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What is the Church’s Role in Counseling? Dr. Deepak Reju

Home » What is the Church’s Role in Counseling? Dr. Deepak Reju

 

 

Dr. Arnold interviews Dr. Reju on the subject of counseling.

Topics of conversation include:

  • The difference between discipleship and counseling
  • How the church congregation can engage in counseling one another
  • When pastors should seek additional counseling support outside of the church
  • How to think about secular therapy and biblical counseling
  • Resources for equipping believers to care for and counsel one another

Dr. Deepak Reju is the pastor of biblical counseling and family ministry at Capitol Hill Baptist Church. He serves on the board of directors of the Biblical Counseling Coalition and is also a trustee for the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation. Dr. Reju is the author of several books, including Great Kings of the Bible (Christian Focus, 2014), The Pastor and Counseling (Crossway, 2015), She’s Got the Wrong Guy (New Growth Press, 2017), and Pornography (P & R Publishing, 2018).

 

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Intro (00:00):

Welcome to Faith Seeking Understanding, a podcast from Phoenix Seminary—helping Christians grow in their understanding of the faith, hosted by Dr. Brian Arnold, president of Phoenix Seminary.

 

Brian Arnold (00:17):

One of my favorite descriptions of the church is that it’s a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints. The church is made up of a bunch of people who’ve been saved by faith in Christ, and who are on a progressive journey towards Christlikeness. And this progress we call sanctification is full of bumps and potholes. The world often thinks that Christians either have it all together, or pretend to, but the truth is that our lives are messy, too. Christians are struggling in their marriages, with raising children, with addictions, with pornography, with fear and anxiety, and a host of other hard stuff. Thankfully, there’s a lot more recognition of struggle today than in previous generations. And Christians are turning to churches and pastors for help. But what is the role of the church in counseling? Or how much counseling should a pastor do before he refers someone to a professional counselor? How can we find help in the church for the burdens we bear? Well, to help us understand the church’s role in counseling, we have with us today, Dr. Deepak Reju. Deepak serves as pastor of biblical counseling and family ministry at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. He earned his PhD from Southern Seminary, and he’s the author of several books, including Great Kings of the Bible, The Pastor and Counseling, She’s Got the Wrong Guy, and Pornography. He’s also served on the board of directors of the Biblical Counseling Coalition, and also as a trustee for the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation. Dr. Reju, welcome to the podcast.

 

Deepak Reju (01:36):

Thank you. Glad to be here.

 

Brian Arnold (01:38):

So we always ask our guests a big question, the one for today is—what is the church’s role in counseling? And you’ve served in this kind of capacity, as pastor of biblical counseling and families at Capitol Hill Baptist Church—how’d you end up in that role? What kind of attracted you to that ministry in the church?

 

Deepak Reju (01:54):

Well, I am a first child, Asian American. So I’m the oldest child in my family. And I was working here at Capitol Hill as Mark Dever’s personal assistant. And he said to me, “I think your gifts are in counseling.” And, you know, typical oldest child and Asian American—older authority figure in my life speaks in, I say, “okay, what should I do next?” And he said, “Why don’t you think about going, getting a degree, and coming back and working for me as an associate pastor?” So that’s the short version of it. It turned out in that same period, another elder, unbeknownst to Mark, came to me and said something similar. And just, I thought, “Okay, a lot of men who know me are starting to say this is what I should do with my life. So I should probably listen.”

 

Brian Arnold (02:49):

Well, isn’t the Lord so kind in his Providence to bring those people into our lives at the right time to speak multiple words to us to get us in those places? It’s a special gift that guys have—there’s a lot of pastors who I don’t necessarily think have as soft of a pastoral heart. So to be a guy who has that can really make an impact in churches. So one of the things that we probably need to set out at the very beginning, is maybe even the difference between discipleship and counseling. So let’s define our terms a little bit. How would you define discipling?

 

Deepak Reju (03:21):

So discipling we think of as the one-on-one ministry in which we’re invested in someone else’s life. Typically we associate that with Bible study and prayer. And the overall goal is for helping them to grow in Christ—so for the sake of their spiritual growth, for the sake of their spiritual good, we do everything we can to come alongside of them and help them. So that’s essentially discipling. Now we associate that mostly with one-on-one, but I am discipling when I’m teaching an entire classroom. I’m discipling when I do family worship with my wife and kids. So we can think of it more broadly, but typically we think about it as that one-on-one mentoring context.

