Today’s post is an author interview with Bob Kellemen, Th.M., Ph.D. Dr. Kellemen is Academic Dean, Dean of Students, and Professor of Biblical Counseling at Faith Bible Seminary in Lafayette, Indiana. Bob is also the Founder and CEO of RPM Ministries through which he speaks, writes, and consults on biblical counseling and Christian living. Dr. Kellemen served as the founding Executive Director of the Biblical Counseling Coalition. For seventeen years, Bob was the founding Chairman of and Professor in the MA in Christian Counseling and Discipleship department at Capital Bible Seminary in Lanham, MD. Bob has pastored four churches and equipped biblical counselors in each church. Bob and his wife, Shirley, have been married for thirty-nine years; they have two adult children, Josh and Marie, and three granddaughters. Dr. Kellemen is the author of twenty books including Gospel-Centered Marriage Counseling and Gospel-Centered Family Counseling.
Tell us about your book, Gospel-Centered Family Counseling: An Equipping Guide for Pastors and Counselors. What motivated you to write the book?
Bob: “Prior to deciding to write Gospel-Centered Marriage Counseling, I had taught marriage and family counseling for a quarter-century. I had provided marriage and family counseling for three decades. Then, one of the pastors at a church where I was serving was moving toward retirement and he wanted to transition some of his counseling to me. I remember the scene vividly. He reaches across his desk, hands me three very thick file folders, and says, “In my thirty-five years of ministry, these are the most difficult cases I have ever worked with.” First, I’m thinking, “Thanks a lot for giving them to me!” Second, and more arrogantly, I was thinking, “Well, I’ve done this stuff and taught this stuff for decades. They won’t be that difficult for me…” Well, you know where I’m headed next. Once I took on these counseling cases, I found them to be the most complex marriage and family situations I had ever worked with. I found myself often repeating the biblical principle that we are not competent in ourselves, but our competency is in Christ (2 Corinthians 3:4-5). I also found myself scouring the Scriptures from cover to cover ‘re-studying’ the Bible’s teaching on family ministry. So, Gospel-Centered Family Counseling not only comes out of 30+ years of ministry and teaching, but the book was born out of my intense desire to keep growing as a biblical family counselor.
That was my personal motivation for writing the book. I also had a broader motivation related to how we typically train family counselors. If you look at the landscape of Christian publishing, we have tons of books on a theology of family life. But we have next to nothing about how to do family counseling. And if you look at a typical Bible college or seminary curriculum in counseling, we have training in individual counseling, but next to no training in the how-to of family counseling. Here’s what I’ve seen time after time as I’ve supervised counselors. Their family counseling basically becomes teaching at families. Now, teaching is great, but counseling is more than just teaching. The second result I’ve noticed is that counselors view family counseling as individual counseling with an audience. In other words, they counsel the parents while the children listen. They counsel the children while the parents listen. But they invite very little interaction between the family members. Here’s the end result. Counselees become very counselor dependent. And counseling becomes giving people a fish instead of teaching families how to fish the Scriptures together. So, my goal in Gospel-Centered Family Counseling is to equip the counselor to equip the family members—especially the parents—to be their own best biblical counselors. In our presence during counseling, we want to equip family members to talk to each other and to talk together about how they can apply God’s sufficient and relevant Word to their unique family situation. In this model, we disciple parents to disciple their children.”
In Gospel-Centered Family Counseling, you emphasize that family counselors don’t replace parents; they empower parents. Can you develop that concept further for us?
