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CHRISTIAN COACHINGHelping Others Turn Potential Into Reality
By GARY R. COLLINS
NAVPRESSCopyright © 2001 People Helper's International, Inc.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWHAT IS A CHRISTIAN COACH?
Playa Tambor is a remote resort, a short flight north of San Jose on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. My wife knew why I wanted to go there for my birthday. It was a comfortable vacation spot. But more important, it was isolated and hundreds of miles away from telephone calls, birthday cards, or friends who might be inclined to throw a party. I was about to turn sixty and didn't want to face it.
First morning there, I went off to the beach lugging a 670-page book by Betty Friedan. This wasn't about Friedan's feminism; it was a book about her age. I immediately connected with the first words:
When my friends threw a surprise party on my sixtieth birthday, I could have killed them all. Their toasts seemed hostile, insisting as they did that I publicly acknowledge reaching sixty, pushing me out of life, as it seemed, out of the race. Professionally, politically, personally, sexually. Distancing me from their fifty-, forty-, thirty-year-old selves. Even my own kids, though they loved me, seemed determined to be parts of the torture. I was almost taunting in my response, assuring my friends that they, too, would soon be sixty if they lived long enough.But I was depressed for weeks after that birthday party, felt removed from them all. I could not face being sixty.
I never finished the book, but I mentioned it to a friend when we got home. George Callendine was a former student who had become a consultant to business and church leaders. I expressed the same concerns-that hitting sixty was making me feel pushed out of the race, out of life. When he offered to take me through the process that he used to help his clients move through transitions and get their lives and careers back on track, I accepted eagerly. This was the birthday present I needed most.
Over a period of months we looked at my spiritual gifts, abilities, and interests. We sent questionnaires to the people who knew me best and got their perspectives. With my friend's gentle guidance, I looked honestly at my goals, career, place in life, values, passions, style of work, and hopes for the future. We discussed my concerns about aging and my irrational fears that my younger friends-the ones who keep me creative and challenged-might abandon me in my old age. For weeks I struggled to write a vision statement for my life and a mission statement that could be a filter to guide my decisions and activities in the coming years. My friend never made demands, gave advice, or told me what to do. Instead, he gently pushed my thinking in new directions, helped me narrow my goals for the future, and kept my focus on what God might want for my life. Sometimes he prodded me to consider issues I wanted to avoid. But he never stopped giving encouragement. We never used this term, but now I can see that I was being coached.
WHAT IS COACHING?
In the 1500s the word coach described a horse-drawn vehicle that would get people from where they were to where they wanted to be. Many years later, in the 1880s, coach was given an athletic meaning, identifying the person who tutored university students in their rowing on the Cam River in Cambridge. That use of the word stuck, and coaches became known as people who help athletes move from one place to another. Over time the word also became associated with musicians, public speakers, and actors who rely on coaches to improve their skills, overcome obstacles, remain focused, and get to where they want to be. Former Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula writes about the athletes who would come to his team with their skills and talents, ready to submit to the coach whose job was to instruct, discipline, and inspire them to do things better than they thought they could do on their own. The coach leaves each person being coached, or PBC, more competent, fulfilled, and self-confident than he or she would have been otherwise.
Coaching might have stayed in the realm of sports and entertainment if it hadn't burst into the corporate world a few years ago. Faced with the unsettling impact of galloping change, rapid technological advances, and tidal waves of information glut, business leaders began to see that no single person could keep abreast of everything. The CEO could no longer manage from the top, keep aware of everything that was going on, and have the ability to tell people what to do. In companies large and small, people at all levels had to learn how to deal with change, develop new management styles, make wise decisions, and become more effective, all while they coped with their hyperactive lifestyles and increasing stress. Many wanted help with their own life planning and life-management issues. Workers needed to think and behave like leaders and decision-makers. CEOs and other executives wanted people to guide them into this new world, like my young friend coached me through the transition into my sixties. The coaching principles that athletes and performers had used for years suddenly became relevant to the business community. Personal coaching moved beyond health clubs and into corporate offices and the workplace. According to Fortune magazine, coaching has become the "hottest thing in management" today.
But the impact of coaching goes beyond management. Currently, coaching is hot everywhere except in the church. People are turning to nutritional coaches, fitness coaches, financial coaches, public-speaking coaches, and what have become known as "life coaches"-who help others find focus and direction for their lives and careers. Some people look for marriage coaches, parenting coaches, coaches for their spiritual journeys, time-management coaches, and coaches to help them through life transitions. All of these coaches come alongside to guide others through life's challenges and to help them move forward with confidence in the midst of change.
At its core, coaching is the art and practice of guiding a person or group from where they are toward the greater competence and fulfillment that they desire. Coaching helps people expand their vision, build their confidence, unlock their potential, increase their skills, and take practical steps toward their goals. Unlike counseling or therapy, coaching is less threatening, less concerned about problem solving, and more inclined to help people reach their potentials.
Coaching is helping others to feel inspired and motivated to grow themselves. -Lou Tice
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Coaching is not counseling. It is not for those who need therapy to overcome disruptive painful influences from the past; coaches help people build vision and move toward the future. Coaching is not reactive looking back; it's proactive looking ahead. It is not about healing; it's about growing. It focuses less on overcoming weaknesses and more on building skills and strengths. Usually coaching is less formal than the therapist-patient relationship and more of a partnership between two equals, one of whom has experiences, perspectives, or knowledge that can be useful to the other.
WHAT ABOUT MENTORING, DISCIPLING, AND CONSULTING?
