I don’t have OCD. Really. I don’t. (And denying it doesn’t mean that I do have OCD.)
I just like things organized.
So my personal library is organized by the Dewey Decimal System. I have more than 20,000 file cards (both printed and digital) of preaching illustrations organized by topic and biblical passage. I have a massive file folder system organized the same way in the equivalent of eight 5-drawer file cabinets. I keep all personal emails (both received and sent) and they are organized in dozens (hundreds?) of digital file folders according to the name of the recipient.
I like keeping stuff (yes, I am a saver), and I like being able to find what I keep (so I’m kind of organized, though looking at my desk my not always suggest that).
I also have an extensive filing system for teaching materials, including my counseling resources. I read much — about biblical counseling and about other topics — and I do not trust my memory to be able to recall everything I read, so I save it.
And if you are a biblical counselor — or teacher, or discipler — you should be keeping your materials as well. And in the age of cloud storage, you need little space and need to spend little money to keep all that you find and need. Here are a few tips on keeping up with resources to help you in your counseling ministry.
Develop a digital filing system
On my computer (backed up to the cloud [I use Dropbox] so that I can access it from any device that has the Dropbox app — any computer, tablet, or smart phone), I have a folder entitled “Counseling Resources.”
I file things according to two main folders — “Bible passages” and “General topics.” In my Bible folder, I have folders for books of the Bible and within those individual folders (e.g., “Romans”), if I have many resources, I may also subdivide into folders for each chapter in that book so that I can later find what I want quickly.
In the “General Topic” folder, I have broad categories of topics on things that I have counseled and things that I think I may need to counsel in the future. I currently have over 130 topics in that folder (see the accompanying screen shot), and many of those have sub-topics, for instance, the “Marriage” folder contains several book study guide folders as well as sub-folders on “Family Relationships,” “In-laws,” and “Sexuality in Marriage.”
Having all these folders has been helpful as a first stop for research when I am dealing with a topic I may not have taught or counseled previously. Rather than searching the web and having to evaluate credibility, I often have resources that I have previously cultivated that can guide me in my preparation. It significantly reduces my research time.
“Print” and save anything you think might be helpful
I populate these folders from a variety of sources:
- I keep copies of every Bible study I teach in counseling. If I have taught it once, I will probably need to teach it again; keeping a “clean” (unmarked) copy speeds my study time the second time.
- I keep copies of all my homework assignments; I regularly write questions or study guides for various passages and I keep those organized by Bible passage so that I don’t have to rethink questions every time I assign a passage.
- I save all my notes from conferences. I download all the notes from all the conferences (even from seminars I don’t attend) and file them in the appropriate folders, and will also often file them in multiple places (e.g., marital communication studies will go in both the “marriage” and “communication” folders). I also scan and save all my handwritten notes from the conference sessions I attend. Sometimes conferences will make notes available even if I don’t attend; I download and save those as well.
- I read books, journals, and blog sites regularly for ideas (see below). Often, books will site online resources, and after finishing the book, I will track down all those resources and preserve those resources in my files as well.
I am always looking for things related to counseling and I save it all (remember, I’m a “saver”). I don’t have to know a specific case for which it might be useful; I just have to see the biblical value of it (it has to pass my “this is biblically true” examination) and then I will store it in my files.
Develop a retrieval system for books you read
I never read a book without a pen (or stylus, if it is a digital book) in my hand. I might be able to remember broad concepts after I read a book, but I won’t remember the exact ideas and statements. So I highlight and write in all my books. If I find something particularly helpful that I want to preserve, I highlight the section and then write in the margin of the book the topic under which I will want to keep that quotation or illustration. When I finish reading the book, I type, scan, or copy all those particular passages and then file them in the appropriate location.
If a counseling book has a helpful diagram, I will also scan it and preserve it digitally so that I can use it for teaching. I will sometimes write chapter summaries for each chapter of a book and then preserve those in a topical file. If a book has a helpful explanation of a biblical passage, I will copy or scan that section and keep it in a Word document to refresh my memory about that passage’s interpretation.
I also have several counseling homework books. I not only keep them on a shelf behind my desk where I can reach them easily, but when I make assignments out of them (most of them allow the user to make copies for the purpose of giving homework) I also photocopy or scan them and keep a copy in my digital file to use with a future counseling case.
[Aside: I also am cultivating an extensive library of digital books as I find it is easier to “copy and paste” quotes and illustrations from them than hard copies. It is also easier to do searches in the books for particular topic or biblical passage references in digital books. Most books are now published in Kindle or ePub formats, and both those formats are regularly placed on sale and if you watch sites like GospeleBooks, you can regularly find good biblical counseling books inexpensively — usually $2.99. In addition, some publishers make their books available digitally and significantly reduced prices; for example, Crossway makes all their eBooks available for 50% off the print price (usually $10 or under) and they provide three formats (Kindle, ePub, and PDF) available for that price.]
I want to maximize my reading by not only gaining from it in the moment, but also reading in a way that I will be able to benefit from it in the future.
Check counseling resources regularly
I search, read, and download journals and magazines related to biblical counseling. For instance, the Journal of Biblical Counseling produces three journals per year, and for $21 annually, you will receive those journals digitally (they are usually over 100 pages) and have access to the complete archive of over 30 years of journals. The Journal of Biblical Soul Care is published once or twice annually and is sent out free of charge by email. The Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood publishes eikon, which addresses topics related to biblical anthropology and often is about issues relating to marriage and family. Finally, while it is not a journal for biblical counseling, Nine Marks publishes four journals annually and often writes on topics related to biblical counseling issues; it is available in at least two digital formats and is free as a PDF.
I also regularly read a variety of blog sites related to biblical counseling; most of these sites also email their blog content for free. Three that I check regularly (at least weekly) for new content are The Center for Biblical Counseling and Discipleship (CBCD: the training and content arm of our church’s counseling ministry; in addition to weekly blogs, we also produce a podcast, and post all our conference audio on that site), The Association for Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC: the national organization with whom we are affiliated; they also have many helpful blogs, podcasts, and conference and seminar audio and video), and the Biblical Counseling Coalition (BCC: articles, book reviews, and podcasts).
Whenever I see an article of interest on one of these sites, I print/save as PDF the article and file it for future use and reading.
In God’s common grace, we have a vast amount of godly, biblical, and helpful resources available to us. I encourage (exhort? compel?) you to not only read these resources but to preserve and store them so that you will be a well-equipped counselor that is “filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish [others]” (Rom. 15:14).