A Look into the Uniqueness of Christian Coaching
The Birth of Christian Coaching
Bob Logan and I, both partners at Christian Coaching Tools, took somewhat differing routes on our journeys toward coaching excellence to get to where we are today, which is serving as effective and experienced Christian Coaches.
Bob was practicing coaching, without knowing what to call it, as early as the late 1970s. He was essentially following his father’s definition of success: “Find out what God wants you to do and then do it.” Bob came alongside people, intuitively listening and asking questions, to help them figure out where they were, where God wanted them to go, and then what next steps might help them on their way forward. Bob was always developing people as they were doing the work of the ministry. He learned coaching skills through practice and watching how it worked, assessing what was effective and what was ineffective. Then Bob heard about coaching and had the internal response of, “Oh! That’s what it is!” He started using the term coaching in 1990.
I also began practicing coaching intuitively in the Christian sphere. In my early ministry as a college intern, I utilized the foundational coaching skills of listening and asking questions as I discipled new Christians, coached people through their spiritual gifts discovery process, and developed leaders. Later I expanded my coaching approach in a church plant where I developed small group leaders. At this time there were few books on the subject of coaching, so most of what I learned was on-the-job, learning through experience and speaking with other practitioners, like Bob and Steve Ogne who were also developing their coaching skills.
Establishing Christian Coaching
It was around this time when Bob and I began to collaborate, teaming alongside several others, to research Christian coaching to discover the underlying competencies and behavioral expressions that make Christian coaches successful. After an extensive research project, we compared our results to other leading models for secular coaching competencies. It was affirming to discover how parallel the models were—with just one glaring difference: the involvement of God in the process.
What Sets Christian Coaching Apart
This competency, which we called Abiding in Christ, sets Christian coaching apart by the practice of listening for and discerning the voice of the Holy Spirit throughout the coaching relationship. That includes the coach listening for direction, and also the coach asking questions that prompt their clients to listen for the direction of the Holy Spirit. Doing this takes the coaching relationship to another level of understanding—and often another level of impact. I cannot overstate the significance of Abiding in Christ.
This missing element in secular coaching is something that other coaches often try to address through words like intuition. They may be reaching for that spiritual element. In the secular coaching books, we find terms like instinct, intuition, gut, or inner voice. These terms can cross over to Christian coaching but the way they are used varies depending on the context of the conversation.
3 Key Practices for Abiding in Christ as a Christian Coach
First of all, a Christian coach will aim to live out their own faith, relying on God and listening to his voice in their own life. Much of this is identical to living as a disciple: obedience, faith, prayer, meditation on scripture, integrity, etc. Without a personal foundation, rooted in lived experience, one cannot practice Christian coaching.
Second, a good Christian coach will want to tailor questions based on the faith framework of the person being coached. Asking an atheist client what she is hearing from the Holy Spirit would likely be not only unhelpful, but counterproductive.
A Christian coach can practice Christian coaching regardless of the faith of the client. It’s a matter of the coach listening for the voice of the Holy Spirit and taking direction from God. Just because a person is not a person of faith doesn’t mean we abandon our connection to God. Like Jesus, we adapt what we say to them and how we approach them. God is always at work, whether a person is following Jesus or not. Our coaching is still a ministry.
- With an atheist client you might want to use questions like, “What is your gut telling you?” “What is your human instinct telling you?” or “How do your values impact your decision?”
- With a Christian client, you might want to use questions like, “What do you sense Jesus wants you to do?” “What is the Holy Spirit saying to you?” or “What is God asking you to do?”
- With a spiritual-but-not-Christian client, you might want to use questions like, “What do you hear when you listen to that still, soft voice?” “What are you sensing from your higher power?” or “What are you sensing from the spiritual realm?”
Third, practicing real Christian coaching requires an intentional awareness of the Holy Spirit—a moving aside to make room for and listen to God. Just because a coach happens to be Christian does not necessarily mean they are practicing Christian coaching. It is possible for a Christian person to practice secular coaching… and it is common among those who are not trained in competencies such as Abiding in Christ.
The longer you coach, you realize your job as a Christian coach is to help the client discern the voice of the Holy Spirit. In this way, you can help them find solutions that fit for them and align with their values. Your relationship with God is infused in the coaching you’re doing, and you’re bringing your whole self to the table in serving your client.