The biblical counseling movement was founded on the conviction that the Bible is sufficient for solving all non-medical problems that humans face. The central figure behind this return to Scripture was Jay Adams, who shocked the world with a bold and controversial claim “that the task of counseling was a theological enterprise that should be primarily informed by a commitment to God’s Word.” While this claim draws fire from both inside and outside the Church, its truth has been proven by both Scripture and experience. Biblical counseling continues to bring hope, peace, freedom, healing, and joy to thousands of suffering people through the power of Christ and his Word–people with conditions like anorexia, bipolar disorder, postpartum depression, and dissociative identity disorder. People who struggle with homosexuality, anxiety, rage, and much more. Commenting on 2 Peter 1:3-5, Ed Bulkley writes:
A necessary presupposition of biblical counseling is that God has indeed provided every essential truth the believer needs for a happy, fulfilling life in Christ Jesus. It is the belief that God has not left us lacking in any sense. The apostle Peter states it emphatically. . . . [“His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness…”] Note the word everything. God has provided absolutely everything man needs for physical and spiritual life. This is a primary consideration. If Peter is correct, then God has given us all the information we need to function successfully in this life. Every essential truth, every essential principle, every essential technique for solving human problems has been delivered in God’s Word.
In light of such an inviolable allegiance to the Bible, biblical counseling practice should be expected to operate according to biblical principles. And this means that it would be appropriate to look to Scripture to answer a simple, practical concern: Should biblical counseling be offered for a fee?
Before answering this question, we must consider whether it is a question Scripture addresses or wants us to address. There are many things Scripture does not speak to, such as how neurons work, or the biological processes involved in human emotion, etc. This is an important clarification that biblical counselors have been making for a long time:
The Bible certainly does not tell us everything we come to know or might want to know…. The carefully developed view of the biblical counseling movement is not that the Scriptures provide Christians with all of the information we desire but rather with the understanding we need to do counseling ministry…. Biblical counselors have not argued that the Bible is adequate as a scientific text. They have argued that the Bible is adequate as it is.
When we examine God’s Word we find two things:
- God is deeply concerned with our relationship to money (e.g. Matt 6:24, 19:23-24).
- God has a lot to say about how Christian ministry should and should not be funded (e.g. 2 Kings 5:20-27, Micah 3:11, Matt 10:8, Acts 8:9-24, 1 Cor 9:18, 2 Cor 2:17, 2 Cor 9).
With remarkable clarity of both example and explicit command, Scripture condemns the sale of ministry while commending its support. The Lord of the Harvest promises to faithfully provide for those who labor in the ministry of edifying the Body as conduits of spiritual blessing (Luke 10:1-9, Matt 10:1-12). And he provides for them through the free generosity of his people, not through the sale of the spiritual gifts he has freely bestowed. Numerous biblical arguments for the principle that ministry should be free and financed through donations, not sales can be found on this website and in The Dorean Principle by Conley Owens. The command of Christ to never condition ministry upon a fee (Matt 10:8) is not only binding today, but is also relevant to all those who speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15).
So, if biblical counseling is Christian ministry, then Scripture decidedly does address the question as to whether biblical counselors should charge for their service to God. But should biblical counseling be defined as ministry? The answer is an unequivocal yes. Dr. Heath Lambert writes:
The fact is that counseling is ministry, and ministry is counseling. The two are equivalent terms. Counseling is the word our culture uses to describe what happens when people with questions, problems, and trouble have a conversation with someone they think has answers, solutions, and help.
David Powlison drives this point home even further when he writes, “The activities we call ‘preaching and teaching’ and those we call ‘counseling and daily conversation’ are two facets of a single activity: the ministry of the Word.” So just as most believers rightly cringe at the thought of a preacher charging an entry fee to hear his preaching from the word of God, we should recoil at the thought of a biblical counselor putting a price tag on his counseling from the Word of God. The Old Testament prophets would have decried this practice as presumptuous (Micah 3:11). The New Testament apostles, recognizing that such a ministry is a gracious work of the Spirit (1 Cor 2:12-13), would have condemned the money exchanged along with the one who proposed the exchange in the first place (Acts 8:32).
