Suppose you wanted to get biblical counselling going in a country where the church doesn’t have any tradition of working in that sort of way. Suppose you wanted to generate enthusiasm for a biblical counselling approach but realised how little you knew about driving that sort of initiative forward. Where would you turn? What would be the ideal way of getting help?
How about a three month visit to CCEF to be generously hosted by their faculty and allowed to sit in on just about anything you wanted and ask pretty much any question you liked. Sounds ideal, doesn’t it? Only that just couldn’t happen…could it?
Except that it did. For three months in 2014, CCEF opened their doors on exactly that basis to me and one other UK pastor, Steve Casey, from inner-city Liverpool. It was an extraordinary opportunity.
Four years ago I flew to the states for a CCEF conference. I didn’t know anyone else who was going and had no idea what to expect. What I did know was that I had a growing interest and admiration for the work of CCEF and wanted to take a first-hand look. At the end of the first general session, as I sat in a crowd of 1600 people, I happened to spot “UK” written on a name badge. I set off in pursuit of the badge wearer and her husband. This moment was the unlikely start of what would eventually become Biblical Counselling UK. Of course we didn’t know that then.
The person wearing the badge was Sydnie Jordan. Like me, her interest in CCEF was nurtured through the online distance education programme. I was a pastor in Cambridge, and Sydnie was a church worker in central London. Over the next four days we shared our experiences and dreamed about what it might look like for UK churches to catch a vision for a biblical counselling approach to ministry. Here is a window into what we dreamed about:
What if we could host our own conference and have CCEF faculty speak?
What if we could get CCEF classes into one of our seminaries?
And, above all, how can our churches have more of a vision for personal ministry that was skilled in fostering personal growth?
And then we went home without any real idea of what to do next.
Biblical Counselling UK Takes Off
God, however, had rather clear ideas about what should happen next. Interest was already growing in the UK. People were reading books by CCEF authors that had appeared on our bookstalls. Pastors were addressing the motivations of the heart in sermons. There was a growing appetite for the sort of discipleship and ministry that focused on the attitudes and affections of the heart.
Then, out of nowhere, an opportunity arose for me to teach pastoral counselling at Oak Hill College in London, one of the UK’s foremost evangelical Bible colleges. Over four years the teaching opportunities increased and the college welcomed a growing emphasis on biblical counselling. Slowly, those of us sharing a passion for biblical counselling were making deeper connections.
Then a small group of five met and hatched a mad plan to host a conference. We knew nothing much about arranging conferences, but realised that for the finances to work it would have to be large. We began exploring possibilities and made our first contact with CCEF staff who were kind enough to listen. God provided again through generous financial backers and a conference administrator ready to give his time to the project. All of which led, in 2013, to 1700 people turning up to our first national conference with CCEF. Our impression of a growing interest was confirmed. That was less than two years ago. A lot has happened since.
In 2014 we launched a two-year certificate course at Oak Hill College. This programme uses six of the CCEF distance classes in conjunction with live seminars that add a skills element to the training. Right now, these seminars are being taught in four locations across the UK. In two years we hope to have over 100 people working their way through the training. So when someone phones to ask for help in their part of the country, by God’s grace we may not need to say: “Sorry, but we don’t know anyone who takes a biblical counselling approach in that area.” We can begin to say, “Yes, there might just be someone to help.”
So what did our three-month visit provide and what have Steve Casey and I taken back across the pond? One obvious answer is that we returned with many new and rich friendships. (You Americans do make it easy to get to know you quickly! It almost overcame my British sense of reserve!) We are hugely grateful for the hospitality we received and for the way so many of CCEF’s staff made such generous sacrifices to make it possible for us to be there. We will also take back many rich lessons for the development of biblical counselling in the UK.
There are, of course, some things that need adapting to a different culture. Some stereotypes are true—Brits really are more private and reserved than our US friends—but we don’t want to be afraid of challenging those cultural patterns. God does, after all, call us to be counter-cultural. Above all, we see that Christian ministry has at its core the growth and discipleship of unique and precious people who are deeply loved by the Lord. As Christ’s church we need to get better at loving people rather than doing programmes. Biblical counselling helps us do that.
We also went home knowing there is much more to learn. And I’ve noticed how that is also true at CCEF. Their willingness to admit weaknesses and their eagerness to discover their own blind spots has been striking. That has meant they are willing to keep learning and listening, even to the tentative observations of two British pastors. We in the UK have so much to learn and, as a pastor, a key issue for me is to find out how the excellent work of biblical counselling can best find its way back into its natural home in the very heart of church life.
I am so grateful for the chance to listen, to learn, to get involved in counselling and to see the work of CCEF first hand. I know Steve Casey feels the same. It has been a great gift and I am excited to see what God will do next as he moves biblical counselling forward in the UK.
More information about Steve Midgley and Biblical Counselling UK can be found here.
Today’s article appeared in the latest issue of CCEF Now.