Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly. – 1 Peter 5:2.
The wooden figure of a shepherd on Dr. Ernie Baker’s desk tells of his commitment to following this biblical command. As professor in the Biblical Counseling Department at The Master’s College, Baker understands the practical significance of this subject and has pursued it since his time in seminary.
“Early on in college, I started learning Ephesians four in the biblical counseling class which talks about put off the old man, be renewed in the spirit of your mind, put on the new man,” he said. “I was dealing with extreme bitterness toward my father, and learning that passage and taking it seriously and putting it into practice freed me from that, and that was a huge blessing.”
His passion for biblical counseling springs from his understanding of its practical benefits and reliance on Scripture. Unlike psychology, biblical counseling uses the Bible as a foundation for understanding emotional and spiritual problems and providing a solution.
“[Biblical counseling is] using the Bible to diagnose people’s problems and using the Bible as then the prescription to help people with their problems,” he said.
While studying biblical counseling, he saw the power of Scripture to change his own life and wanted to pass on his knowledge to impact others in the same way.
“As a pastor, [I] would try to practice biblical counseling and always liked working with people individually, not just preaching,” he said.
As he began to see the power of God’s Word changing lives, he realized the importance of biblical counseling in ministry and sought to have a greater impact. Because of this desire to reach more people with Scriptural principles, he moved across the country from his home church in Virginia to teach at The Master’s College in California.
“When the opportunity came up to teach [at TMC], it was almost like it would be sinful to turn it down,” he said, “because the question was, do I want to stay with one church of 250 people, or do I want to go to a place where I can be training the future pastors and pastor’s wives and church leaders, and that every one I train is going to have influence on 150 to 200 people?”
His belief in the value of biblical counseling influences his teaching style, and he tries to make this subject more than just an academic major. It is essential for everyday life.
“I’d like to think that I’m a practical teacher and it’s not theoretical, so I tell a lot of stories,” he said. “I am really concerned and passionate about students not just hearing theoretical principles about the Bible, but that it really works in real life and that they can have confidence that Scripture is a lamp to their feet and a light to their path.”
He understands that biblical counseling does not just consist of abstract concepts and theories but real-life applications, and by using stories and illustrations from his personal experience, he makes the subject relevant and come to life.
“I love how he just connects the world with what you’re learning in the classroom,” said junior biblical counseling major Bethany Malievsky.
Students appreciate his genuine willingness to share his knowledge and make it applicable to their personal lives.
“I really like how passionate he is about what he’s teaching,” said junior Bible: intercultural studies major Ann Hamory. “He knows what he’s talking about…he wants us to see the power of God’s word to change us and then to change anybody else.”
After three and a half decades of ministry and ten years teaching at TMC, Dr. Baker has seen the impact of biblical counseling on many people. He knows that Scripture can heal and provide a solution to the emotional and spiritual issues plaguing today’s society such as divorce and suicide.
“[My favorite aspect of biblical counseling is seeing] people who are struggling with real issues, depression or anxiety or severe marriage problems, taking the principles of Scripture seriously and their lives change…that’s exhilarating for me,” he said.
In addition to teaching theories, he applies the biblical counseling principles to the fears plaguing today’s college students, especially with regards to relationships.
“A lot of college students have a lot of fears about marriage because they saw their parent’s marriage not work,” he said. “So I really like to teach [the Marriage and Family class] and give college students confidence that…it’s still possible to have a happy…and stable marriage.”
He tries to practice what he preaches, and that is why he has pictures of shepherds on the wall in his office.
“[The pictures] just remind me what I’m supposed to be doing…and what it means to work with people,” he said.
His colleagues also recognize his passion and experience in biblical counseling that allows him to connect the principles learned in class with real-life application.
“There are a lot of people that have the degrees to be able to teach but they don’t have the experience to be able to teach,” said Dr. John Street, chairman of the Biblical Counseling Department. “And Dr. Baker has [experience] in spades.”
Many people wonder how practical a degree in biblical counseling is, especially if they do not want to go into ministry. Baker, however, stresses the practical implications for everyday life and how the principles learned in biblical counseling can have a lasting spiritual impact on a person’s life.
“It’s just an all around good degree for your own walk with the Lord,” he said. “How can you say it was a waste if you’re being trained how to disciple others and…in how to grow in Christlikeness and then how to help others grow in Christlikeness?”