When I first learned about coaching, I was not in love with the concept. At the time, I was on staff with a large denomination and we had a history of “flavor-of-the-month” training programs, each of which was sure to be the magical missing ingredient for ushering in God’s kingdom. (Yawn!) So, as I heard about coaching, I figured it was just one more good (but not great) idea.
Nearly twenty years later, coaching has become my vocational identity. What changed? I got hooked on coaching when I realized it was a fantastic approach to discipleship.
Discipleship is all about helping ourselves and others be more like Jesus. The goal isn’t just to act like Jesus, but to become transformed into a child of God who can inhabit God’s family and actually enjoy it. Most of us are early in the transformation process, with a long way to go. It’s a slow process to grow into Christlikeness. The journey is filled with a million decisions, confessions, delays, distractions, setbacks, celebrations, uncertainties, and moments of mystery.
Like many church families, the denomination I served equated discipleship with teaching. For us, it was mostly about head knowledge. In fact, we had a Sunday evening program called “Discipleship Training.”
Training tends to be an approach to development that emphasizes content. There’s stuff you need to know, and we will train you to know it. When training is our primary method for discipleship, the results are mediocre at best. Why? Because discipleship is less about what you know, more about how you live, and even more about who you are.
I fell in love with coaching once I realized that it provided a more complete (not totally complete) approach to discipleship. In coaching, we help a person assess what they really want, where they really are, and what it will take to close the gap. Closing the gap between how well we follow Jesus now and well we want to follow Jesus is the discipleship journey. Closing the gap involves changing how we live and who we are.
When we coach a follower of Jesus, we support them in “moving forward.” What I’ve realized is that moving forward in life is ALWAYS moving toward God. It may not always look like it. After all, plenty of my coaching clients get coached on all sorts of things that seem to have zero to do with their discipleship walk. Topics such as time management, hiring and firing employees, how to expand the business, etc. weren’t part of the Sunday night discipleship training curriculum. Yet these issues are at the heart of being a disciple.
Today’s Christians are following Jesus while running a business, leading a team, managing employees, and trying to have a life outside of work. For them, following Jesus is less about walking the dusty roads of Nazareth and more about living out their faith in their immediate context. The power of coaching is that it creates a real intentionality for those who are being coached and it’s this intentionality that is the secret sauce of discipleship. Rather than operating on auto-pilot, coaching clients are seeking to create new awareness that will help them take appropriate actions that will move them toward a new reality.
I was so compelled by the power of coaching for making disciples that I helped co-author a book on the topic (Faith Coaching: A Conversational Approach to Helping Others Move Forward in Faith). CAM also has a course related to this topic, which is being taught online starting in May 2019. But even more than writing a book or creating a class, the power of coaching for making disciples compels me to coach. When I coach, I engage in discipleship. This is the biggest reason I stepped down from my faculty position at Western Seminary to help start a coaching practice in my hometown. Walking with clients through the muck and mire of life’s journey doesn’t just provide discipleship opportunities, it is discipleship.
My desire for any coach reading this blog post is that you will coach. Why? Because the coaching you do is really discipleship.