Interview with Virginia Stewart
This is the fifth interview by Ellen Castillo in a series of posts featuring women who are biblical counselors. Each post will feature one or more counselors who have agreed to an interview to tell us about their ministries, their experience and expertise, and the history of their involvement in biblical counseling.
We trust that you will find this series informative and insightful. Many women have asked what opportunities might be open to them upon obtaining either a degree or certification in biblical counseling. As the biblical counseling movement expands, so do the opportunities for women to serve in a variety of ways as biblical counselors. Over the course of this series, you will hear from women who serve vocationally, as volunteers, in their churches, in a parachurch organization, in colleges, and a variety of other areas where they are serving around the globe.
Today Our Interview with Virginia Stewart, Ph.D. in Biblical Counseling
Q: Please tell us about yourself.
A: I am the leader of HOPE Ministries, an extension of CPC Congregational Care of Christ Presbyterian Church, Nashville, TN. I am also the ex officio Director of HOPE Biblical Counseling & Training Center, Westminster Presbyterian Church, Fort Myers, FL.
My husband, Bob Stewart, and I have 3 married children, and 10 amazing grandchildren, ages 3 months to 18. We live in charming, historical Franklin, TN, but my office is in Nashville, TN, having moved here to be near our children. We love to travel and meet people from all ages, stages, and cultures, and have been to 70+ countries. Because of a passion particularly for France and the French culture and language, I was a French teacher before ministering full-time in Biblical Counseling.
Q: What are your credentials?
A: I have received certificates from the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF), the International Association of Biblical Counselors (IABC) and the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC). I also hold a Ph.D. in Biblical Counseling from Trinity Theological Seminary in Indiana.
Q: Are you in vocational ministry (paid), or volunteer?
A: I am in both—vocational ministry as a volunteer member of the church, and I receive some financial remuneration from donations of disciples/counselees. Our church generously provides the office space, office supplies, publicity, a budget for books and conferences, and encouragement.
Q: Where do you currently serve?
A: I serve as Leader of HOPE Ministries, an extension of CPC Congregational Care of Christ Presbyterian Church, Nashville, TN.
This ministry has 2 main areas:
1) Intensive Discipleship (often known as Biblical Counseling)–where we meet with those who request one-on-one.
2) Training—we teach CORE courses that have been accepted by IABC, and we are a satellite of HOPE Fort Myers for ACBC. Our courses meet on Wednesday evenings and Thursday mornings at CPC and include Foundations, Issues, Relationships: Keys to Growth, Theology, and Observations 101.
We also offer fun short summer courses, such as “4 A’s in Summer-Sized Bites,” “Codependency: What Does the Bible Say?”
Q: How long have you been a biblical counselor?
A: I’ve been involved in biblical counseling for over 30 years.
Q: How did you get interested in becoming a biblical counselor, what drew you into the ministry?
A: I was experiencing many problems in my own life and knew that I was not handling them well. The Lord brought me through a long journey, resulting in my coming to know Him personally in my late 20’s.
I started looking for a Christ-centered, biblically-based church and found one. Our pastor was taking courses at CCEF, and then he preached wonderful sermons that reflected what he was learning at CCEF. This teaching helped me tremendously, so I started sharing these concepts with family and friends. This led to teaching Bible Studies and helping women individually. Several years later, I was able to attend CCEF, become NANC/ACBC/IABC certified, and help others as I had been helped.
After the children were in school, the Lord led me to complete a PhD in Biblical Counseling program, which opened the door to being called to be Director of HOPE Biblical Counseling & Training Center at Westminster Presbyterian Church, PCA, in Fort Myers, FL. We helped many people individually, taught biblical counseling courses that were accepted by IABC and ACBC and became part of ABC. Many of the people we trained are now on staff of or volunteering at their churches.
The Lord led us to return to the Nashville area to be near two of our children and their families. When Christ Presbyterian Church found out about the ministry in Fort Myers, I was asked to start HOPE Ministries, which has now been “intensively discipling” individuals and families, and also presenting “Intensive Discipleship”/”Biblical Counseling” training courses for over 2 years.
Q: Do you have particular areas of expertise?
A: It is fascinating to watch how the Lord has brought people with issues that had been areas either I or loved ones have dealt with—including anorexics (my mother had anorexic thinking and behavior), fear of man/codependency issues, anger, critical spirits, rebellion, etc. I’ve dealt with a full range of issues, except stronghold/addiction issues, since we have had wonderful biblical counselors to deal with these issues.
In addition, I have been asked to speak at several IABC and ACBC National Conferences, Briarwood Presbyterian Church conferences, churches, etc.
Q: Is there anything particularly unique or unusual about how you serve in ministry?
