Coaching for Spiritual Formation

by Ircel Harrison, ACC

“How can a coach help someone to grow as a disciple of Christ? Does coaching help in spiritual formation?” As a Christian who is a practicing coach, you have probably been asked such questions. These are big, challenging questions, but in this context let’s limit our discussion to how coaching can be used in the church to develop believers in their growth and service.

When Mark Tidsworth and I wrote Disciple Development Coaching: Christian Formation for the Twenty-First Century, we started with one major assumption: people are coming into the fellowship of the church today from many different backgrounds. Some have been believers for a long time, although not necessarily in the faith tradition of their present fellowship. Others come with little or no Christian background, but with many life experiences and exposure to a variety of belief systems. Of course, some are grounded believers with a clear understanding of the Way of Christ. The biggest mistake that a church can make is to treat them all the same. This is where coaching comes in.

If a congregation can provide a coach for every person who becomes part of the fellowship, the believer will know that he or she is valued, is a welcome addition, and is entering into a journey of growth and faithful service. This provides an incentive for the individual to want to reflect, plan, and develop in their Christian walk. It helps to make them an integral, productive part of the body of Christ.

As we practice coaching disciples for spiritual formation, I think we can agree on some basic ideas.

First, every person is a unique creation of God and has been “wired up” in a special way. Psalm 139:14 says, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” As coaches, we understand that each person knows his or her challenges and resources better than we do. The same is true in one’s spiritual life. Our role is to help the believer unpack that knowledge.

Second, everyone who is in Christ has the potential for growth. The writer of 2 Peter 3:18 challenges readers in this way: “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.” Coaches believe in their clients and sometimes must “stand for them.” In coaching disciples, we are opening them up to a fresh understanding of who they are as children of God.

Third, each believer has the ability to make a unique contribution to the body of Christ. As he discusses the diversity of gifts in 1 Corinthians, Paul explains, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (12:27) Disciples must come to understand that they have something special to offer in the body of Christ. If they do not discover their place, something will be left undone. The body of Christ will be incomplete. A coach can articulate that urgency.

Fourth, there is value in having a trusted companion for the journey: “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12) A coach can be that companion.

If we take these concepts seriously, we will not immerse the believer into a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all discipleship process. Certainly, we will have resources at hand to provide content for the process, but where the believer is in his or her faith development determines the options provided.
Coaches who embrace a Christian world view have a significant role to play in supporting churches as they develop disciples. Start where you are in sharing this vision. If you are an active member of a faith community, reach out to leaders to share your vision of building up the body of Christ through disciple development. You might offer to coach leadership in developing this process or provide training for lay coaches. In all of this, give God the glory for the opportunities and outcomes.

(NOTE: All scriptures are from the New International Version)

Ircel Harrison is Coaching Coordinator for Pinnacle Leadership Associates and Supplemental Associate Professor of Missional Theology at Central Seminary, Shawnee, Kansas. He holds the Doctor of Ministry degree.

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