Archive for September, 2011

Book Review: Equipping Counselors for Your Church: The 4E Ministry Training Strategy by Robert W. Kellemen, PhD.

Do you want to see your church develop a biblical counseling ministry, but don’t know where to begin? Do you feel like you don’t know what questions you would need to ask or who would need to be in the room as you seek to answer them? Are you worried about the logistics and liabilities that would arise as you sought to launch this kind of ministry initiative?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then Dr. Kellemen has put together a book you need to read. Not only does he draw upon his own years of experience as a pastor (both associate of counseling and senior pastor) and as a professor teaching counseling in seminary, he draws upon the best practices from two dozen counselors who have led counseling ministries in the local church or parachurch setting.

Throughout the book these two dozen counselors comment about their experience in creating counseling ministries at each stage of the process. In effect, it’s a little like a recovery group meeting. Dr. Kellemen teaches the main lesson which articulates the key aspects of one leg in the journey. Then each counselor gives a testimony about their successes, failures, and key life lessons on that point.

The result is a robust resource that provides detailed guidance without succumbing to a one-size-fits-all counseling model. Rather than giving a step-by-step process to a predetermined outcome, Dr. Kellemen takes you through a question-by-question process to determine what expressions of a counseling ministry would best fit your church and community.

A Small Word, But a Big Distinction

One of the primary emphases of this book is that it advocates for churches to become “a church of biblical counseling” rather than “a church with a biblical counseling ministry.” The difference is significant. A church with a biblical counseling ministry will see its counseling ministry serve exclusively as an “ER” of crisis cases that remained hidden until they were bursting with complexity.

A church of biblical counseling becomes more equipped and prepared to handle such crisis cases, but the counseling ministry interacts with the rest of the church (as a part of the disciple-making process) so that more individuals and families receive care before their struggles become life-dominating. The honesty and transparency of a counseling relationship begins to trickle into the life of the church to a degree that members are “doing life together” in Christian community.

The 4 E’s

If I were reading this review, I would want to know what the 4 E’s were. In keeping with the power-packed, highly-concentrated nature of the book, Dr. Kellemen was able to squeeze five E’s into his four E strategy: (1) Envisioning God’s Ministry, (2) Enlisting God’s Ministers for Ministry, (3) Equipping Godly Ministers for Ministry, and (4) Empowering/Employing Godly Ministers for Ministry.

If you look at those categories and find yourself thinking, “That seems like a process that could be used for any ministry,” then you are beginning to catch the value of this book. Dr. Kellemen is not spending a large amount of time teaching you a foreign process to develop a counseling ministry. If that were the case, you would have to teach your congregation the process and then begin creating the counseling ministry. However, because the book is built around sound, biblical leadership methods, a church that has launched other effective ministries will have no problem utilizing this resource.

What you will find in each E are the key questions and implications that need to be asked for developing a counseling ministry. For the pastor, elder, or other local church leader this should be very comforting. You will find guidance for what you don’t know within the framework  with which you are familiar.

A Sample

Counseling can be intimidating. If you are not slightly over-whelmed at the thought of starting a counseling ministry, you may lack the humility necessary to be a good counselor. With that in mind, one of the most effective ways I can conclude this review is to give you a sample from the book on one of counseling’s most intimidating subjects—legal liability.

On his ministry blog, Dr. Kellemen recently posted a six part series on “The Law and Church Counseling.” If you want to know the quality and type of resource you would be getting in Equipping Counselors for Your Church, I would encourage you to preview these posts.

The Law and Church Counseling: Part One – Caring Carefully
The Law and Church Counseling: Part Two – The Legal History and Climate
The Law and Church Counseling: Part Three – Scope of Care
The Law and Church Counseling: Part Four – Quality of Care
The Law and Church Counseling: Part Five – Building Safeguards Into Your Ministry
The Law and Church Counseling: Part Six – Counting the Cost

Other sample resources include:

The book video trailer as a blog post:
The book video trailer on YouTube:
Link to a free sample chapter:
Link to Equipping Counselors home page with several free resources:


This book meets a real need in Biblical Counseling – helping churches cultivate a counseling ministry that is tailored to the needs of their particular congregation and community. Over the last several decades Biblical Counseling has produced a large number of excellent resources, but it has not always been clear what a church was supposed to do with those resources. If you want to begin to explore that possibility with your church, I cannot think of a better book to guide you in that process.

Being “In Love” and Promises

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“The idea that being ‘in love’ is the only reason for remaining married really leaves no room for marriage as a contract or promise at all. If love is the whole thing, then the promise can add nothing; and if it adds nothing, then it should not be made… As Chesterton pointed out, those who are in love have a natural inclination to bind themselves by promises. Love songs all over the world are full of vows of eternal constancy. The Christian law is not forcing upon the passion of love something which is foreign to that passion’s own nature: it is demanding that lovers should take seriously something which their passion of itself impels them to do (p.107).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

It is an interesting question. If being “in love” is the pinnacle experience, then why have we added marriage to it? You might begin by asserting that “we” did not add marriage to love, but it was God’s design. I would agree, but that rebuttal does not address the audience who would ask the question.

We find that even those who reject God (at least as defined in the Bible, interpreted by author’s original intent) fight fervently for the right to be married because they believe that it would add something to their experience of being “in love.” I reference the gay-marriage debate here, not for political purposes, but merely as an example.

