“Christian educators and life coaches have similar goals: they both want to help people develop skills (in addition to knowledge) for fruitful living.”
Christian Formation and Coaching?
As Christian educators well know, Christian formation is not just about acquiring knowledge. Christian formation is also about developing practices that help us live a Gospel-centered life. This is where coaching can be very helpful.
What is “coaching?” As I discussed in a previous Building Faith article, life-coaching is a new movement that Christians can learn a lot from. Christian educators and life coaches have similar goals: they both want to help people develop skills (in addition to knowledge) for fruitful living.
1. The Importance of Spiritual Skills
There are basic skills of spiritual practice that come up in daily life – for example, prayer, reading the Scriptures, listening to God, and being in community with others. What if we thought of Christian formation as creating a roadmap for developing these skills?
2. The Coaching Model as Empowering
Coaching assumes that skills are accessible to everyone, and that skills can be honed with support, encouragement, and moderate accountability. Coaching reminds us of that old saying “God is in the details.” Two corollaries come out of this idea: First it assures us spiritual skills can be learned, so there is nothing wrong with us for not knowing how to do it immediately. Indeed, we are all pilgrims on the way. Second, it helps us to see that we do not have to be alone on our journey but can ask for specific guidance. Finally, God is with us at every step; God is delighted with our practice.
An Example: Prayer
Prayer, for example, can be “coached.” Thanksgiving and praise, lamentation and confession, contemplation, and intercession are all different types of prayer. Using a coaching approach, we break the act of creating a prayer practice into its various components. Individual prayer starts with finding a time and a place to pray. The next question is content: what to say or do. Finally we wonder what to do when the prayer is ended. Is there some action or change of heart that comes from the act of praying. From a coaching perspective, all of this can be taught, modeled, practiced, and reflected on.
3. Coaching Changes the Pace
Coaching does one more thing: it changes the pace; it slows us down, allowing us to see the depth and width and breadth of the spiritual life. In the Christian journey, we will inevitably run up against places where it is hard. This is where coaching is at its best. A coaching approach, since it is strength-based, allows for space and time. We can take our time and dismantle the resistance we are experiencing. Perhaps, conversely, we can discover places of pure delight and ease. These moments of noticing the joy or the struggle allow us to enter more fully into our lives with God.
Of course, Christian educators do not need to run out and become life coaches(!) But by keeping these coaching perspectives in mind (skill development, encouragement, and space to grow) we can further support people in their discipleship of Jesus Christ.
Marna Franson has worked with families and children for over twenty-five years, in the church and in educational settings. She is a Martha Beck Certified Life Coach and a Postulant for Holy Orders from the Episcopal Diocese of Arkansas.
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