Watch this short video (23 min) to hear about the next steps God is calling us to in our School of Biblical Counseling (SBC).
Discussion Group: Jayne Clark (Acting Executive Director), Alasdair Groves (Director of SBC), and Carly Robinson (Manager of SBC)
Plus stats, prayer requests, and background on why our staff is so passionate about our courses!
For more information about the School of Biblical Counseling and these initiatives, email [email protected].
Today our focus is on two of our faculty members who devote much of their time to ministering to families. Julie Lowe and Aaron Sironi have both had secular training in these areas and seek to develop a biblical approach to helping families. Please pray for them and the other faculty members as they seek to faithfully grow in skill and practice.
Julie, you and your husband Greg both have a very full life personally and professionally! Can you share some of what you are learning in your life and ministry?
There are so many ways I could answer that question! I am a certified play therapist and have been working towards certification as a supervisor. In particular, I have been studying expressive therapies, which are creational in nature. What I mean by that is that there are many things in creation that tangibly show life and hope. How many times does Scripture use the example of planting or reaping? And how often do you hear people say that sitting at the beach with their feet in the sand and listening to the waves helps calm them? Some aspects of expressive therapies are reduced to skills but it’s so much more when we see that it belongs to the Lord. When we turn to creation, it should naturally reorient us to God and his character.
I am also working on a book on parenting, which convicts me of the need to continue to be wise in knowing my own [six] kids. I want to encourage families to be thoughtful as they pursue the needs of their home. Greg and I are learning to give ourselves the freedom to “do us” well. The “us” that we have has amazingly good characteristics, but also has weaknesses. Asking what each child needs is far more important than what I would desire for them or what the culture says. To whatever degree we can be wise in that, we then trust God to do what he needs with our efforts. It’s freeing, but it’s still a lot of work because we have to consider eight different people in our home. We need to minister to each other and work hard to function collectively as a group, learning to be a team. For example, our son Andrew has a vision disability and his siblings are learning to be available to help him in ways that are shaping them in a really gratifying way. When we go places, they know he will need help. One of the kids will say: “Oh, I’ll go with him to find the bathroom because he’ll get lost coming back if I don’t,” or “I’ll help him read the menu.” Loving each other in the midst of weakness is changing how our home life is done for the better.
With all the activity of home and work, I’ve been thankful for the reminder in Psalm 46:10 to “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” It is good to remember to cease striving and trust that God is at work for my good and his will shall prevail.
Aaron, when former faculty member Winston Smith moved into full-time ministry earlier this year, he handed off his marriage counseling class to you. What are some of the things that you have in mind as you take this on?
Winston put 20 years of teaching and counseling into this course and before that, John Bettler had spent years developing it. It’s a privilege to stand on the shoulders of these gifted biblical counselors. I hope to continue to develop the curriculum in ways that understands marriage and marital problems from Scripture’s horizon and support that with a Christ-centered methodology.
I’d also like to write a marriage counseling workbook. Often, both counselors and couples desire to have specific and thoughtful activities to complement learning and growth of the couple beyond their counseling time together. The problem is that many of the resources available are more general and informational than they are specific and practical. So my hope is to develop a biblical resource to fill that need.
How are both of you seeking to grow in skill and how can our supporters pray for all of our faculty and counselors in this regard?
Aaron: If you’re a counselor, I hope you’re always trying to grow in skillfulness. A friend of mine worked in insurance for thirty years, and said the other day, “It just got so easy.” I thought “Man, that’s the difference between insurance work and counseling ministry!” You never ‘arrive’ in counseling.
Julie: I do think that’s true. If you’re not sharpening yourself and pushing yourself to think outside the box or challenge whatever new theory is coming along the way, you can get stuck in ruts.
Aaron: Yeah, I would say that one of the benefits of teaching is that you have the opportunity constantly to learn and read and look over other people’s shoulders. There are many people out there who are thinking about the things that we care about.
Julie: I fear that sometimes we just see a blurb on a different approach to counseling and we don’t take the time to engage with it ourselves, to learn about it, and to critique it thoughtfully. That was one of the challenges I had with the play therapy field. I didn’t know anybody who was doing it, so I was going to these secular trainings on my own. I would then come back from these seminars and sit down with wise peers and people I respect, saying, “Here’s what I’m thinking about this. Here’s something I think is baloney and wouldn’t use at all, but here’s something I love and want to use and what’s the danger in it?” That’s iron sharpening iron.