As I have observed these debates (admittedly from a distance, I am not a highly politically-motivated person), my impression is that their motives are larger than, “You told me I can’t so I’m going to prove I can.” They sincerely want to be married. Why? If one should be free to exit marriage because “I fell out of love” would those not seeking to follow a particular religious code (like the Bible) want to add marriage to their experience of being in love?

We make vows for a reason that is beyond pragmatic. We make vows because we are made in the image of a covenant-making God. There is something higher than being “in love,” namely reflecting the image of the God we were made to glorify.

We do not serve a temporal God. Therefore a temporal experience of being in love is not the ultimate expression of the character of the God who is love (I John 4:8). What is more in keeping with God’s character is when that state of being in love is sealed within a self-sacrificing covenant.

As Lewis notes that Chesterton pointed out, even secular love songs from all cultures and time periods testify to this. True romantic love longs to seal itself in promises of fidelity, exclusivity, and sacrificially finding joy in the joy of the other.

What difference does this make? I would contend that it undercuts one of the primary decision making criteria in our culture. Consider, how many harmful decisions are made based upon the justification that “I am in love” or “I am no longer in love”? If that standard were removed from its place at the pinnacle of decision making, how many life tragedies would be avoided?

As a final addendum, please do not hear this as a condemnation of being “in love.” I firmly believe that being in love is one of the most blissful blessings that God has bestowed upon the human race. It may be one of the purest foretastes of Heaven’s perpetual worship. This reflection is merely a warning against one of the most basic human tendencies – trying to replace God with one of His gifts to us.

Seminar: Taking the Journey of Grief with Hope (Videos)

Below are the videos from “Taking the Journey of Grief with Hope” seminar. For the various counseling options available from this material visit

NOTE: Many people have asked how they can get a copy of the seminar notebook referenced in this verbal presentation. You can request a copy from Summit’s admin over counseling at (please note this is an administrative account; no individual or family counsel is provided through e-mail).

PREPARE yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually to face your suffering.


Grief Seminar – Part 1 from The Summit Church on Vimeo.


For the “Memorial Service for an Unborn Child” resource click here

For the “Applying the Grief Seminar to Losses Not Caused by Grief” document click here: Appendix B — Other Causes of Grief

For the “Small Group Care Plan for the Whole Journey” document click here: Appendix C — 12 Month Care Plan

ACKNOWLEDGE the specific history and realness of my suffering.

Grief Seminar – Part 2 from The Summit Church on Vimeo.

For the “Grief Evaluation” document click here: Grief Evaluation

Printable PDF version of evaluation: grief-evaluation

UNDERSTAND the impact of my suffering.

Grief Seminar – Part 3 from The Summit Church on Vimeo.

LEARN MY SUFFERING STORY which I used to make sense of my experience.

Grief Seminar – Part 4 from The Summit Church on Vimeo.

MOURN the wrongness of what happened and receive God’s comfort.

Grief Seminar – Part 5 from The Summit Church on Vimeo.

LEARN MY GOSPEL STORY by which God gives meaning to my experience.

Grief Seminar – Part 6 from The Summit Church on Vimeo.

IDENTIFY GOALS that allow me to combat the impact of my suffering.

Grief Seminar – Part 7 from The Summit Church on Vimeo.

For the “Healthy Ways to Capture Memories” document  click here.

PERSEVERE in the new life and identity to which God has called me.

Grief Seminar – Part 8 from The Summit Church on Vimeo.

STEWARD all of my life for God’s glory.

Grief Seminar – Part 9 from The Summit Church on Vimeo.


Appendix G: Parenting Tips & Family Devotions_Grief

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Grief” post which address other facets of this subject.

Learning to Grieve Losses Not Caused by Death

Note: This post is an excerpt from the seminar notebook that will accompany the “Taking the Journey of Grief with Hope” seminar at The Summit Church.

This event is free of charge and open to the public. Please invite anyone you believe would benefit from learning how the God of all comfort speaks to the various losses of life through the gospel.

Appendix B
Applying the Grief Seminar to Losses Not Caused by Death

Often it can be hard to recognize grief as grief, because of the absence of a death. Major losses can be caused by many other life changes than someone dying. But this difficulty goes well beyond the challenge of rightly labeling an experience. When we do not recognize the grief element in a major loss or life transition, we begin to try to make sense of that experience and overcome its fallout in ways that are not suited for the difficulties that lie ahead.

That is the purpose of this appendix – to prepare you to apply the materials contained in this study to grief experiences that are not the result of the death of a loved one. Throughout this study you will find language that refers to the loss of a person (i.e., loved one, him, her, spouse, child, parent, etc…). If your loss was not a person, then these references may give you the impression that these materials do not apply to you.

However, the major experiences, changes, and challenges of grief are similar enough that once you begin to see how grief disrupts your identity and story, you should be able to apply this material to losses that do not involve the loss of a person. The important thing for reading these materials is (1) that you recognize your loss as a grief event and (2) that you are able to articulate what you have lost so that when you read the personal language in this guide, you naturally think of your loss.

