by Dr. Ircel Harrison

In Celtic Christianity, Christians often seek out “thin places” where God seems to be especially close. These are physical sites where there is an undeniable connection to the sacred. This idea is portrayed in Exodus 3:5 where Moses is told by God, “The place on which you are standing is holy ground.” These are not always places of peace, however. In Genesis 32, we read the account of a “thin place” where Jacob struggled with a stranger and came away saying “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” (v. 30) Out of his struggle came peace and direction.

We are especially blessed when we encounter such places, but in practice, they are not always geographical. These are places where we encounter God and come away with new insight, understanding, and purpose. They may be present in our prayer time, our conversations with friends, or even in a coaching conversation. More than once I have had a client talk about the coaching conversation as a safe or sacred space. The coach can provide a safe, supportive environment that brings out the best in the client. In such a setting, the client will be more willing to engage in intentional, focused growth.

When I consider the ICF Core Competency that calls upon the coach to cultivate trust and safety, I think about sacred spaces and how we might create them or at least nurture an environment where they might emerge. Just as in all aspects of a coaching conversation, this is a partnership. The coach partners with the client to co-create this space. Perhaps this is more intentional when both the client and the coach are believers, but I encourage those of us who are Christian coaches to adopt this mindset even when the client is not a believer and when we are engaging in any topic of discussion, not just those we might label spiritual.

There is strong biblical teaching for a coaching mindset that seeks to provide a sacred space.

First, every person is created in the image of God. Psalm 139:14 says, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.” (NRSV) Every person we encounter and every client we engage is a child of God, no matter where they may be in their spiritual lives. We respect each person as a child of God and seek to provide a space where God’s light can shine through.

Second, every person has the potential for continuous growth. If we did not believe this, we would not be coaches! This possibility is certainly true for believers. We read in 2 Peter 3:18, “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. (NRSV) Again, even if the client is not a believer or dealing with a specific spiritual topic, he or she has the capacity to become more. We as coaches embrace this possibility for every client and provide a place where it can happen.

Third, as we create a partnership with our client, we are reminded of Proverbs 27:17, “Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens the wits of another. (NRSV) We all need encouragement to grow. This certainly happens in the Christian community. In the coaching relationship, we give our client a taste of this, drawing on our own experiences of being encouraged and supported by other believers. We join the client in the sacred space and guide the process as it emerges.

Perhaps providing a place of trust and safety in working with clients is one of our most effective ways of expressing our beliefs as people of faith. As we seek the presence of God in our conversations, we are offering a witness to the love and grace of God that is available for all.
Join us for the CORE INSIGHT SERIES: Cultivates Trust and Safety on April 22, 11 am EDT. We will consider specific ways that you as a coach can create spaces of trust and safety in partnership with your clients.

Ircel Harrison is Coaching Coordinator for Pinnacle Leadership Associates (Columbia, SC) and Supplemental Faculty in Missional Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Shawnee, KS). Ircel is an ACC certified coach with the International Coach Federation. He is Pinnacle’s leader for Summit Coach Training. He and his wife, Rita, live in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.