One of the most significant factors contributing to a successful, fruitful Redemption Group is the readiness of its leaders. So it’s important that you have a comprehensive training plan. Leaders need to be equipped on two levels: general biblical counseling knowledge and skills, and Redemption Group experience and leadership skills.
Redemption Group Immersion
In the beginning, your training will likely cater to getting a core group of leaders equipped for launching Redemption Groups. Call this launch phase training. Because it’s essential that every Redemption Group leader has Redemption Group experience before leading, everyone who is part of the initial leadership team should plan on attending a Redemption Group Immersion as part of the launch phase training.
Typically, it takes a leader candidate two or three cycles through a Redemption Group to feel oriented to the environment and ready to lead a group skillfully (see Hands training below). In an organization that already has Redemption Groups running, this is a straightforward process: a candidate goes through a group as a participant, and then if he’s recommended for leadership, he goes through again as an apprentice leader, and if he’s approved, he goes through again as a leader. But when you’re in launch phase, you don’t have existing groups to work from. It’s the classic chicken-and-egg problem.
The idea during launch phase is to try to get your initial leaders through multiple cycles of the Redemption Group process before launching the ministry for regular participation, two to three cycles if at all possible. These pre-launch cycles are also a good time for other leaders and stakeholders in the organization to go through a group to catch the vision and build unity around the launch of the ministry.
Some churches who’ve launched well have combined sending some of their leaders to large Immersions in Seattle, followed by two or three smaller, local Immersions in their own churches. For these smaller, local Immersions the objective was to get more of their local leader candidates to go through groups as participants in hopes of eventually leading. To ensure that these groups were well-led and set a good model for future leadership, these churches flew in some veteran leaders from the Redemption Group Network. These veteran leaders would co-lead with local leaders who’d been through the Immersion in Seattle. After a couple of cycles like this, these churches were ready to launch their ministries, led by local leaders. From that point on, their groups have been self-sustaining, reproducing leaders from within.
As we’ve seen so far, during launch phase, your training plan should include plenty of Redemption Group experience for your initial leader candidates. These experiences will primarily contribute to their training in the areas that we’ll call the Heart and the Hands. But they’ll need more training in those areas than they’ll get just by going through the Redemption Group cycle. Furthermore, they’ll need Head-oriented training as well. A comprehensive training plan for leaders should cover at least three aspects: the Heart, the Head and the Hands. Let’s have a look at each of these.
This is the most important—yet most often wrongly assumed—aspect of training leaders. The Redemption Group Leader Assessment includes the following items, scored on a five-point scale from Strongly Disagree to Strongly Agree:
- Demonstrates a need for God’s mercy.
- Confesses and grieves sin honestly.
- Faces suffering honestly and knows God’s comfort.
- Receives rebuke humbly.
- Walks in God’s forgiveness.
Update: these items have been expanded in the new Character Observation Form. Different form, more detailed, same idea.
This is a representative rather than an exhaustive list of what we should be looking for in the character of a Redemption Group leader. Note that it is based on the leader candidate’s demonstration of character. This is essential.
You must have a process for assessing the Heart-readiness of leader candidates. In other words, on the basis of what observation of the candidate could you respond to the assessment questions above? The process need not be highly formal, but it needs to be diligent. It must enable you to positively confirm these character qualities in your leader candidates.
Again, the process should be based on demonstration rather than self-reporting. For example: interviewing, being a form of self-reporting, may be a helpful component of the process, but it is inadequate by itself. Adequate processes for assessing a leader candidate’s heart involve observing the candidate in heart-exposing relational environments, such as in robust community or counseling environments.
A Redemption Group is a good environment for assessing a leader candidate’s heart; in fact, once you have Redemption Groups running, this is probably the best environment for equipping future leaders. In the initial stages of launching the ministry, though, you’ll need some other way to assess candidates’ hearts.
A Redemption Group Immersion is also a good heart-exposing environment and would serve as a good assessment of your leader candidates’ hearts. Each participant in an Immersion is assessed and a written recommendation is given as to the readiness of that candidate for leadership. Typically, we’re looking for ratings of Agree or Strongly Agree on each item in the Character section of the assessment form.
