As I mentioned in my last article, there is a need for alternative counselling models within the Christian community because despite significant investment, the secular/medical model does not seem to be able to address the recognised poor state of the mental, social, and psychological condition of our New Zealand society. If the mental health model doesn't provide significant help to the secular world, then what incentive is there to adopt it in the church? Where should Christians turn?
In order to answer this we need to explore some of the different options within the Christian community.
Christian Counselling in New Zealand
Although there are a number of independent workers and charity-based organisations in the field of mental health, they basically hold to the same philosophy and methodology to those mentioned in Part 1. Therefore, they do not need to be discussed here.
There are, however, smaller groups that work within a different frame of reference than those mentioned above. These are the religious organisations. In this article, we will consider the most visible of the religious groups, that is, Christian-based organisations.
Christians provide counselling help through a number of different means. These range from stand alone providers to local church ministries.
The Local Church
At times, pastors and church leaders receive requests from their church members for counselling. Many of these leaders refer these requests to the mainstream mental health care professionals. The motivation is generally twofold. First, the church leadership does not believe it is the role of the church to counsel (church takes care of the spiritual issues while the mental health professionals care for the psychological, social, emotional, and cognitive challenges). Secondly, these leaders may not consider themselves trained, and therefore they are not competent to handle psychological issues, etc.
The problem is that those whom the pastor is called to shepherd are sent away to another "shepherd" and, due to confidentiality clauses, the pastor has no knowledge of the type and intensity of influence this other "shepherd" may have on the church member. It is a dangerous practice, but then what options do pastors have?
Christian Mental Health Professionals
There are a number of Christian counsellors and even psychologists who work in churches, charity organisations, and independently who offer counselling. These are trained mental health professionals who are believers. Most of them have not received significant theological or biblical training. As a result, the kind of help they provide is from the same perspective as any other mental health practitioner.
Most of these counsellors belong to the New Zealand Christian Counsellors Association (NZCCA), the only recognised association for Christian counsellors in New Zealand. However, members of the NZCCA must root their philosophical approach and methodology in a secular approach to mental health rather than drawing primarily from Scripture.
Therefore, at best, the Christian counsellor/psychologist integrates psychology with their Christian beliefs, and more often their Christian beliefs do not significantly shape their methodology or philosophy of helping people. (This will be discussed in future articles). In many cases, the question of whether these practitioners are better than non-Christian counsellors is similar to the question of whether a christian plumber does a better job of fixing plumbing than a secular plumber.
Theological Colleges in New Zealand
It is also interesting to note that all but one of theological training institutes in New Zealand teach the same integrated approach to counselling. That is, they teach the mental health model to Christians as a biblically viable practice. Only Grace Theological College teaches biblical counselling rather than a form of secular psychotherapy. This illustrates the influence that psychology has, not only on society, but also within the church and upon its future leaders.
This exacerbates the problem of mental health in New Zealand. To date, there is no recognised group of counsellors that are working outside of the existing mental health professional philosophy, practice, and/or influence. There are a number of isolated pastors and counsellors who are counselling using a biblical model and do not subscribe to the worldview, teaching, and practices of the mental health professional.
How the Church Changed
Before the rise of psychology in the 19th century, the church typically helped people with their problems. They did this by relating the Scriptures to the lives of people. By and large, the late 19th and early 20th centuries marked the rise of scientism (the belief that science is the only real source of knowledge). Even though scientism is rooted in the shift away from the view of God as creator, many professing Christians rushed to embrace the products of scientism.
Many church leaders adopted psycho-therapeutic approaches to helping people and adapted them to church ministry. As churches demanded training in psychology, training institutes provided it. During the mid-20th century, very few training institutions taught a robust approach to helping people from the Scriptures. The psycho-therapeutic approach became the default approach in many churches, including those in New Zealand.
Where Biblical Counselling Fits In
Biblical counselling holds, as a central conviction, that God should be at the centre of all we do, since we are to do all things to His Glory (1 Cor. 10:31). We are created for His pleasure, and our purpose is to honour and worship Him. This is the message of Scripture, and therefore defines the significance of human life.
Therefore, life without knowledge of God is inherently "dysfunctional." Life that is not lived for his glory is inherently "dysfunctional." If we are created, as Scripture plainly teaches and our Creator intended, to live a certain way, then any life that falls short of this is "dysfunctional." The Bible traces the source of all human dysfunction to our rebellion against our Creator and His purpose for us.
The fundamental role of biblical counselling then, is to help people understand the God who describes Himself in the Bible, who is our Creator, so that we can respond to Him according to His prescription. That means living to glorify Him within this world, despite the effect of sin upon it. The conviction of biblical counselling is that when we live life the way God teaches, then we will be pleasing to Him (2 Cor. 5:9), and pleasing Him results in our joy.
There has not been an organisation in New Zealand which has focused on establishing biblical counselling within churches. This is why Growth Counselling Institute exists. The mission of Growth Counselling Institute is to foster the creation of healthy biblical counselling ministries in local churches through training, the promotion of accreditation, and awareness of the primacy of Scripture in counselling and Christian living. We invite you to join us and help us establish the centrality of Scripture in determining how churches help people live to please the Lord.