 

Brian Arnold (04:00):

In which, some counseling-like things happen. As somebody, maybe a little bit further along in the faith, identifies things in their disciple’s life, and walk them through that biblically.

 

Deepak Reju (04:12):

Yeah, that’s exactly right. So, you know, discipling is what we’re all called to do, and we’re all asked to do, as Christians. So we often say in our membership interviews, as we’re sitting with prospective members—we understand that all Christians are responsible to be investing in others and have others invested in them, in a ministry of discipling.

 

Brian Arnold (04:34):

So, then, how does that differ from counseling more proper?

 

Deepak Reju (04:38):

Okay. So if I’m talking about counseling…if you think of discipling as a spectrum of things that we encounter in the Christian life, the stuff that we see that are really the hard things, the nasty things, the really difficult things in life, so the adultery, the addictions, the eating disorders, the worst kinds of conflict, just the really hard things that we encounter—that’s what we associate with counseling. So counseling is an intense and problem-focused form of discipling. And you notice what I’m doing—I’m making discipling the overarching category. I’m making counseling a subset of that. So whenever we’re coming alongside those who are struggling with really hard stuff in the Christian life, and we’re willing to speak to them, come alongside them, love them, invest in them—then we’re doing what I’m defining then, as counseling.

 

Brian Arnold (05:36):

And that is…are you seeing an uptick in that in the churches, especially with the pandemic, with a lot of strife in culture? It seems to me, from my vantage point, that a lot of people are in a place right now where they’re seeking out counseling.

 

Deepak Reju (05:51):

Yeah. I think that is very much true. In fact, I think the shift has been…I think some of the younger generations see counseling as normal. I mean, you can hear, especially in the secular community, people joke about like having a therapist being the normal thing that they do, and surprised when their friends don’t have their own therapists. Well, actually, how much more so should we, rather than going and seeing professionals, be willing to be involved in each other’s lives in a local church? Otherwise that makes a statement about what our churches are, and what the gospel is.

 

Brian Arnold (06:30):

Well let’s dive into that a little bit more, because I think one of the things that you lay out is how a church broadly can be engaged in counseling. And it not just be that thing that the pastor is responsible for. Because I know when I pastored a small church in western Kentucky, you were kind of everything. You are the youth pastor, you’re part-time janitor at times, you are obviously leading the church and preaching, but also the chief counselor. And that was seen as something that there was the clergy-laity divide, and only the pastor could really offer that level of counseling. How do you set that forth in a place like Capitol Hill?

 

Deepak Reju (07:07):

Yeah. So I think there’s a common false assumption that the care of members is the responsibility of professional pastors and licensed counselors, and not the congregation. And a member once said to me, “After all, we pay our pastor to do the dirty work, right?” And yet I think God has made really clear in his Word, that believers have a responsibility for one another. If you join a local church, you’ve got a biblical obligation to be invested in others’ lives. So we try and lay that out really clearly as you join, as a member. We have a whole class dedicated to the involvement of members in each other’s lives, and set that up as an expectation—that if you’re joining this church, you should expect to have other people in your life, and you being invested in other people’s lives. It’s just a fundamental part of what it means to be a Christian. It’s not just a program that we do. This is what it means to be a believer in Christ.

 

Brian Arnold (08:07):

Well, and to remember that Paul says to the church at Ephesus, that the pastor’s job, really, is to equip the saints in order to do the work of the ministry. And so it’s not just to do the messy things, which the pastors will of course do, but it’s to help train other people to carry those burdens as well. And that’s what creates healthy churches.

 

Deepak Reju (08:24):

Yeah. That’s exactly right.

 

Brian Arnold (08:26):

So how do you, then—let’s get a bit more particular—how do you, from Scripture, help guide people in your church to greater understanding? Because it seems, you know, from the outside, watching Capitol Hill for 15, 16 years, you have a very healthy church that seems to really buy into this model. So how do you get somebody who’s been used to sitting kind of in the pew, watching ministry, to really engaging?

 

Deepak Reju (08:51):

Yeah. There’s a lot of ways I think you could defend this Scripturally, but I think the most straightforward way to do it is just simply listen to and pay attention to the one another passages in Scripture, because they’re written about one Christian and their involvement, engagement, their life, with another Christian. What do Christians do with each other? Well, listen to…I just wrote down a couple of different texts to read to you. So John chapter 13, “A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this, all men will know that you’re my disciples, if you love one another.” Romans chapter 12, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.” Romans chapter 13, “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellow man has fulfilled the law.”

 

Deepak Reju (09:39):

Romans chapter 15, “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” Romans chapter 15, again, “I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another.” Ephesians chapter four, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” Ephesians chapter four, again, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you.” And then, 1 Thessalonians five, “Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” And so, what do you see in the verses? The verses are speaking to Christians, and the general direction is to oblige Christians, to love one another, be devoted to each other, to honor one another, to accept one another, be patient, be kind, be compassionate, forgive, and even to instruct one another. So there is clearly an obligation for Christians to be invested in each other, in each other’s lives, to be deeply involved. And I think that’s unavoidable if you’re just simply reading your Bible.

 

Brian Arnold (10:41):

Yeah. And when church becomes a spectator sport, you show up, you watch, you expect the ministry to be done by the people who are being paid full-time. And there really isn’t deep engagement in the church. We just don’t see this happening. And then when crises come into people’s lives, or even in culture as a whole, the church seems ill-prepared to actually address these things in people’s lives, which creates a whole subset field for people to look to, to answer those questions that oftentimes the church is equipped to do.

 

Deepak Reju (11:09):

Yeah, and most people are walking in with a consumer mentality, as they walk in on a Sunday morning, or they even join a church. Like the motto “it’s better to receive than give” is their mentality when it comes to walking into church. So this is saying—no, actually, as you show up, expect that you’re going to give, and others are going to give to you. And this is what supernatural community looks like.

 

Brian Arnold (11:33):

So let me press on some areas, because I’m imagining some people are listening, they’re in, you know, counseling right now outside of their church. And maybe even they’ve been directed there by a pastor. So I want to ask kind of a series of questions around this. One of them being, when should a pastor say, “You know what? Maybe there’s some additional help that we may be able to find outside of the church.” Or where are times that you even find it could be helpful in somebody’s life to direct them elsewhere? Or do you?

 

Deepak Reju (12:01):

Yes. I think you do. I mean, I’m deeply sympathetic to a pastor, for example, who’s in an unhealthy church, and he has very little help overall, and he’s overrun and overwhelmed. I think it’s really good to find other partners in the ministry where you can come alongside them, they can come alongside you, and help you with that burden. But what the danger is, is too many pastors just simply pass off the problem situations to professionals outside of the church, and are not willing to be involved. So I want to fight against that, because I want space for a pastor to be able to partner with, say professional counselors in their community, but I don’t want pastors to assume—my job is just leadership and preaching, all the problems go to the professionals outside my church. Because that again—that makes a statement about the power and effectiveness of the gospel in local churches.

 

Brian Arnold (13:00):

One of the sweetest periods in church history, I think, because I’m a church historian, is the Puritans. And I love how they thought of themselves as “physicians of the soul.” And many of them wrote—I mean, I think about like Richard Baxter, wrote voluminously on the issue of pastoral care, and really engaging people’s lives with the gospel, in ways that would help them through issues that we would address to modern day counseling. And the church has kind of lost that vision. And I know…I mean, you work with Mark Dever, who did his PhD in Puritans. And so this is, I’m sure, informing a lot of what’s happening there at Capitol Hill Baptist.

 

Deepak Reju (13:36):

Very much so, very much so.

 

Brian Arnold (13:38):

So let me…you know, I want to continue on this, because one of the things that Phoenix Seminary’s even had recently, is a Master of Arts in Counseling that leads to licensed counseling, kind of bringing in some secular psychology with biblical worldview. But there’s a whole spectrum on these kinds of things, from biblical counseling all the way to secular counseling. People have a conception of Christian counseling, integrative counseling—I mean there’s a whole world of these kinds of things. I would love to just hear you kind of speak into that, and what, in your experience, you have seen to be most effective.