This appendix will examine grief not triggered by death in four categories: the loss of innocence, the loss of a dream, the loss of stability, and the living death of divorce. These categories are not mutually exclusive, but they should help you think through different aspects of a grief struggle that is not triggered by someone’s death.

Grief & the Loss of Innocence

This grief is usually related to some form of abuse. In abuse, trust (a key element of innocence) is redefined from a positive quality that blesses a relationship to a dangerous activity that is now akin to naiveté. When that happens something precious is lost, but we often view this experience exclusively as a wound to be healed and overlook that it is also a loss to be grieved.

As you read and seek to apply these materials to the loss of innocence (or the other three categories), it may be helpful to find a physical object that represents the innocence that you lost. It could be a picture of you at the age just before the abuse occurred. Perhaps it is a picture of father or mother who is safe. Maybe you pick something more symbolic like a pillow to represent sleep without nightmares.

Regardless of the object, use it to remind you that you are grieving the absence of something good. In grieving lost innocence, it is easy to get lost in the powerful emotions and memories surrounding the violation that occurred and miss grieving the loss for the innocent person to whom they occurred. If we do this, we silence our grief and magnify our pain; we get distracted from the grief (our present task) and fixate on the violation (a past experience we cannot change). This leaves us trapped in a period of time we cannot change rather than allowing us to embark on a journey of grief by which God can give new meaning to our loss.

As you embark on this grief journey, recognize that healthy trust may be the most difficult and confusing aspect. The interaction you have with your Freedom Group, mentor, or counselor may be the most uncomfortable, yet beneficial, part of the journey. The redemption of innocence lost requires the willingness to embrace trust a blessing again.

A major theme in the journey that is ahead of you is seeing that Christ’s righteousness allows you to experience a sense of cleanness and innocence that was taken from you. As a Christian, God does not see you as defiled, and He invites you to see yourself through His eyes. Surrendering to Christ as Lord doesn’t just mean doing whatever God says, it also means allowing His perspective to have the final say on our life.

Do not feel rushed by that last paragraph. It may feel very far away. But that is why you are “Taking the Journey of Grief with Hope.” The purpose of this section is merely to help contextualize this study for your loss so that you are able to see how grief applies to your past hurt.

Grief & the Loss of a Dream

The loss of a dream can emerge from a variety of experiences: infertility, divorce, job loss, chronic pain, a rebellious child, mid-life crisis, or anything else that prevents you from doing or having something very important to you. In the midst of these kinds of situations we often become so consumed with managing the details of life that we forget there is a loss to be grieved.

When we forget to grieve the loss of a dream, we are left with a nagging feeling that the experience was incomplete, but have no clue what is left to be done. After all, we managed all the details as best we could. What more could life want from me? But there still doesn’t feel like there is “closure” (whatever that word means).

In the loss of a dream, closure most often means grieving. In these situations, the theme of “story” in grief which you will find in these materials can be particularly helpful to the grieving process. Your loss affected your future more than your past. You may have painful dreams unfulfilled more than painful memories flooding your mind. You feel like you are walking into grief more than you are walking away from it.

Your loss was part of how you built your future in your mind. Now you feel like a character without a story more than a story with a character (i.e., loved one) missing. Chances are you resist and even resent having to write a new story. This is the loss you are grieving – the loss of a good story (i.e., dream) having to be rewritten.

A major theme in the journey ahead of you will be trusting God as the ultimate Author of history. Based upon your good dream, God has failed and forfeited His role. Having dreams, goals, or ambitions may now feel impossible or painfully vulnerable. However, it is through the journey of grieving your loss that you gain the courage to embrace a story again.  It is through honestly engaging with these fears, disappointments, hurts, and anger on the journey of grief that you can begin to see God for who He truly is again.

Grief & the Loss of Stability

If the loss of innocence is past tense grief and the loss of a dream is future tense grief, then the loss of stability is present tense grief. This grief might include an elderly parent surrendering independence to live with children, a fire destroying your home, a natural disaster hitting your city, or a criminal intrusion into your life. In these experiences the fear and anger over the violation or interruption often cause us to overlook the grief experience.

Often the grief over lost stability (present) is closely related to grief over the loss of a dream (future). It is the grief of divorce’s impact on my kid’s school performance more than a grief related to the possibility of growing old alone. It is the grief of struggling to pay this month’s bills, rather than unattainable dream of being VP in this company. It is the grief that drains the motivation to continue in rehab rather than that of the grief of understanding my life story as one that will include chronic pain.

With the loss of stability, the theme of “identity” which you will find in these materials on grief may be particularly helpful. To acknowledge my loss of stability often requires a significant change in my self-perception. However, unless we are careful this change can be a time when many lies and self-deprecating concepts enter our sense of identity.

Once you get through the initial shock of the loss of stability, then this grief process begins to closely resemble the grief related to the loss of a dream. The important thing to remember is that as you deal with the logistical and emotional fallout from your loss of stability, that this is a loss to be grieved and your processing of this event will likely feel incomplete until you have done so.

Grief & Living Death

One of the common descriptions for the experience of divorce is “living death.” There is a union and family which dies, but each member of that family (spouses, children, and grandparents) remain alive to observe the slow, painful death and try to figure out how they are to relate to one another. In many ways grief is easier when the person or thing that you lost is not constantly coming in and out of your life or sending messages that have to be interpreted.

