Providing wise counsel may seem to be an occasional or optional capability.
But if you are on a leadership track within you church, as I hope all Christians are, building that muscle matters.
In fact, it may be a critical component to the health of your church.
It can reveal your true level of spiritual maturity, cutting through behavioral cues and performance culture into the level of transformation through Christ.
If done well, you can bring life to someone. Done with abandon, can bring about ruin.
If embraced by your church, can tract the lost and turn them to the Gospel without gimmicks.
Here‘s what we will cover:
- Why wise counsel is missing in this world
- Why it‘s missing from Christian’s lives
- What church looks like that embraces and values Godly wisdom
- What prevents churches from growing wise counselors
Why wise counsel is missing from the world
But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; (1 Corinthians 1:27)
The nuance I would make is that sometimes God’s wisdom does result in positive worldly outcomes.
In other words, following God wisdom, which may seem foolhardy, doesn‘t mean your life is a train wreck.
It’s that the world, in its nature, holds up as wise and strong things and people that God opposes. And instead raises up what the world deems Foolish as true wisdom.
So we can probably infer, from God’s perspective, the world is not filled with wise counsel.
So why is it missing from Christians’ lives?
This is a thorny topic. And we will begin to unravel it without me being explicit based on Scripture because it can be extremely convicting.
So to ease into it, I will start with observation and from there connect the dots.
- Google-effect: mistake wisdom with easy, transactional information
- I’m okay, you’re okay: whatever you want or feel, go with God
- Outsourcing: pray God takes care of it for you and off my plate
What church looks like when it embraces Godly wisdom
Lets start with the state of the world.
If worldly wisdom were prevalent, and available, and taught to all, the advice market would be much smaller than it is.
But it‘s actually growing.
If you were to combine therapy and coaching across all the sectors, such as health, parenting, dating, marriage, career, business, finances.....it‘s well into the billions.
People want wisdom. People are willing to pay for it.
I have. And I honestly always come up a little empty.
So imagine if your church was known as the place people who don’t go to church typically can meet wise counsel that helps their lives.
And that counsel is based on God’s truth, the work of the Spirit, and a saving relationship with Christ.
Wise counsel is, in many ways, the same as evangelism. It is a way to illuminate all of our spiritual blindness with the spirit.
If you don’t or can’t, it begs some hard questions.
If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. (Ezekiel 3:18)
Consider God’s command to Job:
“Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” (Job 1:2)
The mistake is to view this as pointing a finger at someone doing something the church doesn’t consider right morally.
But that doesn’t recognize that the central goal for all Christians is discipleship. And discipleship is about helping someone find and follow the path God sees is best.
“Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20 NLT)
What does this passage say. It’s to teach to obey the commands.
So if you as a Christian don’t know what those are, it’s not any different from the reprimand found in Ezekiel or in Job.
So what does it mean to teach one to obey?
It is beating them with a stick?
Accusing or shaming them?
No, first it is about teaching them. And obeying, in God’s world, is not a matter of force or fiat.
It’s leading them to a choice.
Why is choice so important? It’s the foundation of a life following God. Consider Moses’ parting words:
““Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live!” Deuteronomy 30:19 NLT
So at this point I can see some of you saying, “No, the choice is only about following Christ. It doesn’t have anything to do with decisions or choices beyond that.”
We can dig deeper but I ask you this: is this saying God only cares about whether we make a decision around salvation?
More importantly, are we saying prior to that decision and after that decision the Christian disengages?
Small choices and decisions can lead one to a moment to make a decision to follow Christ.
Major decisions outside of choosing Christ still have a level of life and death. After all, our lives are the sum of all of our decisions. I’m not talking about deciding between adding extra pickles or not, I mean, hopefully you aren’t seeking wise counsel for something like that.
And more importantly, small decision made after that choice can lead someone away. Maybe not dying , but experiencing pain and hurt. And does it make sense God only cares about the momentous choice and not the many life choices?
So hold that thought for a second.
What is the number one trait a wise counselor should have?
Hint: they need to be wise.
So if this wisdom is only meant to guide someone in a single decision....I don’t know if God would make it always available.
Yet that is exactly what God does:
“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”. James 1:5 ESV
So if you are a counselor who is presumably wise....what is this wisdom?
“And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.” 1 Corinthians 2:13 ESV
In other words, a sign of true wisdom is not just a combination of experience. It’s experience reflected through a lens of the Spirit.
After all, someone who has lived life but has not reflected on how that cumulative experience can be interpreted through the Spirit, how useful is that person’s wisdom, in the end
And if they cannot provide Spiritual Godly wisdom, they shouldn’t be counselors at all. And it begs a question about their role in a church other than being further discipled.
Why do people not provide wise counsel?
But let’s give Christians that benefit of the doubt.
Let’s say that they do, in fact, have that wisdom which comes from the Spirit.
Let’s assume that they recognize and hold true that God holds us accountable for those who haven’t heard the right guidance or counsel from us. We aren’t held accountable if someone doesn’t follow but we are if we have opted out of doing so.
Let’s assume we agree that discipling includes helping some make good decisions, because in the end, all decisions have some element of choosing between life and death.
Why do so many churches not cultivate wise counselors?
The best way to see why a given thing isn’t prioritized....is to see if another thing is being prioritized.
The concept of “first fruits” from Genesis illustrates this.
What is often prioritized above developing wise counselors?
- Communication and oratory
- Financial giving
- Behavioral checklists
Communication and oratory
““And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.” Matthew 6:5 ESV
““Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. (Matthew 6:2 ESV)
““Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.” (Matthew 23:27 ESV)
How does one give wise counsel?
So now that we have a baseline of how important developing yourself as a wise counselor to peoples, what does it take?
If you are not in a posture where you deeply care about the outcome of the decision, you can’t begin. Please stop.
“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15 ESV)
Be invested. To be invested, you need to understand through questions and observation their situation.
You cannot as a Christian be arms length.
“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2 NIVUK)
To help get you there, be curious. With intention. It’s not curious the way you would look at an alien or a puzzle.
Questions more questions to get into the situation. Know the person and their situation. Their fears. Their plans. Their view.
Jesus knows people well. Deeply. But he still asks questions to know them.
- Do you know who I am?
- Do you believe?
- Why are you afraid?
- Do you not see or understand?
- What is written in the law (Scripture)?
- Do you want to get well?
These aren’t tests. For example, don’t quiz someone “What does Scripture say?”
It is you, the counselor, who should say, “These verses could apply, what do you think?” No agenda as we will see in the next step.
I have observed some take a stance of affirming the decisions of the one seeking advice.
Or they go, “What do you want to do? What’s your desire?” and then affirm whatever they hear.
That is the opposite of being wise.
And it’s negligent.
Let’s see why:
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9 ESV)
The heart isn’t wise. It is not confused.
It is deceitful. Hard to fathom. It is sick.
If you just hand back without some inspection someone’s desire, you are handing over sickness.
I had sought wise counsel. I asked what he would do. He said option a. I said I am aching and hurting and reacting and thinking of option b.
He said, well sounds like you should do option b.
Option b was a bad decision. Now I might have still made it if he counseled me, and a bad outcome maybe could have happened if I did take an action.
But to jump to the hearts desire first is not wise. It is promoting what is sick.
Clarifying is different.
You need to pull back and view the world through Gods lends with them. Not prescriptive. But being light to the blind.
Do you see the theme?
Darkness comes from our sin. Many bad decisions come from some kind of sin. And that sin blinds us.
The force behind it: the heart.
• Be consultative
So if you aren’t affirming what someone wants to do, what should you do?
You are to be clarifying light in the darkness.
Which means assume the person might be deceived.
The problem we are used to Google.
Type a question. Get an answer.
This approach, although convenient and transactional, doesn’t demonstrate wisdom.
“There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”
Proverbs 12:18 ESV
Rash has been translated as idle, thoughtless, or reckless. In other words, that kind of counsel will hurt the counseled.
Yet, your posture should be one who heals.
Does a doctor tell you to get a test or surgery the moment you walk into his office and say, “I feel sick, what do I do?”
No, you don’t. They call it a “consult” because they need to keep digging, evaluating, and proposing ways for you to help them identify the solution.
Now, unlike a patient-doctor relationship, the wise counselor in most cases should be prescriptive. Far better to help the counseled to self-diagnose.
For them to get the clarity, guard rails, creative options all on the table from your consulting and then they own the decision themselves with full responsibility.
Be a consultant. Don’t be reckless.
• Be confessional
The best counsel, however, is the rarest of all.
But it is what can heal and give perspective of God at work.
It’s to confess to a similar situation.
Confession gives the counseled a new perspective to get out of their pain and see it with a different lens.
Rather than drowning in their circumstance, you literally give them a chance to step away and see you in their place while they rest for just a moment.
It shows you are with them.
“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16 NIVUK)
Most will read this as the “sinner” needs to confess and by confessing is healed,
But I don’t read it that way.
It’s when each other confesses.
In this way, one is healed for the other strengthens his righteousness.
When you, the counselor, confess your sin -- the mistake, the drifting from God, the pride, the pain, the doubt -- that led to your past troubles....you provide one more step to heal the one seeking your counsel.
What makes this possible?
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labour: if either of them falls down, one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls and has no-one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 NIVUK
That last sentence is a little funny. All throughout this passage, it’s about two.
But then why three?
It’s because a Christ-based wise counsel has Him intertwined. That is the only way you can become so tight to do the hard parts together. That’s the posture of wise counsel.
I used to think that this passage is about the man who needs to make sure he knows someone and that as long as he had friends, community, and counselors, this is how to avoid being alone.
But I realized that it’s possible to have another person.....that on one side you build the connections....but if the other person cannot give wise counsel....it’s like having an empty shell on the other end.
It’s worse than no one at all.
Your life is the living testament. To hope. To faith. To wisdom from God.
If we do discipleship right, if we do men’s or women’s ministry right, then each and everyone should one day be asked to provide wise counsel.
Then let’s be ready. Let’s set a bar of what that looks like.
Let’s make that part of the fabric.
That we elevate, respect, and encourage leaders and future leads to be able to counsel in their own unique way but that touches each of the 5c’s.
Because in this way, every 1;1 relationship is bound by and reveals Christ.
Without this, we are at risk of “outsourcing” our responsibility, Prayer matters.
But if our mindset in a counseling situation is to simply pray, let “God do his thing” but keep the wise counsel rash and at arms length, we’ve actually left God out of the picture.
So let’s grow in wise counsel, be comfortable to seek it within our community, and be willing to give it in the way that sheds light in darkness to make wise choices,