One of the ways I enjoy getting to know my Christian counseling colleagues is to hear from them how they received their call to serve Christ as a counselor. I equally enjoy answering that question when asked by others. We may refer to any work or vocation as a calling, but a vocation or service in ministry entered into through God’s leading is always understood to be a calling. As Christians, we all have a calling, but a call to Christian counseling ministry is a very unique calling that involves specialized education and training. As I have listened to many others talk about why they are in the counseling ministry, there usually is a story behind that choice and a sense of calling that goes deeper than just a desire to help people. This story is usually reflective of ones’s personal history and responsive to the leading of God.
This is not to suggest that all calls to Christian counseling are to be dramatic or come about in any particular way to be valid, however I do believe that those who have received a call to Christian counseling have done so with serious discernment, prayer, and an acknowledged gifting by those who have recognized and benefited from one’s gifting in counseling. The truest call to any ministry in the church is a calling out by the body of Christ to serve in a specific area based on recognized gifts and abilities. Like many callings in Christian ministry, they may be secondary calls after years of employment in other vocations or other forms of gospel ministry. Like myself, many have heard the call to minister in counseling after years of work in totally unrelated fields.
For me, my call to Christian counseling was initially a call to gospel ministry that was not specifically understood by me at the time to be in the role of counseling. I see counseling as a sub category of a greater call given by Jesus to his disciples in all times as recorded in Matthew 28:18. It is the “Great Commission” given to the Church to “…go and make disciples of all nations.” We are to make disciples, and all forms of ministry are toward that end, whether it is evangelism, teaching, pastoring, or counseling, The lines often blur, even as we serve specifically in a role. In counseling, one may find themselves teaching a truth related to the reason one has come for counseling or even acting in the role of an evangelist as the gospel is proclaimed; at times to bring salvation, or to proclaim its relevance to a problem one is seeking help for. The gospel is not only the answer for salvation, but also for transformation. When we counsel, we counsel gospel truths, renewing the mind and heart. In so doing we are participating in the disciple making Jesus called us to.
After the Lord made himself known to me in a very powerful way in my late 20’s, I entered a time of prayer and study to determine what the Lord was calling me to do with my life. Though at the time I had no specific calling to be a Christian counselor, the training offered in a particular counseling program seemed like an excellent preparation for any type of Christian ministry. At that point in my life my understanding of the call to ministry was mostly about the role of a church pastor. I had clearly discerned that I was not called to pastor a church. Once accepted to study at a graduate Christian counseling program, the decision to enroll and pursue some calling on my life with this type of training had to be made. As the deadline to accept my admittance approached, I sought the Lord for His leading and direction. The Lord answered me once again in a powerful and direct way by giving me what was at the time an obscure passage in the book of Isaiah – Isaiah 61:1, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release for the prisoners…” I may have read that passage at some point in my life, but I had never recognized it for any particular meaning, and certainly not as it would apply to me. Nor did I see at the time the broader implications and meaning of this verse. I did receive it as an answer to take the next step towards God’s calling in my life.
Over the years, this verse, which I had considered to be my own very special and personal verse as a call to ministry began to appear in conversations with others, at counseling conferences, and in books I read. My verse was not just for me, but shared by a multitude of those who God had called into ministry. The prophecy of Isaiah included many things related to the coming of Christ and the gospel ministry he would bring.
In fact, it is Isaiah 61:1 that Jesus used to proclaim his ministry. After Jesus left the desert where he was tested and tempted by the devil, he went into the synagogue in Nazareth. In Luke 4:17 it is recorded that Jesus was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and when he found the place, he read verses from Isaiah 61, stopping with, “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” He then proclaimed, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” This was the inaugural of Jesus’s ministry. It was this passage of Isaiah that Jesus explained his purpose and what his time on earth was all about.
In a very real sense, Isaiah 61:1 is the proclamation for all of the ministry God gives us. As followers of Christ, we do the ministry of Christ, so we do the things that Christ proclaimed he was about doing in his ministry when he quoted Isaiah in the synagogue in Luke 4.
When you consider what you do as a counselor, or any call that you have to fulfill the Great Commission by disciple making, you find that you are empowered by the Spirit of the Lord to preach the good news of the gospel to the poor and needy. You seek to bind-up the broken hearted. You proclaim freedom to those held captive to sin, and freedom from the sins that have kept one imprisoned. We are not just Christ followers imitating what Christ did, but we vessels through which Christ is carrying out his purposes as announced in Isaiah 61 in the world today.