Late last year Karl Bastian, founder of Kidology.org, posted a series of questions about the differences and similarities between discipleship and spiritual life coaching. I think his post is helpful at cutting to the heart of the issue, especially when there continues to be so much apparent confusion about what coaching is and is not. You can read his article entitled Coaching vs Discipling over at Discipleblog.com. Four people, including me, replied to his post.
I personally am involved with a form of coaching in my own church which involves parents. You can check out the blog specifically designed to resource them here. In the meantime, I invite you to read my original response to Karl’s post below.
Coaching in the style credentialed by the International Coach Federation is founded on the principle of asking good questions and listening actively. It is a framework in which the coachees are guided to their own conclusions based on their unique skills, backgrounds and aspirations. The agenda, in the Christian coaching matrix, is what is God doing in the life of the coachee, rather than what content and goals does the coach have for the coachee.
Stated differently, coaching helps coachees resolve hurdles to their goals by clarifying their objectives, identifying resources at their disposal, and opportunities they wish to explore, and setting goals to achieve the larger aim. The coach need not have expertise in the discipline of the coachee. She simply needs to know how to guide the coachee through good questions and holding the coachee accountable to commitments.
So no, coaching is not discipleship in the strictest sense.
However, discipleship can incorporate some of the principles and tools of coaching. Jesus was a master of asking good questions and challenging people to think at a far deeper level. Look at his interactions with the disciples, the crowds, the pharisees and other religious leaders throughout the gospels. Often he asked penetrating questions which cut to the heart of the matter. Was this coaching or discipleship, or something else altogether?
There are forms of coaching being deployed in the marketplace which explore spirituality. However, I would not equate them with Christian discipleship.
I do think, however, that discipleship can benefit from the attitude of respect and active listening which is promoted by the professional coaching world. Far too much of discipleship tends to have a negative slant toward the disciple. Jesus reminds us by his own example what a difference it makes when we actually do life with those we disciple. Loving them. Inviting them into our daily routines. Being real. Expecting the best from them. Most importantly, having a relationship with them, just as we should have a trust relationship with Jesus. And isn’t that the point of discipleship, anyway?