Before sending any candidates to an Immersion, you should do your own pre-assessment to ensure that you don’t send anyone who is too far from being ready. If you have only a casual acquaintance with a candidate, then you probably don’t know him or her well enough to do an adequate pre-assessment. If so, then probably an Immersion is not your next step in ministry development. Rather, you should focus on getting to know your leader candidates well enough to make an adequate pre-assessment of their readiness. While an Immersion often contributes significantly to a leader candidate’s heart-readiness, if the candidate is too far from ready, it will not suffice to complete his preparation.
This aspect of leader training involves biblical and practical knowledge, the sort of training that you get from reading books and going to class. A comprehensive course would include the following components:
- A model for change. Trainees need to get a big picture map of the biblical change process. An example of such a model can be found in How People Change by Tim Lane and Paul Tripp; their model includes four aspects: Heat, Thorns, Cross, Fruit.
- A method for change. Trainees need some basic tools for putting the model into practice in counseling. An example of such a method can be found in Paul Tripp’s Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands.
- Application of the model to various issues, like abuse, addiction, or anger. Trainees need to get familiar with how to view various common issues through biblical lenses. Most comprehensive biblical counseling training courses include such modules. There are also many issue-specific resources available in CCEF’s past conference audio, as well as past issues of the Journal of Biblical Counseling.
- Practical Theology. Biblical counselors should have a solid grasp on many practical theologies such as suffering, sin, repentance, faith, forgiveness, walking by the Spirit, union with Christ, and the atonement. In fact, all of the above training components are practical-theological, but this component addresses the need for an ever-deepening grasp of many key theological concepts. Examples of resources that address such topics are: The Christian Life, by Sinclair Ferguson or Death by Love, by Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears.
While any biblical counselor should be a lifelong learner—we’re never done learning—getting started leading a Redemption Group does not require knowing all of this first. What is important at the start, however, is that a trainee develops a biblical understanding of people, their problems and the solutions, that is, a biblical worldview. Certainly, all of the above trainings would suffice for instilling a biblical worldview. But it’s also possible to come by such a worldview more organically, especially when trainees’ church environments reinforce the same worldview; after all, worldview is more often caught than taught. We have seen many leaders with a biblical view of people lead very effectively, even without much formal or technical training.
As with the Heart training above, what is essential is that you observe leader candidates demonstrate that they operate from a biblical worldview. If they demonstrate this before working through the above training, then consider the above trainings co-requisites for them to work through after they start leading.
Here are a few ways to approach Head-oriented training:
- The RG Leader Syllabus. This minimal set of audio lectures and readings introduces trainees to essential concepts in biblical counseling and works them out in the contexts of addiction, abuse, influences of the past, family dynamics, and physical weakness. The syllabus is not comprehensive enough to satisfy the requirements of a full volunteer biblical counselor training curriculum. It nowhere sets forward a model for change. Its strength is that it cuts right to the worldview-sensitive issues through various applications. Therefore, it’s a quick way to assess and shape your candidate’s worldviews. If you need a fast track to get started, this is probably the way to go. This should be supplemented with Paul Tripp’s Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, which provides a basic method for putting the ideas into counseling practice.
- Equipped to Counsel. This is a more comprehensive course for volunteer biblical counselors written by Dr. John Henderson. It addresses model, method and application and includes many resources for both students and trainers, including both written and DVD formats.
- Porterbrook. This is a more comprehensive training program, covering more areas of theological and church training than just counseling. The “advanced year” contains modules called “Pastoral Care: Part One” and “Pastoral Care: Part Two”. These two focus on a similar scope as other counselor trainings, like Equipped to Counsel (see the syllabus overview here).
- Dynamics of Biblical Change. The Christian Counseling and Education Foundation (CCEF) offer a comprehensive, graduate-level biblical counseling certificate, most of which is available via distance education. The first and foundational course is “Dynamics of Biblical Change”, which offers a model for change, with some application to specific issues. This too should be supplemented with Paul Tripp’s Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, which provides a basic method for putting the ideas into counseling practice.
- Soul Physicians and Spiritual Friends. This is a comprehensive training set by Dr. Bob Kellemen. Soul Physicians sets forward a biblical worldview, model for change and practical theology. Spiritual Friends offers a method for change.
