Discipleship in 3 Simple Steps (Part 3)

Yesterday I promised that I would explore further the issue of questions and their power.  As I was investigating this some time ago, I somehow ran into the discipline of Coaching.  I confess that I had heard the terms Life Coach or Executive Coach, but I didn’t really know what it meant.  I assumed it meant a mentor, but as I was reading on the issue I discovered that is not at all what a coach is.  Coaching is a fairly new discipline that has some similarities to counseling, but is focused not on problems, but on healthy people who want to move forward.  Sometimes healthy people just get stuck, and don’t know how to move forward toward greater productivity or effectiveness.  This is what coaches specialize in, and there is a growing number of Christian coaches who apply this discipline to the Christian life and ministry.  Tony Stolzfus is one of the best in that category, and I’ll be quoting extensively from one of his books in this article.  When I read his book Leadership Coaching: The Disciplines, Skills, and Heart of a Christian Coach, at many points I felt like I was reading a textbook on discipleship.  He used the language of Coach / Client because he does this for a living and charges a fee much as a counselor does, but what he is really doing is discipleship.

The secular coaching community often has a very “new age” feel to it, with the presupposition that you have everything within you to be a success, you just need to draw it out.  And the way the coach draws it out is through asking questions.  Christian coaches recognized the kernel of truth in that and endeavored to separate the kernel from the husk.  Christian coaches start with the presupposition that as a believer, you have the Holy Spirit living in you, and He is there to speak to you, and lead you and guide you into a life of greater holiness and spiritual effectiveness.  He is always speaking, but we are often not listening.  The Christian life or ministry coach asks you questions to help you discover what the Holy Spirit is saying to you, and then asks you to decide what you will do about it (does that sound familiar?).  At the center of this is this basic truth:

Change is more a function of motivation than information.

That is a paradigm shift.  Our Christian Discipleship programs have historically been heavy on education, with a curriculum or using a book to study together.  Christian education is an obvious necessity, but the problem I see in the American Church (I currently live in a foreign country but attend an American Church) is that we have far more information than obedience.  What we need is life change, not more theological knowledge.  Our American Church system has pretended that if we just preach good expository sermons and teach solid doctrine, it will lead to spiritual maturity.  But that is clearly not true.  Some may indeed assimilate that information into life changing action, but many (most?) do not.  So the question for discipleship is how to bring about life change in accordance with Biblical truth.  The discipline of Coaching has something to teach us about discipleship.

A mentor gives advice, but the person receiving the advice may not be motivated to do what they mentor is telling them.  They may even know the mentor is right, but if they are not motivated to make the change, it won’t happen.   Tony says,

Most of the time we have a pretty clear idea of what God is asking of us.  God initiates change in our lives — He has a personalized change agenda for us and is always speaking and arranging circumstances to bring it to our attention…. when we believe the most important factor in change is motivation, we ask questions and encourage people to come up with their own solutions, because we know that buy-in and motivation are highest for steps that we develop and choose on our own…. Coaching prioritizes buy-in and motivation over giving people the right solution.”

And as for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as his anointing teaches you about all things…. abide in him.”  I John 2:27

The gulf between God’s holiness and yours is larger than the universe.  If we saw a true picture of God’s holiness alongside our own depravity, it would literally kill us (See Exodus 33:18-23).  Yet of all our infinite number of shortcomings, how many is God explicitly prompting you to work on right now?  My experience is that I can count that number on the fingers of one hand.  Of all that God sees in me that needs to change, He only chooses to reveal a few things at once.  Applied to coaching, I call this the See/Say principle: Just because I see something doesn’t mean I’m supposed to say it.  Seeing a problem in a client’s life doesn’t make me responsible to address it.  At any moment, God sees many things wrong, but asks for change on only a few.  Therefore, I need to figure out what things God is speaking to the client about and limit my agenda to match His.”

People are most motivated to act on their own plans and ideas.  Therefore, if you want to maximize growth, you’ll allow people to set their own agenda, because that’s where the motivation is the highest.  Letting the client lead is also an expression of faith in God’s work in the person’s life.  God initiates change.  That means God was at work in this person’s life before a coach ever came on the scene, and He is actively leveraging every circumstance in the person’s life to bring him or her to maturity…. When you believe that God is already at work in a person’s life, it follows that the one who has the best handle on God’s change agenda is that person.  Therefore, the most dependable way to get in line with what God is doing is to let the client set the agenda.”

The purpose in a man’s mind is like deep waters, but a man of understanding will draw it out.”  Proverbs 20:5

People only do what they want to do anyway.  Push people where they don’t want to be pushed and you’ll only get resistance.  So it doesn’t matter at all what you see, or what great insights you have – the only thing that matters is what the client sees…..Once the client sets the agenda, the coach takes responsibility to focus the conversation and push it toward action.  The coach’s job is to help you think more clearly, to push you to go deeper and reach higher, to provide the structure you need to stay focused on the agenda you’ve chosen.

I need to pause here and emphasize that in discipleship there is a place for education and confronting the person with the truth.  There are certainly times when they need more information and they need the discipler to point out a scripture passage that applies to their life.  But if the individual has agreed to be in a discipleship relationship in the first place, it is fair to say that they are desiring to do what God wants them to do.  The discipler has the role of coming along side of them and helping them take the necessary steps, but should not become the authority in their lives.  The authority must remain with the scripture and the Holy Spirit.  The amount of time or attention given to education versus asking questions and letting them set the agenda will likely be proportional to the amount of Biblical knowledge this individual has.  A new believer will need more teaching, and a Bible College graduate will need more coaching type of questions.

Tony’s book then goes on to detail how this is done, what kind of questions to ask, how to recognize areas that need to be probed deeper, and how to help the client set appropriate goals that will move him or her toward the ultimate goal of Christ likeness.  It is not a book about discipleship per se, but has much that applies to the discipleship relationship.  I highly recommend it.

Now for a quick quiz. How many questions did Jesus ask as reported in the gospels (excluding those in the parables)?   See the answer to this question HERE.