Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:1)
The case can be made that anybody who wants to reach their full potential must have a good coach. It is historically and quantifiably true not only in athletics, but also in the trades, arts and sciences, business and so on. Most importantly however, it is true spiritually.
The biblical term for spiritual coaching is discipleship. Jesus’ plan for every believer to grow and fulfill their life purpose in Him is that they be coached or discipled. That is why in His final instructions before His departure to heaven He told His followers to “go and make disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 28:19) Paul, on a number of occasions in his writings made a case for discipleship. Probably one of the most all-encompassing was his appeal to the Corinthians that that they follow him both as a discipler and as a disciple himself of Christ. “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1)
For people in our modern culture the term coaching is more relatable and understandable than discipleship. The principles of successful coaching, as applied to every field of endeavor, are true also for spiritual growth. There are some basic natural principles that make for good coaching that any person aspiring to be a modern day disciple of Christ should look for in a spiritual coach or discipler.
Coaches are typically older and wiser than those they are coaching. Coaches have the benefit of accumulated wisdom from both years of evaluated experience and study.
Great coaches have wisdom not only about their craft but also with regard to how to address the unique needs and diverse personalities of those they are coaching.
Last week I was in Des Moines, Iowa, where I attended the 2013 United States Track and Field Championships. A lot was at stake for the athletes as only the top three finishers in each event could qualify to compete for the U.S. in the World Track and Field Championships to be held in Russia this August. Needless to say it was a very competitive meet at the highest level of performance with a number of American records and world leading marks being set. As a former college high jumper I was in track heaven.
During the men’s high jump I had a front row seat across the track from the pit in the section with all the high jump coaches. Sometimes I love watching the coaches almost as much as the athletes. One coach of particular interest to me was a guy from Kansas State named Cliff Rovelto. Cliff is currently one of the best high jump coaches in the world. In last year’s London Olympics, it turned out that all three of the US high jumpers that made the team, unlike like any other event, were coached by the same coach. That coach was Cliff. Each one, coming from diverse backgrounds, colleges etc. just happened to have a long standing relationship with him as their coach. All three of those jumpers, still working with Cliff, competed in Des Moines.
It was instructional watching the athlete’s interaction with him between their jumps. All were seeking his feedback for input and minor adjustments to improve their performance. Think about it. Even those at the top of their game still need accountability and feedback. It got them there and they know like no one else, that is what will keep them there. And by the way, one of Cliff’s jumpers, Eric Kynard who was the Olympic silver medalist last year, won this event.
There are a couple of specific things that make Cliff a great high jump coach. I’ll let one of his athletes, Jesse Williams of Oregon, World Champion in 2011, explain it. “He is very good at writing training plans. He knows exactly what cycles to go through to jump high at the right times of year, and that’s a science. He’s just a very intelligent person. He knows what he’s doing and I know what I’m doing, exactly, every single day. Everybody in the US who is involved in the sport knows he’s a great mind.”
From what can be gleaned observing great coaches like Cliff, I’ve come up with at least four things anyone aspiring to spiritual heights should look for in a coach. Like an Olympic athlete seeking to reach their full potential, every follower of Jesus would do well to seek out such an individual to disciple them.
1. Someone who is older and wiser. Look for a Godly man or woman who has the benefit of evaluated experience, study of the Scriptures and the knowledge of God’s ways.
2. Someone you trust to give you wise, honest and timely feedback. Look for a lover of God who knows how to hold you accountable with grace and how to speak the truth into your life with love.
3. Someone who is committed to praying for you. Look for a spiritual coach who is dependent upon the Holy Spirit and will seek God on your behalf for guidance, blessing and protection.
4. Someone who will help you craft and tweak a daily training plan in the spiritual disciplines (prayer, bible study etc.) and character development. Look for spiritual coach who is seeking to understand your unique needs and personality and will thereby instruct you accordingly.
How have you benefitted from coaching/discipling? Can you think of one or more impacting spiritual coaches that you have had in your life? Do you presently have a spiritual coach in your life? Are you at a place where you are coaching someone?
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