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Veterans Navigating Competing Counsel

Veterans Navigating Competing Counsel

by: Pastor Neal Grogan, USMC Retired, MDiv in Biblical Counseling & Pastor Matt Statler US Army Retired, MDiv in Biblical Counseling

Drill instructors often boast that they know more games than Milton Bradley, the makers of Monopoly. Any service member has distinct memories of the games they would play. One of the most common is when a drill instructor from another platoon finds his or her way to a platoon that is not their own and strives to cause chaos among the recruits, telling them to do things that are out of step with what their true drill instructor wants for them. When the real drill instructor of the platoon sees this, he or she immediately gives commands contrary to what the false instructor has been providing. At that moment, competing counsel occurs. What will the recruits do? How will they respond? Ten times out of ten the recruits hear the trusted voice and cease to listen to the false instructor, wanting to execute only the commands of their actual instructor.

Much like this, one of the most difficult issues biblical counselors face with their counselees is the issue of competing counsel. This often results in biblical counselors giving their counselees an ultimatum: "Choose which counselor you want. I won’t compete."

For the veteran community, this issue is especially common. A veteran who receives disability and is undergoing biblical counseling will almost always receive competing counsel from VA psychologists. Usually, they will understand the psychological counseling as an ultimatum from the VA: receive counseling from the VA or it will affect their rating, which results in financial loss.

We are pastors and biblical counselors who are also veterans rated by the VA. We have faced this issue both in counseling others and receiving counseling ourselves. It is an issue any counselor will face as long as they are committed to ministry to others. The natural question becomes this: How should the biblical counselor navigate counseling while competing counsel is occurring?

In most cases, we should not drop the veteran counselee because of competing counsel. Jeremiah 23:28–29 (ESV) says, "Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let him who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? declares the LORD. Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?" Biblical counselors have God’s Word and are to speak God’s Word, for it is fire and like a hammer that shatters rocks! Instead of issuing ultimatums or giving up on a counselee, we need to show how the Scriptures are sufficient, extend grace and charity, remain patient, and maintain the right vision for counseling. When we do this, we will often witness the greatness of God as His Word pierces through competing counsel and leads the counselees by the hand and out of the wilderness to where they belong. 

There are two main ways we can express the sufficiency of Scripture to those we counsel: either tell them about sufficiency or show them. As biblical counselors, we are committed to the sufficiency of Scripture. Many of us would even say we are committed to the supremacy of Scripture! Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 3:4–6 that we have confidence not in our own wisdom but in God, who has called us, and in the ministry He has given us. When we counsel, we should not be intimidated by competing advice or counsel; instead, we need to show the superiority of God’s Word. The people we help receive all kinds of advice—from parents to grandparents to TV shows, even from social media posts. Instead of spending time attacking the latest pop-psychology fad, we should point to the unchanging Word of God, "His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness" (2 Peter 1:3 CSB).

Because we have confidence that God's Word is true and all worldly philosophies are vapors, we should not be intimidated when Joe comes to us with the counsel the VA doctor gave him. We can instead show him how God's Word is truly better. Over time, this process will develop trust in God's Word and rejection of worldly philosophies. One example is the common "self-care" perspective. Your counselee Joe comes in and says, "The [secular] doctor told me that I should isolate and not help my wife with the dishes because I have to help myself first." Thinking of two scriptures that address that (Proverbs 18:1 and Luke 9:23), you respond, "Did you follow his counsel, and how did it go?" Joe replies, "I did, and I enjoyed sitting back and relaxing, but my wife was mad and yelling at the kids; not only that, but my wife was also tired and didn't want to spend time relaxing with me after. She just went to bed."

Then comes your opportunity. "You know why that is? God says that he who isolates pursues selfish desires (Proverbs 18:1). Jesus commands us to sacrifice ourselves for the good of others. Think about this: These scriptures tell us it is more pleasing to the Lord for you to do chores with and for your wife, even when it is uncomfortable, than to sit back and relax and let her do everything. I encourage you to put this into action this week." When Joe follows through on this, God's Word comes alive to him because he will learn that God's wisdom proves better than people’s. 

