Summary of the Seven Keys to “Strategic Pastoral Counseling” by David Benner


Counseling within the church context can is full with its challenges. Knowing what to offer it to your congregation and the boundaries that should exist within your counseling ministry are not easily intuitive. I have learned this the hard way over the last year and a half as we have established a biblical counseling ministry from the very lowest level. We have made our mistakes, but we have also seen great results as we care for the flock of God at Mission Hills Church.

41AHNzLWNOL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_When we begin our counseling ministry, we decided that it would be a short-term goal based counseling service. We would only counsel people for 3 to 5 sessions, and we would be sure are to work toward a goal in every scenario. For the most part, these borderlines still exist. However, we have learned that some cases require a unique level of care and therefore can be stretched to meet as many as eight times with the pastor or counselor. As we begin forming our plan for development of this ministry, we were introduced to “Strategic Pastoral Counseling” by David G Benner. I have benefited greatly from its insights as have other strategic thinkers on my team. We have applied it appropriately over the last 18 months and are continually refining our application of these valuable principles. I am a true fan of this approach to counseling within the church.

Summary of the Strategic Pastoral Counseling Model

Benner prescribes the plan for pastors and church-based counselors to meet with their counselee no more than five times. Within the sessions, they are moving through specific stages that he outlines as necessary and appropriate for the counselee to have the greatest spiritual impact. He does not minimize the role of Holy Spirit or the use of the Bible in his counseling session. While showing respect to psychological perspectives, he empowers the pastor to be a tool of transformation used by God in the lives of those in the church. Benner states that “Strategic pastoral counseling is a brief, structured counseling approach that is explicitly Christian, and it appropriates the insights of contemporary counseling theory without sacrificing the resources of pastoral ministry”(Page 74).

The three key components to Benner’s strategy are as follows: (1) The counseling is focused in time-limited. (2) It is offered by a person of Christian faith accountable to the church. (3) The help that is offered is focuses on a specific problem to help a person gain wisdom and understanding for the sake of resolution or transformation. The focus in this approach sets it apart from other counseling models. The limitation of time is seen as a strategic benefit to working on the stated issue with the most precise focus possible for the counselor and counselee. There are seven characteristics of this model that are very important to its success:

  1. Brief and time-limited. This parameter requires the counselor to be very intentional from the first contact. Time-limited counseling means that the counselor must be active and directive in each and every session. It means that both parties must continue to work towards the goal in and outside of their meeting time. The counseling must concentrate on one central and specific problem for the length of the counseling partnership. If the relationship does not remain focused, distractions will get in the way of finding true results for the presenting and core issue. It is also important to the counselor the counselee understand each session must have a time limit, and there must be a limited number of sessions when they will meet.
  2. Holistic. Strategic Pastoral Counseling looks at behaviors, thoughts, and beliefs when addressing a specific issue. Without keeping these things in mind, it may not be possible for this approach to also be spiritually focused.
  3. Structured. Benner states, “Good counseling always involves a good balance of structure and freedom” (page 57). The freedom to follow the Holy Spirit’s leading and address key findings that emerge is an important part of any counseling. However, the counseling relationship that is only based on freedom will result in nothing more than several good conversations or with little to no resolutions. Structure provides focus and guardrails to keep the conversations moving toward a helpful outcome. The structure of the counseling comes out of the work the counselor and counselee do to address the feelings, thoughts and behaviors of the individual.
  4. Homework-based Counseling. Momentum is key to seeing results in a short period. In an effort to ensure that momentum is maintained between sessions, the counselee must engage in assigned homework or reading so that the time with a counselor can be highly productive. The homework assignment is always biblically-based, often including the Bible itself. The counselor will assign reading, memorization techniques or process items to help the counselee internalize key principles that will result in behavior modification or new cognitive patterns.
  5. Is exclusively church-based. The church is God’s divine institution for spiritual growth, oversight, and accountability. The people in the church understand that the pastor is there to provide wisdom and insight for the believer’s daily living. The congregation should support this ministry of the pastor and find ways to free him up from other administrative duties within the church. He is not starting a private practice counseling service but is rather a fulfilling a vital part of the discipleship strategy within the church body.
  6. Spiritually focus. There are many different focuses for which a Christian counselor may choose to turn their attention, but Strategic Pastoral Counseling specifically identifies the spiritual impact the life situation is or has had on the counselee’s soul. The counselor is looking for ways to identify God’s movement in a person’s life and how a person is responding or may respond to this spiritual activity.
  7. Explicitly Christian. As Benner explains that Strategic Pastoral Counseling is spiritual, he acknowledges that not all spirituality is Christian spirituality (page 67). The reason the Strategic Pastoral Counseling is exclusively Christian is because of its use of prayer, scripture, and the sacraments. It also has a unique counseling goal to move this counselee closer in their relationship with God so that they may find life, growth, and healing. It encourages them to keep their reliance upon the holy Spirit and to depend upon the word of God for instruction in godliness.

