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Five Common Christian Counseling Errors

Examine yourself: Evaluate your biblical counseling techniques

Doug Britton, MFT

Page Summary
Summary: How to counsel. Five mistakes Christians (and others) make when counseling or giving advice. (These errors are common. Whether counselor, pastor or friend, you probably make some of them at times.) Evaluate yourself—How well do you counsel or give advice in light of these five guidelines about how to counsel?

Introduction: Common counseling mistakes

Note: This online Bible study on how to counsel borrows from some of the points in the seminar, “How to Counsel from Scripture.”

When you give advice—as a friend, counselor, mentor, or pastor—it’s easy to harm your effectiveness by making one (or more) of the following mistakes. I’ve counseled with thousands of people over the years, and I’ve made them all!

As you study, score yourself from 0 to 10 on each point.

  • “0” means, “I really need to improve in this area.”
  • “10” means, “I’m doing great in this area.”

Mistake #1: Giving advice without listening

One of the biggest mistakes Christians (and others) make is giving quick counsel or advice without carefully listening. When we listen, people trust us more and we are able to give better advice.

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. (James 1:19)

The first to speak seems right, until someone comes forward and cross-examines. (Proverbs 18:17)

Make it your goal to deeply understand the other person. This is more than just being able to repeat back someone’s words. This is understanding emotions and thoughts. Ask lots of questions. “Listen” to emotions and body language, not just words.

Related: Listen carefully to deeply understand

My “listening” score (0-10): ____

Mistake #2: Showing a judgmental or condemning spirit

The person with whom you are speaking, mentoring, or counseling may have sinned in almost unthinkable ways or made serious mistakes. However, if you give the message that you are disgusted, he or she is unlikely to benefit from your advice.

Show concern for people who have sinned. They should sense that you care, not that you condemn.

Identify sin as sin, but replace anger, disgust and condemnation with sorrow and concern. Remember that your goal is to restore the other person, to help him or her change.

For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Hebrews 2:17-18)

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. (Hebrews 4:15)

Share encouraging words. Be a messenger of hope and encouragement. Let the other person know that with God’s help he or she can change.

Stay humble. Remember that although you may not have committed the same sin, you have committed lots of other serious sins.

Related: The Bible shows the power in humility

My “judgmental attitude” score (0-10): ____

Mistake #3: Talking too much

Has someone ever given you a long speech about your mistakes? If so, you probably tuned out part way through. Speeches rarely work!

When you get people involved in a discussion, they are more likely to change. Remember to ask questions. It’s often effective to ask people if they would like to make changes. If they say “yes,” ask what they would like to change. When you help people work on something they identify, they are more likely to get involved.

My “talking too much score” (0-10): ____

Mistake #4: Giving worldly advice

It’s easy to give “worldly” advice, for it is all around us on talk radio, television shows, self-help books and college campuses. Some of this advice may be helpful, but it is incomplete and not nearly so helpful as the truth revealed in God’s Word, the Bible.

When you counsel, you have the opportunity to help others turn to God and learn how to apply the Bible’s truths. In a sense, you can help disciple people and encourage them to grow in the Lord. Make the most of this opportunity!

Give biblical advice! Do not give unscriptural advice because you feel sorry for someone. For example, don’t encourage people to divorce for unbiblical reasons because they say they are unhappy.

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ. (Colossians 2:8)

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)

My “giving worldly advice” score (0-10): ____

Mistake #5: Not suggesting homework

Help others choose something to do as “homework.” People are much more likely to change if they make plans to follow up by studying something or doing some activity related to what they have discussed.

Homework is most likely to be completed if it is mutually agreed on. Try to come up with something that seems reasonable to the person you are counseling or advising.

How to counsel—Four ideas for homework:

1. Suggest passages of Scripture to read and meditate on. Also consider suggesting one or more memory verses.

2. Suggest an action plan. For example: Praise your spouse, parent or children twice each day.

3. Suggest reading an online Bible study.

4: Suggest reading a chapter in a biblically-based book with practical personal application questions.

My “suggesting homework” score (0-10): ____

Click here to print this Bible study

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About Doug Britton, MFT

Doug Britton, Bible-based Marriage and Family Therapist, has helped hundreds of thousands of people as a therapist, clinical director of a treatment center, seminar speaker, radio cohost, and author of over twenty books that show how to apply God's truths in your daily life. (Visit www.dougbrittonbooks.com.)

Copyright © 2020 Doug Britton. Permission granted to print for personal use. (Scripture verses are from the New International Version, copyright © 1984.) See reprint policy.

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