Our Time at IBL

The following article is a story shared by two missionaries, Doug and Amy, about their experiences with IBL.

The Context

our time at IBL

As we finished out our first term serving as missionaries overseas and knowing that we needed de-briefing during our forthcoming home assignment, we were referred to a ministry we had never heard of before, The Institute of Biblical Leadership (IBL). As you will see, IBL was truly a God-send helping us in more ways than we could have imagined; and we are healthier and more prepared for serving the Lord in ministry having crossed paths with them.

Our first two years as missionaries overseas took a toll on us in many ways. Not only were there the normal cross-cultural stresses from transitioning and living in a new country, but we encountered other trials as well. Inter-team conflict and finding a “fit” with the work itself also produced stress which then turned inward on our marriage and parenting. Needless to say, we were looking for someone, some counselor somewhere, who could help clear the clouds so we could see and evaluate our lives and service to the Lord more clearly.

Our First Interactions with IBL

We first met David and Dawn Phelan with IBL via Skype while still overseas. They were very personable and had a clear, systematic plan for how they worked with counseling clients. One of my (Doug) first questions was, “We’re not leading people, per se, and your ministry is ‘Biblical Leadership’. How do we qualify as potential clients?” Their simple response was that if we were in ministry, we were leaders. I was thinking in terms of titles; they saw it in terms of influence.

IBL has a three-step approach to counseling and debriefing: preliminary information gathering; personal face-to-face counseling; and follow-up accountability. This was unlike any counseling process we had heard of before and it provided a structure for helping us achieve healthy results.

Our Struggle and the IBL Method

The IBL method approaches the person holistically from a biblical foundation. This became evident when we first told David and Dawn that we needed to work on our marriage. After my wife and I married, we were immediately caught-up in support raising, pre-field training and all the stresses of getting to the mission fi eld. In addition to this, there was the birth of our three children (losing one at childbirth), a major ministry shift en route to the field, multiple housing transitions plus the various trials we encountered once we transitioned to the field. With all this, let’s just say our marriage wasn’t exactly happy and thriving in its essence. Therefore, when we approached David and Dawn about focusing on marriage in our time together, they said that they didn’t do marriage counseling as a separate process. Their approach begins with exposing the heart issues of a person. In discovering the “roots” of the heart, this would bring understanding to the challenges that we faced in all areas of our life and ministry, including our marriage.

Face-to-Face... with Our Roots

After all the preliminary information gathering was done (which included collecting feedback from friends and family on our strengths and weaknesses - this was a humbling exercise) we met face-to-face with the Phelans in North Carolina. Hospitable, professional and again, personable, was how I would describe our time with them. We stayed in a very cozy century-old cabin, traveling daily about ten minutes to their home for the counseling. At the Phelans’ home, they also fed us and cared for us during the day’s work. The off-site housing was a huge blessing, allowing us to process and meditate upon our counseling time and just rest in the rural surroundings of Asheville.

Digging up and exposing our personal “root” issues was the thrust of the week. Our “roots” are the heart issues in a metaphorical oak tree IBL uses - a “picture” of how we understand our personal struggles. From the roots or heart issues, growing upward are the trunk and limbs (character and identity issues) which produce foliage (relationship and role issues).

After the first two days of sharing our life stories and reflecting on how others viewed us (that humbling preliminary feedback that was gathered) and receiving biblical teaching, our roots were then exposed. On day three, we received in written form our roots as David and Dawn had discerned them; and we must confess that they were right-on. This was an emotional day as we looked right into the lies and sin we had been believing and living out of for most of our lives. Although hard to receive, the Phelan’s work on exposing our sinful heart issues was so freeing. It allowed us to see, in a new light, how our marriage, parenting, relationships and work/ministry were impacted by our sin.

After day three, the rest of the week with David and Dawn began the process of using biblical means to help us practically contend with our roots - to put to death the “old man”. We also were given a significant amount of time to analyze and address our specific struggles from the mission field. 

Beyond the Face-to-Face

We left our week with David and Dawn with a game plan to continue forward, not on our own, but with them by our side. We can honestly say now, in hindsight, that their accountability and continued counseling proved invaluable to our sustainability beyond the “face-to-face” time.

After leaving the Phelans, we had new tools to work on our marriage in fresh and practical ways that made an immediate impact upon us. We also, with the very un-biased counsel and guidance of the Phelans, negotiated our way through a difficult ministry decision which ultimately led us to a new work which “fit” far better our gifting and skills than the previous ministry we were doing.

In Conclusion...

God used IBL and the Phelans to expose our sin, point us to Christ and guide us through some dark days. The clouds have cleared in so many ways and in those areas where there is still practical growing to do, David and Dawn have continued to walk with us into the future. We are honestly changed and growing under IBL’s care and we thank the Lord for bringing this ministry to us when we needed them the most.