My Personal Application of This Model

I find this model completely energizing and very applicable to my personal ministry. As long as I’ve been a pastor, I have found the demands on my time or high. If I am not careful, urgent things rather than the important things consume my time. The key to caring for my flock well is that I have boundaries on my time. It does not mean that I am inaccessible or unloving to my those in my congregation. Rather, the most loving thing I can do for my flock is to have firm boundaries so that my time allocated to those that need it appropriately. The strategic pastoral counseling model encourages me to set parameters on how I counsel a person towards greater wholeness and holiness.

One of the greatest problems in my counseling ministry is that I meet with someone too long or too often. Through David Benner’s approach, I have learned the importance of starting my counseling by stating clear boundaries so that the person understands there will be a limit and a focus to our time. I can do this in the caring manner that lets them know I will still be there for them on-going as their pastor but the counseling relationship must have defined boundaries. Over the last few months, I’ve been starting off my counseling relationships by letting them know we will only meet for a specific number of meetings. I ask them to focus in on very specific issue that they would like to address. We spend time praying and working hard to find God’s perspective and answers for that specific issue. The more clear I am about our boundaries or our focus, the more result I am seeing. I am indebted to Benner for putting clear words on this model and giving practical ways to implement it.

By reading this book, I have been reminded of the importance of assigning homework. Because my time is limited, I must disciple the counselee to do work with the Lord outside of their time with me. Assigned homework is not only a great practice for greater productivity in the session; it is a wonderful discipleship method. I want the counselee to be more dependent upon God than on me. By assigning homework properly, I am helping them in their spiritual disciplines to seek God in the quietness of their home. I am exalting Him to be the Wonderful Counselor in their life and for them to see me as an under-shepherd for the one true Shepherd.

The Strategic Pastoral Counseling Model at Mission Hills Church

At Mission Hills, we have a biblical counseling center that tends to the flock on a regular basis. For the most part, we offer Strategic Pastoral Counseling by letting our counselees know “we are a short-term goal based counseling center”. We are forthright about our use of prayer and the Bible in our counseling sessions. The counselee understands from the beginning that we are a church-funded, they do not pay for our services, yet they are accountable to the church for their further growth and recovery. We have been able to create other programs that support Strategic Pastoral Counseling such as a lay ministry that helps those in crisis or need. We also have several recovery programs—Celebrate Recovery, Grief Share, and Divorce Recovery, to help people through a specific issue that they’re dealing with at a specific state in their life. Strategic Pastoral Counseling is the model we use, and it will continue to be refined as our team grapples with all that David Benner has written. I am grateful for this resource and look forward to seeing it further impact our ministry.

Finding God’s Love in the Midst of Suffering


God's love podcast  post

I gotta tell you this story. A girl named Cecilia waited to talk to me one night after I finished speaking at a youth convention. She stood with arms crossed, sort of hugging herself like she was cold or afraid. I asked her if she wanted to talk.

“I can’t love God,” She blurted out, like it had been welling up in her for some time. Over the next half hour the flood gates of her life opened. She started by telling me about her father.

“My dad’s always told me he loves me.” Cecilia said. “But, I dunno, for the past couple years I’ve been confused by his love.”

What was happening was this: Several nights each week as Ceciley lay in bed she would hear the floor creak, and her dad would come down the hall and into her room. He would crawl into her bed and begin to slowly run his hand up her leg and touch places he shouldn’t.