Aaron: Skillfulness in counseling is an area we’re taking seriously at CCEF. There is a small group of faculty meeting biweekly to talk about methodology and we’ve used the metaphor of upstream and downstream. We can fall into two categories, one where we stay upstream where it’s theoretical and more abstract, but then we’re not good at bringing it downstream to where life is lived, in the counseling or pastor’s office and small groups and such. Or we can take everything that comes downstream lock, stock and barrel and not assess its possible flaws. What we’re trying to do is grow in our ability to swim things upstream—to be able to help people in real ways based on solid “upstream” principles.
Julie: I think that’s where you can pray for us—that we would remain true and steadfast to Scripture and how we think about life’s problems—but that we really grow in the skill of applying it to people’s lives. We assume too much sometimes— like when we expect people to make practical applications from a sermon because they’re clear to us. So as I think of the families I counsel, I ask: how can I winsomely speak into their lives so that it captures them and they walk away thinking, “I’ll remember this,” or they ask, “What do I do to change this?”
Aaron: 1 Corinthians 3 says we’re the temple and we’re either building with gold, silver or precious stones, or with wood, hay, or straw. So in the end our work will be tested with fire. Will it stand? So the question is, are our counseling skills only working to reduce the symptoms of suffering or do they lead to every knee bowing and every tongue confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord, and loving our neighbor as ourselves?
We recently sat down with faculty members Mike Emlet and Alasdair Groves and asked about some of the new opportunities in front of them. Here is what they shared.
First of all, Alasdair, we would like to congratulate you on your new role as the director for our School of Biblical Counseling (SBC)! What are you most excited about in this new season?
I am excited about the opportunity to think through questions like: How do we bless people who are in ministry and can’t come to Philadelphia to learn in person? Whether it is a 43-year-old pastor in Singapore, or a 60-year-old woman seeking to mentor younger women in her church in California, making these students increasingly our focus is such an opportunity.
When I initially started in this role, I felt like distance education was an inferior way of learning forced upon us by the geography of our students. In the last few months, however, I’ve come to think that distance education can ultimately be better than on-site training. Our online students are already connected in a local church and this is a powerful resource. I am excited about shaping a program that embraces and harnesses the potential of students who are already firmly rooted in a ministry context. Then, when I add the interactions I have had with potential ministry partners around the world (churches, seminaries, etc.), it’s fair to say I’m chomping at the bit to see what the next decade brings for CCEF.
Mike, how do your counseling and teaching interact with each other? And what new opportunities are you encountering?
My counseling and my teaching are absolutely interdependent. For me, teaching without counseling would be like explaining how to swim without ever having gotten into the water myself! Counseling repeatedly drives me to study Scripture to better understand and help the person I’m meeting with. And teaching allows me to share the fruit of that study with others. But it doesn’t stop there. Students raise good questions that send me back to further study and to reconsider my counseling theory and practice for a particular issue. My teaching sharpens my counseling and my counseling keeps my teaching grounded in real life.
One new opportunity for me is my upcoming trip to Australia. I will be presenting a one day workshop in Brisbane (two talks on addiction, two talks on anxiety), which will be repeated in Melbourne at the end of my trip. I will also teach at the biblical counseling residential conference in Sydney where I will lecture on psychiatric disorders, psychoactive medications, and offer several sessions of counseling observation using videotaped counseling. Finally, I will teach my Counseling and Physiology course to students at Presbyterian Theological College in Melbourne. I am excited about the opportunity to be on the ground in a place where the biblical counseling movement has been more recently established. I expect to learn much as I see how biblical counseling is taking root in a context other than the United States.
Alasdair, how are you growing in your counseling ministry?
I’m growing in my understanding of the need to be directive and to set concrete goals with my counselees. Because I haven’t taken new counselees for two-and-a-half years, my counseling focuses on difficult and long-term issues. I’m increasingly aware of how important it is for people who feel deeply stuck or exhausted to see clearly how they can walk forward with the Lord.