A: The Lord has placed me in several locations that have not understood Biblical Counseling. They had been exposed to some harsh and incorrect views, so they have shunned it. Talking graciously and reaching out in love to those who have had negative attitudes about it have been high priority. As many of these people have seen how Biblical Counseling is part of what churches are called to do—eg: intensive discipleship, some of those who had spurned Biblical Counseling started to see it as part of the church’s ministry.
In addition, as a woman in the Biblical Counseling area and who has been involved in leading two biblical counseling/intensive discipleship ministries, there can be some interesting issues arise in dealing with some men who do not believe that women should be leading a ministry, even though I am overseen by a pastor. It can be a delicate balance.
Q: Do you partner with male counselors or pastors in your ministry? In what ways and what advantages does male partnership bring to your ministry?
A: Both in Florida and here in Tennessee, we have partnered with male pastors and, as males become certified, we have been thrilled to work with them as well. Having the male and female view on many areas has been helpful.
Q: Do you partner with other female counselors, and in what ways? In what ways and what advantages does female partnership bring to your ministry?
A: Both in Florida and here in Tennessee, we have increased the ministry by having many of those who become certified become part of our ministry at HOPE. If they have lived a distance away, we partner with them by referrals. It has also been helpful to have networking and training meetings periodically to encourage one another.
Q: What unique strengths and advantages do you believe that women bring to a counseling ministry?
A: Women have a sensitivity that has been very helpful in analyzing the issues and dealing with them in a gracious, gentle way. Some women also have more time that the men to be involved in the ministry.
Q: Describe any hardship or challenges that you have faced as a woman in ministry.
A: Since women are not pastors or elders, we women can find it difficult when the men do not have the time to deal with or may not have certain understandings of some issues. It has been helpful to apply how a woman ministers to her husband to how we can minister and relate to men within the church. It can develop in us much patience and increased dependence on the sovereignty, goodness, and wisdom of the Lord.
Q: What women have most heavily influenced you as a biblical counselor?
A: Amy Baker, Elyse Fitzpatrick, Nancy Leigh Demoss Wolgemuth, and Martha Peace have written many excellent materials and have taught at many conferences.
Kay Arthur’s training on inductive Bible study has been used throughout my ministry, as well as in my own life. Beth Moore’s teaching on fear was stellar.
Gayle Roper, with whom I attended CCEF, has written many books with biblical views due to her training at CCEF.
Q: What men have most heavily influenced you as a biblical counselor?
A: Wayne Mack, David Powlison, Ed Welch, Howard Eyrich, Michael Emlet, Paul David Tripp, Bob Kellemen, Jeff Forrey, Heath Lambert, Jay Adams, C. John Miller, Pastor Richard Fisher, Robert Jones, Nicolas Ellen, Charles Hodges, and many more—all these and more wonderful teachers have had incredible influence on me from the time I started at CCEF until today.
Q: What counseling or ministry resources specific to women do you find most helpful?
A: Most of the resources I use are biblically-based homework that I’ve developed over the years. As background, I will supplement this with books and resources, such as:
• DeMoss, Nancy Leigh. 2 books: Choosing Gratitude and Choosing Forgiveness. Since gratitude and forgiveness are major issues in women’s lives, these are excellent sources of help. She also has a booklet that is helpful: Singled Out for Him
• 2 books by Ed Welch:
Welch, Edward T. What Do You Think of Me? Why Do I Care? Answers to the Big Questions of Life. (Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2011). We go through this chapter by chapter, having assigned it as follow-up to what we have discussed on fear of man,
Welch, Edward T. When People Are Big and God is Small: Overcoming Peer Pressure, Codependency, and the Fear of Man (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1997). I often assign this on the graduation day to help them remember to think with trust in God, rather than fear of man.
• Roper, Gayle. A Widow’s Journey: Reflections on Walking Alone (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2015). Gayle writes so clearly and concisely how widows are responding to the grief of the death of their spouse, and then she presents a verse or two that addresses the issue with tenderness and compassion.
• Annie Chapman. The Mother-in-Law Dance: Can Two Women Love the Same Man and Still Get Along? (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2004). So many people are having in-law problems, and she nails many of the issues and is biblical.
Q: How do you stay current as a counselor, and is this important to your ministry?
A: We go annually to Biblical Counseling conferences where we hear current issues from counselors who have been dealing with these issues. We spend much time perusing the book tables to choose new books that may be helpful. In addition, we constantly read articles, blogs, booklets, and books from CCEF, ACBC, Biblical Counseling Coalition, and others.
Q: When you first became a biblical counselor, what do you wish you had known then that you know now?
A: When I first became a biblical counselor, I knew that not everyone would understand Biblical Counseling as I had not understood it previously. I thank the Lord that more seminaries are presenting it so that the next generation of pastors will be well-schooled in this important aspect of ministry.
