates biblical counseling to soul care. "Biblical counseling reclaims the care of souls to the body of Christ" (p. 9). He seeks to reclaim the care of souls to the rightful owner--Christ and His church.
Third, he offers definitions of biblical counseling. "The goal of ministry in a biblical counseling and discipleship context is to lovingly confront someone when their thinking is unbiblical" (p. 13). "The biblical counselor is called to speak the truth of God's Word in the love of the Holy Spirit to hurting souls" (p. 18). "Biblical counseling is micro-discipleship, meaning that we focus upon one specific problem area at a time in an effort to help the counselee grow in Christ" (p. 33).
Shaw is to be applauded for his clear emphasis on both the truth and love components. Some biblical counseling has been caricatured as neglecting the relational, loving aspect. But Shaw consistently insists on integrating truth and relationship. "Let's counsel others with the balance of compassion and doctrine. Let's present the truth of God's Word in the love of the Holy Spirit" (p. 13).
Shaw's definitions and illustrations in the book can give the impression at times that biblical counseling is only or primarily problem-focused (confrontation of unbiblical thinking, focusing upon specific problem areas, etc.). This is a common definitional emphasis issue in modern biblical counseling.
Biblically and historically, "counseling" has been broader than sin-focused, confrontation-focused, and problem-focused. It has, instead, focused comprehensively on the person's whole life through soul care that offers biblical sustaining and healing for suffering and through spiritual direction that offers reconciling and guiding for struggles against sin, both with the goal of personal sanctification that glorifies God.
While Shaw's emphasis on love, on hurting souls, on counseling as whole life discipleship, and on returning soul care to the church surely indicates a comprehensive approach to suffering and sin, readers might be better served by more expansive definitions and illustrations of the nature of biblical counseling. A Christ-centered, comprehensive, compassionate, and culturally-informed approach to spiritual friendship empowers biblical counseling to blend seamlessly into the fabric of the ministry of the Body of Christ.
The Nuts and Bolts
While Strength in Numbers will not teach readers how to "do" biblical counseling, it does teach pastors a model for implementing team biblical counseling in the local church. Like other books on lay counseling in the church, Shaw suggests a three-tiered ministry. The level one minister is the supervisor; the level two ministers are leaders-in-training; and the level three ministers are lay biblical counselors.
Shaw outlines a step-by-step developmental process. The level one leader is to be trained, typically by an outside biblical counseling accrediting organization, and then brings that training back to the local church. That primary supervisor then recruits a team of leaders-in-training, duplicating the training received outside. That group then recruits lay people from the church who receive at least thirty hours of biblical counseling training. Once the training is completed, co-counseling begins. Ongoing theory/practice equipping is required. Shaw addresses issues of advertising, organizing, administration, assigning cases, and other nuts and bolts matters.
Team Biblical Counseling in the Local Church
Strength in Numbers is a helpful introduction to biblical counseling done two-by-two by God's people in the local church. It encourages readers to counsel based upon the sufficiency of Scripture and it encourages pastors to equip their people for the work of ministry. It is biblical, practical, and balanced. It is an easy, enjoyable read.
What did you think of this review?
Fun to Read
What's your opinion on Strength in Numbers: The Team Approach t...?