Is coaching just a fancy name for the mentoring that has been in business circles for years or the discipling that Jesus talked about in Matthew 28:19? Certainly there is overlap. Some writers talk about coaching-mentoring, implying that they are one. Others use coaching, mentoring, and discipleship interchangeably. Sometimes these words are replaced with new terms like modeling, spiritual guidance, soul care, sponsoring, or partnering.
A young pastor suggested still another term that I have used consistently. Over one of our breakfast meetings he said, "Gary, I don't need a father. I've got a good one. If I want a counselor, I know where I can get one. What I need, more than anything else, is someone to journey with, someone who has walked the road of life a little longer than I have. I want to be able to come alongside you for an hour or so every week, talk about life, learn from your experiences, and have you help me avoid some of the potholes on the road." From that point we called our meetings journeying times.
Whatever term you prefer, all involve a relationship in which at least one person is further along in the journey of life and willing to guide others-often as a trusted role model. All of these terms involve accountability, encouragement, and a commitment to growth. Some of the relationships are informal, like the journeying that I did with my pastor-friend. Others are very structured with formal contracts, specific goals, and the giving and completion of assignments. Some are short-term partnerships. Others are like Bobb Biehl's definition of mentoring as "a lifelong relationship in which a mentor helps a protégé reach his or her God-given potential."
As I write this, I'm surrounded by piles of books on coaching, mentoring, and discipleship. Many give elaborate definitions and explanations, attempting to distinguish one term from another. For the most part, these discussions reflect the personalities, preferences, and personal experiences of the authors. I'll probably reflect all of these when I suggest that coaching is similar to both mentoring and discipleship but broader.
In a very helpful book, Ted Engstrom defines a mentor as someone who "provides modeling, close supervision on special projects, individualized help in many areas-discipleship, encouragement, correction, confrontation, and a calling to accountability." According to Engstrom, a mentor is someone who has achieved superior rank and influence in an organization or profession. The mentor is an authority in his or her field as a result of disciplined study and experience. This person is willing to commit time and emotional energy to a relationship that guides an understudy's growth and development.
The idea of mentoring apparently came from Homer's Odyssey, in which King Odysseus went to war leaving his household and young son, Telemachus, in the care of a wise and proven teacher named Mentor. Clearly, the king was not in a great hurry to get home because he was gone for twenty-one years. When he returned he found that the young prince had become a competent leader and man of integrity, molded by the example, guidance, and wisdom of Mentor. For centuries, the concept of apprenticeship meant something similar-the guidance of an older, more experienced person, passing knowledge and teaching skills to a young learner.
As iron sharpens iron, a friend sharpens a friend. -Proverbs 27:17, NLT
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While mentoring has become a popular idea among Christians in recent years, its modern popularity arose in the business world, where more established and successful leaders took on the task of guiding protégés in their professional growth. When I began my teaching career as a young professor fresh out of graduate school, a more senior faculty member took me under her wing and gently guided me in the ways of academia. We never used the term, but she was a mentor-helping me become more proficient in my profession and career. Mentoring still takes place in many work settings, but it's fading in popularity. According to a professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, mentoring systems have largely failed. In organizations that are lean and focused on the pressures of change management and strategic planning, there's little time left for mentoring. People are paid for what they produce, not for the time they spend developing others. As a result, executives and managers are looking for coaches outside their companies and vocations.
Coaching, then, is broader than mentoring, encompassing but going beyond career or apprenticeship issues. A coach and person being coached (PBC) often are not even in the same vocation. People who are coached typically want more out of life in general, not just in their vocational or spiritual lives. They look for a coach who, by example and dialogue, leads them into greater confidence, commitment, and competence for living. "The highest calling of coaches today is to become guides to a transient culture," writes Frederic M. Hudson in The Handbook of Coaching. "Effective coaches inspire those they coach with a sense of self-reliance and deep-seated determination that is much needed in these uncommon times.... Effective coaches model the future because they are willing to invent it, design it, and insist on it. As for change, they see change as an asset for getting a job done rather than a reason to be afraid."
Discipleship is even more focused than mentoring. Discipleship centers on teaching biblical truth and spiritual disciplines to younger believers. While there are different ways of approaching the discipleship task, it often involves set courses of study, a more limited time frame, and a teacher-student type of relationship.
The goal of coaching is not in fixing what is broken, but in discovering new talents and new ways to use old talents that lead to far greater effectiveness. -Elizabeth and Gifford Pinchot
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In many ways, coaching seems like the consulting that has become popular in business and some church circles in recent years. In these settings, consultants are paid to analyze a situation and give advice. We once attended a church that had grown beyond its capacity but had no place to expand. A paid consultant was hired to analyze our situation and give advice. He talked to the church leaders, gave a detailed questionnaire to the congregation, looked carefully at the community, and then gave his analysis and recommendations in return for his consulting fee. We frequently need experts like this. If you're sick you go to a doctor for a consultation about your problem and its treatment.
In contrast, coaching is broader. It doesn't involve making a diagnosis or giving advice. As a coach, you don't need to be an expert in the areas that concern the PBC. But you do need the ability to listen, understand, and guide as a person looks at his or her own situation, reaches conclusions about what to do, and then takes action as you guide as an encourager and cheerleader.
WHAT MAKES COACHING CHRISTIAN?
Books and professional articles on coaching often mention values and sometimes refer to spirituality, but most are written for a secular market and without reference to anything Christian. Coaching, therefore, is new to the Christian community-although it could be argued that much of the ministry of Jesus and the early church involved coaching.
Excerpted from CHRISTIAN COACHING by GARY R. COLLINS Copyright © 2001 by People Helper's International, Inc.. Excerpted by permission.
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