She begin to cry as she talked.

“I thought that he loved me,” Ceciley stated. “But now he just uses me.”

she went on…

Cecilia had met a guy her age. They liked each other and this guy even told her he loved her.

“He told me he wanted to show me his love,” Ceciley said, “He said we needed to have sex and so that we could experience that love. I didn’t want to… but I didn’t want to lose him either. So we did.”

She was crying hard by now and gasped for air between her sentences. She just wanted to be loved in the right way, but was experiencing only the wrong. I asked if she had talked to her youth worker about this. that’s when she began to cry harder.

“Yeah, I went to the church one day and met with my youth worker, I told him about my dad and my boyfriend and what they did to me. He told me it was okay, and that God still loved me. He said he cared for me and hoped the best for my life. But then, right there in his office, my youth worker started to kiss me. He said he loved me and ran his hands all over me. He used me! Right there in the church!”

She had anger, fear, sorrow and hopelessness in her voice…

“Is God like that?” Cicely asked bitterly. “Does God just say he loves me, then spit me out like every other man in my life?”

I didn’t know if my words would mean anything, but I know God’s Word is powerful. I took Ceciley to Ephesians 3:18—a passage that shows God’s love is higher than the highest star, longer than the longest road, deeper then the deepest ocean, and wider than the widest sky.

“God’s love is true love,” I said. “He will never leave you, hurt you, or take advantage of you. Ever.”

Tonight maybe you are right there with Ceciley, questioning God’s love. but I want you to know that God’s love is so much more true and pure than human’s love. You too can dive into the deep end of God’s love. That passage in Ephesians that I read to Ceciley goes on to say in 3:19 that God’s love surpasses knowledge – it may seem crazy but his love is true.

with a dashed line, the bible goes on explaining that having His love is being filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Just try and grasp that… God is love. God is peace. God is goodness. God is gentleness. And with the power of the holy spirit and salvation in Jesus, god is in you!

4 Ways to Make Your Time With God More Effective

We all have a desire to leave our mark on this world. We want to our life to count for more than just taking up space on earth. We want families to love us, our friends to be impacted by a heritage and us to be left after our last breath.

I’ll never forget one of the greatest quotes I ever heard about how to make an impact on this world. It was said by my friend Dwight Robertson, and I quote, “The greatest gift you can give the world is your own intimacy with Christ.”

I heard him say that will preaching a sermon, and I’m not sure I heard anything else because that stirred my heart so loudly my physical years couldn’t hear anything else. I was overcome as I thought about what it meant for me to grow so close to Christ everyone else in my world would be affected by my relationship with God.

That is Hard to Do

So from that moment forward I committed to know Christ more than anything else in my life. That is not an easy commitment to make. Let’s face it, there are other things in my life that are easy to spend more time investing in and getting to know better than God:

  •  My wife
  • My kids
  • My iphone
  • My job
  • My favorite sports teams

But if I am going to really make an impact on this world, I must know and love Christ above all things. This is what Paul was getting at when he wrote, “For when I was with you I resolved to know nothing but Christ and him Crucified.”

The top 4 ways to make your time with God more effective

But what does this look like? How can I live my life to know Him more intimately each day? Here are four tips for making the most of your time with God:

  1. Clear your schedule and your mind. It should be our goal to spend daily “unhurried” time with God. Life is busy and once the day gets going, everything is hurried. So schedule time with God that cannot be interrupted. Maybe this is in the early morning or late at night. I’ve even schedule a “lunch appointment with God” just so that the time is protected in my schedule.
  2. Stay in His Word. Our time with the Lord is not meant to just be a pace in our schedule to catch up on the latest book we are reading or what is going on in the news. There are other times for that. Your time with God daily should consist of a steady diet of just plain-out reading God’s Word. Find a reading plan, or just read through a book – but make sure you are reading straight from his Word.
  3. Keep track of what he tells you. I have stack of journals filled with revelations from my time in God’s word. And I am not really a journaling type guy. I try to write one page a day of thoughts that I’ve learned from reading God’s word and praying that day. This record is a sweet place to return when I seem to have lost my way.
  4. Seek his face not his hand. Finally, make sure that your time is filled with prayer. As my friend says, “don’t be quick to seek God’s hand, but seek his face.” We must pray to know him and love him, not just to get things from him.