We’ve talked about teaching and counseling, and I know you both have upcoming writing projects that you hope will serve the body of Christ. Mike, will you tell us about your new book, Descriptions and Prescriptions: A Biblical Perspective on Psychiatric Diagnoses and Medications, which will be released this fall?
You don’t have to engage in many conversations in the church to find out that Christians disagree about both the nature of psychiatric problems and the use of psychoactive medications. My hope is that the book will offer a balanced perspective on how to understand psychiatric diagnoses and how to think about the benefits and drawbacks of using medications. To use the Goldilocks metaphor, I want people to come away from their reading neither “too hot” (overly enthusiastic) nor “too cold” (overly dismissive) regarding psychiatric diagnoses and medications, but “just right” (full of balanced biblical wisdom).
How would you like people to pray for you?
Please pray that I would not become weary in well-doing (Galatians 6:9). Pray for stamina and good health for my teaching in Australia—almost forty hours in two weeks (so it’s probably also important to pray that I don’t lose my voice!). Pray for a quick adjustment to the time change, and for my wife Jody, who in the midst of her own work outside the home, will be solo-parenting for the two weeks I am away. Pray for rich conversations with participants and students that would be helpful in furthering Christ’s work in their lives and ministries and that my own soul will be enlivened and refreshed.
These past six months have been particularly challenging with the combination of ministry responsibilities at CCEF, pastoral care as an elder in my local church, and serious health concerns for several members of my family. Annie Dillard writes, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” Pray that I would spend my days seeking and resting in the sufficiency of Jesus for all he calls me to in my family, at my church, and at CCEF.
Alasdair, tell us about the writing project you are working on and how we can pray for you.
I am working on a book about emotions with Winston Smith, who recently left CCEF to become a fulltime pastor. First, I ask you to pray that in our new roles we would still be able to carve out enough regular time to make this book happen. Secondly, I would greatly appreciate people praying for me as I’m bumping into some personal limits of my capacity in ways I never have before. I need the Lord to sustain me, and I want to lean on him more intentionally and frequently. Finally, pray joyfully with me, thanking God for giving me a job I love, and the raising up the support for us at CCEF so we are able to advance so many exciting projects!
Thank you both for what you have shared. As the faculty’s schedules change this fall, what new opportunities are you looking forward to?
Alasdair: Recently I’m realizing that we now have the opportunity to be more collaborative in our development of content. I think wisdom in this season is asking, “How can we function better as a team?” The end product is going to be so superior as we brainstorm and learn new ways of developing content that stands on the shoulders of what we’ve already done and yet takes it to a level we’ve never been able to achieve before.
Mike: I agree. You see that opportunity in other ways as well. For example, I am one of six faculty members who have started an advanced skills working group. We’re asking how we can do a better job of showing how our conceptual model works itself out in both informal and formal settings within the church. How can we ground everything we do in the absolute fundamentals of Scripture, so that our counseling methodology is not neutral? So then, when we talk about how to develop better listening skills, it’s absolutely connected to the God of the universe, to the way we understand human beings, and loves others well. I think this is a great example of the kind of collaboration we’re hoping to see.
On any given day Ed Welch and Todd Stryd may be found counseling, teaching or writing. As you may imagine, they spend much time considering how Scripture impacts our lives. Here is a glimpse of what they have been thinking about recently.
Todd, what have you been learning from Scripture lately?
I’ve been struck by the immense privilege we have thinking about and communicating the interaction of faith and life. I’ve spent the past few months in the gospel of Mark, and have been caught off guard by the practical riches that flow from his presentation of the good news.
Mark’s style is built around the subtle ways that Jesus, as the awaited Messiah, surprises and reshapes the reader’s expectation of God’s kingdom. Think of John the Baptist in Mark 1:4-8. The expectation of a first century Jew was that the Messiah’s base of operations and place of anointing would be the holy city of Jerusalem. His reign would begin with pomp and circumstance and validate everything the Jewish people knew to be true about the way the world worked. In contrast to these expectations, Jesus is anointed by a man dressed in garments of camel hair, on the margins of society, into a mission of repentance and service.
