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Where Healing Belongs by Larry Crabb

Why would a man redirect his life's work at its zenith?

Two years ago, in an interview with Christianity Today, Larry Crabb, a Christian psychologist and best-selling author, announced, "In the end, all counseling—intentionally or not—deals with issues of sanctification. The primary context for healing, then, should be the Christian community, not the antiseptic world of a private-practice therapist."

Put simply, Crabb has had a conversion experience, and his new thinking has direct implications for pastoral work.

Crabb coined the term eldering to describe what he believes ought to go on in the local church between older, wiser members and younger, struggling men and women. 

He believes this interaction can often be more redemptive and healing than traditional psychotherapy.

Leadership Journal wanted to know what eldering looks like in the local church and how it affects the way pastors care for believers.

You've called for new ways that the church can help people change. What's wrong with the current approach?

Larry Crabb: Much of the church for too long has had a limited approach to helping people change. I would simply describe it, "Do what's right."

The counseling community then came along and said, "No, there's something beneath people's outward problems that's all messed up." They came up with a model that perhaps simplistically I dub, "Fix what's wrong."

My understanding is that beneath all the damage, because of the New Covenant, there is something good that God has placed within us-his Spirit and a new heart. Rather than fixing what's wrong or doing what's right, we need to release what's good.

A connection between elders and friends awakens within them what is powerful and good.

Are you really advocating that "eldering" can replace private-practice counseling?

There will always be a place for good therapists. But what they are doing is closer to what the Bible calls "shepherding" than what our culture calls "therapy." And that has implications. I envision a community of shepherds and friends with the power to address the underlying issues beneath most of what we call "psychological problems." 

But I now use the word "shepherding" more than "eldering." People thought I was talking about the business people of the church. They said, "I wouldn't go to the elders in my church."

Can "shepherding" be programmed?

I'm loathe to introduce programming too soon. In a Sunday school class I was teaching, I used an illustration from one of Henri Nouwen's books where he discusses one of his dark nights of the soul, what a psychologist might diagnose as "clinical depression." Nouwen talks about an older priest who would take Nouwen's head and pull it to his chest. The priest would hold it there in silent prayer for a length of time. That particular act, said Nouwen, expelled the demons of despair and would let him rise up with new vitality.

A week or two later at church, an older gentleman was listening to a younger fellow tell about several miscarriages he and his wife had suffered. He was sharing emotionally about the pain of that. After class the older gentleman went up and took the young man's head and pulled it into his chest for a while.

He meant well, and the younger man told me he was encouraged. But it's too easy to reduce a wonderful idea to a technique and expect it to work every time. In this case it was a good thing, but I don't want to reduce this mysterious work of the Spirit to "Here's what you do the next time this happens."

If shepherding can't be programmed, what's the first step in moving a church toward your model?

What's lacking most is belief that ordinary relationships have power that has not been released. There needs to be teaching that shepherding and friendship can reach deeply into people's souls. I'd love to see church mission statements include this.

We can also ask the question, "What is the major message that somebody who visits our church for three months would get?"

Is this a church where the preacher is popular? Is this a church where you have a bunch of programs? Or, is this a church that believes the power of the Spirit can move quietly and deeply and profoundly between ordinary Christians as they relate?

How are pastors identifying these skilled, godly men and women?

A pastor friend in North Carolina, Jim Kallam, has gotten together people and said, "Whom do we know in the church who seems to have a shepherd's heart? With whom would we want to share our deepest problems?"

They identified ten or twelve people and formed "The Society of Shepherds." They meet once a month to discuss what could happen and to swap stories about how they've been involved in somebody else's life.

They're also getting training in how to listen well and what kind of categories to think in if somebody has a problem.

How much training do shepherds need?

The word "training" is such a mixed-bag word. I like the word "equipping."

Shepherds need help to think in biblical categories about people they're working with. They also need honest feedback about things like: Do I tend to give advice too quickly? Do I talk so fast nobody can follow what I'm saying?

So what you're training shepherds in is, well, almost theological.

Absolutely. It is theology. I see it as biblical theology: What is the nature of the being sitting in front of me? This person bears the image of God. What is the flesh/spirit struggle?

Finally, something pastors can do for which they were trained. Wouldn't that be nice.

Should pastors be concerned about litigation in your model?

That's going to be a question till the Lord comes back. We're never going to be entirely safe. We have to decide that a certain movement is directed by the Lord and even though there's a risk involved, it needs to be taken.

Having said that, I don't think we should be stupid. Certain kinds of problems need a kind of management that the church can't handle. Pastors will still refer specific cases.

How does a shepherding relationship begin?

