I learned a long time ago that in some cases, like the poor who will always be with us, the weak and faint-hearted will always be with us, too. Yes, I have seen many counselees changed with nouthetic counseling. Nouthetic counseling offers much hope. However, I had to realize that sometimes more than admonishment is needed.
I was a student of Dr. Jay Adams in 1970 at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia when his book Competent to Counsel was originally published. I remember him bringing one of the first copies into the classroom and showing it to our class. He is considered the father of the Nouthetic Counseling Movement. I quickly latched on to nouthetic counseling because I viewed it as being faithful to the Scriptures.
However, as is often the case, students easily corrupt the views or theology of their professors. I am afraid that I was guilty of this. I developed the perspective that the answer to every problem in the body of Christ was a rebuke and a Bible verse; after all I thought all problems arise from sin and all sins can be traced back to idolatry. Christians don’t need psychiatrists. Christians don’t need psychotropic medication. I thought of myself as a purist, but now looking back on it all, actually I think I suffered from a lack of experience.
Paul provided the balance that I needed in 1 Thessalonians 5: 14. “We urge you brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the faint-hearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” Notice that Paul divides the counselees into three types (I know —these are not absolute categories). As is assumed in this text, not every Christian with a problem needs the same medicine.
Notice that some Christians do indeed need to be rebuked. The unruly, undisciplined, and those out of line need to be admonished with words. Quoting a Bible verse might be quite appropriate. However, not every Christian needs a rebuke. Not every problem falls into the unruly category. Some Christian folks are just frail and fragile. This is the way they are, and they may have to struggle a great deal to overcome their personal demons.
Some of us are faint-hearted (more literally in the Greek, “small-minded”). Sometimes fear and depression grip us and we can’t seem to overcome it. When it gets a little difficult, we will be the first to drop out. We need someone to encourage us. Literally, we need someone to “stand alongside of us” on our pathway as we run our race, and we need them to root for us. Like the runner in a 5K race, we need our family along the track shouting over and over, “You can finish the race, don’t give up.” It really helps! We could never have finished without them. We need someone to instill courage in us. We do not need a rebuke. A rebuke would crush us.
Others of us are just weak. Weakness is used in several ways in the Bible. Some are weak because their consciences are oversensitive. They just cannot eat meat (Rms. 14:1-2). They can’t quite shake off the maladies of their past. Even though they are new creatures in Christ, it is very difficult for them to overcome old damage that still haunts them. They need someone to help bear their burdens as Simon of Cyrene helped Jesus carry his cross to Golgotha. “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2).
Lastly, there needs to be patience in all counseling cases. One of the blessings of the Reformed Community is that we have many knowledgeable and brave leaders. However, the downside of this is that these stalwart leaders often have little patience with others who don’t equal their own attainment of strength and courage. I learned a long time ago that in some cases, like the poor who will always be with us, the weak and faint-hearted will always be with us, too. Yes, I have seen many counselees changed with nouthetic counseling. Nouthetic counseling offers much hope. However, I had to realize that sometimes more than admonishment is needed.
Larry E. Ball is a Honorably Retired Minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is now a CPA. He lives in Kingsport, Tennessee.