As you can imagine, this shocking and unbalancing picture of the Messiah has significant implications on the way we think life works—the way problems are solved, conflicts are addressed, and people are healed. It is influencing the way I think about counseling ministry. The Gospel of Mark makes me consider how my expectations in ministry bump up against the way Jesus says ministry works. The way of true life, and true ministry, is the way of repentance, compassion, and humility.
Ed, can you tell us a little about what you are learning in your work?
This is such an important question to me. Learning and growing, I think, are essential to our lives and our work.
As a teacher, I am always eager to study new biblical passages, read new books, and try to bring everything together in a way that is accessible and memorable. This past semester I targeted that wonderful phrase, “in Christ,” and ventured further into Paul’s thought, and God’s. I can’t think of too many things better than learning about that spiritual reality.
As a writer, I am reading my writing aloud as a way to edit and clarify. Ah, my longsuffering wife who listens to much of it.
As a counselor, I am learning to pray for people more. Of the different parts of my job description, I enjoy counseling the most. It is an honor to be brought into the details of someone’s life and then together to consider how God speaks to those details. So I don’t counsel because I think it is important to the rest of my work—though it is. I counsel because it is a pleasure that is hard but good.
Ed, you travel frequently to teach and speak. Where have you been recently?
Janet Nygren, one of our current counselors, was a student of ours and then became a representative of CCEF during a residency in Malaysia. She recently took me back to her old stomping grounds in order to serve the church in Malaysia and Singapore.
My wife Sheri and I recently returned to Poland to serve at the European Leadership Forum. We had been invited last year as well, which is the only way you can attend. This gathering draws together some of the most influential Christians in Europe, especially Eastern Europe. Days were filled with giving workshops and seminars, meeting with small groups of those wanting to grow in biblical counseling, and meeting with individual pastors and leaders. I was blessed and inspired by their wisdom and sacrificial love. And I am privileged to continue mentoring some of them.
Todd, what are some of the things you have been working on?
The spring term held the bulk of my teaching responsibilities for the year. I care deeply about students understanding and retaining the information they encounter in class. I pray that they continue to be blessed by what they have learned and that God would grant the glorious coupling of their soul and mind.
In terms of writing, I’m thinking about piggybacking on Ed’s most current writing interest and briefly exploring how our priestly role and calling flows into our counseling methodology. I want to consider how ministers of the gospel have a declarative function. Like the priests of the Old Testament, we have the responsibility and power of proclaiming God’s view of the person in front of us. The difference of course is that our declarative role in ministry is not determined by purity codes and the sacrificial system. Rather God’s declaration of people’s status and identity is now bound up with his declaration about his only begotten Son of whom he proclaims he is “well pleased.”
Scripture is so vital to our life and work. How would you like us to pray for you, for CCEF, and for the church at large?
Todd: David and Ed have encouraged the faculty towards a role that is a combination of practitioner-scholar–someone who does high-end pastoral care while simultaneously doing the hard scholarly work of mining Scripture and theology. I think I’m starting to move from a practitioner-heavy existence. The podcasts, blogs, journal, thinking in light of creating new content for classes, all of that is pushing me past sort of this passive scholar into one who is trying to be more active. The challenge is to try to balance the cares of people and the push and pull of their requests and needs with carving out time to think. I’m finding that difficult, so I would appreciate prayer for that. I love the model and I want to be able to attain that by God’s grace.
Ed: When we talk about scholarship, the question is how do we meditate on things that are especially important. My interest is in making scripture accessible but related to that, I want to be able to disciple people in biblical counseling more, meaning in such a way that they don’t simply receive little pieces of information that are useful, which they go to every once in a while. Scripture itself can seem like somewhat disconnected pieces, but as we know it better we see this one story that goes throughout and is coherent. Scripture really guides us and we need to follow suit with our own work. We’re looking for something not just accessible but coherent. How can we disciple people as biblical counselors and say here’s an entry, here’s what’s especially important, now let’s build on that. So people know where they are at all times and see the larger structure of how to do personal ministry. I would certainly like prayer for that process.
We recently sat down with several CCEF faculty members and asked them the following question: “What is one book you are reading or plan to read this year?” Here’s how they answered.