Q: What would you like to say to any women considering becoming a Biblical Counselor?
A: I encourage every woman to learn as much as possible to apply it to their own lives—in becoming the wife, mother, sister, daughter, daughter-in-law, worker, missionary, etc. that God would have them become. After applying it personally in her own life, she can then be helping others in whatever area of ministry God will lead her.
We welcome those into leadership as disciplers/biblical counselors in HOPE Ministries who have been learning and applying these concepts in their own lives. However, there is rarely much, if any, financial remuneration that can be expected at this present time.
Q: We all must count the cost of ministry. What has ministry cost you?
A: Ministry here has brought such joy and personal growth, that it is hard to even think about the negatives.
So, what are some negatives? I can think of two. After leaving teaching in the public school and university levels, I have not had the remuneration that would have supported me if I had not had the financial support of my family (particularly my husband). However, the financial lack has been outshone by the abundant life and joy of watching lives changed by the Holy Spirit using God’s Word is peoples’ lives.
I’ve also found some people not understanding Biblical Counseling and why I have been so involved in it, so they have tended to reject the ministry, and a few have rejected me personally. However, the Lord has flooded me with many loving and caring people who love the Lord and His ways and have supported the ministry in beautiful ways.
Q: How has being a counselor benefitted your own walk with The Lord?
A: As we are presenting God’s Word to others, the Holy Spirit is constantly comforting, encouraging, and providing us insight and growth in our own lives, as well as reminding us of areas we can change. The fruit of this ministry of the Holy Spirit, then, is incredible. We grow in understanding God’s love for us, in wisdom, and we grow in love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Q: Do you have a ‘ministry verse’ for your ministry that you find most meaningful? If so, why is it special to you?
A: Since our name is HOPE Ministries (which stands for Helping Others for the Purpose of Eternity) we often use several verses about hope from Romans 15:
4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.
14 I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another.
These verses are full of the hope that God has showered on us, so we may then share it with others.
Q: Are there things you would like to do as a biblical counselor but have not done yet?
A: As time permits, I hope to start writing more. Some day, I would also enjoy hospital visitation.
Q: In what ways have you grown as a counselor since the beginning of your ministry?
A: Before taking the courses, I was able to help others who had similar issues to mine, but in much more superficial ways. Then, as I started taking the courses, I gained both depth and breadth of knowledge, as well as practical ways of sharing and implementing God’s ways in my life and in others’ lives.
Q: What does a typical work/ministry week look like for you?
A: A typical ministry week involves two days of seeing individuals, a day of preparation for teaching, a day of teaching, and a day of administrative work (I’m praying for a person gifted in administration to lessen the administrative load), grading homework, working with interns, etc. During the summer, I have an extra day for seeing people, since the teaching schedule is lessened.
Q: How do you manage your own spiritual growth and spiritual health?
A: Biblical Counseling is very invigorating for me, as God’s Word is powerful. On Sundays, I try to spend the day in worship service, classes, etc. where I can worship and “soak in.” Our Sunday evening small group is a great blessing. This rest time is calming for me. In addition, breakfast is a good time to read God’s Word and pray—for my own worship and application (not mainly for counselees/disciples). Also, my husband plans trips for us to get away, when I can read books for pleasure, such as Christian historical fiction and novels.
Q: How can the readers be praying for you and your ministry?
A: I would ask for the understanding of Biblical Counseling to be seeping throughout the Church and this region. I would also ask for the Lord to have some of the yielded men and women who are taking the courses to complete the process and become certified by IABC/ACBC. A third request: an Administrative Assistant and more office space for HOPE Ministries would be very helpful.
Q: What kinds of opportunities do you see available for women in biblical counseling?
A: Biblical Counseling prepares women in all areas of life—in homes, at work, in ministries of all kinds. Since it is intensive discipleship, it can be used in every area of life, regardless of the profession or ministry chosen.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?
A: God’s grace, mercy and love can soften some of the hardest hearts. As we seek areas of agreement to build on, the areas where we may disagree can be set aside for a time as relationship is built. We can learn to agree to disagree agreeably and reach out in love and grace with soft, gracious, caring speech and actions. This can give time for God’s Word to seep into the crevices of each heart and ministry, so that He ministers to individuals in the difficult areas. We can rest in His work of changing hearts.
Thank you, Virginia, for sharing your heart for the ministry of biblical counseling with our readers today. May God richly bless you as you continue to serve Him!
This series of interviews is conducted by Ellen Castillo, a Biblical Counselor and the Director of Word of Hope Ministries, Inc., on behalf of Biblical Counseling for Women. You can connect with Ellen at www.wordofhopeministries.com and www.biblicalmentor.com.