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 (Manna 74: Standing Firm)
Virtues of Counselors (III)—Be Able to Build Relationships
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VIRTUES OF COUNSELORS (III)—Be Able to Build Relationships

Based on a lecture series by Vuthy Nol-Mantia—Dallas, Texas, USA

In the earlier two installments of this series on Christian counseling, we established that counselors should have the image and likeness of Christ, maintain a close relationship with Christ, know the spiritual weapons available, and be filled by God’s love. This third and final installment of the series explores how counselors can build relationships of trust with those who turn to them for advice.


As Christian counselors, we must be able to build good relationships with all the brothers and sisters who turn to us for advice. But as humans, we often relate to certain people more than others; or we tolerate certain idiosyncrasies but not others. Hence, we must first be close to God and be filled with His word, Spirit, and love. Only then can we overcome our personal biases and accept our brethren just as God accepts them. As we go forth to build relationships with our brethren, there are a few points that we should note.

By Recognizing That Everybody Is Unique

First, we should recognize that God has created us as unique individuals. Since everyone is unique, we should accept people for who they are, unless they brazenly lead sinful lives. We should then understand that people react differently to similar situations; thus, accept one another as we are.

Accepting each other is the foundation of any good relationship. Within the close-knit community of faith, it is quite natural that we form expectations of brethren with whom we worship or serve. However, understanding that people are different and appreciating these differences will help us manage our expectations of others. For example, members gifted in evangelism may think that those who do not evangelize are not exemplary brethren. But we are all different members of one body, and this body cannot consist of only an eye or a mouth. The person we have dismissed as “lazy” because he or she does not evangelize may be one who is the first to volunteer for visitation work. Therefore, let us always remind ourselves that God has given us different talents, and we ought not to jump to conclusions about our brethren’s commitment to God based on our personal standards.

By Listening and Maintaining Eye Contact

Second, we must listen well, for listening is undoubtedly the most important element in developing a relationship. Any husband who knows how to listen to his wife is a good husband; any friend who can listen attentively makes a good friend. In any relationship, if we are good and attentive listeners, the other party will have no qualms talking to or confiding in us. This quality is especially precious in our modern attention-deficit world. Life is so hectic and people so burdened by a range of anxieties that they generally have no time to listen to others anymore. Therefore, if we seek to be good counselors, we must first be good listeners.

So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” (Jn 8:7)

On one occasion, the Pharisees and scribes caught an adulteress red-handed. They took her to Jesus, intending to test Him. These Jewish leaders cited the Mosaic Law and asked Him whether the woman should be put to death (cf. Jn 8:5). Instead of answering immediately, Jesus sat there, wrote on the ground, and simply listened to the accusers. He knew that without listening to them, He would never be able to give them suitable advice. Similarly, if we do not listen to the complete story in any matter, we will not be able to give sound advice to our counselees.

Besides listening, good counselors also need to communicate with their counselees through their eyes. It is often said that the eyes are the window to one’s soul, as they reveal much about a person’s state of mind. Hence, we need to maintain appropriate eye contact with our counselees. By maintaining eye contact and angling our bodies towards our counselees, we convey to them our genuine interest in them and our willingness to give undivided attention to their concerns.

By Repeating, Remembering, and Asking

Third, in order to communicate effectively with the counselee, it is essential for counselors to be able to digest, acknowledge, repeat, and remember what the counselee has said. In communication between spouses, the proof of proper listening is always when one party can paraphrase what was said by the other party. A husband who can answer his wife’s question is a good listener. If this husband can repeat and paraphrase what his wife said, or even what she had said but forgotten, he is superb.

Likewise in counseling, it is important to build a relationship of trust with our counselees. This starts with us exhibiting genuine interest in whatever they share with us, remembering that they have plucked up great courage to do so. One way to demonstrate our interest is by asking questions, an essential component of active listening. Asking gives us the opportunity to paraphrase and clarify what was shared. More than this, it allows us to have a proper conversation with the counselee; asking the right questions prompts the counselee to share further and pushes the counseling session forward.

Further, our ability to remember what was shared with us one week or even one month later indicates a deeper level of genuine care and concern. This can be very comforting to the counselee. If we desire to be good counselors to our brethren, we ought to maintain continuity in the relationship by following up on what was shared previously: “How was last week? What about the suggestion that you shared with me last week?”


As noted earlier, active listening is an integral part of good communication in any relationship and a powerful weapon in the counselor’s arsenal. It is important to reiterate the following aspects of listening.

Listening Is Not Agreeing

Although Jesus listened to the scribes and Pharisees in the incident recorded in John 8, it did not mean that He agreed with them. In other words, although we need to provide a listening ear for our counselees, it does not mean that we have to agree with everything they say. A good counselor does not allow his feelings to shut his ears. Instead, he continues to listen without showing any overt expression, positive or negative. Critically, disagreement or disapproval is never registered on the counselor’s face.

For example, if the counselee talks about something hurtful or painful that is happening in his life, we must be particularly alert that our body language does not betray our personal thoughts. Maintain a caring but professional demeanor and continue listening to the counselee without shutting off our ears and our heart.

Whoever shuts his ears to the cry of the poor will also cry himself and not be heard. (Prov 21:13)

This is crucial for counselors to note—if we are unwilling to listen, then the counselee may also not listen to us. Quite often, this happens when adults attempt to counsel the young. Even though they have clearly much more experience, and know more than youths, a good counselor should allow young counselees to express themselves fully before they give appropriate advice.

In short, listening and agreeing are two separate matters. Counselors may or may not agree with everything that they hear, but they withhold agreement or disagreement while the counselee is speaking. Only after listening thoroughly to the counselee, do counselors offer appropriate advice.

Listening Is to Understand What Is in Their Hearts

Listening to our counselees does not only help us to understand their situation, but more importantly, it should help us to understand what is in their hearts.

Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.”

(Lk 10:38–40)

In this incident, Jesus visited the house of Martha and Mary. Martha was distracted with much serving, so she approached Jesus with her disgruntlement. What exactly was Martha feeling? Perhaps since Martha was the older sister, she may have felt responsible for serving the Lord and therefore interrupted Jesus to exert her dominance over Mary.

But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her. (Lk 10:42)

From Jesus’ response to Martha’s complaint, we know that Martha did not recognize the importance of listening to Jesus. By pointing out the right and more needful choice to her, Jesus addressed Martha’s feelings of disgruntlement by applying the balm she needed. He understood what Martha really intended to say, what was in her heart, and what she really needed, because He listened to her with love and concern for her soul. Therefore, He allowed her to interrupt Him and air her grievance, withholding His (dis)agreement, before He eventually pointed out to her the better and more beautiful option.

Similarly, in all our counseling work, we should do the same for the brethren whom we are counseling. Listen intently not just to their words, but to their hearts. Then, point out the better portion to them in order to lead them to Jesus Christ, the chief Counselor.


In conclusion, effective Christian counselors do not just process cases by churning out standard platitudes as advice. Importantly, they invest time to build relationships by recognizing each individual’s uniqueness, underlining this recognition through the willingness to listen attentively and follow-up. During the counseling session, allow the counselee to speak first. Maintain a neutral expression while listening and only express our agreement/disagreement after having a complete understanding of the situation. Most essentially, point out the more beautiful portion to our counselees.

May our Lord Jesus give us the wisdom, the heart, and these virtues to be a counselor for Him. Amen.

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Author: Vuthy Nol-Mantia