As you go through these materials on grief, you may need to give more attention the sections on grief triggers or unpredictably hard times, and rely less on the general guidelines given to the time frame for grief. Grieving a divorce is less orderly than other grief experiences.

You may also find that the experiences of anger and guilt are more pronounced in grieving a divorce than in other grief experiences. In your suffering story (chapter four), it may be harder to weave out the themes of “I deserve this,” “relationships hurt,” or “evil wins” from your grief. The fact that there is rarely an “innocent party” in a divorce will make the discernment between sin and suffering a more necessary task than in other forms of grief.

Thinking through the changes in relationships will be me more involved than with other forms of grief. Most of the same dynamics that are discussed in this material will exist, but with an additional level of complexity. For instance, related to couple friends as a single person will still be different and awkward, but, after a divorce, maintaining friendship can feel like choosing sides for your friends. Overt conversations about these changes are wise.

A major theme in your journey through grief will be patience and reliance upon God. Coming to the same challenges over and over again (i.e., the pain of a weekly visitation schedule, having to decide about holidays, hearing “updates” on your ex-spouse from friends, etc…) will trigger grief regularly. You might ask several key people to pray Colossians 1:9-14 on your behalf regularly, especially verse 11 where Paul asks for “all endurance and patience with joy” for his Colossian friends.

Another theme in your journey will be the resistance of taking on “divorced” as your identity. Whenever we struggle with one thing for an extended period of time, we have a tendency to embrace it as who we are. As you move through the section on learning your gospel story, make sure that you see that divorce is not the defining chapter of your life.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Grief” post which address other facets of this subject.

C.S. Lewis on Divorce

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“They [Christians] all regard divorce as something like cutting up a body, as a kind of surgical operation. Some of them think the operation so violent that it cannot be done at all; others admit it as a desperate remedy in extreme cases. They are all agreed that it is more like having both your legs cut off than it is like dissolving a business partnership or even deserting a regiment (p.105).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

Why does this part of the divorce discussion seem to get omitted from the conversation? In that sense it is similar to the abortion debate. The vast majority of the conversation focuses exclusively upon the moral/legal nature of the action.

There are many things that are legal (possibly moral) which are so painful or have such long standing negative effects that we would encourage everyone to avoid them. Divorce causes great harm to everyone involved (both spouses, children, grandparents, extended family, and friends). Similarly, the post-traumatic effects of an abortion are rarely discussed in our cultural debates.

In my opinion, there are times when divorce is warranted, but most people whom I counsel that are considering divorce have not given it the same thought that they would if they were considering amputating their legs. The more common logic is, “Doesn’t God want me to be happy? How does being in a miserable marriage teach my children anything good?”

I am merely raising the question: Would these be the decisive questions we would ask if we were considering a life bound to a wheelchair? Would we be as confidant in our assumption that the respective answers would be “Yes, there is more happiness without legs,” and “There is nothing worthwhile your children can learn from your efforts to preserve your legs.”

I recognize that many people will read this reflection and feel defensive or intense guilt. There are many people who think through their decision thoroughly and with godly counsel. My intent is not to add to their emotional turmoil.

But if over 50% of the adult population in America lacked legs, would we not begin to question the criteria by which the decision to amputate was made? The nature of the impairment would necessitate that we raise the question.

I don’t think that most people who have experienced divorce (first hand or that of their parents) would consider C.S. Lewis’ language to be that much of a hyperbole. I regularly talk to divorcees and children of divorce who use equally graphic language. Even those who do not feel “impaired” by their divorce experience most often say it was more painful than they anticipated

So what do we take away from this? I believe we must expand the conversation on divorce. The moral/legal components are very important, but they are not the whole subject. There is the pain and suffering on the other side of divorce.

Culturally, the debate has degenerated into, “You cannot tell me what to do with my life. Who are you to judge me?” But if someone is getting ready to have a major medical procedure, the doctor is required to inform the patient of the potential fall out so the patient can make an informed decision.

I would contend that the tone of the moral debate on divorce (as well as abortion, drugs, and other subjects) has degenerated to the point that autonomy has clouded and polarized the flow of information to the point that it is hard to make an informed decision.

Is a Sin-Predisposition a Form of Suffering?

This post was originally posted on the Biblical Counseling Coalition blog, a resource I would highly recommended for resources for counseling and discipleship.

Most empirical research indicates that particular life struggles (including those that Scripture calls sin) have a higher incidence rate along hereditary lines. Stated in English, if your parents struggled with “x” sin, you are more likely to struggle with “x” sin than if your parents did not.

This sparks a large debate about the nature vs. nurture origin of human behavior. But at this point I am willing to concede some physiological predispositions for particular sins. If you watch multiple children within the same home, it is hard to deny (in my opinion). There are natural strengths and weaknesses that have nothing to do with the children’s choices or environment.

I have one child who is given to people-pleasing and another who revels in having the minority opinion. The more social child is extremely convincing with his words; both for encouragement and manipulation. The more determined child can withstand any resistance to attain a goal; both in the form of perseverance and defiance. Any amount of parenting (to the best of my ability anyway) has not changed these natural dispositions.