Note: A Redemption Group Immersion typically offers none of this kind of training, other than that which is implicit in the main teaching sessions.
Hands-oriented training refers to skills in listening, communication, counseling and group dynamics. Think of learning counseling skills like learning to play a musical instrument. Some people just pick up an instrument and start playing it by ear, naturally. But even the most talented natural musicians will be far better with some disciplined training. They’ll need to learn their scales and how time signatures work. On the other hand, you could read books about playing an instrument without ever picking one up, and while you might know a lot about the instrument, you wouldn’t be able to make music.
If all you have is conceptual knowledge of a biblical worldview and a model for change, yet you’ve never put it into practice and connected the truth of God’s Word to someone’s life in the midst of their trouble, then you haven’t counseled yet, and you haven’t started developing your counseling skills yet. It takes practice, lots of practice.
There are two areas of skill that Redemption Group leaders need:
- General biblical counseling skills. This results from practicing the method for change mentioned above. For example, Redemption Group leaders should be skillful at entering a person’s world through “entry gates” and asking a progressive line of questions, skills described in Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands.
- Group leadership skills. This includes abilities for managing the group and facilitating the group process through the curriculum.
Participating in a Redemption Group, such as at an Immersion, will contribute to learning in both of these areas, but it will be more caught than taught. Participants will experience receiving counsel and practicing counseling others. They will become familiar with group leadership skills by participating in a group, but there will be very little explanation of the process.
Some methods for training the Hands include:
- Participation. Trainees will catch a lot implicitly by participating in Redemption Groups or other counseling environments. This method is not sufficient for fully training one’s skills, but it adds much that could never be grasped from reading or classroom discussion alone. The old adage is true: a picture paints a thousand words.
- Observation with Reflection. In an individual counseling setting, trainees can sit in on counseling sessions with a trained counselor, observe and then reflect on those observations after the sessions. Later, with another counselee, the trainee and the counselor can trade places where the trainee takes the lead, the counselor observes and afterward they discuss. In a group setting, trainees may serve as apprentice group leaders. Their time in group would be a combination of participating, leading and observing the leading of the group leaders. After each group session, there is an opportunity to debrief and learn from the observations.
- Role play. Some counselor training curricula (such as Equipped to Counsel) include pre-written role plays, short descriptions of a fictional individual’s situation. One trainee will play the part of that counselee, based on one of those descriptions. Another trainee will attempt to counsel.
- Fishbowl labs. “Counseling in Community” is an example of a class based on fishbowl-style lab structure. The lab is arranged in two concentric circles with an inner circle surrounded by an outer circle. A group of five to eight will engage in a real life discussion for twenty to thirty minutes in the inner circle, like a small slice of a Redemption Group. The outer group will be seated around the inner group and will observe the inner group’s interactions, taking notes according to assigned observation tasks based on the skills described in Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands. After this interaction, the lab facilitator will pause the discussion and transition the whole lab into a time of debriefing. A sample syllabus for a course like this is available here.
Examples from Other Best-Practice Ministries
The Biblical Counseling Coalition has a blog series where counseling pastors from several best-practice churches describe their counselor training models.
- Pastor Deepak Reju, Pastor of Biblical Counseling and Families at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC.
- Pastor John Henderson, Counseling Pastor at Denton Bible Church in Denton, Texas.
- Pastor Robert Cheong, Pastor of Care and Counseling at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, Kentucky.
- Pastor Greg Cook, Soul Care Pastor at Christ’s Chapel Bible Church in Fort Worth, Texas.
- Pastor Joe Lee, who serves on the pastoral staff at Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland.
A Step-by-Step Guide: Equipping Counselors for Your Church
Dr. Bob Kellemen’s book Equipping Counselors for Your Church walks through every aspect of developing a volunteer biblical counseling ministry in a local church. It is filled with practical wisdom and detailed guidance for planning. The sections above are a very concise summary of some of the training aspects of building a counseling ministry. This book goes much further, and addresses the challenge comprehensively.
Dr. Kellemen has made a number of the resources in the book available on his web site, including a video trailer, sample chapter, leader assessment forms and more.