Coaching in the Bible?
Recently, I wrote an article entitled Coaching in the Bible: A Scriptural Argument for Coaching As a Transformational Process. It was published in the Spring issue of Enrichment Journal. You can access it at:
Is coaching in the Bible? Was Jesus a coach? We need to consider these questions because coaching has become an important part of the corporate and church landscape. None of the biblical leaders envisioned themselves filling the role of a coach. Not only does the Bible never use the title coach, there is not title, role, or ministry gift that parallels the task of a coach. We can, however, find coaching in biblical principles and practices.
Coming alongside people to help them discover a better way, sustain vision, and move forward in their life or career is a direct reflection of the heart of God displayed in Scripture. Proverbs 20:5 states, “The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out.” This is the essence of coaching. Coaching is transformational at its core. Thomas Crane points this out by stating: “Transformational Coaching is the art of empowering people to improve their effectiveness … this process engages the huge untapped potential within people.”1 Tony Stoltzfus asserts: “At its heart, leadership coaching is about helping people … a coach draws out the abilities God has put in someone else.”2
We have an example of coaching in Mark 8:27–29. “Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, ‘Who do people say I am?’ They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’ ‘But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’ Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah.’ ”
Why do we consider this coaching on the part of Christ? According to the International Coaching Federation (ICF), coaching uses powerful questioning. The coach uses inquiry versus telling.3 Jesus could have told His disciples who He was. He chose instead to draw the answer from within His followers.
Coaching includes exploring what issues exist for the person being coached versus telling him or her what the issues are or suggesting solutions. Questions must address the agenda of the person being coached and seek information about that agenda and orient to solving issues in the life of that person. Jesus’ first question does this because these men had left family and home to follow Him. Jesus caused them to scan the environment and come to grips with others’ perceptions, plus their perception of themselves. Then He probed deeper with a powerful question that forced the disciples (Peter in particular) to take ownership of the issue. Jesus then used this revelation He excavated from within them as a foundation on which to build.
Another reason this qualifies as coaching is it speaks to the heart of Peter and draws out a deeper understanding within himself, who he is, and who he is following. Jesus helped Peter with what Whitmore calls self-actualization: “The need associated with self-actualizers is the need for meaning and purpose in their lives.”4
As we consider Peter’s journey, no doubt this question from Jesus, and Peter’s response, was truly foundational for the disciples, as well as for Peter. What we see as the true insight is Peter’s confession with his mouth. How often do we believe in our mind but intentionally dismiss the thought without an open statement or confession. When we consider Paul’s admonition in Romans 10:9: “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” we begin to understand the power of verbal confession born from within. Jesus understood this, and the power behind it. Hence, His question to those who left everything to follow Him.
Jesus is laying a foundation for Peter and the disciples to build on. After all, is not this what coaching does? Coaching is a transformational process to redirect behavior and support change.
The first step is to agree a problem exists. The problem was the disciples’ misconceptions about who Jesus is and why He came. Is He the Christ? How could they move on if there is no agreement on this fundamental truth?
Maybe Jesus was sensing some confusion on the part of His followers. This is the most critical step in the coaching process.
Another step in the coaching process is to mutually discuss alternative solutions. Jesus did this by asking for the different opinions concerning who He was. The coach and the person being coached together will identify as many alternative solutions as may be necessary to solve the problem. Ferdinand Fournies points out a valuable opinion when he states, “Because you are dealing with behavior, it is necessary to specify those changes in behavior that are needed to influence the outcome or result.”5 The goal is to mutually agree on which alternatives the person will act on to solve the problem. Jesus confirms the agreement by encouraging Peter after he gave the correct answer.
Once we identify coaching as a transformational process in the ministry of Christ, we need to be cautious. The ability to ask powerful questions was certainly evidenced in Jesus’ ministry, and is a basic skill every coach needs to continually develop. However, referring to Jesus as a coach presents at least two concerns. One, it raises the possibility of thinking of Jesus as being synonymous with coach. Jesus did much more than coach. He mentored, taught, healed, and atoned for our sins. The world needs a Savior, not a coach.
Second, titles influence perception. Titles can frame a person’s life by putting that person in a box with that particular title as the label. It is not always easy to break away from that perception. It would certainly be more appropriate and accurate if we stay with Peter’s assertion: “You are the Messiah.”
1. Thomas G. Crane, The Heart of Coaching: Using Transformational Coaching to Create a High-performance Culture, 2d ed. (San Diego: FTA Press, 2002), 212.
2. Tony Stolzfus, Leadership Coaching: The Disciplines, Skills and Heart of a Christian Coach. (Virginia Beach: Coach 22, 2005), 10.
4. J. Whitmore, Coaching for Performance: Growing People, Performance, and Purpose, 3d ed. (Boston: Nicholas-Brealey, 2002), 112.
5. Ferdinand F. Fournies, Coaching for Improved Work Performance, rev ed. (New York: McGraw Hill. 2000), 147.