These two examples are relatively benign (at least so far, but I appreciate your prayers on the matter), but in some cases it is not. What about the person who does not grasp relationships or social cues and, therefore, is frequently self-centered and rude? What about the person who has a hair-trigger fear response and neglects significant life responsibilities because “something might go wrong?” What about the person for whom every pleasure so quickly becomes consuming that life seems to be a mine field of addictions waiting to happen?

Let’s forego the debate about whether these actions remain morally wrong. At this point I am assuming that self-centeredness, rudeness, neglect, and addiction (substance or otherwise) are wrong. They represent a failure to love God and love others. They violate the character of God whose image we are called to bear. They’re wrong.

But does the conversation stop there? In such cases, should we seek to apply a suffering paradigm to some struggles that are sinful? Should we have a separate (but still moral) category for sins that require forethought, practice, and continued intentionality to avoid?

If we say “yes,” then more questions arise. How do we differentiate sins that have become “second nature” through habituation from sins that emerge from a predisposition? How would we understand responsibility and repentance for sins rooted in large part in disposition? How, if at all, is this different from the sin nature with which every person is born? What does sanctification look like when there is more being refined than the will and heart?

These questions deserve a book more than a blog post. But I believe they are worth asking. I believe they are worth asking even if we are not able to formulate definitive answers. There is humility and compassion in entertaining difficult questions from hurting people even if the questions are misapplied (as doubtless this question will be many times).

I am simply saying some people relate and emote in broken ways without intentionality. There are cases that few people dispute will fit into this category; for example, autism and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Both of these struggles exist across a spectrum of experiences and severities. In their more severe expressions, most counselors (rightfully, in my opinion) would work these struggles almost exclusively out of a suffering paradigm.

But again, we are forced to ask questions. Is there a chasm between these experiences and “normal” human experience? Or, do these experiences manifest themselves along a spectrum where some struggles are more mildly predisposed with less daily life disruption?

The difficulty is that, if we are going to entertain these kinds of questions, they can only be answered in specific cases. We can (and should) do a systematic study to determine if a sin-predisposition is a legitimate category of thought and whether it could be distinct from the general effects of the Fall experienced by every human being. We can (and should) do a systematic study to determine if there is practical and effectual benefits to counseling such struggles (if they exist) with at least a partial suffering paradigm.

But such answers will never replace conversations with real people. I have found that a willingness to have these types of conversations with people who were disgusted and confused by their own sin has aided the counseling relationship. The vast majority of the time we have agreed to side with responsibility and work within a sin paradigm; rather than assessing a predispositional struggle and working within a suffering paradigm.

The conversation, however, helped people put nagging questions into words. It gave the peace of mind that they were being cared for, not just fixed. The counselee gained a clearer picture of the distinction between sin and suffering, so that suffering began to truly mean “negative experience totally out of my control” rather than just “negative experience I didn’t like.”

As we talk, the fairness of God becomes clearer. God can be seen as someone who seeks to restore people more than just eliminate sin. This fuller picture of God makes it easier to come to Him in repentance for sin and comfort for suffering.

Admittedly, in this post I have asked far more questions than I have answered. My goal, however, was not to answer these questions as much as it was to display the value of asking them.

Join the Conversation:

  • How comfortable are you speaking of counseling as having a “suffering paradigm” that is distinct from a “sin paradigm”? When you hear these two phrases what methodological differences come to mind?
  • Assuming you agree with the two counseling paradigms, what benefits and dangers come with approaching biologically predisposed sin within a suffering paradigm?

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Counseling Theory” post which address other facets of this subject.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Suffering” post which address other facets of this subject.

Small Group Care Plan for the Whole Journey of Grief

Note: This post is an excerpt from the seminar notebook that will accompany the “Taking the Journey of Grief with Hope” seminar at The Summit Church.

This event is free of charge and open to the public. Please invite anyone you believe would benefit from learning how the God of all comfort speaks to the various losses of life through the gospel.

Not all formatting of the care plan chart was able to transfer to this post. The completely formatted version will be available in the seminar notebook.  I apologize for any confusion the transfer to a blog format creates, but hope that the benefit of seeing the concept outweighs the visual confusion.

Appendix C
Small Group Care Plan for the Whole Journey

Caring for a friend facing a significant loss is something that we (as friends and church members) often start well. We bring meals and try to make sure the mundane burdens (like mowing the grass) are handled. But too often this ends after a couple of weeks, and when the care ends the grieving individual often feels like it is no longer acceptable to speak of their loss. The length of our care often becomes the unspoken time table for how long grief is socially acceptable to talk about.

Our care can be an immense blessing when we care well for the duration of the grieving process. The purpose of this appendix is to equip a small group to care for its members after a significant loss in a way that facilitates healthy grieving and demonstrates the present, patient love of Christ through His body, the church. Our goal would be to ensure that when their season of grief comes, every member of a small group would be able to echo this testimony:

“Reading back through journal entries made a decade earlier… I realized I had faced my greatest fear in life—to love and then to lose someone—with my faith intact. My wife’s death confirmed rather than threatened my faith because everything that followed conformed to what I had been taught to expect. My church family rallied to my aid, swamping me with love and care; my co-workers expressed deep sympathy and shouldered my responsibilities until I could return to work, and above all God made His presence and His comfort known in special ways (p. 14).” Joseph Lehmann in “Believing in Hope” from The Journal of Biblical Counseling (Winter 1998).

