The Difficult Task of Counselling Family- Discern the Ground!

Counsel, exhortation and sometimes advise are all part of ministry that give emotional rewards. Nothing beats the feeling of seeing fruit where one has planted seeds of encouragement, hope and support. Today however i want to talk about the heartbreak that often comes with ministry that has not been accepted specifically when dealing with family.

I have often heard it said in Shona -“n’anga haizvirapi” (the doctor cannot heal himself) and i always thought that was not necessarily so. In my zeal to help loved ones i have always made effort to be there when family needed an ear but i have to admit, most of it has ended in tears. Dealing with woundedness in others can sometimes become a complicated and toxic mission. When people seek counsel, they are not always prepared to do the work that may be needful for them to make way for the fruits they seek. In cases where behaviour change is needful, the counsellor becomes the enemy of progress simply because they advocate for changes that bring discomfort.

It becomes an even daunting task when one is dealing with family. Family to begin with will never see or celebrate their own ‘prophet’. When they know your dirty or ugly past, forget about sowing your good seeds to them. It always ends in tears! I say forget but i don’t mean stop for we are to spread the good news in any given opportunity. I am sharing this post so that we are informed and aware because of my own experiences. People will come with their problems. They will come with their questions and seek answers from you simply because of the progress they may be witnessing in your life or perhaps simply because you are family. Sadly, you will find that they will accuse you of judging them and chances are very high that you will be dragged into emotional blackmail via the judgement card. Where you bring in case studies of their life against the word of God, it will be taken as judgement. Where you bring in case studies of your life or experiences in the confines of the word of God and testimony, they will say you are being self righteous.

When the conversation takes this negative route you can expect emotions to flair up from both sides. You must note that the person in need of and receiving counselling possesses a sick soul needing healing. The fact that they do not know what to do with their pain means that they will likely not know what to do with the information they are receiving. Discerning the ground becomes a very crucial task for the counsellor. Let’s take a look at ways to discern the ground in the management of family counselling. NB* these are also applicable to counselling in general

Discern the Ground (Matthew 13:1-23)

And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up:

Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth:

And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.

And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them:

But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.

The Wayside

When Jesus gave meaning to the parable of the sower above, he explained that the wayside is ground on which the seed will not last as it is exposed to birds/thieves. Clearly this ground is not for planting on in the first place. Who farms on the wayside? It is on the sides of the road or path where everybody passes by and does what they want from throwing rubbish, easing themselves or resting to picking up whatever is useful there and proceeding with their journeys or life. As it were, people in this category have information overload from all kinds of doctrines and places and are like a dump. They also carry all kinds of clutter from unresolved issues to unforgettable experiences as the ‘dump’ they have become. Everything is just there and this makes them a place impossible for good seed to last. The seeds that end on the wayside are available for snatching by the evil who knows their worth more so that they will not ever bear fruit in the life of the the ones they were meant for. As Jesus explained, the waysiders will hear the word but will just not get it until the wicked one just takes it away so that they never benefit from it. As a counsellor, planting here will be a waste of good seed and will obviously break your heart.

Stony Ground

Jesus teaches how stony ground has no depth of soil and exposes the seeds to sun and harsh weather killing them before they even bear any fruit. Now because stoners actually love to hear the word and even accept it, they adopt an ‘I-know-it-all’ attitude. That knowledge they take in but do not cultivate their ground for growth makes them unteachable. Unbeknown to them, it takes work from getting seed to harvesting fruits and that work- they are not conditioned to put in! Try teaching them this and you will surely get burnt. These are people whose hearts are hardened by their experiences and their long service in the land of their issues so much that they quickly get excited at the comfort of the word and also quickly get offended when things do not go according to expectation. This makes up for the confused bunch of people that may often be seen turning to other sources of spiritiual guidance when the going gets tough. They do not understand that the word they got excited about will bring trial in the first place. They treat the word or God like an ATM and are not patient enough to work on a relationship with God.

