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THE PRACTICE OF THEO-CENTRIC COUNSELING IN A CROSS-CULTURAL CONTEXT

INTRODUCTION
The 20th century has witnessed tremendous progress and transformation through the rapid development of advanced technology and high speed of information expansion and exchange. Due to this progress, the planet earth has been termed by many as a “global village” where its inhabitants are living in such close proximity that it is impossible to carry out the Word of faith and the work of the ministry without a careful consideration of the changed and still changing ministerial context. In fact it can be easily observed that our society has become so increasingly diverse ethnically and racially that a Christian does not necessarily have to “cross the sea” to do missionary work, rather he can carry out the missionary mandate of the Lord right in the local neighborhood if he will “see the cross”. There are so many “Chinatowns”, “Little Italies”, and “Little Havanas” across the USA that Jerry Appleby has rightly concluded that world missions have come home to America. (see Missions Have Come Home to America: The Church’s Cross-Cultural Ministry to Ethnics, Appleby, 1986). To be effective in outreach, the Christian minister must know how to communicate the message of the Gospel and carry out the ministry cross-culturally. This is especially true of a missionary who lives in another culture.
In light of all these, this paper is purposed to present to missionaries, pastors and lay Christians who are called to minister cross-culturally a theocratic model of Christian counseling and to propose a theo-centric method/strategy for its implementation in an inter-cultural context. This paper will deal with several important issues: 1) What and why is Christian counseling? ; 2) What is currently going on in Christian counseling?; 3) Theo-centric counseling and its tasks ; 4) the model and method of theo-centric counseling and finally; 5) The application of theo-centric counseling in a cross-cultural context.

THE NECESSITIES OF CHRISTIAN COUNSELING
Throughout the years, the ideas of “Christian counseling”, “Christian therapy”, and especially, “Christian Psychology” have been subjects of debates and even ridicule. While many pastors and missionaries realize the importance and the necessity of counseling as an integral part of Christian “discipleship” ministry, others have labeled counseling simply as “psychological manipulation”, “infiltration of humanism”, and even “Satanic influence” in the church. The latter believes that all that the believers’ need in their Christian walk with God is “anointed preaching” and constant “revivals”. While it is important that we preach and teach the Word of God, preaching and teaching alone are not at all sufficient in dealing with the complexity and multiplicity of the problems in the lives of the individual Christians. Biblically based Christian counseling which honors the Lord Jesus Christ and edifies His church is urgently needed to deal with specific problems of individual believers.
Christian counseling is not the abuse or manipulation of psychology or a manifestation of humanist influence in the church. Instead, it is a relationship process where the person of spiritual and psychological insight seeks to help other individuals clarify issues, recognize, understand and attempt to solve problems in accordance with the teachings of the Word of God. The Bible has always put a great deal of emphasis on the necessity of counseling in the church. The very nature of God is that He is significant in wisdom and wonderful in counsel (Isa. 28;29); our Lord Jesus Christ is prophetically and rightly called “the wonderful Counselor” (Isa. (:6). The third distinct and divine person of the Holy Trinity is many times said to be “the counselor” whom the Father has sent to us (John 14:16;, 26; 16:7) and who will search the deep things of God (1 Cor. 2;10) and teach us the truth (Luke 12:12) so that we, being comforted and counseled by the joy and truth of God, can comfort and counsel one another in times of afflictions and tribulations (2 Cor.1:3-5). In this way, we must praise the Lord because He counsels us (Ps. 16:7). Therefore, the well known Christian counselor Dr. Gary Collins asserts forcefully that the biblical writers do not present Christian counseling (a people-helping, relationship-building process) as an option. Christian counseling is “biblically mandated” and “is a responsibility for every believer, including the church leader” (Collins, 1988, p.16). We are called by the Lord to counsel (see Timothy Foster’s called to counsel)., and the need for counseling has never been greater in the church.

CURRENT CAMPS IN THE FIELD OF CHRISTIAN COUNSELING
Generally speaking, Christian counseling within the evangelical circle can be classified according to its basic assumptions and methodologies into four major camps (Seminar by Lawrence Crabb, Nov., 1992, pp. 4-6).

The Dynamic Integration Model of Christian Counseling
This is the most popular of all models. Many well-known Christian psychologists and counselors such as Gary Collins, Larry Crabb, Wayne Oates and Clyde Narramore, fall into this camp. They generally believe that Christian counseling is most effective when theology is combined with the latest progress in psychology. Christian counseling demands the combination of the expertise of the pastoral theologian and the pastoral psychologist who knows how the functions of the mind affect the human behaviors. They study the personality and the various disorders and try to develop a sort of pathology within the unconscious, and emphasize the volitional power in behavioral modifications. However, there is little place for true spiritual encounters, such as confession, repentance and reconciliation.

The Moralistic-Obedience Model of Christian Counseling
Well-known names within this camp are the prolific writer Jay Adams, the brothers Martin and Deidre Bobgan and Dave Hunt. The model is highly confrontational in nature. There is nothing more important than imparting the knowledge of God and demanding the change of attitude and behavior of the counselee on the part of the counselor. The model often used by this school includes three points: 1) The counselor recognizes the counselee’s problem(s) based on the Bible; 2) The counselor points out the problem(s) to the client/counselee; 3) The counselor prescribes a plan for the counselee and demands concrete changes in the thinking process and the behavior of the counselee. The Bible is often considered as the only source that the Christian counselor needs for effective counseling. Other psychological theories are often disregarded as irrelevant or unnecessary. The Biblical passage in Matthew 18:15-17 is most frequently used as the key text and biblical basis for the method of confrontation. There seems to be a very shallow understanding of the complex background of the problem and force of evil/sin, and often there is little patience on the part of the judgmental counselor in his relationship with the counselee.

The Recovery Model of Christian Counseling
Prominent writers and promoters of this school include the highly prolific Paul Meier, Frank Minirth, Frank Wichern, Melody Beattie, and Robert McGee. At the core of its assumption is the fundamental problem of human low esteem, the loss of identity, shame, and the beaten-down low “self image”. Therefore, the need for Christian counseling is to help the believer (counselee/client) recover and realize his true self-worth according to the glorious image of God in the believer. The believer is “somebody” of value and of great importance to Christ because God does not create junks. The key to the human problem is the strong affirmation of 2 Cor. 5:17, where the believer will be able to find peace, joy, satisfaction, and self-confidence from shame and failure through living a life centered in Christ (McGee, pp. 122-123, 1990) However, this school has been criticized as one which has lead to over or distorted self-confidence and self-dependence, or a “Christian” version of the humanistic assertive training/self-actualizing psychology.

The Spiritual Warfare Deliverance Model of Christian Counseling
This is a model, although currently not so strong that is receiving more and more attention (see Neil Anderson’s The Bondage Breaker, and the writings of David Simmons and James Freeson) as more and more people internalize and experience the harsh reality described by Paul in Eph 6:12. This is especially true among foreign missionaries to whom fighting the spiritual warfare in Africa, Haiti and Taiwan is a daily affair. The model argues that we are indeed involved in a supernatural battle with the enemy and the evil spirits. The infiltration and influence of the devil is very real in the Christian life. Although the devil does not possess the believer of Christ, nevertheless he can still oppress and depress the Christian. In light of this, the Christian counselor must be sensitive to the Holy Spirit and be well equipped with the necessary spiritual disciplines such as fasting, prayer, meditation and diligent study of the living and powerful Word of God to fight the good fight of faith (1 Tim 6:12). The counselors of this conviction also believe that only the supernatural intervention of God causes true spiritual growth in the believer and the counselor is to be used of God as His instrument of divine deliverance in the intervention and growth process. The model has been critiqued for not recognizing the many other aspects of divine healing such as through therapy and the faith community.

THE THEO-CENTRIC COUNSELING AND ITS TASKS
While the four major camps of Christian counseling have, to various degrees, helped us in our understanding of the human nature and its problems, and have developed useful methods for Christian counseling, all of them fell short in various aspects. There is a failure to recognize the human being as an integral system of mind, soul, heart, body and spirit in relationship to his Creator and to follow human beings within a specific environment in terms of time and space. There is little emphasis on the centrality and originality of God, the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in the process of counseling. There indeed appears to be certain humanist influence with certain writers (the writings of Beattle) in regards to counseling.
There are essentially three centers in general counseling. The first center is the Client (what’s the problem/need of my client). The second is the counselor (what must I do to solve my client’s problem or meet his need?). and the third is the relationship between the counselor and his client (what must we do together to solve your problem or meet your need?). All of these focus on the search for the magic cure to achieve happiness for the counselee. What is missing essentially is the most important center – the presence and action of God (What God is doing in us and through us in the midst of, and despite of all these problems?).
The word “theo-centric” is a compound word which consists of “theo” – God and “centric” – centered around. Theo-centric counseling, therefore, is a theory and practice of Christian counseling which endeavors to recognize the centrality (Acts 17:28) and originality (Rev. 1:8) of God in the process and practice of counseling. The central focus of the Christian counseling must be the person, presence and power of God Himself through the activities of the Holy Spirit for both the counselor and the client. Theo-centric counseling does not attempt to use or utilize God as another available strategy to solve our problems and to obtain happiness. Rather, it uses our existing problems of affliction to help us get closer to the will and the way of God, who is the only true source of happiness, peace, and joy. God has called us to a communion of endurance and fellowship of suffering, and God in Christ becomes our model of the wounded healer and the suffering Savior. In His presence, there is always joy for the believers (Acts 2;28), and the joy of the Lord in turn will become our strength (Neh 8:10) so that we may receive consolation in the midst of afflictions (2 Cor 1;5). It is through our trials we realize the sufficiency of His grace and it is in our weaknesses, we learn to rely on His power and strength (2 Cor. 12:9).
According to the Word of God in 2 Tim 3;16-17, truly theo-centric counseling must be concerned uncompromisingly with five major tasks. They respectively deal with three areas of the believer: the head, the heart, and the hand (behavior). They are:

  1. TEACHING – the theo-centric counselor must be a faithful and competent teacher of the truth in the Bible so that people in affliction will get a sure hold on the powerful Words of God as their source of strength and hope (John 8:32);
  2. REBUKING – The theo-centric counselor must dare to expose the nature of sin and evil in the counselee’s thinking, feeling, behavior or relationships based on the Word of God
  3. CORRECTING – the theo-centric counselor must then take courage to call the counselee to repentance and belief in God (Mark 1:15)
  4. TRAINING – The theo-centric counselor must practice patience in educating the counselee about the righteousness of God and in establishing a personal relationship of love and discipline through devotion and structured activities
  5. EQUIPPING – through the process of constructive relationships of love, understanding, accountability and respect, the faith of the counselee produces good works in behavioral terms as a manifestation of the inward change.

THE MODEL AND METHOD OF THEO-CENTRIC COUNSELING
In his teaching on theo-centric counseling, prof. Oliver McMahan identifies five areas and three levels of prevention and intervention in theo-centric counseling (lecture notes on counseling, fall, 1990)
The five areas are:

  1. The Theo-centric area – the presence and power of God in the counseling process;
  2. The Cognitive area – the mental functioning of the client;
  3. The Emotional area – the feeling, sentiments of the client;
  4. The Behavioral area – the lifestyle of the client;
  5. The Contextual area – the specific environment of time, events, people, relationships around the client.

And the three levels of problems are:

  1. need – provision of physical, emotional and spiritual support;
  2. risk – provision of relevant and useful information and necessary education for the purpose of prevention;
  3. crisis – active intervention through available human and material resources.

As in most any other counseling, theo-centric counseling as a method emphasizes three important factors:

  1. The goal of counseling – what we should do (to discern and do the will of God),
  2. The process of counseling – how can we best do it; and
  3. The evaluation of result – how well we have realized the goal as a result of the counseling.

In carrying out the theo-centric model, the following procedures must be applied:

Quantitative and Qualitative Pre-Evaluation of the Counselee’s Condition (mental emotional, spiritual, etc.)
A-1. use of standardized psychological test(s);
A-2. use of self-designed questionnaire;
A-3. personal discussion(s) with the client;
A-4. visiting relevant persons concerning the client;
A-5. prayer for spiritual discernment.

