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NLP & Christian Coaching by Tony Husted

Aug 12th, 2009 | By | Category: Featured Content, [None]

tonyhustedWhat is Neuro-Linguistic Programming, and Should a Christian Use it?

[Editor’s Note: We’d like to start a dialogue on this issue, so feel free to comment!]

These questions come across my desk or are raised in a telephone conversation almost daily. I would like to shine some light on this topic and open a conversation and exploration about it with you.  In doing so I think it is important to define what is NLP, explore it’s origins, and applications.

Neuro-Linguistic Programming:  What is it Really?
The origins of NLP are fairly simple. Two men, John Grinder and Richard Bandler were interested in how people used language and created unique results.  Bandler a computer programmer had a gift for observing patterns, and Grinder a linguist took note of Bandler’s ability to recognize language patterns.

The most basic way to look at NLP is to look at what the name Neuro-Linguistic Programming stands for.  The Neuro is present in the name because all experience is processed through our neurology, our brain.  The Linguistic piece is tied to our use of language, and the way we use our words to represent our internal representations in our neurology.  The Programming part is how we use our language linked to our neurology in a habitual pattern or program.

My first exposure to NLP training was not from a Christian perspective, and in some ways I am thankful for that experience.  Because the trainer was clearly not Christian, I attended the training with a question that I held in my awareness throughout the training: “What is NLP, and what is the Trainer using?”

The most basic definition I have found for NLP is:

NLP is a model for modeling.

As I researched and worked in the field of NLP over the eight years I have noticed that there are two major components of NLP.  There are the models of NLP, and the strategies of NLP.  The models of NLP include such models as the Structure of Experience, the NLP Presuppositions, the Meta-Model, the Logical Levels, and the Five Perceptual Positions to name a few.  The models are the basic structures used for the modeling process.   Without these structures it is hard to know what to ask and what to look for when modeling.

Origins and Models
The originators of NLP looked at thcoachingmene best people in certain fields to see what they could learn about the excellent results that these individuals achieved.  When they started speaking to these people it was immediately apparent that most of these individuals were not consciously aware of “How” they did what they did.  To them it was “natural”.  Out of these conversations, the basis of NLP formed.  The originators of NLP came up with something very simple, a Model for Modeling Excellence.  It attempted to answer the question of “How” people do what they do, not by taking their word and descriptions, but through observation and through structured questioning. They looked at the structure of “how” people did things, not the content (the story they told about doing it).  Through this process they were able to extract out the core of “how” they got results, in way that allowed them to copy the model and get similar results.

The “how” includes many aspects beyond the basic observable behaviors that a sports coach might look for when observing an athlete.  It can include: what does the individual believe to be true, what is he saying to himself, how does it feel to do it this way, where is her attention, what is important, for what purpose, and many other distinctions that when all combined to create a internal and external map that can be followed.

Is it Biblical?
The strategies of NLP are based on the modeling of an individual, and/or groups.  The strategies are what have been modeled through the NLP Model.  The strategies themselves are not NLP.  They are the applications of the model.  The question of whether or not the strategy is Christian falls simply to what is being modeled.  As mentioned previously, they also realized that the structure was linked deeply into the Neurology, how God wired us, that is connected through our Linguistics, how we use our language, in a systemic way, or habits, or our Programming.

So, what about everything else that is labeled NLP?  The Phobia Cure, Speed Seduction, Covert Persuasion, The Swish Pattern, Shamani X, etc?  If I am modeling Buddhist Meditations techniques, obviously what I am doing is not Christian.  On the other hand, if I am modeling the Leadership, Healing Patterns, or the Metaphors of Jesus then yes, NLP is Christian!   If I am modeling out of the Bible how to “Renew the Mind”, then it is Christian.  Is it un-Christian to look at how Walt Disney ran his company?  Personally, I find that a stretch as well.

If the healing patterns of Jesus are being modeled, then it would be safe to assume the strategy is Christian.  If the healing work of a Shaman is being modeled then obviously it is not Christian.  This is where the most confusion comes into the conversation.  A vast majority of the strategies, what has been modeled are not Christian, because the individual being modeled was not operating from a Christian worldview.

The NLP model gives Christians distinctions to explore the “how”.  The bible tells us to, “Take every thought captive”1, to “…not be confirmed of this world, but be renewed of the mind”2, “if anything is excellent of praiseworthy to meditate on such things”3, and to “set your minds on things above.”4 NLP offers a structure of how we create our own experience.  How God created us, how language is a direct representation and connection to inner experience, and how we can begin to live out lives in a more Christ like way.

NLP does not support a specific worldview or spiritual tradition.  The association of NLP with New Age ideology is the application of the model by Trainers in an attempt to “market” their brand of spirituality, and a large amount of what has been modeled is not Christian in origin. Several of the best known NLP Trainers include their own non-Christian spirituality into their trainings.

Example: The Logical Levels
One of the most common NLP structures is the Logical Levels, or Neuro-Logical Levels originating from the modeling of a Social Anthropologist, Gregory Bateson by Robert Dilts.  It is a linguistic model that demonstrates how people create and store experiences. Work in the field over the last 30 years shows that an individual who has defined all of the levels and operates with them all in mind congruently is more likely to achieve desired outcomes.

The basic model includes six levels, environment, actions, capabilities, values (sometimes also includes or has an additional level: beliefs), identity, and spiritual (sometimes also called Vision).  Each level is present in all experiences and can be best understood through exploring the questions that inform what information is stored at each level:

  • Environment: When, Where, and With Whom do you want outcome?
  • Actions: What specifically will you do to attain the outcome?
  • Capabilities: How will you do it? What skills, talents gifts, and abilities will you use?
  • Values: Why is having the outcome important?
  • Identity: Who will I need to become to get the outcome?
  • Spiritual/Vision: How will the outcome benefit others? What is the impact this outcome will have?

