Recently, there has been a renewed discussion within the biblical counseling movement about whether it is appropriate for men to receive counseling from women. While I do not agree with Martha Peace’s conclusions in this article, I appreciate her as a sister in Christ who desires to honor God in all she does.
Dr. Kristin Kellen, my counseling faculty colleague at SEBTS, relocates the conversation from where Marth Peace placed it – as a moral issue – to what I believe is more appropriate – a wisdom issue. I am grateful for her work on the subject. Dr. Kellen reframes the question from “Can a woman counsel a man?” to “Is it wise for a particular woman to counsel a particular man?” I would like to affirm Dr. Kellen’s work with a bit of male testimony.
Before getting to testimony, I think it is helpful to add a bit of commentary on why this can be a difficult subject in the biblical counseling movement. Because, in most veins of counseling, this question is a non-issue. There are, from my observation, at least two reasons biblical counseling (BC) has historically felt it necessary to say that women should not counsel men.
- BC Views Counseling as Pastoral Work: In biblical counseling, we view counseling as a pastoral function. Our movement began with a call (rightly, in my opinion) for pastors to quit neglecting their pastoral counseling role. While it is right to view counseling as something pastors do, it is incomplete to view counseling as something only pastors do. Therefore, biblical gender guidance on pastoral ministry should not be necessarily paralleled to all counseling relationships.
- BC Views Counseling as an Authoritative Relationship: In biblical counseling, we tend to view counseling as didactic (teaching-oriented) and directive. This style of counseling casts the counselor in an authoritative light. However, even in directive models of counseling that use the Bible, it is important to remember that authority is in the Bible (detailing God’s design) not the counselor (giving the counselor power over the counselee). If a particular woman views counseling as a form of authoritative teaching (as Martha Peace does) and, therefore, chooses to abstain from offering counsel to a man, this choice should be honored without imposing it on all Christian women.
In light of these points, I think there are least two reasons we should affirm that it is appropriate for men to receive counsel from women.
- Consistent Complementarianism: Complementarianism, the near exclusive position of biblical counseling on gender, believes that God created two genders to complement one another; that there are real and important differences between men and women which should be valued, honored, and celebrated. If women have a God-given, distinct perspective on life and relationships, those who uphold the beauty of God designing two genders should want to hear from both men and women. Our perspective would be incomplete without the counsel of women. This leads to the second point.
- Effectiveness of Counseling: There are many situations where men seeking counsel from women will be more effective. This list is far from exhaustive but situations would include: a husband wanting to understand the hurt from his wife when he hasn’t been able to grasp it communicated by her, a pastor wanting to care well for a female victim of abuse, a single man struggling to understand why his pursuit in dating has been ineffective, a widowed or divorced father wanting to understand the struggles of his daughter, or a man who was abused by a male figure and the intimidation from being counseled by a man hinders his progress.
But beyond instances like these, where a female counselor for a man is uniquely effective, I would gladly say that I have found the counsel of women to be generally beneficial. I am a better person, Christian, and counselor because of the counsel I have received from women other than my mother or wife (those whom I think everyone believes it is acceptable for me to receive their counsel and for whom I am most grateful).
Here is a list of women who have been valuable counselors to me. I want to affirm the gifts God has given these women and the way that they have used those gifts to edify my life. Doubtless, there are more women that I could list here. I could expand the list to include those women who have written books and articles, taught workshops, presented at conferences, or produced podcasts. All of which, I have benefited from, but to do that would make this much longer than a blog article.
- Kristin Kellen, mentioned already, is a colleague at SEBTS. Her voice on institutional reforms, scope and sequencing of our curriculum, navigating tensions in shared peer relationships, and weighing personal decisions have been valuable. She is a blessing to our SEBTS students wanting to be equipped to care for all of God’s people, both male and female.
- Bonnie Shrum has been a mentor and friend in my 10 years at the Summit Church. She is a prayer warrior and person of great faith. In hard seasons she has spoken courage into my life in many ways and at many times.
- Marilyn Marrero is a ministry associate on our counseling team and dear friend. She is kind, empathetic, and one of the most administratively gifted people I know. When I need help on how (logistics) something should be done to care for people (logistics with compassion), she offers some of the most valuable counsel I can find.
- Female counselors at Bridgehaven – Dottie Hilliard, Laura McGee, Jessica Cobb – offer the wisdom that comes from hundreds of hours of face-to-face counseling experience. As co-laborers in the heavy field of counseling, we encourage one another and offer perspective when the work of counseling is difficult.
- Rachael Denhollander, Samantha Kilpatrick, Diane Langberg, Andrea Munford, Karla Siu, Darby Strickland, and Leslie Vernick were a phenomenal group of women to work with the Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused They are wise and brought their areas of expertise to the project. They were chosen because the church, including pastors, needs to hear the counsel they offer. I grew in countless ways because of their counsel.
- Eliza Huie is a dear friend in the biblical counseling movement. We have both served in the parachurch setting and now serve in a local church. Her advice and perspective on the similarities and differences in these roles has been immensely beneficial during seasons of confusion or discouragement.
- Becky Jorgenson and Caroline Von Helms are two highly competent counselors of children and adolescents. I frequently need to seek their counsel in order to fulfill my pastoral role well when caring for families.
- Jenn Pappalardo is friend and social worker who helps me think through cases of child abuse or neglect. She is highly competent in her field and loves the church. She has been a great asset in thinking through the intersection of these two fields (social work and ministry) which have lived in tension with one another for too long.
- Betty-Anne Van Rees is a fellow biblical counselor from another country. Her counsel on the utility of the resources we develop at Summit for other churches, in other cultures, and in ministries of various sizes has been very valuable to me.
- Kirsten Christianson is a friend and abuse advocate who has a heart to see the church care well for those who experience abuse. She has been faithful to raise hard questions about hard situations as we consider what the best care from churches should look like.
- Amy Whitfield is a parliamentarian (I didn’t know what that was until I met her), and her counsel on how to navigate an entity like the Great Commission Baptist Convention saved me countless hours and missteps. Her guidance on how to approach policies and details without losing sight of the people and purpose of our work has been of immense benefit to me.
- Again, the list could go on. I thank God for the wise, godly, competent women in my life who generously share the good gifts God has given them with others, including me.
Invitation to Men
Following Paul’s example in Romans 16 when he publicly affirmed the gifts and roles of at least 10 women, I want to affirm these women whose counsel and guidance have been a blessing to me.
I would invite my fellow Christian men to do the same with the influential women in their lives. Let this be a way that we give honor where honor is due and encourage the godly, influential women in our lives to continue in the good work that God has called them to do.