A Standard Beginning

During the first couple of weeks the goal is simply to be a compassionate presence and to serve your friend by providing the mental-emotional space to process all the changes in his/her life. Your involvement at this stage is very practical, but with the awareness that practical involvement will likely create the opportunity to listen to where your friend is in that moment.

As a small group you will want to:

  • Create a plan for who can brings meals for the first 1-2 weeks.
  • Find out if there are household chores or lawn work that can be alleviated.
  • Attend funeral
  • Be aware of appointments (medical, legal, etc…) and provide support for these as needed.

Recording Important Dates

A significant loss has more than one significant date. For instance, in caring for someone who lost their spouse you would need to be aware of more than the date he/she died. You would also want to know birthday, anniversary, when they may have been planning a special get away, Father’s/Mother’s Day, etc… During the first year there will be more of these dates and special form of contact should be added on these dates to the care plan below.

In the second and third year, several of these dates will be points that you will want to let your friend know you remember the occasion. The tone of these interactions do not have to be somber. It often encouraging and freeing for someone to know that their loved one is not forgotten (there is a great of burden that comes with being someone’s sole-rememberer).

Someone in the small group will want to get the dates for the following occasions and share them with the group as needed or appropriate. Making a note or two about what your friend remembers or liked best about these dates with their loved one can be an effective way to care more meaningfully in the future.

  • Birthday of Deceased: ________________
  • Due date for the unborn: ______________
  • Date of Death: ______________________
  • Anniversary: ______________________
  • Relevant or Favorite Holidays: ________
  • Planned or Annual Trips / Events: ______
  • Special Time to Loved One (i.e., Start of Hunting Season): ____
  • Important Life Marker for Loved One (i.e, Start of School): ____
  • Other: ____________________________
  • Other: ____________________________
  • Other: ____________________________

Advice for Grief Journey Companion:

The care plan below discusses someone serving as a “Grief Journey Companion” (GJC). This is a member of the group who will take the time to study through this “Taking the Journey of Grief with Hope” seminar with their friend. The GJC does not need to see themselves as a counselor, but as companion who ensures their friend does not have to travel this difficult terrain alone.

It is recommended the grieving friend and GJC meet every other week during the first five to six months of grief. In between meetings each person would watch the videos and study the material in this notebook. Between meetings the GJC would send their grieving friend messages of encouragement or prayers regarding the material being studied.

In addition the GJC would:

  • Be available for phone calls when grief is particularly intense.
  • Help the individual decide what to share with the small group during prayer times.
  • Communicate needs to the small group.

 Building a 12 Month Care Plan

The concept and some points of this care plan were adapted from Paul Tautges’ book Comfort Those Who Grieve.

Be sure to add to this care plan interaction on the special dates recorded above. While completing a chart like this may seem a bit formal, without it grief care tends only to last for a relatively short time or becomes the responsibility of only one person within the group.

Resource: 12 Month Care Plan

Write the date of loss ______ / _______ / ________






Week 1

Week of  _ /_

Bring MealsHelp with household choresAttend Funeral

Many Small Group Members

Week 2

Week of  _/_

Bring MealsHelp with household chores

Many Small Group Members

Week 3

Week of  _/_

Two phone calls with specific questions* about grief. ______________________________

Week 4

Week of  _/_

Lunch or DinnerOffer to study through “Taking the Journey of Grief with Hope” together

Grief Journey Companion (GJC): commits to bi-monthly interaction for the next 6 months.

GJC: ____________________

Week 5

Week of  _/_

Two e-mails containing prayers or words of encouragement ____________________________________________

Weeks 6

Week of  _/_

Discuss Step 1 material over visit or phone call.


Week 7

Week of  _/_

One phone call with specific questions* about grief.


Week 8

Week of  _/_

Discuss Step 2 material over visit or phone call.


Week 9

Week of  _/_

Send a list of encouraging Scripture and a prayer.

Small Group Leader

Week 10

Week of  _/_

Discuss Step 3 material over visit or phone call.


Week 12

Week of  _/_

Discuss Step 4 material over visit or phone call.


Week 14

Week of  _/_

Discuss Step 5 material over visit or phone call.


Week 16

Week of  _/_

Discuss Step 6 material over visit or phone call.


Week 18

Week of  _/_

Discuss Step 7 material over visit or phone call.


Week 20

Week of  _/_

Discuss Step 8 material over visit or phone call.


Week 22

Week of  _/_

Discuss Step 9 material over visit or phone call.


Week 24

Week of  _/_

Phone call letting them know the small group wants to pray for them on the 6 month anniversary of their loss.

Small Group Leader

Week 26

Week of  _/_

During group prayer time ask for report on how the last 6 months have been and pray specifically for them.

Group as Whole

Month 7


One point of person-to-person or voice-to-voice contact in which at least two specific questions* are asked about grieving process.


Month 8


One point of person-to-person or voice-to-voice contact in which at least two specific questions* are asked about grieving process.


Month 9


One point of person-to-person or voice-to-voice contact in which at least two specific questions* are asked about grieving process.


Month 10


One point of person-to-person or voice-to-voice contact in which at least two specific questions* are asked about grieving process.


Month 11


One point of person-to-person or voice-to-voice contact in which at least two specific questions* are asked about grieving process.


Month 12

__/ __/ __

During group prayer time ask for report on how the last 1 year has been and pray specifically for them. The small group leader should talk to the person prior to this evening.

Group as Whole


When Applicable

The group should continue to keep up with key dates (i.e., birthday, anniversary, etc…) related to the loss in the second and third year after the loss. A card or phone call on these dates can remind the person they are not alone.

Group as Whole

* Specific Questions: Throughout the care plan it mentions periodic phone calls with “specific questions” about how your friend is doing in the grieving process. It is important to ask questions which give your friend the freedom to speak of his/her grief. Otherwise, they may feel awkward with answering a generic “how have you been doing?” with a reflection on their grief. If they simply say fine, you do not have press for a more involved response but it is good to follow up with, “I want you to know that if you have a rough day, you have someone to talk to.”

The following questions could be asked during these interactions:

  •  I know it has been [amount of time] since [name] passed, how are you doing? How is it different from where you expected to be at this point?
  • Has there been anything that has reminded you of name [name] recently? How do you handle it when things like that arise?
  • Last time we talked about your grief you asked me to pray for [blank], how is that going? Is there anything different I should be praying for now?
  • Have you thought of any stories about [name] that you’ve wanted to share with someone lately? What kind of things have caused you to think of him/her most lately?
  • What emotions has your grief expressed itself in lately? What do you attribute that to?
  • I know [name] really enjoyed [blank] this time of year and they’ve been on my mind lately. How about you?

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Grief” post which address other facets of this subject.

C.S. Lewis, Bulimia, and Pornography

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“The Christian attitude does not mean that there is anything wrong about sexual pleasure, any more than about the pleasure of eating. It means that you must not isolate that pleasure and try to get it by itself, any more than you ought to get the pleasures of taste without swallowing and digesting, by chewing things and spitting them out again (p.105).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

This quote alludes to a connection between bulimia (the desire for food but not calories; chewing but not digesting) and pornography (the desire for closeness but not vulnerability; having but not belonging). But as the parallel is developed, it should be construed as the male (lust) and female (body image) version of the same problem. In recent years the struggles of men with eating disorders and women with pornography have both risen significantly.

Rather each is a version of wanting the reward without the risk with a different pleasure. Both are forms of pseudo-comfort which in the end bring greater shame, isolation through secrecy, and life disruption. Both leave the individual feeling fake and unable to relate to others because of perceived inadequacies exacerbated by fixation on physical appearance.

Lewis hits on the key point – “you must not isolate that pleasure and try to get it by itself.” Elevating one aspect of any pleasure over the others and seeking to make that aspect compensate for the whole (the binge eating of bulimia or erotic stories associated with pornography), leaves the individual in a dangerously imbalanced condition.

Let me illustrate with an unrelated example. In high school, I sustained a significant ankle injury playing baseball. It required crutches and significant rehab. After several weeks of ankle exercises I got to the point that my injured ankle (left) was stronger than the other. But I was still limping as a means of self-protection.

The doctor told me, “You have to stop limping. If not, your left ankle will not be prepared to take the sudden weight shifts that happen in athletic events. By limping now you’re preventing the ankle from getting used to the full weight transfer, which is different from the muscular and ligament strength we’ve been building.”

Someone who struggles with bulimia or pornography may have an attractive figure, good social skills, and many friends of the opposite sex. Many are perfectionistic over-achievers. But they are limping (hiding) their authenticity about insecurity. Hence while their performance may be strong in key areas, they are not prepared for the vulnerability (the equivalent of sudden athletic moves of everyday relationships).

Isolated pleasure (food without calories or sexual gratification without intimacy) creates a character imbalance that results in a moral failure. With each moral failure, the “limping” becomes more logical and “needed.” If I had not stopped limping and injured my ankle again, I would want the self-protection of limping even more.

We must see the danger in picking apart the pleasures God designed for us to enjoy; as if we can reconfigure them and make an “improvement.” We are not picking undesired toppings off of a pizza. It is more like we are taking chips out of a computer and hoping it will still work. The more its performance lags, the more we tinker. Let us recognize that God’s pleasures come as wholes and ask Him for the courage to embrace them as He has designed them.

Using Counseling in Your Personal Outreach

At The Summit Church, our counseling ministry wants to equip you for local missions. This is done primarily through our seminars. The next of these will be on September 25 on “Taking the Journey of Grief with Hope” in the Brier Creek South venue.

Consider the following points: (1) every person will face grief many times in their life, (2) grief is a time when we are forced to think about what’s after death, and (3) during grief people often reflect on the purpose of their life and want to talk about it.

Question: What if you had a resource which equipped you to compassionately enter those conversations and consistently directed conversations towards the gospel in grief-appropriate ways? Could you say to a friend, “I know you’re going through a lot with the loss of [name]. I know a decent study that is designed to help people process their grief, if it would help you to talk through it I’d be glad to listen.”

That is the goal of the counseling ministry – to produce these kind of materials on a myriad of subjects. To help you gain a better grasp of why we are doing things this way, this post includes one of the introductory page that is included in every Summit counseling seminar.

What Can I Hope to Get From this Seminar?

