Can a coach’s religious beliefs influence their coaching practice? For Christian coaches who are coaching Christian clients, the response might be: “My relationship with God is evident in my coaching practice.” For Christian coaches who coach in the general market, where expressions of Christianity are politically undesirable, the coach’s religious beliefs are less evident.
New, upcoming coaches frequently find themselves wrestling with how to integrate their faith into their practice. One research study suggests that our faith, regardless of our client’s world view, continues to deeply influence our coaching practice.
Paul Duncan conducted a qualitative survey of a group of Christian coaches some of whom are coaching almost exclusively in the general market. He asked the question: “Do practitioners’ religious beliefs influence their coaching practice?” For coaches in the general market you might not think so, since being a Christian is not necessarily welcomed information.
However, in reviewing Duncan’s research we’ve discovered an interesting dynamic. While pressures in the workplace prevent overt disclosure of one’s personal faith, there was an overwhelming consensus that one’s faith had a significant impact on their coaching practice and in the lives of their clients. Here are some of the ways in which faith influences practice.
Faith in God positively affects the coach’s perception of self-worth. One survey respondent referred to himself as “an agent of restoration…in the sense that I help them to become what they fully can be.” Instead of considering oneself as a professional coach, a Christian is more likely to think in terms of acting on God’s behalf or in obedience to God, which implies having a sense of a higher calling and a greater sense of fulfillment.
Faith in God can positively influence our perception of our clients. Clients are not simply business relationships, but rather significant individuals created in God’s image. We have opportunities as disciples of Christ–even in a professional setting–to love and to respect and model Christ’s actions toward them. One respondent wrote: “…I have a responsibility to love my clients, not just to…practice coaching techniques on them… .”
Because Christians believe that God has a plan and purpose for everyone, there is a clear expectation that God is working through our coaching in the lives of our clients. One respondent wrote: “…that God has planted in them, a life vision they are meant to discover and fulfill.” II Cor 15:16 of the New International Version states: So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.
While not praying directly with clients unless asked by the client, prayer was a part of the preparation for a coaching session. Further there was a sense of God’s presence in the coaching session. One respondent wrote: “…as I’m praying I get some ideas that will be quite helpful.” Another wrote: “…we are there to help people and see things progress and God’s interested in that agenda as well.”
God is the true “change agent.” Traditional coaching teaches us the client is whole, resourceful and creative. The answers lie within the client. Yet the Christian credits God’s enabling role in the change process. One respondent writes: “…I have tremendous faith in people’s ability to change…I see it as a divine enabling.”
The Holy Bible was used as a resource for the coach. They considered Jesus as the ultimate coach and desired to model their approach to humanity as Christ did to his disciples and followers. The study of scriptures imparts wisdom that could be shared with others, whether or not we quote chapter and verse.
Our faith influences the types of questions we ask our clients. As our minds are renewed, we present the mind of Christ in our conversations. Value-laden questions like: “How can you maintain integrity in this trying circumstance? What do you think the higher purpose is?” could “open” new ways of thinking and being for the client.
Duncan’s findings suggests that our religious beliefs can strongly influence our coaching practice even if we are not afforded the opportunity to openly integrate matters of faith into the professional relationship.
Now, that’s not to say that coaches will never experience tension. There are instances when the coach’s value system could more openly conflict with the client’s. For instance, the client attributes an event to coincidence, while the coach feels God was the master scheduler. The client decides upon an immoral action, while the coach inwardly cringes at the thought. These situations will arise from time to time, but I would venture they are the exception, and not the rule.
Romans 11:36 of the New Living Translation states: “For everything (our coaching practice, our clients, our future) comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen.”
For upcoming coaches who are struggling with whether or not to coach exclusively in faith or in general markets, this article may help resolve some of the dissonance. You can exemplify your faith in every single coaching conversation; whether it’s through prayer before the session, referencing the wisdom in God’s word, the questions we ask our clients, how you treat your client or how your present yourself. For experienced coaches who practice in the general market, these findings confirm that we can indeed be “salt and light” and bring our faith into our profession.
All of the quotes in this article can be found in “Examining how the Beliefs of Christian Coaches Impact their Coaching Practice” as found at http://business.brookes.ac.uk/commercial/work/iccld/ijebcm/documents/special6-paper-03.pdf. Paul Duncan’s full dissertation is available by contacting him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Marcie Thomas has obtained permission to use quotes from his dissertation.
Marcie Thomas is a Christian life and Leadership coach. She is also the past executive director of the Christian Coaches Network International, a professional organization of Christian coaches and training institutions dedicated to excellence and promoting the highest of standards in the Christian coaching industry. She is the pastor of a quaint, rural church in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains.