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New NOBTS counseling program includes Christian disciplines

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary will begin offering a master of arts in marriage and family counseling degree program this year.
Approved by the seminary’s full board of trustees during their annual September meeting, the new specialized degree program “will be the premier degree of its kind,” said Steve Lemke, NOBTS provost, as the seminary prepares “distinctly Christian counselors with a distinctly Christian approach at the same time it provides the full professional credentials graduates will need to practice in any of the 50 states.”
One of several required courses will be “A Practical Integration of Psychology, Theology and Spirituality in the Counseling Setting,” which will be co-taught by Asa Sphar III, NOBTS associate professor of psychology and counseling, and Daniel Holcomb, chairman of the seminary’s division of theological and historical studies.
“Very few seminaries actually have a course, let alone require a course, such as this one, which is designed to demonstrate how to integrate disciplines such as Scripture reading, forgiveness and prayer into the counseling setting,” Sphar said.
“This course will train students in the use of Christian disciplines as counseling techniques. The entire program will be both intra-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary.”
The master of arts in marriage and family counseling degree program offers a 24-hour theological/biblical core of courses, as well as the 61 hours of counseling courses required to meet the highest national standards for licensure, Lemke said.
This degree program, therefore, will target students who want to prepare for a full-time Christian counseling ministry, as opposed to a ministry with counseling as one aspect of their profession, such as a pastor or chaplain.
Unique requirements of this degree program include:
— a course in personal discipleship.
— a course in devotional classics.
— a course in personal evangelism.
— two courses in ethics.
— a course in Christian apologetics.
— a course in biblical hermeneutics.
Faculty members in the NOBTS psychology and counseling department are licensed to practice professional counseling and approved to supervise students pursuing such licensure. In addition, faculty members are approved supervisors and clinical members of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.
As NOBTS President Chuck Kelley has focused the seminary this academic year on what is necessary to grow a healthy church, the NOBTS department of psychology and counseling researched counseling situations at growing churches as background to the new M.A. program.
Statistics revealed 55 percent of pastors at growing churches spend at least five hours per week in counseling, as opposed to 34 percent of pastors at plateaued churches and 19 percent of pastors at declining churches.
“Pastors at growing churches are much more involved in counseling than pastors at plateaued or declining churches,” Sphar said. “As pastors are more involved with counseling, they are more sensitive to the needs of their congregation which produces an increase in church growth.”
“Healthy churches and effective preaching stimulate within persons the motivation to become more authentic in their relationship with God and others. The counseling ministry provides the seeker a safe and caring place to personalize both God’s love and God’s will,” said Philip Coyle, NOBTS associate professor of psychology and counseling.
“Hurting families deserve the ministry of professionally competent, Christian counselors,” he said.
“Combined with the significant professional training and the theological core, this degree will prepare our graduates to serve effectively in a wide variety of capacities,” Coyle said.
“In addition, we hope to assist in developing communities of mutual caring and to liberate the spiritual potential of hurting persons.”
Coyle and Sphar are interested in seeing local churches either individually or collectively developing and funding a Christian counseling ministry for referrals.
“We are always available to dialog with pastors who want to investigate how to begin such a program of pastoral care and counseling,” Sphar said.
“God seems to be moving in an ever-growing way as he moves more ministers into the field of pastoral counseling,” Sphar said. “We at NOBTS are going to fully prepare them academically and provide them with the full credentials they will need to minister professionally wherever God calls them.”
The application process for the master of arts in marriage and family counseling degree program involves the following:
— an appropriate score on the general section of the Graduate Record Exam (GRE);
— a transcript evaluation; and
— pending approval from the seminary admissions office, a formal interview with the faculty of the NOBTS department of psychology and counseling.
As with any degree program at New Orleans Seminary, applicants must have been a Christian for at least one year and must have the endorsement of a local church.
For more information on how to apply for admission to the master of arts in marriage and family counseling degree program at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, contact the NOBTS office of student enlistment at 1-800-NOBTS-01, ext. 3303 or send e-mail to [email protected].

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  • Debbie Moore