A recent book that stands out would be Zack Eswine’s, The Imperfect Pastor. A few different people recommended it to me and I found the title compelling. I started reading it on the plane after our Emotions conference and kept having to put the book down, look out the window at the clouds, and both repent and worship. It has been refreshing to my soul at an important season when I’m feeling both weary and encouraged. The book has been a timely gift from God bringing conviction and freedom.
One book?! That’s a hard question to answer. I’ll give you two. An interesting read so far this year has been a dated secular book titled, After the Fight: Using Your Disagreements to Build a Stronger Relationship (1993). Although Daniel Wile does not come from a Christian perspective, the way he describes marital conflicts and what goes on inside the heads of spouses AND counselors (as a couple “snaps” into an “adversarial state”), is brilliant, humorous, and captures us in a compassionate and humble way.
Another book that has been enriching is Conflict & Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians (1995) by Ben Witherington III. I can find myself struggling to put this book down and trying to justify why I keep turning the pages even beyond the Scriptural passages I’m mining. Please tell me I’m not the only person who reads biblical commentaries for fun!
If I am eyeing a book that I really wanted to read this year, I would have already read it. I just finished Representing Christ: A Vision for the Priesthood of All Believers. The one odd book that I plan to read is by Mary Higgins Clark. I haven’t decided which one yet—since my daughter has read them all I will rely on her recommendation. I want to see how she pulls you in and keeps you turning one more page.
Read more March ministry updates here.
John the Baptist knew that Jesus had no need for the baptism he was offering, but he acquiesced to Jesus’ request. What happened next was remarkable. Jesus received the supreme endorsement from his Heavenly Father for all to hear: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” What happened next? Jesus was driven out into suffering and temptation. This reveals the pattern our Messiah would follow—there will be a long hard road to walk to glory. It is anchored in hope of the promise of God’s presence. But along the way, there will be heartache.
Does this sound familiar? It should. It means you belong to your Jesus. His pattern is your pattern. Scripture deals with the practical things we all struggle with. You have hope. There is blessing in your life. Yet you have pain and troubles, too. In all Christ sustains you. How do you then develop skills in helping other people when they walk a hard road? You live honestly yourself. You study the Scriptures. You seek to help people. You pray. You pursue equipping from others with experience on the road to wisdom.
Exciting ministries of outreach and equipping are happening at CCEF. These are why we exist.
You can directly support God’s work through CCEF this spring in one of two ways:
Please consider how you might support our work. If the Lord has put a group of people on your heart, help fund a project. Above all else, pray for us and give thanks. God is good and his mercy endures forever!
Thank you for your partnership,
David Powlison: Winston, I’m really glad you and I get to sit down and talk and do some reflecting on not only 23 years of your past, but also what you’re heading toward. How did you wind up here? Give us a bit of the trajectory of your life.
Winston Smith: I always tell people that I only know how to do two things because I’ve only ever had two jobs. When I graduated from college with a degree in philosophy, I worked at a pet store because having a degree in philosophy is like having a degree in unemployment. And then I worked here. So my fallback position is the pet store. [Laughs]
Honestly, I came to Westminster to study not really knowing what I wanted to do. As a kid, I had some sense of a call to pastoral ministry but one of the responses I heard several times was, “If you can be happy doing something else, you probably should.” It was not inspirational. So I tried to find other things to do. I started out in computer science. It was fine. I could do it, but I didn’t find it fulfilling. Then I took a class on philosophy and religion and found it really interesting to study the questions of life. I thought, here’s a way to get people talking about what’s important as well as earn a living, so I started thinking about higher education. I thought maybe I’d pursue PhD work in biblical studies or Christian ethics. I considered how I could help people to live if I wasn’t a pastor. So I got a degree in philosophy of religion. My professors suggested I pursue an MDiv because you can’t do biblical studies without Greek and Hebrew. And from there, the plan was to go on to a PhD program.
