Blog Post: Coaching as Care for Souls

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Coaching belongs in the church. Why? Because coaching is a way of caring for souls.

What does it mean to provide soul care? Rather than give my own definition, let me go back, way back, to 1538 and Martin Bucer’s work Concerning the True Care of Souls. Bucer, who was a mentor to Calvin and ministered most of his life in Strasbourg, summarized soul care to include five main tasks:

First: to lead to Christ our Lord and into his communion those who are still estranged from him, whether through carnal excess or false worship.

Secondly: to restore those who had once been brought to Christ and into his church but have been drawn away again through the affairs of the flesh or false doctrine.

Thirdly: to assist in the true reformation of those who while remaining in the church of Christ have grievously fallen and sinned.

Fourthly: to re-establish in true Christian strength and health those who, while persevering in the fellowship of Christ and not doing anything particularly or grossly wrong, have become somewhat feeble and sick in the Christian life.

Fifthly: to protect from all offense and falling away and continually encourage in all good things those who stay within the flock and in Christ’s sheep-pen without grievously sinning or becoming weak and sick in their Christian walk.

In other words, we care for a person’s soul when we help him stay so connected to Christ that he grows into the likeness of Christ. Easy enough, right? Of course not. Remaining a branch to Jesus’ vine (John 15:5) is no small, simple, or static thing. Fortunately, coaching is a resource for those pastors and other ministry leaders who answer the call to care for souls.

When we take a coaching approach to the care of souls, we are not taking a traditionally therapeutic approach. Therapy means healing and often conveys a sense of returning to health. If I damage a ligament in my arm, I may need therapy to help heal the damage and return my arm to full function. Therapy tends to imply returning to a state of full function or health. This isn’t always the best model when it comes to the Christian care for souls. Why? Because no Christian has ever been fully functioning or healthy. Instead, ministry leaders care for souls via coaching by taking a growth and challenge approach.

To be clear, “coach” and “pastor” are not synonyms. Pastors are responsible for much more than coaching. If a pastor only coached, he or she would not be a very effective pastor. That said, pastors can use coaching as one way to care for souls. What does this look like? Here are five aspects of a coaching approach to the care of souls.

  1. God’s agenda, not yours. When you take a coaching approach, you’re open to exploring what’s going on and allowing God to reveal God’s agenda to the person you’re coaching – and to you.
  2. Growth, not recovery. A coaching approach brings a bias toward growth. You invite the other person to frame things in terms of forward movement more so than in terms of healing.
  3. Challenge, not comfort. When you coach, you challenge the other person to investigate, explore, discover, create, design, and act. Coaching is not about agreeing with the other person or merely helping the other person “feel better” – it’s about helping the other person be and do better.
  4. Discovery, not delivery. Caring for souls doesn’t have to involve giving answers or delivering brilliant insights. You can care by tending to the other person, listening closely, and drawing out their struggles, desires, dilemmas and perspective.
  5. Engaging, not controlling. Caring for the soul of another requires attention and engagement, but you cannot tend to the other person to the point of controlling them. What God will do in the life of another person is well outside of your control, but God does call you to engage the other person, discover what God is up to in that person’s life, and then facilitate the other person in determining to what extent they will join God’s activity.

Caring for souls is not a mysterious or even mystical endeavor. As Bucer points out, it’s effectively helping others connect and stay connected to the life-giving, transformative person of Jesus. Fortunately, this does not require us to be Jesus – merely to be faithful and available.

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