Great Sentences in Christian Counseling: David Powlison on Ministry vs. Theology

This series highlights sentences from my reading in evangelical Christian counseling that stood out to me and reflections on why these sentences have been so sticky.

I didn’t yet understand the key differences between “teaching counseling” and “doing counseling.” Honestly, it felt hypocritical to say there might be substantive differences between the two. When I read David Powlison’s quote in How Does Sanctification Work? I finally had words for the tension I had been learning to navigate.

 

This is a blog series built on the premise that “books don’t change people, sentences change people.

We can’t remember an entire book, or even its outline. We remember a sentence or concept that is highly relevant and impacts how we live. The rest of the book gives context to that sentence. This series highlights sentences from my reading in evangelical Christian counseling that stood out to me and reflections on why these sentences have been so sticky.

“Ministry ‘unbalances’ truth for the sake of relevance; theology ‘rebalances’ truth for the sake of comprehensiveness (p. 33),” David Powlison in How Does Sanctification Work?

I remember being frustrated as an inexperienced counselor. My sessions didn’t feel like the class lectures where I learned about counseling. The lectures were balanced, holistic, contextualized, and applied. My sessions were staccato, imbalanced, and well… messy. Statements were made that felt like they needed a caveat, but it didn’t feel like the caveats were helpful or appropriate. I felt like I was doing it wrong. I felt something between a sense of failure and guilt.

I didn’t yet understand the key differences between “teaching counseling” and “doing counseling.” Honestly, it felt hypocritical to say there might be substantive differences between the two. When I read David Powlison’s quote in How Does Sanctification Work? I finally had words for the tension I had been learning to navigate.

Metaphor: Classrooms lectures were drawing the map of particular struggles; portraying the entire terrain that struggle could encompass. Counseling sessions were walking a given individual’s journey. Trying to make sessions feel like lectures was like the child in an airplane expecting to see where one state ends (i.e., Missouri) and another state (i.e., Kansas) begins because the ground changes colors (like on a printed map or globe).

I realized that each person is “imbalanced” (using Powlison’s imagery) in a unique way. We all experience different forms of suffering and express our sinfulness in different ways. Counseling is an effort to help a particular person, with a particular set of strugglesat a particular time, that emerge from a particular set of motivations find “balance” (cohesion with God’s design for their life). This means that my counsel will have to account for their imbalance to be effective. This means counsel must be imbalanced to be effective.

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