The International Coach Federation (ICF) defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”
The ICF further clarifies that coaches are trained to listen, to observe, and to customize their approach to individual client needs. “They [coaches] seek to elicit solutions and strategies from the client; they believe the client is naturally creative and resourceful. The coach’s job is to provide support to enhance the skills, resources, and creativity that the client already has (emphasis added).”
In his groundbreaking book, Christian Coaching: Helping Others Turn Potential into Reality, author Dr. Gary Collins describe Christian life coaching as the “art and practice of enabling individuals and groups to move from where they are to where they want to be.”
Coaching is about growth; it is not about healing.
Coaching is the art of asking powerful questions that prompt clients to think about things they’ve never considered before, or may have dismissed as impossible. A really good coach is masterful at “staying in the questions”, prompting clients to listen to and express their hearts and minds, their core values — what Scripture would call “the desires of their hearts.” Coaches then challenge clients to move proactively toward the clarified vision that results from such non-directive exploration.
Coaches have no agenda, no personal investment in a client taking one path versus another. Instead, coaches will listen for and focus on the gap between where a client is now and where the client senses God is calling them to be.
Naturally, as distinctly Christian Life Coaches, we rely on the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the discernment process. Whether our clients are Christians are not, we have the Holy Spirit within us, and that same Spirit knows the plans, the giftings, the callings that He has for each of our clients (cf Jer. 1:5; 29:11; Rom. 11:29 among others). As Christian life coaches, we partner with the Holy Spirit, joining in His work in our clients’ lives.
How Christian Life Coaching is Distinct from Other Service Professions
Professional Christian Life Coaching differs in critically important ways from other people-helping relationships, such as mentoring, discipling, consulting, and counseling.
If coaches are to elicit solutions and strategies from the client, it follows that coaches must work in an ‘inside-out’ manner — they seek to draw out what is already inside the client. Mentoring, discipling, consulting and counseling, however, work primarily from the ‘outside-in’ – fostering abilities that a novice lacks.
- Mentoring: A mentor’s role is to infuse skills and expertise into the inner person of an apprentice by teaching, modeling, advising, and guiding.
- Discipling: Similarly, a discipler has maturity in the faith and their goal is to infuse into the convert the basic tenants of that faith — its moral codes, spiritual disciplines and so forth. They do this by teaching, modeling, advising and guiding.
- Consulting: A consultant brings expertise to a situation they were hired to address. They provide what is lacking through teaching, modeling, advising, and guiding.
- Counseling: A counselor has templates in their mind of what constitutes mental health, or good parenting, or healthy grieving, or effective communication and the like. They work to infuse those into the inner being of their clients through teaching, modeling, advising, and guiding.
A coach, by contrast, does virtually no teaching, modeling, advising, or guiding.
What is the Difference Between Coaching and Counseling?
Counselors and therapists are, like consultants, hired for their expertise. They have specialized training in such things as healthy communication, good parenting, effective social skills, mental/emotional and spiritual health, and the like. They are skilled in uncovering underlying reasons for dysfunction and debilitating conditions such as depression, anxiety, and other mood and thoughts disorders.
Coaching is about stability and growth rather than dysfunction and healing. Whereas psychotherapy and counseling are primarily about the past and present, coaching is primarily about the future.
A person in need of healing is not yet ready for coaching and should be referred to a therapist. There are more basic issues to be addressed before they can effectively pursue greater fulfillment.
Why Christian Coaches are Like Detectives
Coaches are much more like detectives than mentors, disciplers, consultants, or counselors. Think about it. Detectives don’t show up with answers; they don’t teach, model, advice, or guide.
Detectives question. Detectives probe and dig, they search for clues, they form hypotheses, and they work hunches. And through this process of intentional inquiry and clarification, they draw out answers. Through questioning they determine whodunit and why and how.
The analogy of a detective forms the core of our definition of coaching, and it’s the reason that our foundational scripture is Proverbs 20:5 – “The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out.”
Life coaches cannot possibly be experts on their clients’ unique life paths, or giftings, or life callings. They don’t have the knowledge their clients are seeking, so they cannot impart it to them through teaching, modeling, advising, or guiding. They must draw it out from the clients themselves.
Why People Hire a Coach
People hire a coach because they want growth. The work is not problem-focused, per se. There should be no particular dysfunctions or diagnostic issues that need healing – that is the work of therapy and counseling.
Coaching clients have specific goals/dreams/visions toward which they feel drawn, and they desire to discern these more clearly and then act upon them.
People hire coaches to start home businesses, prepare for retirement, switch to living on one income, or carve out more time for their families. Many clients are in transitions such as empty-nesting, or are moving on after the death of a spouse, or divorce.
Couples hire coaches to strengthen their relationship and enhance their parenting. Business and ministry leaders coach to strengthen their leadership abilities. Many work with coaches to improve time management and organization, or lose weight and improve health practices.
Whatever the life issues, all coaching clients hold a deep desire for richer, more fulfilling, more God-honoring growth in their lives.
How Christian Coaching Advances God’s Purposes
We believe that a new profession has emerged. It has settled on the name “Life Coaching,” and the gift it brings to the Church, if we will embrace it, is this inside-out process of drawing out the deep purposes of God in persons’ lives.
We hope this community of Christian Life Coaches will advance that work throughout the world for the greater glory of God.
If you would like to learn more about how coaching can further God’s purposes in your life, organization, or ministry, contact us today.