So remember, the greatest gift you can give the world is your own intimacy with Christ. Long for Him and meet that longing with an intentional investment each day.

I am not too naive to think that I alone can change the world, but I am not to ignorant to know that together we can change everything we know by loving Christ more deeply.

What Does It Mean to Live a Holy Life?

As an experiment, the great scientist Isaac Newton stared at the image of the Sun reflected in a mirror. The brightness burned into his retina, and he suffered temporary blindness. Even after he hid for three days behind closed shutters, still the bright spot would not fade from his vision.  He said – “I used all means to divert my imagination from the sun, but if I thought upon [it] I presently saw [its] picture though I was in the dark.

I imagine Newton’s experience with the Sun is just a taste of what it would be like if we were able to look upon the Holiness of God.

One time after meeting with God, Moses’ face was so bright and literally radiant because he stood in God’s presence. When Moses came down off the mountain the people had to cover his face with a cloth because he was too bright to look at… and get this, they were merely looking at a reflection of God’s holiness; Moses was able to actually stand and see God’s Holiness for himself.

The brilliance of God’s Holiness is unfathomable. Yet, we are told in Leviticus, 1 Corinthians, and Ephesians to strive to obtain this Holiness in our own lives. Peter instructed that:

 4As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:14-16)

For us to obtain even the smallest amount of holiness in our lives means that we have an unquenchable desire for Christ likeness. Holiness is being yoked with Christ. 

This means that we are walking in step with Him by knowing what He did in the Bible and prayerfully asking what His will have us do today.

Just to drive this home – let me give you some characteristic of Holy people:

First, they strive to avoid every known sin, and keep every known command. It means we hate what God hates and love what God loves.

Holy people seek to have a pure heart. 

Holy people live in God’s love. John wrote in scripture that we are to “Lavishing in His love,” meaning that we bathe our souls in God’s gracious and loving kindness. In turn we will be men and women who live in and act out the attributes of love described in 1 Corinthians 13.

Holy people care about others with great mercy. This means thinking of everyone else before that thought of “me” even comes into my mind.

Holy people fear God because they see their own un-holiness and reverently respect God and His authority in their lives. Like a small child respects and wants to please their father, so we too must glorify God by obeying Him.

Holy people strive for humility. This is not only getting rid of all pride, but being aware and repentant of our sin before God. It is having the same mindset as Paul did when He wrote to Timothy and referred to himself as the “Chief of all sinners.” (2 Tim 2:14)

Holy people live in a spiritual mind set. Having God’s mind and looking at life through His eyes.

Holy people strive for faithfulness. They are unwavering men and woman that live a single standard life – God’s standard.

Friend, we must long to be truly holy; this does not mean perfect, but ashamed and repentant for our sin and continually striving to be a reflection of God’s glory.

D.L.Moody Said, “A holy life will make the deepest impression. Lighthouses blow no horns, they just shine.”


Saul’s Conversion: Chief of Sinners Saved for You (Acts 9:1-19)

God saves His people from all sorts of things. Their past tells a story of redemption for God’s glory that cannot be denied—this was certainly the case for Saul. In this message, Josh helps us see the Story of Saul’s conversion in a way that reveals God’s purposes for us today. Acts 9:1-19 make it clear that God sovereignly choses to give His grace and we should not assume that anyone is too far from His reach.

My Sermon Notes: 09.27.14, Chief of Sinners Saved for You, Outline v2

My Slides:

Finding Hope When All Else Fails (Acts 6:8-15)

We all long for peace, especially in times of turmoil. When our life is under pressure or upset in someway, we often do whatever we can in our own strength to gain control. In Acts 6:8-15 we see the early church member, Stephen, standing still in the face of death. From this passage, I strive to show how we too can be confident in God’s sovereignty no matter the circumstances.

