Have You Been Burned by a NANC Counselor?

In particular I have five things I’d like to say to anyone who’s been burned by a NANC counselor.

Perhaps you are like a lot of people I have talked to since being asked to become the executive director of the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors (NANC).  I’ve heard stories of people who have friends, relatives, and acquaintances with terrible things to say about NANC counselors.  Some of the stories are really bad:  A NANC counselor . . . “Told my brother to get off of his prescription medication,” “Told my aunt to return to her abusive husband,” “Told my mom she was sinning by using psychiatric medication,” “Berated my depressed brother for being guilty of sin.”

Statements like that are horrifying to me. I will not try and defend them. I still think, however that NANC is an incredible organization.  I want to explain to you why I agreed to lead an organization with some counselors that, apparently, have such a terrible reputation.

In particular I have five things I’d like to say to anyone who’s been burned by a NANC counselor.

An Apology

First, I’m sorry.  Many have been burned by counsel that is a distortion of what would be offered by the Wonderful Counselor and has, therefore, been damaging.  When that happens under the banner of an organization like NANC committed, “to pursuing excellence in biblical counseling” the appropriate response is repentance.  I confess that our practice has too often fallen short of the high biblical standard for which we aim, and I am deeply sorry.  Please forgive us.

Judging the Many by the Few

Second, though we need forgiveness for times of legitimate failure, please don’t conclude that every member of NANC is guilty of inflicting the kind of damage that you experienced.  NANC has certified counselors in every state in the union and in 14 countries.  As a matter of fact, every large organization has people in it that are terrible representatives of the organization.  A family friend of mine was a victim of violent police brutality several years ago.  While out with friends a surveillance camera recorded a police officer beating him and another friend.  Though I’m aware that there is such a thing as “dirty” cops, if someone breaks into my house tonight I’m calling the police.  Why? Because I don’t think all police are like the one who attacked my friend.

Honestly, most of the stories I hear about NANC counselors are wonderful.  I have seen NANC counselors, with my own eyes, weeping with folks going through tremendous pain.  I’ve been in the homes of our counselors and seen pictures of families with hand-written notes expressing that their family is together today because of the care they were shown.  I’ve read Christmas cards that expressed the joy of a changed life because Jesus used a NANC member to restore them in their brokenness.  I’ve talked to people crying tears of gratitude because NANC counselors opened up their home for hours of free counseling when everybody else was charging money they didn’t have.

Those stories aren’t as sensational as the tragic ones, but they are true.  They are also, 100:1, the ones I hear most frequently.

A Word of Encouragement

Third, you should be encouraged by the quality of our training and enforcement procedures at NANC.  NANC offers the most rigorous and biblical certification requirements available in the evangelical world.  The counselors at our training centers offer comprehensive instruction in dealing with all the different kinds of issues that are crucial in counseling—not just in rebuking sin.  Whenever NANC offers training we always—always—do it with a licensed medical doctor present who provides crucial medical background into counseling-related problems.  These physicians always—always—remind those pursuing certification that it is not their job to practice medicine and that it is unethical to do so.

At NANC we also have an ethics and membership committee with people on it who each have decades of counseling experience.  Whenever an accusation is made against one of our counselors, that committee investigates the charges and makes recommendations about dealing with them.  Counselors who are guilty of the kinds of terrible things mentioned above are not trained to be that way by NANC or any of our affiliates.  Furthermore, people that persist in that kind of corrupt counsel are not welcome in our organization.

Keeping a Gracious Perspective

Fourth, incompetent counsel is common property to everyone.  Everybody messes up.  It doesn’t matter what you believe, how you were trained, or where you serve, a day is coming—and has probably come already—when your counsel will not be the paragon of wisdom you would long for it to be.  Sooner or later, good counselors will offer bad counsel.  How could it be otherwise?  The good news about NANC is that when that happens we are committed to the Bible as the perfect standard to judge what is good and bad counsel.  We know how and when to improve because we listen to the Bible.  The same cannot be said for liberal counselors whose benchmark is their own wisdom.  When liberals faithlessly counsel married couples going through a rough period to “just get a divorce” or counsel people that their homosexual lifestyle is acceptable, who is to correct them?  At NANC we’re always trying to listen to God’s perfect standard and change course when it is required.

Setting the Record Straight

Fifth, some of these horror stories are unfair distortions of counsel that was actually faithful.  There is only one brand of counseling that is committed to calling people to repent when they are guilty of sin, and that is biblical counseling.  To be sure, people need counsel for all sorts of reasons besides their own personal sinfulness.  When sin occurs, however, we are not being the kinds of ministers Jesus requires unless we call people to repentance.  The Wonderful Counselor Himself called a bunch of guys a brood of vipers, and they hated him for it.  Such is the price of faithfulness.  I once counseled a serial adulterer who was requesting that his wife learn to accommodate his repeated acts of unfaithfulness.  I looked him in the eye, told him he was one of the most arrogant men I had ever met, and—on the authority of Jesus—asked him to turn from his sin.  He cussed at me, walked out of my office, and now regularly tells people that I’m meaner than a snake.  I hate that he feels that way, but I would repeat every word I said.  Whether that makes me mean or kind depends on whether you’re listening to that man or his wife tell the story.  Whether that makes me faithful depends on neither of their renditions, but on whether Jesus, or someone else, is your model for counsel.

Those are five thoughts that I pray are encouraging to anyone who has been wounded by a NANC counselor.  I pray that, like my willingness to trust the police force even after the victimization of my friend, you will not judge an entire organization of faithful and loving people by the misdeeds and misunderstandings of a few.

Heath Lambert
Share your thoughts


  • Normand G Lavoie
    June 18, 2016

    Well written, faithful truth teller!

  • Christy
    October 9, 2016

    Thank you for sharing this. I am a Biblical Counselor and I agree 100% what you wrote. I also have had people tell me similar stories and it is heart breaking. Before anyone walks out of my office/home I assure them there is hope and would not think there is much hope sending someone back to an abuse situation.

  • Will Lohnes
    March 2, 2017

    Thanks Heath.

  • Marcus Schrader
    May 1, 2017

    Thanks so much for sharing!!!! I really appreciated this and think that this is very important and needed. May God bless this honesty, transparency and decision to write and publish.

  • Christian Albrecht
    October 3, 2017

    “Those stories aren’t as sensational as the tragic ones, but they are true. They are also, 100:1, the ones I hear most frequently.”

    Could you please give us objective research for your subjective, personal statement? Is there any examination how many people were blessed and how many people were burned by Nouthetic Counseling? Is there any follow-up after counseling ends? To see how the people are later, months and a year after “succesfull” counseled? This is the standart of psychotherapy.

    As far as I see, there are nothing than personal experiences and a lot of claims about the effectivenss of nouthetic counseling for christians. Subjective claims by people with a strong self-interest to promote they own biblical teaching.

    And we hear frequently, nouthetic teaching brings often harm and damage to a lot of people. Christy in here statement above said too: “I also have had people tell me similar stories and it is heart breaking.”

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