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A conversation with Joneal Kirby

Joneal Kirby’s ministry extends far beyond the small town of West Monroe, La. A member of the White’s Ferry Road Church of Christ, she is a practitioner of — and advocate for — sound, faith-based counseling. She also has a passion for teaching parents and grandparents the importance of intentional faith transmission to future generations.
Kirby established the Christian Counseling and Resource Center at White’s Ferry Road, which provides services for a broad swath of northern Louisiana and southern Arkansas.
She also launched Heart to Home, a multi-generational women’s ministry. She produces a daily, one-minute radio program that focuses on strengthening faith and families.
Kirby has served as family consultant and host of the Legacy Network’s Christian talk show “Girlfriends” and has authored two books on parenting. 
She earned a doctorate in marriage and family therapy from the University of Louisiana-Monroe and has practiced for 10 years. Prior to that, she worked in Christian education for 20 years. She and her husband, Randy, an elder of the White’s Ferry Road church, have three children and three grandchildren.
Is there a specific problem that you see routinely in your counseling practice?
As wise Solomon said, there is nothing new. The human troubles that plagued people in biblical times are problems for people in the 21st century.
However, I have noticed there is a shift in the intensity of the problems that we see in our counseling center. Counseling clients more often are in crisis mode in their relationships by the time they seek help. Although clients do come with common marital issues such as communication, finances and parenting problems, we are seeing couples who seek counseling when these issues have become almost insurmountable.
For example, instead of seeking help to deal with pornography when it is first acknowledged, couples often ignore it until the issue escalates. Left unresolved, the pornography problem creates damaging distance between the couple.
It is not uncommon for us to see couples who are often on the brink of divorce before they will approach a counselor for help. My advice is for couples to be proactive when problems first arise and get with a Christian counselor. 
How high of a priority should a qualified staff counselor be for a church?
If we are doing our job as a church, we are bringing and teaching people out of worldly, sin-sick conditions into a relationship with Christ and his church. 
We must be as prepared to minister to the weary, hurting, addicted, shamed and fallen in order to meet them where their life needs are.
It is not enough just to teach and baptize folks. We need to have qualified, trained people in our churches, whether they are volunteers or staff, willing to help those who are hurting and vulnerable. Their job will be to mentor and train the saved to live healthy, productive and even, inspiring lives for Christ.
I believe our churches must be places where those who have abused alcohol or drugs can receive help with recovery. They can turn to the Lord and his church for support and care, as well as for worship and fellowship. We need to have Christians helping people who are hurting over sexual sins, those struggling with marriage problems or deteriorating family relationships.
Over the years, my counseling experience has shown me that people need and want Bible-based programs for recovery, advice and support. 
How can church members get competent Christian counseling when there are no resources in their immediate area? 
This could be a sad, very real dilemma because wherever people and families are, that is where problems are.
However, the problem of geographic distance from a Christian counselor can be solved because many professionals offer counseling sessions over the phone as well as web-based sessions. This is becoming increasingly popular, is usually affordable and is often available 24 hours a day, depending on the service.
For many of the people whom I have helped connect with a Christian counselor, it’s just a matter of driving a few hours, a few times a month, to have face-to-face sessions. Our counseling center in Louisiana serves a large region. It is not unusual for clients to drive three or four hours to meet with one of our counselors.
Some ideas for locating a counselor locally include contacting a Christian university’s counselor-training program for locations of their graduates, contacting the largest church near you to ask for the names of the counselors they refer to and searching online through the American Association of Christian Counselors.

What advice can you give to all of us to improve our overall mental and spiritual health?
I have a simple answer. We are creatures of habit. And good habits make for more contented, healthier and even joyful minds and hearts.
Two habits that would increase everyone’s wellbeing were often practiced by Christians in “the old days.” When we read about the lives of respected historical ministers and missionaries, we learn these men and women spent a lot of time in Bible reading and prayer to God. They faced trials and conditions that many of us have never known and were able to live faithfully and joyfully.
Taking the time to simply read about God and to really get to know him will eliminate a lot of upsetting and negative thinking. Bad thinking is what gets most of us in trouble. God’s Word teaches us to “take captive every thought.” Since a recent brain study concluded humans may have as many as 70,000 thoughts a day, imagine how hard it would be to capture every one.
It has been proven that 100 percent of behavior problems begin with the way we think. If what we think becomes our words and actions, shouldn’t  we fill our heads with more spiritual, godly thoughts? If we would start with God’s Word, our outcome would be better for us and for others.
It is vital that Christians think differently from those who are worldly. How can the critical, negative, hopeless, depressed “stinkin’ thinkin’” some Christians practice change the world for Christ? What a difference we could make, however, if we would instead fill our brains with the thinking of God. 
With the holidays approaching and relationship stress with them, what suggestions do you have to make them work as well as possible? 
Certainly, our major holidays are too highly hyped in this country. This puts  pressure on families to plan the perfect event. My suggestion is to scale everything down a notch and adjust expectations for the holidays. Shrink the list of activities and expenses.
Two things to do for sure to give this Christmas more of the satisfaction feeling we all desire: 1. Do something for someone in need. 2. Practice kindness at all times. No situation is worth it if you are angry, critical or impatient with your loved ones.
Remember to practice the Golden Rule — and also what the Disney character Thumper said — “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.” That’s a terrific thing to practice any time of the year but especially during the busyness and stress of the holiday season.

Filed under: Dialogue

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