Whether you are here due to personal need, the needs of others, or for a general interest in the topic, we hope this seminar will benefit you.  If we do our job well, parts of this seminar will speak to you personally.  There will also be parts that speak to aspects of this subject that are different from your own experience. What follows are six unavoidable facts that should help you profit from all of the material you hear (bold faced text taken from Paul Tripp and Tim Lane How People Change):

1.  Someone in your life had a problem this week. That person may be you.  Even if you are here for yourself, chances are you know or will know others who struggle in this area.  Because we live in a fallen world and have a sin nature, we can be certain that we will battle with sin and suffering in our lives.  Because we love people, we can be certain we will be called on to love and assist others in their battle with sin and suffering.

2.  We have everything we need in the Gospel to help that person (2 Peter 1:3). God has given us Himself, the Gospel, the Bible, and the church and promised they are effective for all things that pertain to life and godliness.  Our task as Christians is to grow in our understanding of and ability to skillfully apply these resources to our struggles. These resources are the essence and source of “good advice,” and we hope to play a role in your efforts to apply and disseminate this “good advice.”  We do not aim to present new material, but new ways of applying the timeless, eternal truths of the Gospel found in Scripture.

3. That person will seek help from friends, family members, or pastors before seeking professionals. Counseling (broadly defined as seeking to offer hope and direction through relationship) happens all the time.  We talk with friends over the phone, crying children in their rooms, spouses in the kitchen, fellow church members between services, and have endless conversations with ourselves.  We listen to struggles, seek to understand, offer perspective, give advice, and follow up later.  This is what the New Testament calls “one-anothering” and something we are all called to do.

4.  That person either got no help, bad help, or biblical, gospel-centered help. Not all counseling is good counseling.  Not all advice that we receive from a Christian (even a Christian counselor) is Christian advice.  Too often we are advised to look within for the answers to our problems or told that we are good enough, strong enough, or smart enough in ourselves to overcome.  Hopefully you will see today how the Bible calls us to something (rather Someone) better, bigger, and more effective than these messages.

5.  If they did not get meaningful help, they will go elsewhere. When we do not receive good advice (pointing us to enduring life transformation), we keep looking.  We need answers to our struggles.  This means that as people find unfulfilling answers they will eventually (by God’s grace) come to a Christian for advice.  When they eventually come to you, we hope you will be more prepared because of our time together today.

6.  Whatever help they received, they will use to help others! We become evangelists for the things that make life better (this is why the Gospel is simply called “Good News”).  We quite naturally share the things that we find to be effective.  Our prayer for you today is that you will find the material presented effective for your struggles and that you will be so comforted and encouraged by it that it will enable you to be a more passionate and effective ambassador of the Gospel in the midst of “normal” daily conversations.

Ministering to Moms Who Experience Miscarriage

The grief of losing an unborn or still born child is not only uniquely painful it is also uniquely lonely. At The Summit Church we want to help penetrate that loneliness with hope by being personally available. This is the purpose of the grieving mom mentor program. A PDF copy of this material is available by clicking here: JOB — grieving mom mentor.

Qualifications for Mentors:

  • Be a covenant member of The Summit Church.
  • Have experienced the loss of a unborn child.
  • Able to talk about your loss openly and vulnerably without becoming emotionally overwhelmed.
  • Listened to the “Taking the Journey of Grief with Hope” seminar live or by video.
  • Read the “Taking the Journey of Grief with Hope” seminar notebook.
  • Understand what it means to allow the gospel to speak the emotions of grief as suffering not sin.

Expectations of Mentors:

  • Complete an interview with our ministry coordinators (primary questions provided below).
  • Correspond with the freshly grieving mom within 24-48 hours of a match being made.
  • Meet with your freshly grieving mom in person at least every other week for the next six months.
  • Walk through the “Taking the Journey of Grief with Hope” seminar at her pace.
  • Share your testimony of your grief journey as it fits the materials and your freshly grieving mom’s situation.
  • Be available to correspond via phone or e-mail between in person meetings.
  • Help her decide what and how to share her experience with her small group (source of long term support).
  • Contact the ministry coordinator when a mentoring relationship is complete or if it “fizzles out.”

Questions to Assist Matching:

We want to make every effort pair mentors with freshly grieving mothers who have elements of common experience. While we recognize that no two experiences are the same and even common details do not create the same experience, we do believe there is value in this effort. The questions below represent the kind of questions you will be asked in the interview.

  • How far into the pregnancy were you when you lost your baby? Did you know the gender?
  • Was this your first pregnancy? Second? Last?
  • Did the loss of your child alert you to problems of infertility?
  • Where there medical complications which caused or because of your miscarriage?
  • What was the response of other key people in your life to your loss?
  • Have you experienced the loss of multiple unborn children?
  • Did you already have a room prepared for your baby and have to deal with repurposing that room?
  • Did you have to share with a group of people (i.e., work, church) and experience a change in your social environment?

If there are other unique aspects to your loss you believe we should know, please bring these up in the interview. Thank you for your willingness to be a part of this ministry and to bring the embodied love of Christ to someone who feels very isolated by her loss.

Note: This post is the “table of contents” for the seminar “Taking the Journey of Grief with Hope” which will be presented at The Summit Church.

This event is free of charge and open to the public. Please invite anyone you believe would benefit from learning how the God of all comfort speaks to the various losses of life through the gospel.