Here is my Sermon Outline (what I take in the pulpit): When All Else Fails, Outline

Here are my study notes for this passage: Study Notes on Acts 6.8-15

My Slides:


Advice for Pastor and Preachers from Alistair Begg

It was my privilege to be able to interview long-time pastor and preaching , Alistair Begg, about ministry and preaching. As a young preacher, I was so enriched by all he had to say. His humor, coupled with his wisdom, brought a compelling case for pastoral integrity, preaching with authority, and acting with humility. This interview is worth every minute of your time; you’ll be thinking about his statements for days.

Click here for more great content from Alistair and the 6:4 conference. 

Our Great Reward is God Himself (Acts 7:54-8:3)

Suffering is never something we desire, but to suffer well should be the desire of our heart. In this message we looked at the last seconds of Stephen’s life in Acts 7:54-60. We discovered strategies for remaining faithful to God even when faithfulness to God doesn’t make sense. Also, as we looked at Saul’s persecution of the church, we understood that God’s purposes are never spoiled.

Here are my sermon resources for the taking:

My sermon outline (what I take on stage): 09.06.14, Acts 7.54-8.3, Our Greatest Reward, Outline v2

My sermon study notesStudy Notes on Acts 7.54-8.3

Small group homework: 09-4-14_Acts_7-54-8-3_HOMEWORK

My sermon slides:

6 Questions Every Accountability Partner Should Ask

trees post

What would a forest be if it were not packed with trees? Imagine a forest of only 10 trees… 5 trees… 2 trees… That’s not a forest at all.

A forest is a good metaphor of what the Christian life is like. We don’t have to stand alone. In fact, God doesn’t want us too. He has even created a “Family” – the Church – for us to stay connected to and grow along side. Galatians 6 tells us to “Bear one another’s burdens.” It means that when we see someone that is struggling with life or sin, we stand by their side and try and pull them closer to Christ. Paul uses imagery that brings a drowning person to mind. Imagine life as one big swim meet and everyone is trying to make it to the end, but even before that every one is trying to stay afloat. If you look over and see someone that is drowning, do just swim around them to avoid their splash. Help them… but only if you can. “Keep watch for yourself.” It could be really easy for you to get pulled in. If you are weak in an area then don’t swim after them, for you will only make the situation worse… get someone else who maybe stronger spiritually or have more wisdom to be able to help them.

I’ve never been a morning person. Rarely do I get up on the first sound of the alarm or have the discipline not to hit snooze. However, today was different.

This morning was my first meeting with a small group of guys. The five of us sat in a bustling coffee shop with open Bibles and open hearts. We discussed last Sunday’s sermon and spent time reflecting on life lessons in it for all of us. There was nothing super spiritual about our time; just a few guys learning lessons together and holding each other accountable for our walk with the Lord.

After some time in the Word, we asked each other these questions:

1.       Have you been spending time in God’s Word and in prayer this week?  If so, how?

3.       Have you exposed your mind to sexually inappropriate things?

4.       Have you been above reproach with you finances?

5.       Have you been taking care of your body?

6.       Have you just lied?

 The last question is brilliant. It may not have been that any of us lied directly, but #6 defiantly held made each of ask, did I just share the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?

I encourage you to get a group like this. Meeting in the morning (or whenever) with a few others who truly long to deepen their walk with Christ will be time well spent.  It can be that kind of jolt for your soul that says, WAKE UP SOUL! It’s time do live life to the fullest!

7 Essential Ways I Balance Work and Family

Nik WallendaAs a leader and pastor, one of my greatest struggles to is balancing time between work and family.  Everyday this is under attack as the demands of the urgent things in my life try to eclipse the important. In order to ensure that I am staying balanced, below I have listed 7 disciplines I maintain regularly.

Ways I Am Maintaining Balance

# 1 – I only have meetings during set blocks of time (Monday 1-5, Tuesday 9-12, Wednesday 9-1, Thursday 1-5). This allows me to have other blocks of time so that I can actually do my work during work hours instead of having to take it home.

# 2 – I rise early, but stay at home to be with and help out more in the mornings. I used to get up early and leave the house. Now I stay at home until the others are awake so I can see them and help prepare for the day. This gives us family time and helps Molly (especially while she is still working).

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