Coaching for discipleship

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In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus makes it clear a key responsibility of the church is to make disciples. Jesus’ exhortation was explicit (to make disciples) and the outcome He had in mind was clear – discipleship, which involves the making of mature disciples.
The challenge of making disciples ought to still be one of the highest priorities of the church today. It seems so easy to say Matthew 28:19, but how do we put this into practice in the 21st Century Church?
When Jesus said to go and make disciples, I don’t think He had in mind for them to implement a multi-week curriculum introducing new Christians to the basics of Christianity. Nor was He thinking that people would become mature disciples just by attending church, church programs and/or small groups. Not that these are bad or wrong, but I think Jesus had a much bigger and longer-term picture in His mind. The context for Jesus’ disciple making plan was a three-year on-the-job training process, which involved the disciples living life with Jesus. During this time, He modeled to them the life of a disciple and taught them through various creative means the heart of discipleship.
Sylvia Collinson describes the process of making disciples as an intentional, informal activity of spiritual nurture, where a mutual commitment is made in the context of personal relationship to create an environment where learning takes place and which produces active followers and participants of Jesus and His Kingdom over an extended period of time. This is a comprehensive definition of the process of making disciples, and should be given careful consideration as the Church seeks to grow and multiply disciples.
In brief, making disciples should include:

  • spiritual nurture
  • commitment
  • personal relationship
  • learning and growth
  • intentionality and purpose

These are also all characteristics of Life Coaching, which is emerging as a strong partner in the Church’s quest to fulfill Christ’s mandate to go and make disciples of all nations. It’s this relationship between discipleship and coaching I want to explore further in the rest of this article.
Life Coaching can be defined as:

  • “ Practicing the disciplines of believing in people in order to empower them to change” (Tony Stoltzfus)
  • “ Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximise their growth.” (John Whitmore)
  • “ Coaching is the art and practice of guiding a person or group from where they are toward the greater competence and fulfillment that they desire.” (Gary Collins)

It involves helping people realise their full potential in Christ and then partnering with them to empower them to become who Christ has called them to be, and fulfill what He has called them to do. This happens in the context of relationship, by being with people. Paul described a similar process in Colossians 1:28-29 when he says we want to present everyone mature in Christ. Paul is talking about a process of empowering disciples – this is what Life Coaching does – it seeks to empower others to fulfill their potential, as they grow in maturity.
In his book ‘Leadership Coaching’, Tony Stoltzfus includes the following list as some of the characteristics found in Life Coaching:

  • Coaching is a relationship
  • Coaching is helping people learn instead of teaching them
  • Your own insight is much more powerful than my advice
  • Change is more a function of motivation than information
  • Coaching works through influence, not authority
  • Fulfilling your destiny is only possible in community

These characteristics of Life Coaching upon closer investigation seem to overlap with Jesus process of making disciples, as found in the gospels. Jesus was with His disciples; everything He did was in the context of relationship. He created a learning environment not centred on formal teaching, but involving experience based learning. He helped the disciples to see what they already had within, and how they could use this to change and influence the world through a community of believers, called the Church. Jesus was teaching His disciples how to be self-governing in their faith, therefore growing towards maturity.
If we are going to become mature and self-governing as disciples, we need to not be reliant on the next church service or program or the next Christian book to get us through. Rather, we must be willing to examine ourselves to discover what is happening for us and then move forward towards future growth and change, through our relationship with Jesus.
One of the common models used in coaching is called the GROW model, which helps lead towards a self-governing mindset. It’s an acronym for Goal, Reality, Options and Will. By importing this model into the process of making disciples, coaches help Christians establish a goal for growth. They help people identify that place of greater potential the Lord would have them step up and into. Coaches help them establish the reality of where they currently find themselves. After this, they help the person identify what are the options and resources available to them to enable this growth to occur. Finally, the coach helps the person choose what they will commit to and encourages and supports them to see it through to completion.
Within this GROW model, coaches ask powerful questions of people to help them think, understand and process the change and growth that is occurring. Jesus was the master of asking powerful questions. You may remember some He asked: Who do people say that I am? Who do you say that I am? What do you want me to do for you? Jesus intention was always calling people up to a higher level of maturity, and He always started with the situation that the person found themselves in. Similarly coaching is always focused on the personal agenda of the person being coached, with the intention of calling them to a higher place of living in Jesus’ destiny for their lives.
It’s clear and undeniable that Jesus calls the Church to make disciples of all nations, and this includes embracing a reproductive cycle of discipleship. Disciples make disciples, who make disciples, who make disciples, and the reproduction continues to take place. We are disciples today, because Jesus’ disciples were faithful to multiply and reproduce what He gave to them. It’s in this multiplication process, coaching offers a very reproducible framework via the simplicity of the GROW model, whereby people are being equipped and released into their God given destiny, thereby seeing God’s people transformed, and nations discipled.
Discipleship is therefore more than a program or a quick fix solution; rather it’s a lifestyle involving a process of growth and change, as we increasingly become mature in Christ. A tool to enhance and accelerate this process of discipleship is Life Coaching. Its similarities in characteristics and intent allow it to be a strong partner with not only making disciples, but also helping these disciples grow and become all God intended them to be. Coaching is both purposeful and intentional, both of which the Church needs to embrace if it’s to take seriously Jesus’ mandate to make disciples of all nations.
If you would like to find out more about Life Coaching, be trained & equipped to coach, find a Life Coach to help achieve your growth goals, and/or to become a registered life coach, contact ‘Cultivate Coaching’. Cultivate Coaching is a ministry of the Baptist Association, and runs a number of different levels of training towards establishing Life Coaches and Church Planting Coaches for Churches.

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