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Saturday, February 16, 2013

Is it right to charge for biblical counseling?

With the tremendous proliferation of biblical counseling (both real and nominal), the issue of charging counselees is becoming a bigger issue.  While I rejoice in true biblical (nouthetic) counseling, I am disheartened that some of them are imposing (or suggesting) a fee for such counsel.  I would like to address that issue.

In case it isn’t obvious already, I am firmly against charging money for biblical counseling.  That does not mean I’m against the people who do so, nor am I questioning their motives.  I love them with the love of Christ, and am happy that the Word of God is being effectively ministered in many areas.  I would, however, urge those who take money for such counseling to cease doing so.  Here is why.

First, the burden of proof should be on those that do charge money.  I don’t think that there is any legitimate biblical example of someone charging an individual money for godly counsel.  If that is correct, then charging is, by definition, either unbiblical at worst or extra-biblical at best – at least we certainly couldn’t call it ‘biblical’.  In fact, that is one of the strongest arguments for not charging.  Where in Scripture does that (charging) happen, at least in any way that truly justifies charging an individual a fee for biblical counsel?

Most of the Apostles were supported by the churches.  This is well and good.  Paul was supported some of the time (Phil. 4), but at other times he labored in a ‘secular’ job (Acts 18:3, 1 Cor. 9:6,18, 2 Cor. 11:7, 1 Th. 2:9).  As the transition to elders/overseers/pastors was made, some of them, too, would be supported by the church.  But receiving one’s support from one or more churches is far different than sitting down with a person or a couple and insisting on (or “suggesting”) payment before ministering to them.

Every Christian should be competent to counsel (at least to some degree).  We need to be in one another’s lives.  The one-anothers of Scripture are an important part of body life.  But would we dare to think that before exhorting brother so-and-so, we’ll ask him for money first?  Would an older woman, who is supposed to teach the younger women, ask for money for doing so?  Will we weep with those who weep, but only if they’ll pass some cash?  Will we bear one another’s burdens – for a price?

Or will we charge only in the case of formal counseling, which can take 8 to 15 weeks?  Or to put it another way, will we charge only the folks that are the worst off and have the most need?  The most needy, the down-and-out, the weakest sheep are the folks to whom we should give the most, not take the most.

Would Paul, while ministering from house to house, ask for money at each house?  Would he ask for money if he had to go back to a certain house over and over because they had significant issues in life?  Of course not!  I’m convinced the thought of doing so would be utterly repulsive to him.
Did Jesus, when someone approached Him with a problem, ever request funds?  The thought is so preposterous as to border on blasphemy. 

Perhaps a sample situation would be helpful.  In a church-based counseling center, a couple from outside the church comes in for marriage counseling.  We don’t know them, other than what they put on their PDI.  After a session or two, it becomes apparent to the counselor that one or both of them is not a Christian.  The duty of the counselor will be to continue to help with the marriage, as much as is possible, but even more importantly to communicate to them  the message of salvation from sin by faith alone in Christ alone.  In other words, they need to hear the gospel message.  Are we then in the business of selling the gospel message?  Are we charging money for giving the message of free forgiveness of sins?  This ought to be unthinkable!  It ought to shock us back to reality!  Since when does the church charge an unbeliever for telling him about Christ and explaining to him the message of free salvation?  Luther would roll over in his grave!

Or what if the counselee is a Christian, but some of his primary problems are financial?  Surely financial difficulties are very common.  Are those who charge for counsel then guilty of adding to his financial burden, even though the counsel itself may be wise and biblical?  Would it not be better to freely share with him God’s wisdom for handling money? 

Christian ministry is funded by voluntary donations (biblical giving), not by demanding payment for services rendered.  This is how God ordained it to be.  Voluntary (sacrificial, joyous) giving to the local church, not mandatory fees or Christian taxation, should fund the work of the church (and provide for some of the elders/pastors who serve in the church).  A minister of the gospel may be supported by the church (as determined by the elders/deacons of the church), but he may not charge individual people for his labor.  We should never peddle for profit the inerrant and sufficient Word of God (2 Cor. 2:17).

To charge for counseling (or to state “suggested” donations) makes the whole situation look worldly.  The pagans/secularists charge (a lot), and they have built an industry that makes a lot of money.  They get away with it, so some Christians see it as an income source.  We are different than they are – our counsel is (radically) different, our goals are different, and the means must be different as well.

A man may rightly pay good money for business advice, financial advice, medical advice, etc, but he should never have to pay a fee for that which God gives freely – spiritual advice, godly wisdom, from a brother in Christ ministering the Word of Christ.

The gospel message, the counsel of God, the Word of the Most High, the precepts of the Lord, the oracles of the Creator, the instruction of Holy Writ, must be freely given to all who will hear, whether for salvation or sanctification.  To do otherwise is, in my opinion, blatantly unbiblical, even if the counsel itself is excellent.

Questions we may ask ourselves:

  • Is this a ministry, or a business?  Ministries serve;  businesses charge.
  • Is the counselor/counselee relationship a brother/brother (or sister/sister) in Christ relationship, or a professional/consumer one?
  • Could your counselee doubt your motives if you are charging him?  Could he if the counsel is free?
  • How does “above reproach” and “fond of sordid gain” (Titus 1:7) apply to this issue?
  • How would it look if the counselee paid cash to the counselor right at the beginning of the session?  Is paying by check to a “ministry” afterward really any different?
  • Would Jesus ask for money before (or after) ministering to someone?  Would Paul or Peter?
  • Would we freely minister to a poor brother who cannot pay anything?  If not, then we stand condemned already.  If we would, then why not freely minister to someone else who happens to have more money?  Can the brother with more funds not have the option to give freely according to what he has purposed in his heart, instead of pay a required fee?
  • Could there be a temptation to try to keep a counselee around longer than truly needed because he is an income source?
  • Does Revelation 22:17 apply to this issue?  It says:  The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost.
  • What about Isaiah 55:1? “Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; And you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk Without money and without cost.
  • Do the actions and judgment of Micah 3:11 apply to this issue:  Her priests instruct for a price…”?
Let us not be like the Old Testament prophets who were greedy for gain.
Let us not be like the secularists who counsel for a fee.
Let us not be like the shepherds of Ezekiel 34 who fed themselves.

Instead, let us freely give the message that was freely given to us.  Let us proclaim salvation and sanctification, Christian discipleship, without placing a financial burden on the disciple.  Let us minister the Word of God without requiring or even asking for money in return.


Sid Galloway wrote: "Should Biblical Counselors Charge Fees?" Galloway has addressed this issue in his article posted here.  The title of his web site article is the same as his NANC talk.  Galloway asks, "Is charging fees for counseling a reflection of Christ’s ministry, or could it be a cultural convention absorbed from the world’s business system?"  Galloway has italicized three words to emphasize what he addresses in the remainder of his article.  It is clear from his article that Galloway believes that it is unbiblical to charge for biblical counseling and that it smacks of the world’s business system.  (1999 NANC national conference)

To study: (OT) prophets who were greedy for gain
To study: shepherds who fed themselves instead of the sheep (Ez. 34)
To consider: increased legal liability because of charging


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