Given the frequency with which it addresses the topic, to deny that the Bible gives a clear answer to the question of whether we may charge a fee for counseling is to deny the sufficiency of Scripture. And such a denial undermines one of the central pillars of the biblical counseling movement. Charging fees for biblical counseling is a plain violation of Scripture’s teaching and Christ’s instructions for ministers of the gospel, and turns counselors into “peddlers of God’s Word” instead of people “of sincerity” (2 Cor 2:17). Deborah Dewart has provided much scriptural support to this position in her excellent article on counseling fees. She also writes:
It is worthwhile to consider an analogy between fee-based counseling and prostitution. God ordained the institution of marriage, wherein husband and wife become “one flesh” (Genesis 2:23) and are told to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28, 9:7). A husband provides financial support for his wife and family (1 Timothy 5:8). Both prostitution and marriage involve sexual intercourse, and both involve money, but the contrast could not be more striking. Prostitution is a gross perversion of God’s plan for the union of male and female. What exactly is the difference?
Relationship is a key factor, particularly the conditions for initiating and continuing it. Marriage is a lifetime covenantal commitment of love and faithfulness. Prostitution is a temporary arrangement between people who may never see one another again. The prostitute requires money as a condition to sex. Husband and wife come together sexually in the context of a God-ordained relationship accompanied by mutual responsibility (Ephesians 5:22-33; Hebrews 13:4). “Professional” counseling, like prostitution, requires money as a condition to providing counsel. While the relationship may have more substance than a prostitute and “client,” it is often artificial and highly restricted. Biblical counseling may depart from this model as two people in a church form a counseling relationship quite unlike its professional counterpart. But what happens if a required payment is introduced as a pre-condition to ministry? Counselor and counselee are brothers/sisters in Christ. What if the counselee is no longer able or willing to pay a set fee for the ministry of God’s Word? What happens to the relationship? No ministry relationship in the body of Christ should ever be conditioned on the payment of money by the one receiving ministry. Although full-time ordained leaders are entitled to compensation so they can support themselves and feed their families, such compensation is paid to them by the church and does not involve charging a set hourly fee to individuals who receive ministry, either publicly or privately. Believers have obligations to support their churches financially, according to their means (Malachi 3:8-10; 2 Corinthians 9:7), and church leaders have spiritual obligations to care for God’s flock (Peter 5:1-5). Both are based on voluntary, joyful service performed out of gratitude to God for His blessings.
Biblical counseling is a beautiful and important ministry that should flourish within the Church through generous funding. Many counselors have already proven that the biblical model is possible; they are supported well by the offerings of their local church or other believers. Selling truth, wisdom, and friendship is not necessary to make the ministry of counseling sustainable. God will provide through the ways he has sanctioned in his Word. His resources are unlimited. He is a compassionate and generous father. Just as the first disciples trusted him to give them the food they needed in order to do ministry, biblical counselors are called to do the same as they rest in God’s love and faithfulness.
The temptation to charge for ministry in our cultural moment is strong. The prevailing voices would have us believe that God cannot be trusted to clothe and feed us as he does the lilies and sparrows, and so we must resort to the wisdom of the world to fund ministry. The spirit of the age screams, “Monetize everything!” More often than not we lull each other into complacency and secular ways of financing the work of God. Yet Scripture tells us to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Heb 10:24). Whether you are a counselor or counselee, think deeply about these things, scour Scripture to weigh the claims of this article, and cast off the works of darkness. Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold (Rom 12:2). And even if you end up unconvinced by the formidable weight and clarity of God’s Word regarding money and ministry, consider erring on the side of your Father’s radical generosity, who gave his Son’s life for sinners.
Heath Lambert and Stuart Scott, Counseling the Hard Cases (B&H, 2015), 19. ↩︎
Ibid., 16. ↩︎
Ed Bulkley, Why Christians Can’t Trust Psychology (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1993), 268. ↩︎
Heath Lambert and Stuart Scott, Counseling the Hard Cases, 29-30. ↩︎
Heath Lambert, The Biblical Counseling Movement after Adams (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 25. ↩︎
David Powlison, Speaking Truth in Love (Punch Press, 2005), 73. ↩︎