My wife Kim and I married in December of 1989, and I started classes at Westminster in January of 1990. The first class I took was John Bettler’s class called the Biblical View of Self-Image and Self-Esteem. John took 1 & 2 Corinthians as his lens for engaging with the cultural conversation at the time, which had to do with self-image and self-esteem. He used Scripture in incredibly practical ways that were culturally relevant and conversant. I thought, “He’s doing right now what I have imagined doing.” So during the break in that very first class, not knowing anything about him or CCEF or biblical counseling, I said, “What do I need to do to do what you’re doing?” He said, “Well hang out and take more counseling classes.”. So that’s what I did. I was in the MDiv pastoral track and switched to the general track and loaded all my electives with counseling material.
In the spring semester, Kim and I both took Ed Welch’s class that’s now Problems & Procedures. It was like a buffet of “you give me a problem, and I’ll give you a biblical way of thinking about it.” Bipolar. Schizophrenia. You name it, and there’s a way in. And that just lit my brain on fire. I thought, “This is a goldmine, a jackpot.” I got really excited about it. That was the nexus that I was looking for—How do you help people to live the way Scripture directs you to?
In the fall of 1993, I started an internship here at CCEF., I did just what John Bettler had told me to do: I stuck around. They gave me about three or four cases, and I met with Ed once a week. To me, that was a dream come true. I’m sitting in a room with Ed Welch talking about counseling once a week. I was just trying to catch whatever falls out of his mouth. Where else could I possibly be that would be this significant, than here and now learning how to do ministry in a way that I thought really would make a difference in people’s lives?
David Powlison: One story I like to tell is the way I first got to know Winston. I was teaching Theology & Secular Psychology at Westminster Seminary. It was a large classroom, and Winston was sitting in the back row. Now the back row is notorious for people who are goofing off. Yes, they’re all seminarians, but it doesn’t mean they’re all holy. But I had this very vivid impression that Winston was really thinking, he was extremely insightful, and he got it. He’s the rare voice from the back row that would ask these very perceptive questions and make these intelligent comments in class.
Winston Smith: A voice crying in the wilderness.
David Powlison: [Laughs] Yes, you made an impression on all of us who were at CCEF at the time. Those early signs of promise really came true. God’s given you a lot of gifts, balance, skillfulness, and insight into people, into relationships, and into Scripture.
Winston Smith: I appreciate that, David.
David Powlison: You’ve done a range of things the past 23 years: you’ve taught, you’ve done a lot of counseling, you’ve mentored, you’ve done writing, you’ve written a book on marriage, you’ve told an awful lot of jokes… What stands out? What’s the impact? What do you take away that means so much to you?
Winston Smith: I walk away with an important, balanced view of the Christian life and how ministry works. I think I started where I needed to start, with a deep dive into the Bible, biblical theology and how to handle the Scriptures. I spent a long time just reading, reading, reading, studying, and learning theology. Also, I learned that you do have to be skilled with people. You can’t just know the Bible. You need to be a skilled exegete of people as well as Scripture. They mutually inform one another. You need to learn how to love people wisely. So I learned to value skill and wisdom as well.
But I’ve come to a place that I realize that there are so many moving parts that God uses to move people along in life, and you’re only one part of what he’s doing. If it’s not Spirit-led and guided, then you don’t know what you’re doing, and it doesn’t matter what you think you’re doing. I’ve learned to play my role, but prayerfully and with open hands. I’ve tried not to over-steer. I’ve tried not to let myself be too important, but be responsible and wise. I really have doubled and re-doubled my appreciation for how important the community of the church is and how important worship is. I see what a difference it makes for my counselees who have a church family, who get fed love, who get fed in worship.
David Powlison: And they have a context to love and to worship. A biblical vision is the only one in the world that thinks the goal of our lives is to worship and to love.
Winston Smith: The people I see suffering the most and finding it the most difficult to navigate life are people who are separated from the church, living in broken relationships where they feel as if they have to find God’s love alone. For me, I have begun to realize more and more that I don’t want to do ministry behind closed doors. I want to be more proactive in people’s lives, in a community, in public worship, in life’s events, at bedsides, at funerals, at weddings, in living rooms. It’s not that I couldn’t do that before. But as a pastor, I get to do it with a clearly sacramental role.
To people on the outside, this career change may seem dramatic and sudden, but it hasn’t been that way. It’s been a very natural transformation. It’s happened more quickly than I thought it would. My intention all along was to continue to serve here at CCEF and slot part-time pastoral ministry into that. I thought maybe I’d do full-time parish ministry years down the road.