When tried, they take offense and turn to all kinds of ungodly copying mechanisms to find release. You may have come across people who profess their faith but are unable to stick to holy teachings and when one tries to correct them, they cry fowl, they cry judgement. These are they that will tell you how they know the word and how they know their life forgetting that they sought counsel in the first place. It is because word got in but in the heat of their challenges they cannot reach out for that word inside. When you bring word to them, they act like they know the word already. Suddenly they remember the word, then they turn everything on God and blame him for not hearing them. When you testify, they think you are just lucky because they are just as prayerful and their prayers are not being answered. In discerning the ground, it may be better to learn to mind your own business where the stony ones are concerned. The counselling sessions can often become toxic and unnecessary. After two or three attempts and no behavioural change or desire to apply teachings, it may be better to respectully leave it.

Thorny Ground

Thorners are just plain unserious about their walk of faith. They simply do not care about their spirituality or growth in Christ. According to Jesus, they hear the word and will let it drown in the care of this world and the deceitfulness of riches and all. These are the people who have it all mapped out the way of the world which leaves no room for the word of God. As with anyone, when challenges pinch and then one seeks a listening ear, that is when they decide they are christians. As with stoners, thorners do not take the time to digest the word they heard or to live it out. Infact to them, the whole church thing is a social thing that has no real meaning or value to their lives. It is not something they can live on and they do not expect any fruit from it too. So when they come for counselling, these are looking for a temporary fix and as with stoners and waysiders, they are not prepared to put in the work to get their life back on track. They will blame everyone else, blame the system, blame God and never ever take responsibility for their actions. As a counsellor, once the tone of conversation takes the blame route and there is no desire to learn on the otherside, it is best to leave it and commit it to prayer.

Good Ground

The title says it all! Good ground brings forth good fruits. Jesus explains how those with good ground hear the word and understand it leading to the bearing of either thirty, sixty or hundred fold harvests. In counselling family therefore, the issue of familiarity poses as a threat to a meaningful project. It becomes imperative to assume the role professionally and to make sure the counselee understands what is about to happen and why. The duty of the counselor is first and foremost to discern the ground and then to prepare the ground if there is need to proceed. This is done with the consent of the member involved. I would imagine the difficult task of going into someone’s farmland and tilling without their approval. A good battlefield i suppose. Where the family member comes for help, one should not jump into counselling as long as the land is not ready for that ministration. It will not work!


To sum it up, Waysiders are wisdom dumps who are loaded with all kinds of doctrines and seek advise from everywhere. There have no backbone of their own and can’t stand firm in faith. Stoners on the other hand want a quick fix so they easily get bored or distracted from the good path of the word when the going gets tough. Thorners on the other hand do not care much as the world is more attractive in every sense for them and the word is a hindrance. Then we have the good ground, that which is ready and well able to receive seed and bear fruit. As a counsellor, always stop and discern the ground. It is also possible for one person to be all three kinds of bad ground- be Waysider, a Stoner and a Thorner. Counsellors should take care not to shove the word down anyone’s throat. This is work that each individual must put upon themselves to eat. Listeners or counselees must be encouraged to think about the harvest they want and then be taught about good eating habits according to their targets. Eating the word properly, setting out good portions daily and then digesting (meditating and living the word) will help one grow spiritually and bear much fruit as in the promise of the word of God. Therefore, although counselling family can tend to be a hearbreaking encounter(s), taking the time to discern the ground can help us guard our own hearts from toxicity. Proverbs 4:23 says,

“Above all else, guard your heart,
    for everything you do flows from it.”

Counselling is work we do for God, our families, our community/nation and ourselves. If we allow toxicity from people who belittle our efforts and have no desire to glean on our experiences and wisdom, we will fail others who actually need it. May we be empowered with the strength to know when to keep quiet, when to move on and above all where to mind our own business lest we fall because of family.

Till then



Falling is not the problem, failing to riseup is!!!!

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