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Coaching is transforming the business world. Does it belong in the church?
Despite the billions of dollars corporations spend each year on seminars and training, many are noticing that managers and leaders who attend corporate training do not integrate those changes into their workday lives. Simultaneously, corporations are discovering that the impact of coach-training can last for years, yielding a higher return on investment (ROI) and resulting in more sustainable change than the traditional approach.

Additionally, there has been a generational shift from accepted vocational leadership styles, moving from military commander (key value = loyalty) or even CEO (key value = fulfillment of the CEO's vision) to the emerging leader as coach (key value = connectedness and individual growth).

According to a 2005 Harris Interactive survey, only 20 percent of people feel passionate about their jobs, and 33 percent believe they've reached a dead end in their careers. Those who do stay in their jobs are doing so because of the fulfillment it gives them. People want a life that counts—especially where they spend most of it ... at work.

Finally, coaching comes at a time when many have begun to see the limitations of mentoring: There is a limited number of wise people with expert experience in one's field who are available and who can communicate that wisdom in ways that one can receive. Additionally, mentors often communicate in modern rather than postmodern ways (e.g., "Just do it like I did, and you too can be successful").

That coaching movement is being tracked by the leading International Coach Federation (ICF) (coachfedera, an accrediting organization that currently claims 14,000 members and offers coach-training organizations the incentive to be approved by them in the highest ethical and professional standards available worldwide. This secular group is made up of volunteers who are highly motivated to teach coaching values and methods worldwide.

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Could it be that the commercial popularity of secular coaching is a God-designed trend connected to the Great Commission for the greatest harvest? And is this early success of secular coaching a forerunner of a huge wave of coaching in the church; a key part of the discipleship formation and leadership mobilization strategy of Jesus in these last days?

As noble as this sounds, there is a drawback: most of the coach-training accredited by this group is thoroughly humanistic (e.g., "Whatever is in your heart to do I will coach you to fulfill it since it must be good, true and righteous."), and some of it is increasingly New Age in its bent (e.g., incorporating reincarnation and Eastern religious paradigms). Most pastors would be reluctant to mobilize their leaders for coach-training from groups that do not model the same biblical values they are called to protect.

The response in the church in the past is to generally ignore what is happening in the professional coach arena and simply take up the word "coach" to apply to existing leadership roles as a novel way of keeping the latest buzz about leadership going. These well-meaning workers and leaders have had no training in the distinctive of coaching, except for a workshop or two on asking questions.

This minimal information often results in a watered-down version of mentoring, counseling, teaching and coaching that minimizes the unique dynamic of the coaching process. Those who come up short are the nonpaying "clients" who think they have been coached and have found it wanting.

In response to this deficient model, a Christian-coaching movement has emerged that offers an alternative, driven by Christians who have been trained by secular coaching methodology, and are striving to integrate their faith with the methods and materials they have received. Some of it is the editing of secular/business coaching methods and materials to affirm those truths that come from Scripture or finding various scriptures to support existing coaching practices.

The future for the church may well lie in the developing of coaching and coach training that is theologically sound and holistically integrated for the context of our postmodern culture. This will continue as coach-training will become a sought-after requirement in the applicants for leadership positions in the church in the next decade.

Reports coming in over the last two years have suggested a strong turn to take coaching more seriously in the church.

Denominational leaders, school faculty, pastors and church workers are all increasingly hearing the request, "Will you coach me?" from those in their ranks and ministry spheres. In the last five years elective courses on coaching have become the most popular courses in the history of one leading Christian graduate school with faculty, administrators and students attending, at additional costs, simply by hearing about the transformed lives by word-of-mouth reporting.

So what does coaching look like? Personal and professional coaching comes with many faces but mostly falls into three categories: life-skills coaching, organizational or business coaching, and leadership or executive coaching.

Christian coaching may include all of these but also must integrate biblical values of relational discipleship and spiritual formation. It challenges learners and leaders to embrace the changes that God Himself is initiating in their lives, and steward a kingdom definition of success in the church and marketplace.

The primary power of coaching is in the uniqueness of the conversation. The goal for Christian-coach conversation might be better described as transformational, in other words, having change as its goal—from the inside out.

Christian coaching transforms the place we look for answers: from the teacher-driven model to the trainer model requires a client to obey the voice of the Holy Spirit in fulfilling the Great Commission.

It transforms what we listen to: the bound-up design/dream/destiny/kingdom mandate that needs a coach to help call it forth in our lives.

Christian coaching transforms how we ask questions: moving from closed information transactions to powerful open questions that steward real and lasting transformation.

Christian coaching is modeled by numerous examples of Jesus. One that I have found helpful is the encounter Jesus has with His disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:

He stepped up courageously in verses 15 through 16 and transformed a reasoned conversation into a coaching conversation.

He spoke up boldly in verse 17 when He asked the disciples a powerful question that every one of today's disciples must consider in their lives.

He listened up discerningly in verses 19 through 24 when He heard the voice of hopelessness in the midst of the disciples' stories.

He showed up authentically in verses 25 through 26, when He spoke the truth in love (modeling "real talk" rather than "religious talk") by going to the core of the matter.

All of this resulted in the disciples being woken up spiritually in verses 33 and 35 with a fire in their hearts that came both from His teaching of the Word and from His extraordinary coaching conversation.

Joseph Umidi, D.Min., teaches ministry leadership at Regent University School of Divinity, oversees a church-planting movement and is the founder of Transformational Leadership Coaching (transformationalcoach, the largest international Christian coach-training ministry accredited with the International Coach Federation, with more than 600 certified coaches in 13 countries.

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