I love the way that Bob Kelleman has distinguished between two types of counselors in the church. One group is the advanced student with specialized training in crisis counseling situations. The other group is what he terms “spiritual friends.” In Side By Side Ed Welch offers a primer on the practices of that second group. This is one of the most helpful, practical, and simple tools readers can find for learning how to love others well.
Welch is a highly respected counselor within the Biblical Counseling community. He is a faculty member at the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation, and a vital second generation leader within the Biblical Counseling movement. He has written on a wide array of counseling issues, covering topics like addiction, co-dependency, depression, and anxiety. Side By Side is different, however, in that it focuses more on methodology than on a particular crisis issue. As a philosophy of lay counseling it serves to equip the average believer to fulfill the one another commands of Scripture. In that regard it would serve small group leaders, Sunday school teachers, and deacons well; not to mention being of general benefit to any and every Christian.
The book is broken down into two parts. Part one addresses the reality of our neediness. “Your neediness qualifies you to help others,” writes Welch (15). Our usefulness, then, begins as we come to understand more clearly our own neediness. Welch explains part one by saying:
This part of the book begins with a simple sketch of who we are. From there, it will help you understand, admit, and practice your own neediness.
Understanding who we are and how needy we are is developed as Welch walks us through three realities: life is hard, our hearts are easily drawn away from God, and life pressures will expose what’s really going on in our hearts. Admitting and practicing our neediness begins by confessing to the Lord and asking for His help and admitting to others and asking for their help.
Asking others for help is particularly important in Welch’s scheme. It’s important because it truly reveals our understanding of weakness. Welch writes:
Asking people for help makes calling out to the Lord seem easy by comparison. The Lord already knows we are weak and needy, but other people? That is a different story. They may not know, and we desperately want to appear competent before them. (60)
Confession to others reveals our own awareness of and willingness to own our weakness, and it is this quality that prepares us so well to help others. In particular, Welch notes how this characteristics invites the necessary humility that enables effective counsel (59).
Part two turns from “You are needy” to “You are needed.” In this section we examine a number of essential skills that will “enhance the basic things we already know and do every day” (65). The skills discussed and developed in these chapters are indeed basic at some level. Some readers might wish for something more in depth or “advanced,” but the simplicity of these skills is part of Welch’s overall point. Anyone can and should do this kind of counseling. He writes:
This book identifies the skills we need to help one another. It is for everyone – friends, parents, even neighbors. Along the way we will find that God is pleased to use ordinary people, ordinary conversations, and extraordinary and wise love to do most of the heavy lifting in his kingdom. (11)
It is a book for “spiritual friends.” It’s the kind of resource I not only feel confident giving to any Christian, but it’s the kind of book I want every member of our church to read! The skills are basic and yet his discussion of them sheds some helpful light and gives some needed direction to applying these skills in love for other needy people.
Side By Side is a practical primer for being godly friends. All Christians should read this book, and I am convinced that a church that reads this volume will be better equipped to be the church Christ has called them to be. I cannot commend it highly enough.