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.
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].
today may be a heavy place
walking under this fog of suffering and sin:
grief on grief, sorrow on sorrow, we dwell in darkness.
are people on whom Light shines.
a great light into our blackened, blanketed world
a great redemption, priceless beyond revenue tags:
we’re searching for wonderful this time of year.
and in the empty
a virgin’s body is wracked
she cries out
in sacred uncleanness
a Savior appears,
newborn, helpless child
skin, flesh, and bone human, come to walk with us.
but the light of divinity shines
and those swaddled shoulders carry the weight of the world —
your Wonderful Counselor
when you don’t know where to turn
when it looks as if evil reigns
to the orphaned, destitute, brokenhearted
Prince of Peace
to rule all inner and outer turmoils.
this miracle is for you, dear heart:
He has come
Light into darkness,
Hope into despair,
Life into death
to transform our everyday.
Our local church is indebted to and grateful for the ministry of CCEF. Our understanding and practice of biblical counseling has been shaped through the ministry of CCEF’s Journal of Biblical Counseling, their books, conferences and seminars, and online and intensives courses through the School of Biblical Counseling.
We have received both theologically sound and practical help for serving the members of our church. From challenges in their marriages, parenting, the pain of chronic illness, to name a few, CCEF has equipped us to share the truths of Scripture in a way that strengthens faith and brings hope in the God who is intimately aware of our struggles and has practical answers to meet those struggles in our day-to day lives.
We are grateful for our partnership with CCEF and would encourage other churches to explore how CCEF might help them.Support CCEF Supporting Church & Ministry Program
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].
My first encounter with CCEF was reading When People are Big and God is Small by Ed Welch. It enabled me to see how shackled I was to fear of man, how little understanding I had of a powerful, sovereign Lord and it kindled a hunger to rightfully worship the living God.
Five years ago, I attended my first CCEF conference. I was so encouraged by it that I enrolled in CCEF’s online School of Biblical Counseling. The training and resources I have received from CCEF have strengthened my faith, softened my heart, deepened my love for Christ, opened my eyes to see the riches of Scripture, and caused my feet to move more readily towards others. I’m deeply grateful to this ministry for its faithful commitment to equip the saints to care for one another by connecting the wisdom of Scripture to the struggles of life and to do so with tenderness, humility and patience.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].
Monday morning comes after Sunday. Obvious, right? But as pastors we know all too well what Monday morning often holds. A phone call from Sue regarding her marriage which has taken a turn for the worse, an email from Mark wanting to follow up about his estranged brother, a text message from one of your elders regarding a conversation that came up on Sunday evening with a young professional struggling with a painkiller addiction.
And that’s only the first hour. At times like these we turn to the Lord and ask, “Who is sufficient for these things?” If you’re like me, you often find yourself in deep waters not knowing exactly what to do, and sometimes even drowning a bit. As a pastor it’s been in these difficult times that I have found the ministry of CCEF to be incredibly helpful. This ministry is not simply a Christianized version of “Dear Abby,” but a group of gospel-minded people eager to help equip the church for ministry. They represent much more than a counseling organization, they are a group of men and women committed to living out the very mission they embody; coming alongside those who need help and who desire to love people like Jesus does.
Let me encourage you to consider supporting a ministry which has a desire to provide real hope and real support for people in need.
Pastor, Parkside Church
“Whenever I need biblically solid, insightful resources in our outreach to special-needs families and the medically-fragile, I always turn to CCEF – it’s because I have personally benefited from CCEF materials as I’ve dealt with chronic pain in my wheelchair. Whether through books, journals, or conferences, CCEF is a rich and reliable wellspring of wisdom when it comes to applying biblical principles to every counseling need. CCEF is so worthy of your support. It is bending over backward to reclaim the world of counseling under the banner of the Bible. It’s why I invite you to be a part of expanding its influence. Yes, God loves cheerful givers, but I think He also loves cheerful askers—and you won’t find a person happier to ask for your prayers and financial help on behalf of CCEF than me!”
Joni Eareckson Tada
Joni and Friends International Disability Center
Simple to say, profoundly significant. And strangely hard to do. And when we don’t say, “Thank you,” it’s extremely revealing. Of all the valid things that might be said about the ignorance and waywardness of our hearts, Paul singles out ingratitude for special mention: “They didn’t thank God” (Romans 1:21). It’s as if “You never said thank you” is the transgression that clinches the case against us.
