Five Characteristics of God-Honoring Goals in Counseling

The apostle Paul had a clear sense of direction and purpose in his life. In 1 Corinthians 9:26 he states, "I do not run like one who runs aimlessly" (HCSB). He knew that God's will and purpose for his life was "to testify to the gospel of God's grace" (Acts 20:24 HCSB). Thus, his goal was to live to fulfill God's will and purpose for his life.

Many people come to counseling desiring change and a new direction for their lives. Yet, unlike Paul, some are not able to articulate clearly what they want to accomplish. Therefore, part of your job as a pastor/counselor includes helping your counselees turn their good intentions into specific, workable, God-honoring goals.

What is a goal?

A goal can be described as a desired outcome, a solution to a problem, a positive change, or even a destination. Some people's goal may include changing a habit, a feeling, or a situation, resolving a conflict or discovering God's will for their lives.

Problematic goals

Vague: The goal is not articulated well. It is stated in broad terms and does not provide specific information about the areas of life that need to be changed.

Self-centered: The goal focuses too much on the self while ignoring God's will and other people.

Unrealistic: The goal is beyond a counselee's personal skills, abilities, talents, or resources. It does not have a reasonable time frame needed to reach the goal.

What makes a God-honoring goal?

As a pastor you are probably very familiar with the concept of a "vision" for ministry. Your "vision" is what you believe God wants your church to be and do for His Kingdom. A goal should be a God-given vision for a counselee's life. So, help your counselees determine what God wants them to be and do for His Kingdom. You may ask your counselees "What do you hope to accomplish or change as a result of coming to counseling?" or "What do you believe God wants you to accomplish or change as a result of coming to counseling?" (See also Ian Jones, The Counsel of Heaven on Earth: Foundations for Biblical Christian Counseling. B&H, 2006, p. 53-54.)

Christian counseling and ministry must be more than meeting needs and providing symptom relief. Ultimately, it must help people find God's purpose for their lives and help them become active participants in the Kingdom of God and grow towards Christlikeness. Here are 5 characteristics of God-honoring goals:

A goal must be biblically-based.

  • It is based on biblical principles and not on selfish desires.
  • It is Christ-centered and not self-centered.

A goal must take into account God's will and purpose for the counselee's life.

  • It leads the counselee to articulate God's will and purpose for his life.
  • It leads to an application of God's principles.

A goal must be clear, specific, and measurable.

  • It needs to be stated clearly in terms of specific behaviors or actions.
  • It needs to describe what will be different in the counselee's life, once the goal is reached.

A goal must be realistic and attainable.

  • It may include short-term and long-term objectives.
  • It should take into account that changes require time, commitment, and effort.

A goal must require faith.

  • While a goal must be realistic, it should be set by faith.
  • It needs reliance on God through diligent prayer and Bible study.

Elias Moitinho, Ph.D. is assistant professor of psychology & counseling at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

Story Highlights

  • What is a goal?
  • Problematic goals
  • What makes a God-honoring goal?

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