But then an opportunity came up that seemed like a perfect fit. It wasn’t just something I wanted but it was something that people I respect were saying, “This would be very good for this congregation and this would be really good for you.” So I’m starting out as a full-time minister. I’m on a steep learning curve, but I believe it’s what God is calling me to do.
David Powlison: As you’ve been growing in your vision for ministry, you’ve also been simply living as a man who’s a child of God, who has life hardships, who needs grace. Could you just say a bit about your personal faith in Christ? What are critical passages, truths, and realities that have caught fire for you over the last 23 years that anchor your sense of identity as a Christian and as a person?
Winston Smith: To start, I was really given to anxiety as a boy and a young man. It was anxiety, in part, linked to the need for comprehensive meaning. I was a young existentialist. I remember finding a lot of help in the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes. I remember getting to Westminster, and one of the passages that really locked in for me was Jesus’ summary of the law. It was his ability to say, “I can take all of this rich revelation and make it accessible you. Two things really matter: love of God and love of neighbor, and they’re both about relationships. So if you want to know what God really values and what he’s about—it’s relationship.” So this automatic prioritizing happens. All this stuff around you really exists to glorify God and the way that you love him and people. That’s how you decide what you’re going to do with your stuff and your activity and your energy. You’re going to love God and you’re going to love people. All kinds of wisdom questions then follow about how you’re going to do that. But in one sense, it simplifies a lot. I brought that understanding to the way I did counseling and to the way that I reworked and made the marriage counseling curriculum material my own, and in the Marriage Matters book.
In the last ten years, another truth that has struck me has been thinking about Jesus as near rather than far. I’ve grown in my understanding that the Holy Spirit, while a unique person of the Trinity, is often considered the spirit of Christ because of his critical role of communicating Christ to us. He is the way that Christ is made manifest to us in that we are temples of the Living God. I’ve spent time focusing on his nearness and his presence. I’ve tried to spend more time being still. Instead of letting my own mind be the mechanism of God’s communication, I’ve focused on being alert to the Spirit’s leading and prompting and the immediacy of that.
David Powlison: It’s interesting that you started talking about the two great commandments and then you shared about God’s gift of himself to us, that he loves us. That’s often struck me. The two great commandments in many different ways drive us to realize our need for the gospel, our need for a Savior, including the fact that maybe we’re poor at relationships or that we fail or we get distracted.
You also talked about anxiety. Anxiety, in my experience, is premised on, “There’s nobody near. It’s just me in a world that’s big and out of control.” If in fact God is near and he loves me, it changes the whole script and it gives this foundation in which loving him back and loving others becomes the meaning of life.
So, Winston will you be involved at all at CCEF in the future?
Winston Smith: Time will tell. I have an active mind, and I’m a curious person. I’ve been advised to make sure that I stay alive academically, and the church has given me permission to pursue things that I’m interested in. But right now, my mind is so full of what I don’t know about how to be a full-time pastor that it’s hard for me to imagine making room for other things. But I’m sure that time will come. I do aim to live not just locally within my parish, but within a greater community of people and churches. Pastoral care and counseling is going to continue to be important to me and I hope to make contributions in those areas.
One non-negotiable is that I have a book about emotions that I’m writing with Alasdair Groves that we’re going to finish. That will be the number one priority outside of my parish.
David Powlison: Would you give us a summary of how we can pray for you?
Winston Smith: I think the temptation for me and for many when you’re doing something new is to feel anxiety and pressure and in that to get too active and become grabby and over-steer. I want to enter into this new phase with a childlike faith that’s humble, willing to learn, and willing to make mistakes, and in that assume and know God’s care and guidance. I’ve made the worst mistakes in my life when I felt anxious and pressured and I just did something because I felt like I needed to do something. It’s much better not to do something when you don’t know what to do. Something isn’t always better than nothing. Pray that I would know God’s peace and move slowly and wisely as I’m doing something new.
David Powlison: I’ve learned over a lot of years of counseling that a time will come in a conversation when I won’t know what to say next to the person. I need the Lord to give wisdom. What question do you ask? What do you say? How do you help? Counseling has a lovely way, if we approach it rightly, of making us to know our own need.
