Recently I was in Hong Kong and nearby areas training churches and local leaders in counseling. This was the first step in launching SEBTS’s certificate in biblical counseling program in those areas.
For an international teaching trip, the schedule was pretty intense: 60 hours of teaching to 3 class audiences and 40 hours of air travel in 9 days. God was very faithful and allowed me to sleep well and my body to transition to the new time zone. In the 3 classes there were over 200 students who participated in the trainings.
The course that I was teaching in the SEBTS program was “Counseling Problematic Emotions.” In this course we seek to:
- Provide a biblical perspective on how the gospel speaks to struggles rooted in both sin and suffering
- Provide instruction that is applicable across the spectrum from one-another, friendship ministry to formal counseling
- Provide an in-depth discussion of four key emotions: anger, anxiety, depression, and grief
- Provide an in-depth examination of how rooting our identity in Christ regulates and matures our emotions
Since Hong Kong and the surrounding areas are comprised of an honor-shame culture, an open discussion of emotions had its difficulties. But this proved to be less of an obstacle than I anticipated. Students seemed to know that addressing emotions would require vulnerability and were willing to be stretched in acknowledging weaknesses and the behavioral expressions of unhealthy emotions.
Those who were willing to attend a counseling class are probably the most willing to be vulnerable in their culture. Many of the questions during Q&A’s centered on how to motivate or help those who are unwilling to disclose their struggles with difficult emotions to seek or implement the help they need.
Here are some of my takeaways from the trip. Some are questions/observations from how the teaching was received. Some are questions/reflections on the culture and implications for counseling as it develops there.
- How do you effectively teach a subject that cuts against the grain of a culture? The cultural emphasis on “saving face” and the course’s emphasis of living authentically were in perpetual tension. The students were very receptive and appreciative, but I’m left wondering how this could be done more effectively.
- It was encouraging to see, once we navigated the authenticity challenge, that the content of the course seemed to be very well received. People are people and struggle with the same issues of sin and suffering everywhere. Scripture is true and speaks to these struggles across cultures.
- How should counseling look in a context where the average church size is 20 members (i.e., house church), most members have been believers for less than 3 years, and they come from a culture emphasizing “saving face”? There is an unmistakable beauty in these rapidly reproducing house churches, but there are also challenges to thinking through pastoral care with limited people-experience resources.
- When should counseling be inserted into the training of first generation church plants in an unreached context? As new believers are being taught the gospel, how to administrate the sacraments, how to plant churches across their country, etc… when and how do you introduce lessons on counseling / one-another care? How do you balance the call to reach those who are rapidly perishing with the call to care well for those who have already been reached?
- By contrast, in a major city like Hong Kong, how do you begin to effectively introduce counseling in a church of thousands when the culture has a very limited concept of counseling? It is not just that effective counselors (helpers) need to be trained but the expectations of a culture (helpees) need to be shaped.
This was an experience I am sure I will continue to learn from as I reflect further. I am hopeful for future opportunities to continue to teach SEBTS’s certificate program in these areas and will praying over and wrestling with the questions above as I anticipate those opportunities.
God is doing great things all over the world. Getting to see it and participate in it outside an American context was very beneficial for my realization of this; not that I would have denied it, but I could not fully appreciate it until I had seen it. If you have not taken the opportunity to be a part of an overseas missions experience like this, I would highly encourage you to talk to your pastors and pursue an upcoming opportunity.