Coaching Christians towards improved, integrated (holistic, multifaceted) life
Hexham points out that a spiritual void will eventually be filled. Recently a process has surfaced that seems to resolve some of the void left by an absence of spiritual direction. That process/practice is life coaching. Life coaching borrows from the business community and has caught the attention of evangelicals who have watched it popularize in the marketplace. Interdependent and relational, life coaching engages in questions before jumping to answers, thoughtfully interprets life through the grid of values, and empowers healthy change. Besides these qualities, life coaching is easily learned, not heavily dependent upon maturity or spiritual chrism, and uses language and exercises common to current culture.
Life coaching, though, has some substantial differences from spiritual direction. Only recently brought into the church, its spiritual formation value is not fully proven. Still, life coaching is readily embraced by growing numbers of pastors and leaders who, minimally trained, are beginning to engage persons in coaching relationships for soul work purposes. The ease in which life coaching can be implemented is a mixed blessing. Should life coaching prove effective in cultivating and nourishing heart work, the practice may become a powerful companion to current discipleship methods. Carelessly applied, or over-promised, a disappointing experience of life coaching might serve to deepen angst.
What are you looking for? With this question Jesus confronts the hearts of those who have begun to follow him (John 1:38, NRSV). Throughout his ministry the questions he asks drive his conversation and ministry and draw out from within persons the truths of their heart. By so doing, Jesus follows a pattern set from the beginning of human history, a pattern in which God initiates divine human intercourse with a question(s) and draws out inner motivations, prompts voluntary change, and initiates conscious cooperation with divine purposes through engagement of the human will.
The creation account provided in Genesis 1 does not disguise the intention of God for the life of all humankind. Made in the image of God, this incredible created being was naturally creative, resourceful and whole (Whitworth, Kimsey-House and Sandahl 3), gifted with abilities to communicate and choose and granted sovereignty over the garden and life within. The blessing of sovereignty came as a threefold mandate: be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over all created fife (Gen. 1:28). The mandate is from a source outside of humankind, but the creative means for accomplishing the mandate are at the discretion of the person(s) responsible to act. Stephen R. Covey makes this astute observation: Work and love essentially comprise the essence of mortality (x). Gods primal blessing on humankind is the gift of work in a loving context.
Not thirty verses pass in the account of human life recorded in Scripture when human agency begins to take a tragic turn: temptation, illicit pleasure, ugly accusations, shame, a garden in ruins, and no gardener left inside to tend it.
Unwilling to violate the gift of human agency in even so dire a moment of history, God confronts the consequences of personal choice with pressing questions, inviting but not forcing acknowledgment of both heart and deed. The ongoing story unfolds throughout the biblical narrative. Indeed through every personal human story, God continues to come with questions seeking to expose the truths of the heart.
The New Testament picks up the idea of the powerful source within persons, a source of darkness or light. Jesus says in Matthew 6:22, If your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! Mark 7:21 records him saying, For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come; fornication, theft, murder, adultery. When God comes to people with a question of the heart, he challenges them to examine themselves and choose their direction for the future. The invitation is both to look and upon that look, to act.
The recent ecclesiastical embrace of coaching, which relies heavily on the power of human will to enact change, forces a closer look at the theological understanding of free will. The relative place of human agency in both salvation and sanctification has been debated for centuries. To name this very issue as a battleground for Christian theology would not be to overstate the case.
Purpose and Research Questions
The purpose of this study was to evaluate life coachings value as a method for spiritual formation.
What elements of life coaching contribute most substantially to growth in spiritual practices?
This project will consists of engaging and evaluating life coaching relationships to determine spiritual formation effectiveness. The coaching relationship will began and end with subject interviews. Beyond that, each participant will be engaged with me more than one time. The participants will be required to journal after each coaching appointment, reflecting on the appointment and on their lives through the journaling questions I provide.
These case notes will include content of the coaching event, observations of subject receptivity to coaching and willingness to change, completion of action steps, and any notable progress. These reflections will be then passed back to the subject, upon which they will be invited to make comment and affirm as accurate when it will be able. Although this process client approval will be cumbersome, it will benefit the project by restraining conjectures about motives and undercurrents and enabled the subject to both have and feel they have had, input into the coaching at a deeper level. Having experienced the coaching appointment, subject will now be invited to examine it more objectively, listening to the event from the outside. On only one occasion was there a notable discrepancy between a subjects understanding of the coaching conversation and my observations.
Werner, D. (2011). Theological education in the changing context of world Christianityan unfinished agenda. International Bulletin of Missionary Research, 35(2), 92-100.
Van Nieuwerburgh, C. (2018). Coaching in education: Getting better results for students, educators, and parents. Routledge.
Collins, G. R. (2005). Christian coaching. Providence Bookstore.
Van Nieuwerburgh, C. (2017). An introduction to coaching skills: A practical guide. Sage.