This is going to be difficult on both sides. The older person is not going to feel comfortable going to the young person and saying, "Would you like me to mentor you?" The younger person is not going to feel comfortable saying to the older person, "Could I talk with you?"

My wife and I are planning a group for five older and five younger couples. We're hoping to meet weekly for ten weeks and say, "Would you be interested in hearing us old fogies talk about what we've learned? And can you help us see things we've forgotten that we need to remember?"

So these relationships would have a specific time period.

My vision is to develop a connected community of shepherds and friends.

In a true community you have friends that last a lifetime and shepherds that can minister meaningfully in seasons. If you're deeply involved with somebody as a friend, hopefully, that will not have an endpoint.

But there will be times when what I'm up against may require more wisdom than I have. That's where somebody who-and I don't know how to use this word properly—is "trained" or seasoned who fits the description of the biblical shepherd can move into that person's life for a definite season. It might be during a particularly hard time—after a divorce, perhaps, or after a child's suicide. The shepherd can move into the life of someone in a more intense way.

The big push in recent years has been on accountability. I hear you saying the real need is for friendship.

People who emphasize accountability sometimes do it because they don't know how to be friends. When accountability becomes the central tool, it falls under the moralistic model of "Do what's right." It's essentially trying to accomplish change through pressure.

Who were your shepherds in moving you to think of counseling in terms of community?

Spirituality professor Jim Houston, one of my heroes, pushed me in this direction when I heard him say, "If the church is going to know a second reformation, it will depend on the church's recovering the doctrine of the Trinity and its implications for human community."

I'm trying to get my mind around what New Covenant realities can be released into one another. Can I speak to your good heart out of my good heart, and can that lead to something wonderful developing in both of us? I believe it can.

1997 by Christianity Today/Leadership Journal

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Dr. David Lim is the President of the Asian School for Development and Cross-cultural Studies (ASDECS), which provides training programs for transformational missions. 

He is also the President of China Ministries International-Philippines (CMI) that sends Filipino missionaries to China. 

He also serves as the Executive Board chairman of Lausanne Philippines, and on the Steering Committee of SEANET. He was the National Director of Phil. Missions Association from 2011-2014. 

He earned his Ph.D. Theology (New Testament) from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, U.S.A.

By his kind permission we offer this important essay. Other papers can be found at

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What happened? I would say that, in most cases, the funds eventually ran out. Funds which were primarily used for payment to a full-time religious professional.

Interestingly, the most formal and descriptive passage in the NT about church meetings, found in 1 Corinthians 14, allows for multiple participants. And also, we notice team leadership to be normative in the churches of earliest times, rather than the dependency upon a single leader.


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An excellent essay - one never refuted - by an excellent scholar. It represents a needed shift in church structure. Churches need a team of pastors rather than one.

Though a Presbyterian source, many other denominations have muted "ruling elders" as well.

That aside, the scriptures require that every elder must be "apt to teach". 1 Timothy 3:2.

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‍Although blind from early childhood, Fanny Crosby could see deeply into the spiritual realms. What a joy to see those of several races meet at the cross. Recorded in Tennessee, my home state.
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A full version of this excellent production is at the ntrf site.
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Only a few decades ago, a Christian identity was so common among Americans that it could almost be taken for granted. As recently as the early 1990s, about 90% of U.S. adults identified as Christians. But today, about two-thirds of adults are Christians.6 The change in America’s religious composition is largely the result of large numbers of adults switching out of the religion in which they were raised to become religiously unaffiliated. Source: Pew Research Center

What will it take to reverse this trend?

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Allen challenged the missionary methods of his day. And wrote from his extensive experiences and travels. Considered to be a classic work on this subject. First appeared in 1927.

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This is a must-read book. Ignorance concerning this matter is quite prevalent and the negative effects are vast.

A needed study of the most quoted passage in Scripture, by Scripture itself. Trust me, your hopes for this earth and the Kingdom of God will be elevated. In this world - Jesus and his gospel shall surely prevail. Never doubt it.

The author - is he competent to write such a book? Yes indeed, he is one of a few scholars who has compiled a complete concordance of the New Testament.

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Thousands of years ago, the leaders of this world were "taking counsel together against the LORD and against his anointed." Psalm 2. This still occurs on a daily basis and is becoming a huge impediment for the cause of world missions. Thankfully not an impediment which cannot and will not be overcome.

This video is about "the rest of the story." Many Canadians heard the story - but according to the comments section where this video appeared, many of them were angered and claimed to have heard nothing bout the "rest of the story", as Paul Harvey used to say.

     Video is courtesy of Sky News Australia.

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Every atom and every empty space testifies to its creator. Almighty God created the earth for our good and his glory. And He put mankind in it and over it. Now he is allowing his church to share the good news of his grace and creativity. He could have sent angels to perform the task...

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