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Analysis of Neil Andersons Discipleship Counseling Giles Sieburg Liberty University


This paper will expound on the topic of discipleship counseling, and the lack of certain elements of said proposed counseling strategy. The paper will explain the importance of a communal approach to counseling and how and where the strategy of Andersons therapy model lacks said approach. In modern mainstream counseling there has been an over emphasis in the individual within the counseling process. Far too long has the counseling process ignored the impact and effect of the community in the life of the counselee. Andersons work typifies the individualized Christian counseling approach. This papers desire is to expose the current system of normative Christian counseling and reveal the need and importance of community based counseling. This paper does not seek to be divisive but, merely sees an imbalance concerning the process of counseling and longs for a healthy middle ground to be established.


Andersons work Discipleship Counseling (2003) is an approach to counseling that seeks to create disciples and also to help counselees with their issues. Anderson (2003) believes that one of the keys to discipleship counseling is the involvement of God. (Pg.96) Anderson (2003) goes on to state that Christians know that, they can do nothing that will last for eternity.(Pg.96) Anderson shows that within Christian counseling the basis is that God is the only one who can make lasting change, and that without Gods involvement there is an element missing from the healing process in this life. This paper will set out to explain that Gods primary involvement in the individuals life is not through one on one interaction, but through his vehicle of transformative change the Church. To start understanding the importance of a Christian community based therapy approach it is important to define community. Jean Vanier (1979) defines community as, groupings of people who have left their own milieu to live with others under the same roof, and work form a new vision of human beings and their relationship with each other and with God.(Pg. 10-11) The reason that community based approach has been ignored or been missed is the overarching atmosphere in western civilization. Westerns are increasingly more individualized, and are becoming more and more less communal. (Wilson, 2003, Pg. 24) Wilson states this plainly in his work Counseling and Community by saying, Prior to 1950, North American culture was much more community centered. However, in the past forty years the individual has taken on greater power and authority, and the community has paid accordingly. (Pg. 25) What can be interpretated from this quote is that Western Culture has gone from a communal perspective to an individualized perspective. Therefore, the counselors follow suit and counsel for the perspective of the day. It seems to be the case that therapy is actually contributing to individualism. (Wilson, 2003, Pg. 39) Therefore the question no longer is, is counseling individualistic? but it becomes, how is Christian counseling


Anderson (2003) makes a clear distinction from secular therapy by stating the following, Thisreveals the difference between discipleship counseling and secular counseling. The first is according to human tradition and basic principlesSalvation brings forgiveness of sins and spiritual life in Christ which means that our soul is once again in union with God.(Pg. 121) Anderson opens up and describes discipleship counseling to be primarily different from secular counseling because it connects people to God, but this is only shares a vertical connects and does not prize a horizontal connect with people. Anderson reveals that this approach to counseling finds the relationship with deity being the more important goal a counselor has, as opposed to a balanced view focusing on community and God. Grenz (1998) shares a crucial key to any Christian counselor trying to connect people to Gods plans by saying, The Scriptures assert that Gods goal is redeemed people living within a renewed creation enjoying fellowship with a Triune God. (Pg. 257) What this show us is that God has always had community as its focus. This shows us that the individualistic culture that Westerns are apart of is reading the bible with similar glasses. Wilson (2003) states that, Conversion is not simply and individual experience. It is commitment to discipleship within a faith community. (Pg. 60) The meaning behind this is that if discipleship is merely a person journey with God, it is not a biblical discipleship. The reason is that discipleship was always meant to be within a faith community. (Wilson, 2003, Pg.60) The model from which Anderson speaks states that discipleship or freedom from sin come about from, helping them get right with God, and then life with God will be manifested within them. (Anderson, 2003, Pg.309) This realization of the individualized Christian therapy approach must lead to a wellinformed change in the direction of community. In order for a communal approach to therapy to work counselors as a whole must


understand and buy into the concept of community. Communities shape the person who is within them. If a person struggles with feelings of forgiveness and they are apart of a Christian community that is focused on sinners, and that mankind is nothing, but dirty rags to God in their sinful state, then counseling this person must keep this reality at the forefront of therapy. A lot of said person problems can arise from an unhealthy community, and the community at large must be addressed as causing strife within the person. Wilson (2003) shares this belief by stating, As we talked about Rachels communal experience, it was clear that the meaning she brought to spiritual issue was heavily influenced by that particular church. In order to move on, she needed to bring those concerns to the surface.(Pg. 161) Wilson (2003) shares that the counselors job is not to talk about theology and biblical data. Therefore what is the particular job of the counselor within the communal approach? The job is to conceptualize their intrapsychic issues in a corporate framework. (Wilson, 2003, Pg. 161) Far to much of Andersons material is concerned with correcting the counselees theology, and then pushing them into an individualized relationship with God. Anderson (2003) shows that correcting ones theology then leads into a deeper counseling. Anderson (2003) shows this when he states, Once they have been accepted and affirmed, their identity and sense of worth intactNow their defenses come down and they are open to resolve whatever is keeping them from finding freedom in Christ. (Pg. 159) This perspective shows that what it most important is first that they understand a theology of how God views them, and then puts stock in this having there defenses come down in order get to the issues. What this approach misses is that it is not always what the person believes that causes issues a lot of times it is the community that they are attached which perpetuates that issues in this individuals life. (Wilson, 2003, Pg. 161) Christian counseling must always connect its counselees to the purpose of God for them.


When we see that community is crucial for the make-up of the counselee it opens up a new passageway into the act of helping them. Wilson (2003) puts it succinctly that, While God prizes a relationship with individuals, his heart is with a body-a fellowship, a community, a people. Counselors do their clients a disservice promoting a faith that is focus primarily on the individual because it causes the counselee to continue to look inwardly and to focus on their relationship to God, when Gods way of being in relationship with them is there relationship with the community. The focus of Andersons type of counseling is one that prizes self-actualization and introspection as ways to change with the help of Gods involvement, but this only produces a portion of the picture of what it means to change as people. What this produces is the mentality that, my own individuality becomes the prerequisite for connecting with others. (Wilson, 2003, Pg. 43) This means that in order to engage with other and within community it is only when the individual desires it, and not the means by which this person experiences change. This is not congruent with the reality of the Bible. Grenz (1998) states that, God saves us together not in isolation. And He saves us for community, not out of it. (Pg. 214) The key that is crucial to accepting the change in counseling from individual to communal rest in an awareness to the lenses from which mainstream counselors read, which is a lens of individualism. In summation of this material it seems obvious that Anderson model of therapy represents one that although striving for being biblical ends up being unbiblical because of its emphasis on the individual. The Scriptures as a whole show Gods interaction and preoccupation with a grouping of people Israel and the Church, and God chooses the church as the means by which he heals the broken world. This church is a community, and therefore a connection to God is a connection to a community and living life with said community. With this understanding in mind counseling an individual with just there personal issue in mind does a disservice to Christian


counseling and to the counselee. People are in need of community, and individualism is not the ideal of Gods kingdom. Therefore perpetuating a counseling motif that is focused on the individual is a false dichotomy that does not bring the fullest amount of healing. Healing within an individual comes from a realization of purpose within a community, and the daily interactions with people who are for them, and with them. When counseling is fragmented into an act of counselor counselee only it causes a lack of roots, and an easily frustrated person. Real change comes from a counselor leading a counselee into community and encouraging transparency and communal life with people in the community.



Anderson, N. T. (2003). Discipleship counseling. Ventura, Calif.: Regal. Grenz, S. J. (1998). Created for community: connecting Christian belief with Christian living ([2nd ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books. Vanier, J. (1979). Community & growth: our pilgrimage together. New York, N.Y.: Paulist Press. Wilson, R. (2003). Counseling and community: using church relationships to reinforce counseling. Vancouver: Regent College Pub..