Determination of the Problems
B-1. Spiritual
B-2 psychosomatic
B-3. emotional;
B-4. behavioral;
B-5. Relational.
Determination of Strategy of Intervention
C-1. emotional, spiritual support, encouragement;
C-2. prevention
C-3. intervention
Prescription of a plan of solution
D-1. biblically sound
D-2. practically feasible
D-3. measurability
Quantitative and Qualitative Post-Evaluation of the Counselee’s Condition
F-1. use of standardized test(s)
F-2. use of self-designed questionnaire
F-3. observation of the client’s behavior
F-4. moments of devotion and discussion with the client
F-5. discussion with those close to the client

APPLICATION OF THEO-CENTRIC COUNSELING IN A CROSS-CULTURAL CONTEXT
The Great Commission of the Lord Jesus Christ demands that we go to all tribes and nations to make disciples for Christ. The very concept of cross cultural discipleship implies the tremendous task of counseling inter-culturally. Cross Cultural counselors such as the pastor or the missionary must not only be filled with the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, know and be able to teach sound doctrines, and apply relevant and effective psychological methods, they must also be experts in the art and science of cultural adaptation. In applying the model to a foreign or ethnic setting, necessary adjustments have to be made so as to produce desirable results. The following five areas are worth our observation and attention:

The Attitude of the Pastoral-Missionary Cross-cultural Counselor
The first task of a cross-cultural pastoral-missionary counselor, of great necessity, is to become a humble pupil of that foreign or ethnic culture. To do so, the cross-cultural counselor must remove from his head those “great American ideas” of how things “should be done” around here and learn to eat and dress like the natives, for to learn is first of all to unlearn what one has learned. This counselor should not assume or think that because the foreign culture is less developed, it must be an uncivilized culture where he is working with uncivilized people. This attitude, although not expressed orally, can be felt very easily because the natives are very sensitive in this area and they have a strong sense of pride as a culture or people in spite of their obvious poverty, lower educational level, and lack of technological advancement. The counselor has to constantly check his or her attitude and fight against this tendency because it is this attitude that will convey subtly but clearly a sense of superiority and thus will lead the cross-cultural counselor to impose his customs on the natives and belittle them. They do not want to be made into little North Americans. Therefore, fundamental to cross-cultural counseling is an attitude of humility and service.

The Cognitive Structure of the Pastoral-Missionary Cross-cultural Counselor
Culture manifests itself most apparently through the clothes people wear, the food people eat and the language people speak. However, deeply rooted in the culture is the way of thinking and reasoning within the cognitive structure. The cross-cultural counselor must try to learn and understand how differently the ethnic or foreign culture think and reason about various issues of life. What is often considered an important issue in the culture of the cross-cultural counselor may not be important in the ethnic culture in which he seeks to minister. For instance, to North Americans in general, getting things done on time is more important than anything else. They demand tangible results and have little patience with anything that comes in their way. This, however, is not so in Puerto Rico or China where the concept of time and task are of little consequence. Taking it easy in cultivating human relationships seems to be more important and relevant to life for the Chinese and the Puerto Rican. It is perfectly normal and acceptable to be half an hour “late” for almost anything. In China, being is much more important than doing, and one’s success is evaluated in terms of his establishment of quality relationships. In regard to time, a Puerto Rican friend said to a missionary counselor: “Slow down, my friend, why are you always in a hurry, looking at your watch? Isn’t there more to life than time?”
Furthermore, within the cognitive structure of the Christians, there exists a continuum between bipolar opposites of Word-orientation and Spirit-orientation (Irwin, 1985, p.221). The word-oriented Christians tend to be highly rational, analytical, objective and impersonal, while the Spirit-oriented Christians on the other hand, tend to be more emotional, personal and experiential in worship and lifestyle. The Chinese Christians generally, are the most rational and objective, while the North American Christians are less so. On the opposite of the continuum, most Puerto Rican Christians tend to be highly emotional and personal. Nevertheless, the pastoral-missionary counselor should not evaluate Christian spirituality based only on those manifestations. An understanding of the cognitive process is necessary. Remember that people in different cultures with different ethnic backgrounds do think differently and their ways of looking at the problems of life are different, and so are their methods of problem solving. The cross-cultural counselor needs to pay attention to this area by becoming a student before passing on suggestions and judgments.