Winston Smith: When you don’t know what to do, and you find the peace of Christ in the midst of that in front of your counselee, you’re actually doing something important that they need to witness.
David Powlison: Exactly. So, has the reality of the transition hit you yet?
Winston Smith: I’m already answering emails from both places—from CCEF and from the church. I’m already starting to feel the pull of two worlds. It will sink in for me and for others soon enough, and it will be difficult. Please pray for my counselees, too. I have worked very closely with some of them for long periods of time and now, because of my departure, they’re in pain.
Thank you, David, for this time to share and process.
David Powlison: Of course, Winston. Let me pray for you.
Our Father, I am grateful for the direction that our conversation took. There are things we’re meant to do, but our lives are not summed up by a list of achievements or a resume. They’re summed up by the kind of life we live and that we would live with integrity. I pray that Winston would in fact live as we have talked, that he would not over-steer his life, that he would be humble and teachable and that he would take risks and cheerfully fail, dust himself off, and come back to Christ for grace and seek to again reach people, to the places you’ve called him to love and serve well. Make him full of charity, full of a goodness, full of a genuineness in his worship of you. And through that, Lord, then bring fruit through his preaching his teaching, his friendship, the informal moments, the way he conducts the worship service that it would never be done simply by a routine. We also pray for the men and women who have sought his aid. I pray that each one of them would navigate this change with grace and that they would find that the Christ of whom Winston has spoken is in fact with them and will not abandon them. I pray that they would embrace that truth at a deeper level and while they feel the loss of someone who has been valuable, they would yet anchor their hearts in you.
“And Jesus said, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.’” (Mark 16:15)
Jesus said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all of Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
God’s Spirit is on the move in South East Asia! I was praying earlier this month for the South East Asia CCEF conference that is happening this week in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I prayed specifically for a good showing of countries in the area. Two hours after praying I received an email from an elder of a church in Vietnam. Through a contact in Singapore, he heard of the conference and said he “would definitely be interested to send a team.”
Five years ago, CCEF was virtually unknown in Malaysia. But following a kick-off conference in January 2012, I became CCEF’s representative in Malaysia and have served in that capacity for over three years. To date, more than 100 students have benefited from the School of Biblical Counseling courses, and CCEF now has a partner organization, EQUIP, that nurtures biblical counseling in Malaysia.
Because of its central location in South East Asia, Malaysia is opening its doors to host this regional conference. Besides Malaysia, CCEF students from India, Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea, and Japan have all been invited. This week’s conference features Ed Welch speaking on “Side by Side,” equipping churches to love and care for one another, and “Shame Undone,” sharing the good news the gospel offers to all who have experienced the sting of shame. In addition, students have an opportunity to interact with Ed, and network with fellow students from other countries. We are excited to hear how CCEF courses have touched the lives of these students, and how they, in turn, are better equipped to love others well.
It is a great privilege to partner with CCEF and watch God transform lives around the world. Please pray for me, Ed & Sheri Welch, the Malaysian EQUIP team, and all those attending the South East Asia CCEF Conference.
-Janet Nygren, CCEF counselor
Join with us and help send Ed, Sheri and Janet into the world! This trip to Malaysia is estimated to cost $10,000 and includes flights, transportation, lodging, food, and staff time for planning and the two-week trip.
Please pray for this trip and our many friends in Malaysia. And if you are able, please consider a special gift to offset this trip. You can donate online here.Support CCEF
I began my study in counseling with “Dynamics of Biblical Change”, a course taught by David Powlison. Little did I know that one 12-week course would set me on a journey that would change my life.
How did it change my life? I learned that I was as much a sinner and as deeply needy as anyone I would ever counsel. I learned that I was made in the image of God, as were all the people I might be privileged to help. And I learned there was a God of grace, sufficient to meet and cover that very neediness and sin.
My journey was a humbling one, filled with hope. Today, as a counselor, I know the task does not belong to me but to the Lord Himself. No other experience outside of my marriage and my family has had a greater impact on the way I think and live my life than the ministry of CCEF’s School of Biblical Counseling.Support CCEF
We want to hear from you, too. As you reflect on the ways that God is impacting your life, please write to us at [email protected].