Counseling 101: Listen Well

Schaeffer-Edith I am a big Francis Shaffer fan. Reading his famous trilogy changed the way I thought about evangelism and discipleship. I was a Philosophy major so I may be a little biased in my opinion of this great man of the faith but don’t hold that against this blog post. Ok, so what does Schaffer have to do with counseling? Well the reason I find Shaffer applicable to counseling is because counseling is, at its core, intense discipleship and if there was one thing he was good at it was discipleship. Shaffer believed there was no question that the Bible could not answer and that the gospel was the one true philosophy. Because of this he would welcome anyone to come with their questions. He even bought a farm where people could come and live with him and his family in order to do just that. It was called L'Abri. To find out more about Schaffer and his ministry go here.

The main reason I bring Schaffer to mind here is what he taught me about listening. He used to often say “If I have only an hour with someone, I will spend the first 55 minutes asking questions and finding out what is troubling their heart and mind, and then in the last 5 minutes I will share something of the truth.” For a man who likes to talk this is a tall task but one that must be applied to love people well. The question is: What am I listening for?

As I have grown in my understanding of the gospel and how it applies not only to my justification but also to the daily sanctification that God is preforming on my heart, I have come to see this is how we are to relate to one another. In every problem in my life I find at its root sin. This sin exists because I am missing the mark of what God has for me. This is a result of not believing the gospel. What I mean by the gospel is simply the truth about who God is, what he thinks of me, has done for me, and his plan for me as his child. This is the good news. The most help that I can give someone is to point them to the truth of the cross and the story of redemption that God has performed, or has not performed, in their heart.

What I am listening for is where to apply the gospel. Somewhere in their story of brokenness is a place where they do not believe the gospel. Your first thought about this may be that it sounds too simplistic and there are counseling sessions that need more than this. But I would challenge you in this way. No matter the scenario, is not the person's walk with God the most important aspect of them overcoming the situation? If so, I must make sure that their thinking about gospel is right or else there walk with God is based on lies rather than truth and there is no hope in a false god. I must begin with the truth of the gospel for it is the cure and the only way that I can know how to apply this is by closing my big mouth and listening to them. As I listen I learn to listen for lies that have replaced the gospel in their heart.

I believe that if we begin with listening for ways to contextualize the gospel, our counseling will be profitable. However I must end with adding the context of community. If all I have is sixty minutes, five minutes of truth is a good start but in order to counsel anyone well I must do this by living life with them. This type of life brings flesh to my listening, it shows that I am in this until the end because I care. I care for them not just to check off a well done counseling session. A victorious life exists inside a gospel focused community and nowhere else. But that is a whole other blog post….


Dave Johnson serves as the lead planter of Grace Covenant Church in Chicago IL. He enjoys watching baseball and football, reading, drinking good coffee, hanging out with his family and friends, and attempting to play the guitar. He holds the MDiv from SEBTS. Dave and his wife Julie have three children, two boys, Jack and Micah, and a little girl named Callianne.

CounselingZach Nelson