Ask Pastor Dave: Why Aren’t You Certified?

Q&AThere are two ideas that often fight with each other in my own mind. On the one hand I believe in the importance of training, education, and qualification. There are few things as dangerous, I think, as a pastor, counselor, or leader who is poorly prepared to do his job. At the same time, however, I believe that the church has often been overly professionalized. Pastors are looked at as CEOs, and congregants are viewed as consumers (see my piece on Superman Pastors for more). The model of the New Testament, however, is one of servant leadership, where pastors are called to equip the whole church for ministry. De-professionalizing ministry, then, is important to me. These two, seemingly conflicting, ideas have informed how I think about certification.

I am a counselor. I am a trained and equipped Nouthetic Counselor. I have had the pleasure not only of formal classroom training by some of the leading scholars in the field, but also the joy of being discipled by two certified NANC fellows. I believe in the importance of proper education, and of continuing education. I attend workshops regularly, read hosts of books and articles, and spend long drives listening to related and relevant audio. A poorly equipped counselor is not just bad for the church, he’s dangerous to the church. So I want to do the best that I can. I believe in and participate in a system of accountability and mutual assistance that I think all counselors in the church need. But, having said all of that, I am not a certified/licensed counselor. Because I took the place of a very well-trained and certified NANC fellow I have sometimes been asked, “Are you certified?” “Are you going to get certified?” “Why aren’t you certified?” It’s a fair question and one I want to answer as best I can now.

When the Biblical Counseling Movement first started it had as its primary goal to restore counseling to the church. Historically this was the place where counseling had happened, it was called “pastoral care.” Overtime, however, professionalization in the secular community began to displace pastoral care, and even to question the validity of its role. Enter Dr. Jay E. Adams.

Less than 50 years ago Dr. Adams began to have a sense that the psychological model of counseling was not only not as effective as it claimed, but it was also often contrary to the truth of the gospel. He began to witness and experience in his church people who were receiving ungodly counsel that was massively effecting their spiritual growth. So he began to research and develop a Biblical model of counseling as an alternative to the secular psychology model. One important feature of the Biblical Counseling movement has been its insistence that counseling is really just a part of discipleship and therefore something all Christians are called to do. Dr. Adams and his companions insisted that counseling was not reserved to the “professionals.” Secular psychology was telling the church, “You can’t talk to people about these subjects, because you haven’t been trained to deal with this really difficult subjects.” And the church often listened to the “professionals” and so pastors stopped providing the kind of pastoral care that said to people, “The Bible speaks to whatever you’re struggling with.” In light of that the Biblical Counseling Movement sought to reinvigorate the church with a  Biblical model of comprehensive discipleship. Anyone can be a counselor if you know how to handle the Word of God rightly and care for people. But over the years that emphasis has been increasingly downplayed.

Today there is an emphasis on licensure or certification. So who is a Biblical counselor? Whose voice should you listen to? Whose works should you consult? Those who have degrees in Biblical Counseling. Those who have certifications from CCEF or NANC. Those who are “professionals.” And you, if you want to be taken seriously as a counselor, need to get a certificate too. A certification, which by the way, does not come cheap! So, despite its early insistence, many within the Biblical Counseling movement have either intentionally or unintentionally suggested that in fact not everyone is a counselor. There are in fact “professionals.”

I appreciate the fine line that we have to walk here. That’s where the ideas in my mind often lace up their gloves and start duking it out. After all we do want good training and equipping. We do want to hear from people whose experience and education lend themselves to being useful to the rest of us. But somewhere along the way the emphasis on de-professionalized ministry has been lost. I believe in the importance of that emphasis and that is partly why I have intentionally refused to get certified.

There are other reasons too. I know my tendency to become an arrogant jerk, and I tend to think that certification would lend itself easily to that kind of ego-boosting. It’s the same reason I continue to vacillate back and forth on pursuing a doctorate. I don’t want to give myself any excuse for becoming condescending and haughty. I also think that certification is way over-priced and I can’t justify spending that kind of money at this time. But most of it is my conviction that Biblical Counseling is discipleship and everyone in the church should be doing it at some level. Not everyone will counsel full-time like I do, with an office. Not everyone will do research and study and be part of a counselors network. But every believer should be equipped and able to provide Biblical counsel to their friends, their neighbors, and their children as the struggle with life. Discipleship is just part of the Christian life. So, then, how can I make that claim while I also pursue certification. It seems to belie the convictions I hold.

So why am I not certified as a Biblical Counselor? I am not certified for the same reason that we don’t do certifications in our training courses at the church, because Biblical Counseling is not a professional ministry. Biblical Counseling is just discipleship and that’s something all Christians can do, even if they don’t have the time or money to get a piece of paper.


  1. I am so thankful to have just completed a course and to be listening in on one of yours on the topic of counseling and discipleship. I am much better equipped to see and deal with my own problems and now those of my children and friends, as well.

    I appreciate your viewpoint on this topic!

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