Bob: “This highlights the idea I just shared about: the counselor equips the parents to be their children’s best biblical counselors. In Gospel-Centered Family Counseling, we’re trained to do this in the four areas of family sustaining, healing, reconciling, and guiding. Family counseling empowers parents to sustain their children—to empathize with them. Family counseling also empowers parents to bring biblical healing to their children—to encourage them to hope in God. Third, we empower parents to reconcile with family members—asking God for forgiveness, asking each other for forgiveness, and granting forgiveness. Fourth, we also empower parents to guide their families biblically—to learn how to turn to God’s Word together for biblical wisdom for their family relationship. Picture a mom and dad with a discouraged and distant teen. They’re all upset and frustrated with each other; they’re all hurt by each other. Now imagine that over time you could help those hurting parents to look at the hurt in their teen’s heart, look at the log in their own eye, and to say with compassion and conviction:
‘We’re sorry for the hurt we’ve been causing you, son. We’re beginning to understand some of the discouragement you’re feeling that we’ve been responsible for. The Bible says not to embitter and discourage your children, but we’ve been doing that to you. Please forgive us…’
And, over time—perhaps a good deal of time—imagine that their teen son begins to sense the sincerity in his parents’ hearts and begins to soften to them and to God. And he says to his parents:
‘It’s not only you guys. I’m starting to see how I’ve hurt both of you with my angry attitude. I don’t like how I’ve been. I don’t like how we’ve been. I’m not sure how I change or how we change, but I want things to be different…’
Getting to this point of ‘mutual empathy’ and ‘mutual ownership’ is never easy. That’s why I’ve written a whole book on it. But once a family starts on this healthy and holy path, then real family change is possible. Parents are equipped to keep the change going and growing long after they’ve wrapped up counseling with you. You’ve empowered each family member—especially the parents—to be family disciplemakers. You don’t replace the parents; you empower them.”
The subtitle of your book is An Equipping Guide for Pastors and Counselors. Would those two groups—pastors/counselors—be your primary audience, or do you have other readers in view?
Bob: “As I crafted Gospel-Centered Family Counseling, I had several audiences in mind. First, pastors—who likely had, at most, one course on counseling. And, if they had any course on family counseling, it was likely a course on a theology of family and not on how to do family counseling. These pastors face more and more difficult family situations. I want this book to increase their confidence in their competence in Christ to help the families in their churches. Next, I pictured counselors. When I use the word ‘counselor’ I’m not just picturing professional Christian counselors or biblical counselors with a degree. In the biblical counseling world, we have 1,000s and 1,000s of trained lay counselors. Also, in our biblical counseling world, we believe that each one of us is called to be a one-another minister. So, I wrote this training manual in a user-friendly way so anyone who cares about families can be further equipped to provide biblical family soul care. I also wrote this equipping guide for professors and students at Bible colleges, Christian colleges, Christian graduate schools and seminaries—to provide them a how-to training manual in family counseling. Finally, I wrote this book for parents. The book begins with several practical chapters that paint a biblical portrait of a healthy family. Those chapters are the flashing neon lights showing the beautiful biblical goal we’re moving toward in the rest of the book. Some readers of advanced copies have even graciously said that those initial chapters are ‘worth the price of the book’ and could be a stand-alone book for parents. So, the audience is broad while the focus of the book is specific.”
What does it look like practically to parent with grace and truth?
Bob: “As I mentioned, the book starts with several chapters on gospel-centered parenting. I’ll try to boil those chapters down into a paragraph response. I use an acrostic that spells the word GRACE. ‘G’ is for God-Dependent Parents. That means that if you want to parent with grace, you have to grasp your own desperate need for the Father’s grace. ‘R’ is for Revelation-Based Parental Wisdom. This means that if you want to parent with truth, you have to scour God’s Word to apply His wisdom to your family situation—that’s the role of the biblical family counselor—to equip parents to skillfully applying God’s truth to family life. The ‘A’ in the GRACE acrostic is for Accepting and Affirming Grace Relationships. This focuses on how to communicate grace-love, unfailing love, loyal love to our children in a way they can understand. The ‘C’ is for Care-fronting Our Children’s Hearts—learning to discipline in humility and love. The ‘E’ is for Equipping Our Children for the Race of Life. This is parental discipleship—which is not something that happens just in the counseling office, but happens in the home, in the car, at the playground—24/7. This ‘GRACE’ acrostic is a memory device for parenting with grace and truth.”
What role can the local church have in family counseling?
Bob: “The local church can and should play a huge role. We need to think about biblical family counseling simply as a subset of local church family discipleship. We can and should equip every member as a one-another minister. This means that in our small groups we’re encouraging and equipping one another as parents to be godly parents. In our youth groups, we’re equipping teens to honor their parents and to grow in their own walk with God. This also involves church-based mentoring—younger families hanging out with mature families and seeing how they handle a moody teen, how they enjoy one another, how they encourage one another. We want to be a church not just with biblical counseling, but a church of family biblical counseling—where biblical principles of empowering families saturate every ministry.”