 

Deepak Reju (14:14):

Yeah, so I started in psychiatric studies. I was a typical—I guess I can say it, because I’m saying it—I was a typical Asian American geek. You know, went to undergraduate thinking I would do either engineering or become a doctor. I did go on to med school. So I did psychiatry studies. Then I ended up doing a minor also in psychology. I went and studied with integrationists, which are the vast majority of evangelicals. People who are trying to integrate their faith with some kind of psychological model. I studied with non-Christians in the psychiatry and psychology departments. I studied with Christians and integrationists. And, you know, as I did all of that—and appreciated lots of things that I learned in all these different environments—the thing that kept on bugging me, especially in my PhD studies, was when the question was asked about effectiveness, and what really makes a difference in people’s lives, it always came back to things like empirical research, or what the studies say. That was the authoritative source of understanding how we find change and what brings about change.

 

Deepak Reju (15:33):

If the studies prove it, or if we can show through our clinical work what psychological models are effective, then that’s what we do. And yet, I was dying to know—does the Word have something to do with any of this? Does Scripture have…especially not…a lot of people talk about authority and sufficiency. I just want to put out the category—relevancy. Is Scripture relevant to my troubles in my daily life? Does the Bible make a difference in how I do it? And so I started moving in the direction of biblical counseling, because it felt like that was the one movement that was committed to finding a way to show how Scripture informs us, and educates us, and equips us, and empowers us, and strengthens us to face some of the hardest things in the Christian life.

 

Deepak Reju (16:31):

You know, the simple way to say it is—does the gospel matter when we come to those really hard things that we associate with suffering? Or is it just some theological truth we stick in an ivory tower, but it really doesn’t have any bearing on the nitty-gritty of life? That’s what attracted me to biblical counseling, because there were a slew of people that were beginning to talk about—well, how do we build a bridge from the biblical text into the worst situations in our local church? And as a pastor that was hugely appealing to me. But then, even as a clinician, as someone who’s trained as a therapist, as someone who wants to be a Christian and know how to have my faith active in these things, that was also hugely appealing to me.

 

Brian Arnold (17:14):

Well, let’s even, you know, get practical about one of the ways that people seek some of those outside even the Christian bubble counseling, of something like A.A. I worked as a paramedic for 10 years in Louisville. And a lot of the people, friends of mine, colleagues, had gone through A.A. They had overcome their addiction to alcohol or, you know, they would even go to like, N.A. I think it is, right? Narcotics Anonymous? And overcome that. And then, when I tried to share the gospel with them, it was, “Oh, no, I’ve already got my solution through A.A. That’s what my Savior is.” You know, I had a guy tell me, “I pray to a door knob, but that’s my higher power. And through that, I’ve been able to overcome alcohol. And so I don’t really need the gospel.” So how have you even had to wrestle through some of those tensions? And what is the difference then, between something like A.A. And the church when it comes to how we think through counseling? And even what we’re trying to accomplish for this person, who is an infinite soul?

 

Deepak Reju (18:15):

Well, the difference would be…let me just name three. There’s a lot of things I could point to, but God’s Spirit. Because it dwells within us, if you are a believer in Christ. It brings conviction and change, Ephesians 3:16. God’s Word, because it’s sufficient, authoritative, and relevant, like I just mentioned. So Isaiah 55:10-11. But then God’s people. God uses loving, redemptive relationships in community to sustain us. So 1 John 3. But here’s my caveat to that. You know, a lot of Christians, as we’re talking about dealing with hard things…well, whereas I think most of my members could easily sit down and study the Bible and pray with another member, and there’s no training required, a lot of Christians don’t have the confidence, and they don’t even know where to go in Scripture when they face some of these hard things. So if a friend shows up and says, “I’m an alcoholic,” or “My marriage is falling apart,” or “I’m addicted to pornography,” most of the believers in our pews don’t know where to go in the Bible.

 

Deepak Reju (19:14):

They just don’t know how to build a bridge from the biblical text into that person’s life. And so I want to help them to know how to do that. But I also want to build a community of people who are not scared of the hard things. They’re not going to back away when something like suicide, or addiction, or adultery…they’re just not scared by those things. In fact, they feel a responsibility to step in, because they feel like they are covenant members in the same local church. So my story was—a young lady, who was a part of our congregation, sadly attempted suicide multiple times over the course of two years. And, as typical for me as a counseling pastor, I got the call when she had made an attempt and was rushed to the hospital. And so I rushed to the hospital. And you know, it was my delight as a pastor when I got there to find out that two single women had beaten me there.

