The Necessity of Spiritual Coaching

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.

A Disciple’s First Calling

He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach. Mark 3:14

The order in which Mark, the author of this gospel, describes Jesus calling of His disciples is critically significant. Jesus’ intention was that first they were to “be with” Him, to spend time in His presence, hang out together with Him and get to know Him and His ways. Then and only then, when they had become immersed in His presence and shaped to faithfully represent His name and nature, would He sent them out to preach. Although the task of going forth as His ambassadors was His ultimate purpose Jesus first calling to His disciples was that they might simply be with Him.

It reflects the priority Jesus placed throughout His earthly ministry on being preceding doing and the necessity of doing then flowing out of being. The spiritual journey of every disciple who is seeking to follow Jesus must always follow this pattern.

A Primer on the Discipleship Process

Problems, everybody hates them, but where would we be without them? From birth we all have had to face problems on a daily basis. In the process we have learned how to progress from flailing helplessly to rolling over to walking.

We can look back nostalgically on our childhood through young adulthood and say that despite the discomfort most of our problems and challenges were ultimately our friends. Without them we would not have developed the character and competencies so necessary for a mature and successful life.

We just wish the day would come when we could finally graduate and move on to a problem free life. But like everyone with a diploma knows, the real world and adulthood are laden with problems and pulling into the driveway at night can be no easier than backing out in the morning.

But the good news is that God uses problems in our lives to work His purposes. In essence, problems form the curriculum of the discipleship process. They are structured to be the stepping stones to spiritual growth.

In fact, if you read the Gospels with this in mind, you will notice that Jesus specifically and frequently engineered problems for His disciples. He was continually challenging them with problems. He sent them out on mission trips with no support or provision. (Luke 10:1-4) He feigned abandonment in a storm. (Mark 6:48-49) He asked them to feed a multitude on the spur of the moment with no resources. (John 6:5-6) He challenged them to try again, even in the face of prolonged and repeated failure. (Luke 5:4-6 & John 21:15-18) They were confronted by people with physical maladies and asked to heal them. (Matthew 17:15-16)

It is no different today. Anyone who wants to be a disciple of Christ must enroll in a curriculum with similar challenges and problems. But as in any apprenticeship process, to endure and even prosper, one must keep focused on the “why.” The ultimate goal of Christ’s discipleship is that we be transformed into His image.

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