The structure itself does not include or exclude Christianity or any other spiritual belief system.  The information used belongs to the client.  This model also holds that the upper levels modulate and inform the lower levels.  If a client changes something at the top of the Logical Levels it rearranges the way the client experiences the lower levels.

Take a man who has changed jobs five times in a year (changing the environment).  At each job he does the same job, uses the same education and experience he has, his motivation to make a paycheck and provide for his family is the same, he thinks of himself the same, and his personal vision statement stays the same.  This man complains about all sorts of things including the boss, pay, hours, commute, coworkers, benefits, etc.  By changing the “where”, nothing else is driven to change.

On the other hand consider a woman who accepts Jesus as her personal savior.  Her purpose (vision) changes, her identity changes, the principles she lives by and the reasons she does what she does changes, how she views her talents, gifts, and abilities changes, her behavior changes, and how she reacts to the situations and people around her changes as well.

NLP does not try to replace the Holy Spirit.  An example that recently came before me was about NLP using trigger words.  Does NLP’s use of words to elicit behaviors (anchoring) bypass or exclude the Holy Spirit?

The use of such anchoring in such a non-integrated way (only the word is anchored, not the other levels of experience) won’t work for very long. It is also common practice to elicit behaviors through anchoring in every church service I have been to recently.  What comes to your mind when I say, “And all God’s Children said, ___________?”  Or, “Our Father, who art in Heaven…….?”  These are anchors (words) that elicit states to encourage certain kinds of behavior.

All words elicit states.  It is how we make meaning with words.  If you simply take a moment and repeat to yourself internally, depression, depression, depression, what happens to your physiology?  Did you find your shoulders coming down and forward?  Now try, happy, happy, happy.  Did you find a little smile coming across your face?  Maybe you took a deep breath and felt your shoulders pulling back?

At a more philosophical level, how can a model for modeling be contrary to Scripture?  Jesus was the great model and we are called to live Christ like lives. Modeling ourselves after Christ is what Christians are called to be about.

Tony Husted
ICF Professional Certified Coach, Erickson College International Coach Training Faculty, Certified Solution Focused Coach, Certified NLP Coach and NLP Master Practitioner and Trainer


1. “We demolish argument and every pretension that set itself against God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor 10:5 NIV).

2. “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2 NIV)

3. “Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is pure, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent and praiseworthy – think about such things” (Philippians 4:8 NIV).

4. “Since then you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things”  (Colossians 3:1-2 NIV).

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5 Responses to “NLP & Christian Coaching by Tony Husted”

  1. Since this is somewhat of a controversial area in Christian coaching, I’d like to invite you to dialogue about different perspectives on NLP using the comment functionality. Quick note: you must register to comment!

  2. Christine Kimmel says:

    Funny, I was just talking talking to another coach about this subject today. I am grateful for the info you shared. It directly addressed my concerns. I agree that the mentality, mindset, or spiritual bent of the trainer will have a great impact on the way the material is presented.

    I did hear though that one of the founders, or discoverers of NLP was a hypnotherapist. I would like to discuss that practice and discuss if it has a place in Christian coaching practices.

    three years ago I did some training with a personal growth company and they used many NLP tactics, though I didn’t know it then. The trainer was a Christian. It was an incredible life changing experience for me. I had been a Christian for 20 years and knew my Bible, but was unable to shake my limiting beliefs about my value and worth, that I am creative and don’t have to live an average life. My negative, grumbling spirit has been replaced with peace, a positive outlook, and being able to truly trust God and His Word, even if I don’t understand it as clearly as I would like to.

    My life has changed in so many ways and I feel the Lord calling me to help others become free using the tools and techniques I have learned. I too am a certified life and wellness coach and would like to add to my skills. Do you know where we can get certified in NLP from a Christian Perspective? I also noticed you are a Solution Focused Coach and would like to hear more about that also.

    Christine Kimmel

  3. kwebb says:

    It’s always difficult to separate form and function; practice and meaning. That’s what it looks like Tony is trying to do in this article and through his NLP practice, and I respect that. He’s trying to separate the good, natural, makes-sense practices in NLP from the other practices and meanings that are completely at odds with Christianity. This approach to “contextualizing” a practice is useful, and also difficult.

    I do not take exception with anything Tony wrote, however, there is much more to NLP than he wrote. I find that “pure” NLP training has several helpful techniques and models, however, I have difficulty recommending NLP resources (books, DVDs, or training) because of the amount of “baggage” that comes along with it, usually through the trainers and practitioners. Things like hypnotherapy, channeling, and other New Age practices.

    I prefer to use and recommend the many other helpful coaching schools of thought and resources out there that are more compatible with our Christian faith, and with much less of a downside than NLP.

  4. sam Timbrook says:

    thank you for this article. I see many scriptures to tell us to think and renew our minds. I agree NLP can be Christian when Christ is the center. Just like the 12 step program, some individuals have almost anything or anyone as their “higher power” while christians would have Jesus Christ.

  5. barnabas says:

    This is all very interesting stuff. I run a Christian based NLP training in England,, and this has had excellent feedback because it makes the positives of NLP easily accessible in a safe and trustworthy context. There are a few people doing this kind of thing around the world, but not many so far as I can tell. Happy to speak further on these themes, I’m in the USA occasionally too. I am training training staff in a theological college in December which is an exciting in road too.

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