 

Deepak Reju (20:19):

And so by the time I arrived, not only had they ministered to her with the Word, prayed with her, but when I got there, they were playing a card game to begin to lighten her spirits. And you know how helpful that is to me as a pastor? Knowing that, you know, the people in my church are not scared, but rather, when something like suicide shows up, they said, “I want in. I’m not moving away, I’m not backing away. I’m going to run towards that.” Well, you know, most of our members, when you first hear something like this, they’re scared about these big categories. They don’t know how to face it in their own life. So that’s where equipping people in your church, this gets into. Are we doing what you mentioned earlier, Ephesians 4? Are the pastors and the shepherds and evangelists equipping God’s people for the work of the ministry? Well, that includes these hard things. And I think that’s what it means to be a supernatural community. That’s the difference between A.A. or S.A., or all the other different accountability groups that the secular community offers, and the church. We’re a supernatural community, with supernatural resources, to help you in the hardest things in the Christian life.

 

Brian Arnold (21:37):

Well that vision of the church, and that vision of those kinds of Christians, is world changing. For people to see engagement on those issues with people, not self-righteously saying, “How could they ever do that?” But saying, “But by the grace of God.” You know, all of us are struggling in so many different ways, but we can encounter Christ together through struggle, through sin, and actually come out the other side more sanctified than we were on the front side. And doing that in community with one another is a beautiful vision for what the New Testament lays out. I liked how you walked through those passages of the one anothers, of what that could look like in a church that takes that seriously.

 

Deepak Reju (22:19):

Amen. Amen. And you know, the reality is, for the listeners who are hearing our conversation—you don’t have to do much, and you’re going to run into these problems. Because we live in a fallen world.

 

Brian Arnold (22:29):

Yes.

 

Deepak Reju (22:29):

So my disposition is like—well, why not then get equipped? You’re going to face it. So do something so you’re ready when the hard conversation comes.

 

Brian Arnold (22:40):

Well maybe we can kind of land there, and just say—what are some resources, obviously the Word and a church that teaches the Word faithfully, but what are some books that could be helpful for somebody listening today saying, “Hey, I want to buy into that. I want to be that kind of church member who shows up at the hospital ready with the gospel?” What resources do you find most helpful?

 

Deepak Reju (22:59):

Yeah, so if a listener is ready to take on a 300 plus page paperback—not everybody’s ready to do that—then Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands by Paul Tripp is a good start, I think, if you want to digest a lot more of this. If you think—that’s a little too much for me, I don’t have enough margin to take that on right now, then another one that’s really good, that’ll be shorter, briefer chapters, would be Ed Welch’s Side by Side. Both of them lay out a beautiful vision of what it means to be in community with one another, and be able to do this kind of thing. Now more broadly, beyond counseling, just thinking in terms of just what does an overall community, a supernatural community look like? Then my boss, Mark Dever, and our other associate pastor, Jamie Dunlop, wrote Compelling Community, and that’s by 9Marks. That’s a good overall vision of what a supernatural community, invested in one another, what that could be.

 

Brian Arnold (23:58):

I think those are really helpful resources for people listening. I found Paul David Tripp’s book Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands to be so helpful for me, thinking through that as I went into the pastoral ministry, of how we can help equip people to do that, and what my call even is within the church. Well, Deepak, this was really helpful, I hope encouraging to our listeners, as we do live in this fallen, broken world, to see the church as a resource. Not just a resource, but the place where God is calling us to lay these burdens down and carry one another’s burdens, as Paul commands us to in Galatians 6. So thank you so much for this conversation. Really helpful for me. And I know it’s helpful for our listeners too.

 

Deepak Reju (24:37):

Glad to do it. Thank you for the time.

 

Outro (24:39):

Thank you for listening to the Faith Seeking Understanding podcast. If you want to grow more in your understanding of the faith, consider studying at Phoenix Seminary, where men and women are trained for Christ-centered ministry for the building up of healthy churches in Phoenix and throughout the world. Learn more at ps.edu.

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