Thankfulness is a jewel in the crown of life. Colossians is a short letter, but being thankful pops up seven times. “Thank you” is one of humility’s core instincts.
Why wouldn’t I say thank you? Perhaps I don’t feel thankful. I feel entitled. I don’t recognize who’s giving me every good thing. I don’t want to need help or depend on anyone. I want to take all the credit for myself, thank you very much, and no thanks to you. But when I awaken to who gives me good gifts, I’m grateful.
And gratitude is a primary expression of sanity. First Corinthians 4:7 teaches us to say, What do I have that is not a gift?! James 1:17 teaches us to see that every good gift is from above, coming down from our Father.
So what are you thankful for? Think about that.
Two good gifts draw special notice in Scripture. The first is the Gift of gifts, Jesus Christ our Lord: “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift” (2 Corinthians 9:15). He has freely given us the pearl of great price. Other people are the second noteworthy gift: “We always thank God when we pray for you” (Colossians 1:3).
I want to especially thank God for men and women around the world who love how the wisdom of Scripture touches people’s deepest struggles and troubles. Over the past 48 years God has blessed our ministry with partners who have sparked biblical counseling movements in England, Germany, India, Brazil, and many other places. This week we feature two stories from men in the UK and in India. Read their stories, pray for their ministries, and give thanks for what God is doing.Support the ministry of CCEF
I first came across Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF) when I was at Oak Hill Theological College in England. Feeling weighed down by the sheer volume of material I needed to read, it was a great relief to find their minibooks on the reading list! I liked what I read on issues like depression, anxiety, PTSD and more—friendly, down-to-earth, practical and biblical. But it wasn’t until a few years later that I really fell in love with CCEF’s material.
In 2011, the urban church planter I was working for in Roehampton, Duncan Forbes, noticed my passion for relational ministry and encouraged me to study a CCEF module online. As I reflected, the idea seemed more and more appealing. Not only did it relate to pastoral ministry, but its roots were in reformed theology. As I went through CCEF’s School of Biblical Counseling, I found the material exciting— deep and careful thinking about everything the Bible says without any academic “ivory tower” mentality. Their clear aim is to help ordinary people with ordinary struggles, without any hint of self-righteousness or condescension. I loved that it brought the most “heavenly” thinking to the most “earthy” situations. At last! Reformed theology for real people!
So I embarked on a two-year course of 6 modules and a summer intensive requiring about two days a week for lectures, study and essay writing, plus fortnightly evening seminars. Thanks to web-based videos, delivered by David Powlison, Ed Welch, and Winston Smith, the lectures and study could be done whenever was convenient. This was some of the most biblical, edifying, holistic and genuinely useful teaching I’ve ever done, full of “Wow!” and “Aha!” moments. I make use of it nearly every time I do ministry. More than that, I’ve found it’s opened my eyes to thinking more biblically about all personal interactions… that covers a fair amount of life! More specifically, as a missionary with London City Mission, I am often reaching out to people with mental health problems, behavioural issues and very broken family backgrounds. Though CCEF’s material doesn’t give any neat or instant cures or make the issues easy to deal with, it does give a robust, biblical, prayerful, Christ-centred roadmap to find my bearings and discover wise, redemptive and genuinely fruitful ways forward.
This wonderful theology and teaching is making its way to the UK thanks to Biblical Counselling UK. Sites around the country now provide guided seminar groups to chew over the lecture material, let it “bed in” and take first steps at put learning into practice. It’s valuable for anyone wanting to grow in wisdom in personal ministry – particularly those with a pastoral role in their churches, but also preachers, Bible study leaders, elders, deacons and evangelists.
And no, I’m not a sales rep for CCEF—I’m just enthusiastic about what they are doing!
I’ve waxed lyrical about them but let’s never forget that Jesus is the hero in all this. Throughout history He’s been calling unbelievers to himself, forgiving sins, and bringing about wonderful personal change in his people through prayer and the word. But praise God that through this ministry, His wisdom is edifying the church in ministering to one another in His name.
Missionary with London City Mission