After teaching at a Christian school for 14 years, Ruth Ann Bruce was called to minister in a different way. She attended Hope Biblical Counseling Center in Fort Myers and after many courses, an internship and certification, she began to counsel. She went on to earn a master’s degree in biblical counseling.

Ruth Ann became a member of our church in May of 2006 and approached Pastor Doug Pratt with a proposal to establish a Biblical Counseling Ministry, offering her services free of charge. “The changes in my own life and the joys that have accompanied my training are too numerous to tell,” Ruth Ann said. “The all-sufficient God and the knowledge of His Word is the only direction we need for life and godliness.”

Ruth Ann’s proposal was discussed and approved by both Pastor Doug and Pastor Steven Grant. After establishing a strong clientele, the pastoral staff realized the genuine need for biblical counseling in our church and community. “I got involved with taking additional courses in biblical counseling as a result of Ruth Ann joining our staff,” said Pastor Steven Grant. “I not only wanted to enhance my own ministry but also be more supportive in growing this ministry.” Although he was not officially certified, Steven attended all the certification classes and spoke to many church leaders about the success of this type of counseling. He was convinced that biblical counseling was a good way to offer godly support to not only church members but also those in the community. Pastor Doug concurred with this view and fully embraced the concept.

In October of 2011, Ruth Ann and her husband Ken made the decision to move closer to family and sold their Naples home of 35 years. But God wasn’t done yet. During her ministry, Ruth Ann was highly supportive to Maria Karl, a church member who was very curious about this idea of biblical counseling. Through frequent meetings, Ruth Ann found Maria to be a good student of the Bible and encouraged her to pursue becoming a biblical counselor herself. It took five years and it was not easy, but by 2012, Maria Karl was a Certified Biblical Counselor and made herself available for counseling sessions at the church.

In 2014 there was a growing demand for pastoral care and the need to add another pastor to our staff. We decided to invite Rev. June Barrow—who we knew was a wonderful pastor through her many visits to First Church for the Great Banquet. She would work here during the winter months, and she and her husband Al would travel back to Indianapolis for the summers. As it happened, Al was ready to retire from his 38-year career as a licensed counselor but not sure what he would do next. Pastor Doug discovered that Al, a committed Christian, had long wanted to incorporate Bible-based spirituality into his counseling sessions. How providential was this?

Pastor Doug believed hiring the Barrows would be a great opportunity to start an actual counseling center. But after his discussion with Dr. Al, he wondered if we should take it one step further—expand the idea of a biblical counseling center to a more comprehensive Spiritual Development Center  which would offer classes and support groups in addition to Christian counseling.

A proposal was drawn up and approved by Session. The Barrows accepted the offer and decided to move part-time to Bonita Springs and serve at First Church during the winter months. There were a lot of details that needed to come together, like a facility appropriate to house this type of venture. But God is a God of details!

In October of 2014, the First Church Spiritual Development Center opened at 9696 Bonita Beach Road, just across from the main campus. The staff consists of Director of Spiritual Development Dr. Al Barrow and Biblical Counselor Maria Karl who both accept appointments for private counseling. Pastor Steven has pastoral oversight of this ministry and Pastor June’s office is also located in the Center.