Call now ยป (+27) 12 334 1320 or (+27) 21 917 7000

Listening And Speaking In Counselling - A Biblical Perspective

Vorster Combrink

In the life of the Biblical counsellor, listening and speaking will always play a prominent role. In Proverbs 18:21 the poet captures this truth when he says, "Death and life are in the power of the tongue."

Much can be said about listening and speaking in counselling. The purpose of this article is to discuss a few models from a Biblical perspective. The characteristics of each model will be highlighted. These characteristics can help us to evaluate ourselves as counsellors and help us grow in the process. Please keep ABBO Course 1, Semester 1, Chapter 2 near and compare notes while reading the discussion of the models.

MODEL 1: TOO MUCH EMPHASIS ON SPEAK

Diagrammatical presentation of Model 1:

SpeakTooMuch

Characteristic of this model is, talking too much, too soon and falsely.

Talking too much

In this model the counsellor leads the way. He is self-sufficient and relies on his knowledge, experience, ideas and own agenda. The counsellor's self-centredness makes it difficult for him to love and effectively minister to the counsellee.

In the counselling conversation he listens poorly, almost as if he is challenged in the listening department. He did not develop listening skills and does not master the art of asking good questions. Questions are close ended, he only wants 'yes' or 'no' answers to confirm his deductions. He is not open to the unique possibilities that are present in the counsellee's life.

This counsellor makes assumptions, is a mister know-it-all, talks too much and dominates the conversation. He will possibly share too much of his own experiences.

What are the roots that motivate this type of communication? He values his own opinion too high and undervalues God and the counsellee. They do not feature in this conversation. He is probably driven by a desire to control and to have power.

It makes me think of the believer who told his well-spoken pastor, "Your presence on the pulpit is so overbearing I cannot see God!"

Scripture that refers to the talk-too-much is the following:

  • In the multitude of words there is no lack of disobedience, but he who restrains his lips does wisely. (Prov 10:19).
  • There is one who speaks rashly like the piercing of a sword, but the tongue of the wise heals. (Prov 12:18). He who gives an answer before he hears, that is folly and shame to him. (Prov 18:13).
  • Let not many of you be teachers, my brothers, knowing that we will receive heavier judgment. (James 3:1).
  • Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight! (Isa 5:21).
  • For the land is full of adulterers; for because of swearing the land mourns; the pastures of the wilderness are dried up. Their course is evil, and their might is not right; Don't listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you: they teach you vanity; they speak a vision of their own heart, and not out of the mouth of God. (Jer 23:10,16; Ezek 13:3,17).
  • He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory. (John 7:18).

Fast talking

The counsellor that talks too fast is too hasty. He does not have self-control. He does not think before he speaks. There may be several reasons for this, either he is inexperienced or maybe lazy. The Bible also mention the people who does not listen well and cut corners in their communication:

  • So, then, my beloved brothers, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger. (James 1:19)
  • Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him. (Prov 29:20).
  • Don't be rash with your mouth, and don't let your heart be hasty to utter anything before God; for God is in heaven, and you on earth. Therefore let your words be few. (Eccl 5:2).

Speaking falsely

When a counsellor does not live in total dependence on God, he will not speak with discernment and with the knowledge of God. His wrong understanding, hasty and false conclusions can be dangerous. He is satisfied to only look at the surface, only see the behaviour and never explore the thinking and desires. A complex condition can then be oversimplified. This is what the Bible says on this matter:

  • Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! (Isa 5:20)
  • They have healed also the hurt of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace. (Jer 6:14).

MODEL 2: TOO MUCH EMPHASIS ON LISTENING

In this model, listening receives all the emphasis, and speaking is neglected. The counsellor keeps a low profile, is non-directive and reflects most of the time. His approach is, "I don't know".

Diagrammatical presentation of Model 2:

ListenTooMuch

Characteristics of model 2 are flattery and keeping quiet.

Flattery

The counsellor is motivated by the desire to please the counsellee. The counsellee and his situation are of higher importance than God. The counsellor believes he must not interfere and the counsellee will eventually stumble upon the truth and see the solutions during the understanding phase. The Bible says about these people,
 

For the time will come when they will not listen to the sound doctrine, but, having itching ears, will collect for themselves teachers after their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and turn aside to fables. (2 Tim 4:3-4).

Keeping quiet

The opportunity to speak is not used, out of 'respect' for the counsellee. When the counsellor is constantly trying to please the counsellee, he is offending God:

Some Jewish rulers started to believe in Jesus but were afraid to confess His name because of the Pharisees, "...for they loved men's approval more than God's approval." (John 12:43).

But whoever denies Me before men, him will I also deny before my Father who is in heaven. (Matt 10:33).

MODEL 3: GOOD LISTENING AND SPEAKING

SpeakListenCorrect

Someone who loves God and his neighbour, listens well and speaks the truth.

Listening and speaking are the instruments given to us by God to love others by caring for them, showing interest, reaching out, encouraging and counselling them.

The Biblical counsellor expects God's counsel, prays for spiritual ears, to be able to hear God and the counsellee. He trusts the Spirit to give discernment, knowledge, wisdom and encouragement.

To be the mouth-of-God follows on having an ear-for-God. To be able to speak with a prophet-mouth you must first be able to listen with a priest-heart.Listening is indeed hard work. The Biblical counsellor listens actively and with focused attention with his two ears. With the one ear he listens to the counsellee and with the other ear he listens to God to be able to understand fully; the situation, the behaviour, the heart and the treasure.

The Bible gives examples of listening and speaking correctly:

  • Solomon prays in 1 Kings 3:9: "Give thy servant a heart with a skill to listen" (Lutheran Translation).
  • The Lord has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with words him who is weary: he wakens me morning by morning, he wakens my ear to hear as those who are taught. The Lord has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away backward. (Isa 50:4-5).
  • I sent not these prophets, yet they ran: I didn't speak to them, yet they prophesied. But if they had stood in my council, then had they caused my people to hear my words, and had turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their doings. (Jer 23:21-22).
  • Gifts given by the Holy Spirit: A Word of knowledge, word of wisdom, teaching, evangelising (1 Cor 12).
  • Speak the truth in love so that people can grow mature in Christ. (Eph 4:15).
  • Build each other up with words (Eph 4:25 >).
  • Jesus' ministry: He listens to God and people and speaks appropriately to every person.

SUMMARY

The purpose of these few thoughts are, to stimulate you to reflect on your strategies of listening and speaking, and then to look also at the roots (structure) of these strategies.

Listening and speaking are the tools we use to understand the counsellee, help the counsellee to understand himself / herself, and to encourage, comfort and rebuke him/her with the love and discipline of Jesus Christ.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • The Bible.
  • Telephone counselling Part I: What is counselling? Equipping counsellors Radio Pulpit.
  • Telephone counselling: Communication. Equipping counsellors Radio Pulpit.
  • ABBO: Semester 1: Biblical counselling: A Model - Filadelfia Opleidingsentrum: Module 1.
  • E.A. van Niekerk: Die rol van luister in die pastorale gesprek.
  • P. D. Tripp: War of words.