What is the Biblical Basis for Coaching? Part 1

[Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in a CCM newsletter in May 2009, but it’s unique value brings it back to the new website!]

The development of a sound biblical basis for coaching will be critical if it is to be given a place of broad acceptance and usefulness in the Christian community in the days to come. This is an area that has only recently received serious consideration or study. The primary reason for coaching’s expanded application in Christian ministries has been based much more on its pragmatic value than a thorough biblical review.

As authors Linda Miller and Chad Hall acknowledge, “Coaching is growing because it works.” And it does work – but that is not enough. It is vital that we take the time to determine whether there is a biblical framework for coaching and not assume that just because it sells it must be good. Pragmatics alone cannot validate Christian ministry.

Bible coaches?
We can safely acknowledge that none of the biblical leaders ever envisioned themselves filling the role of a coach per se. Not only is the title “coach” never used in the Bible, there isn’t another title, role, or ministry gift that exactly parallels the task of a coach. That being said, I do believe it is reasonable to state that much of coaching can be found in the context of biblical principles and practices.

For instance, the idea of coming alongside another in a manner that helps them discover a better way, sustain vision, and move forward in their life or career is a direct reflection of the heart of God as seen displayed over and over again in Scripture. Proverbs states, “Though good advice lies deep within a person’s heart, the wise will draw it out” (Proverbs 20:5 NLT), and Paul reminds us that “the whole law can be summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself'” (Galatians 5:14 NIV).

The willingness of a coach to lay aside personal agendas for that of the person being coached (PBC) is a great example of love directed toward a “neighbor.” Coaching operates around a framework that positively resonates with biblical truth. Barnabas and Paul are two New Testament figures often referred to as great coaching models, and for good reason. Let’s take a look at their example:

In Acts 9:23-31, Barnabas showed great discernment both in sensing God’s work in Saul, and as he observed the potential in this young convert. Believing in people before they have had a chance to prove themselves is a wonderful trait in a coach. In Acts 11:22-24, Barnabas was sent to Antioch to look into the truth of this new and unfamiliar emphasis in ministry to the gentiles. The Jerusalem church knew he would be able to go to Antioch with an open mind, capable of discovering where God was at work. Coaches work to free themselves of preconceived notions of what and how God is working in the life of a PBC (Person Being Coached), an attitude that encourages self-discovery on the part of the PBC.

In Acts 13:1-3, the Bible listed Barnabas first on the team with Paul. That stands to reason, for Barnabas was the networker, the facilitator, the one who had introduced Paul into the Christian community as well as into the church at Antioch. However, as the new missionary venture unfolded, Paul was most often mentioned first, suggesting a shift in the way they were perceived by the church. While there is no indication either way, knowing the character of Barnabas, it is reasonable to believe that he was perfectly willing to let Paul take the lead of the apostolic movement. Great coaches gain their sense of accomplishment through the advancements made by their PBCs. The coach will be the first to applaud.

It is clear that Paul understood his own call as an “apostle” of the Lord Jesus Christ. He refers to his apostolic ministry in the salutations of nine of his letters. However, Paul also knew that his gift set was not to be the ultimate example for every other believer. On more than one occasion he identified other ministry gifts (1 Cor. 12:8-10, 28-29; Eph. 4:11), and yet never does he state that those lists exhaust God’s manifold wisdom and grace. Paul’s concern was that whatever gift we may receive, we must see it as having come our way by virtue of “the grace given us” by God (Rom. 12:6), and that we use it for his glory and the benefit of others (2 Cor. 8:5). The “gift” of coaching is no different.

Paul highly appreciated the contributions made by those with dissimilar gifts and regularly encouraged their operation. In fact, he knew that the church could only reach the fullness of the maturity of Christ as each member discovered and served in the context of their particular expression of God’s grace (Eph. 4:16).

Christian coaches can follow Paul’s example in two ways. One, see your own coaching as a divine call that is to be nurtured with an eye toward excellence and integrity. And two, assist the PBC in their search for greater clarity and understanding of the gifts God has planted in them and how they can best be used to contribute to God’s kingdom purposes. This is particularly applicable when working with emerging and existing leaders…but more about that in my next article.

[Look for part 2 to Phil’s article in an upcoming issue!]

Dr. Phil Newell is a pastor and coach, specializing in empowering leaders for church planting and church revitalization, and a student advisor/coach at George Fox Seminary. www.crmleaders.org