What are some of the best ways counselors can help families to work together towards better communication with each other?
Bob: “A central way is to get the family members talking to each other right in the counseling session. Even as counselors, we’re often afraid to do this because it’s scary and messy! Ask a frustrated parent to talk to a sullen teen and you’re going to invite some real and raw conversation. It’s safer for us as the counselor to do all the talking. But there are a couple of problems with avoiding honest conversation in the counseling session. First, how can we, as the counselor, provide relevant counsel if we haven’t really witnessed—first-hand—the family members’ relational struggles? Second, they’re going to have these messy conversations with or without us. Wouldn’t it be better to invite them to have these conversations in our presence so we then can coach them in how to face the heart issues behind their angry words and how to change the pattern of unhelpful interactions? Once you invite such face-to-face conversations, what’s next? I’ll often ask a family, ‘Is what I just heard pretty typically of how your conversations go at home?’ They’ll often say, ‘Yes, but we’re worse at home. We’re trying to be on our best behavior in front of you.’ (And I’m thinking, ‘If this is their best behavior, then…wow…!’) So then we talk about their talking. We help them to hear each other and begin to care about each other’s hurts (sustaining). We begin to help them infuse hope in one another that God can resurrect their family relationship (healing). We help them to take the log out of their own eye confessing their sins and forgiving each other (reconciling). We then empower them to work together in Christ’s power to change at the heart level (guiding). Yes, inviting messed up families to talk to each other is messy. But it’s the best way counselors can help family members to grow in loving communication—by talking to each other right in our family counseling meetings.”
There’s a lot we haven’t covered in the course of this interview about this topic, Bob. As we wrap up this conversation, can you give us a few takeaways?
Bob: “The biggest takeaway for the family counselor is that we should seek to work our way out of a job. We get the family members talking to each other. Then, we equip the family members—especially the parents—to sustain, heal, reconcile, and guide each other by equipping them to apply God’s Word to their lives. The parents learn to depend on the Divine Counselor through God’s Word and God’s people, rather than becoming dependent on the human counselor. We shepherd parents to shepherd their children.”
“Also, one unique aspect of Gospel-Centered Family Counseling that we haven’t highlighted is how it’s really a workbook. The sub-title of the book communicates this uniqueness: An Equipping Guide for Pastors and Counselors. The original sub-title was perhaps even more pointed: A How-To Training Manual for Pastors and Counselors. I designed the book not just for readers, but for participants. The book equips counselors in twenty-two marriage counseling competencies. Each chapter presents three-to-five of these marriage counseling skills. Then after each skill section, readers—or participants—find four or five practical application questions/assignments/activities designed to help them develop those skills. So, by the time a reader—participant—has completed the book, they’ve worked through over 250 skill-building questions or exercises. As I said, I like to think of the book as a workbook—a how-to training manual for family counselors. The book also includes scores of counseling vignettes—stories of families with complex struggles. I use their stories to illustrate how to put into practice each of the counseling skills. In addition, the book has 100s of counseling dialogues: sample scriptural explorations and spiritual conversations illustrating how counselors can empower family members to richly and relevantly apply God’s Word to their lives and relationships. The biggest takeaway: Gospel-Centered Family Counseling seeks to shepherd counselors to shepherd parents to shepherd their children.”
Where can people find out more about your work online either on social media or otherwise?
Bob: “Thanks for asking. First, Gospel-Centered Family Counseling is actually part of a two-book equipping series. The companion book is Gospel-Centered Marriage Counseling. I have a number of free resources related to each book at my RPM Ministries website: www.rpmministries.org. There are blog posts about the books, sample chapters from the book, and other free resources for the books. When they visit www.rpmministries.org they can go here for free resources on: Gospel-Centered Marriage Counseling: An Equipping Guide for Pastors and Counselors. And they can go here for free resources on: Gospel-Centered Family Counseling: An Equipping Guide for Pastors and Counselors.