The Accuracy of the Communication of the Pastoral-Missionary Cross-cultural Counselor
A pastor or a missionary truly called to minister among ethnic people must learn to communicate in the language of the people group. In fact he should try to learn the language so well so that he speaks without a foreign accent. Even if one speaks with an accent, the natives are delighted when they see that he is sincerely trying to be a student with humility.
There are various nuances and connotations within any language. Even when some words (molestar, esta/es rica) are of the same etymology in English and Spanish, they at times may mean very different things. In order to render worthy counseling that will bring glory to Christ and edify the believer, the cross-cultural counselor must not only communicate, but communicate with more accuracy. In addition to the written and spoken language, the cross-cultural Christian will be well advised to be also a student of the “body language” of the particular culture or ethnic group.

The Behavior of the Pastoral-Missionary Cross-Cultural Counselor
Human behavior is a manifestation of how the mind and heart function and how we behave conveys the most powerful message of who we really are. The cross-cultural counselor needs to be careful with his behavior. For instance, the normal way of greeting in North America is hand shaking. In China, shaking the hands of a woman is not acceptable, while a hello with a slight bow of the head is considered appropriate. In addition, the cross-cultural counselor must be careful how he touches people and where he touches them so that good intentions will not be misunderstood. For example, the laying on of hands on another person’s head during prayer is normal in one culture, while in another it is highly offensive and insulting.

The Contextualization of the Psychological Tests of the Pastoral-Missionary Cross-cultural Counselor
In his formal training as a Christian psychologist and counselor, the pastoral-missionary cross-cultural counselor is used to taking advantage of various well-developed research instruments (e.g. measurement of spirituality, role expectation differences between husband and wife, family harmony, attitude toward money, sexual awareness tests, etc.) in pre and post evaluations of the concrete counseling results. These instruments are necessary for determining the nature of the problem, the future direction of therapy and even the need for counseling referral. However, certain precautions must be taken in administering the tests. The following needs to be taken into serious consideration when using North American test materials on foreign fields:

  1. What is the designated purpose of this test?
  2. Who are the subjects in terms of age, sex and group characteristics?
  3. Does the test have cross-cultural biases due to its developers or authors?
  4. What is the time frame required for the test?
  5. Is the test relevant to this cultural group in light of its cognitive structure and the differences in traditions, customs and culture?
  6. Is the test translated accurately?
  7. Are the conditions met for administering the test?
  8. Is the normal way of interpreting the test results sufficient within the cross- cultural setting?

By taking these factors into serious and careful considerations, the pastoral-missionary counselor will be more relevant, accurate and effective to whom the Lord has graciously put under his care and trust. The counselor will be able to take wise decisions and take decisive actions to help the believers grow and mature in the likeness of Christ.

CONCLUSION
This has been an initial attempt to apply the theory of theo-centric Christian counseling to a cross-cultural context. The need for Christian counseling cross-culturally, and the current approach in Christian counseling have been presented. The definition and task of theo-centric counseling have been given along with its model and methodology. Finally, a systematic plan for its implementation in light of the ethnic culture has been developed. It is the hope of the author that through this current endeavor, more interests will be stimulated among Christians for further study in this new area, and that through this important Christian ministry, the task of “making disciples among all nations” will be carried out more forcefully and effectively.

 

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Hong Yang
Dr. Hong Yang is the Special Assignment Representative and the Director of Global Chinese Ministries, Church of God World Missions, USA. For over 25 years he has served as an adjunct professor of Intercultural Counseling and Christian Education and Practical Theology at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary (PTS), Cleveland, TN. He also served as an adjunct professor of Leadership and Missions at the Asian Seminary of Christian Ministries (ASCM) in Manila, Philippines for over 20 years.


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