Often counselees first come into contact with their biblical counselor only after the methods of the world have proven themselves insufficient. Even so, they may still be seeing their psychologist, with whom they have a relationship. They have spent time sharing their lives, troubles, thoughts, and experiences with these secular professionals who truly desire to help them. However, they’ve come to the point where they want to know what God’s Word has to say about their struggles.

The biblical counselor should first invest time in showing how the Scriptures are sufficient; the next hurdle is primarily relational. Colossians 4:5–6 (ESV) says, "Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person." We have found that one of the greatest skills a counselor can cultivate is gracious speech. We must remember that the counselee has often built deep relationships with those competing voices. If we become defensive, ungracious, and uncharitable, we will lose the trust and rapport we have labored in building with our counselees.

One tool God has given us as counselors is grace. Graciousness in how we speak of others, graciousness in how we receive information from the counselees, and graciousness as we remember how hard it was for us to submit to the supremacy of Scripture at one point. Friends, walk in wisdom, make the best use of the time, and be gracious with your tongue as you proclaim truth to the desperate.  

Being gracious in a less than ideal situation requires patience. Patience in counseling can be one of the most difficult challenges. As the Lord is patient with us because of His love, we are to be patient with others. When a counselee is receiving competing counsel that undercuts much of what we as biblical counselors are instructing, we must be patient. There will be times when the we must continue to repeat the same counsel, the same scriptures, the same truths because we know only God’s Word can shatter a stone heart. Only God’s Word can bring clarity and certainty to a chaotic situation. We need to gift our counselees with the Scriptures.

In counseling, we have found that exhibiting a patient attitude with our counselees cultivate trust, and ultimately there is worthwhile growth. Often veteran counselees want someone who will speak the truth plainly to them and give them time to wrestle with the tensions in their hearts. We want them to grow and to change, but we must understand that change isn’t always immediate. When we patiently tend to the counselees and remain consistent in our counsel to them, the competing voices quiet and God’s Word begins to be more certain as the Holy Spirit works in their hearts. Patience and steadfastness, however, must revolve around the right vision for counseling. 

Our goal is to equip the ones we are counseling to challenge the world's philosophy and ideas. Many of these men and women talk with one another in the veteran community and offer one another advice. If competing counsel is seeping into the biblical counseling room, assisting the counselees to identify and reject worldly perspectives is one of our main tasks as we equip them. By providing the biblical reasoning for our counsel, we are inoculating them in a safe environment to reject false counsel and accept biblical truth.

When Matt was going through seminary with the Vocational Rehabilitation Program, the VA required regular meetings with a psychiatrist. Matt spent most of the sessions probing the psychiatrist’s worldview and presenting the biblical position. This was likely challenging for the psychiatrist, but it was an opportunity for Matt to show the sufficiency of Scripture when applied to issues like night terrors. The gospel was also a common refrain. When counseling, we hope the person before us takes what he or she learns and applies it even to the purveyors of modern philosophies. Like Paul, we say, "I am saying this so that no one will deceive you with arguments that sound reasonable. For I may be absent in body, but I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see how well ordered you are and the strength of your faith in Christ" (Colossians 2:4–5 CSB).

While counseling someone receiving competing counsel is not ideal, it can be an opportunity. If we refuse to counsel those mandated by the state or their job to receive secular counsel, then who will provide them with biblical help and hope? God places unruly, weak, and fainthearted people in our counseling paths. We are obligated to counsel as servants of Christ and managers of the mysteries of God (1 Corinthians 4:1–5). Should we refuse to counsel those who likely need it the most? The Lord will bring to light the motives and intentions of the heart, both ours and those we counsel. May our Lord find us faithful. 


Pastor Neal Grogan, USMC Retired, MDiv in Biblical Counseling 
Pastor Matt Statler US Army Retired, MDiv in Biblical Counseling, Fallen Soldiers March ACBC Certified Biblical Counselor 


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