As we have seen, abiding in Christ is the most important of all the Christian coaching competencies. What we uncovered in our original research, documented in Christian Coaching Excellence, is that it’s the one competency that separates good Christian coaches from great Christian coaches. As we abide in Christ, we help our clients abide in Him, partnering with the Holy Spirit for greater significance in our coaching relationships, life, and ministry effectiveness
This week I will unpack the second of five behavioral expressions that comprise Abiding in Christ:
- Discernment: Listen, process, and respond to the Holy Spirit as you make coaching decisions.
Many leaders excel in the technical skills of coaching, but not all coaches excel in discernment. If we are unable to listen to God’s voice and submit to his leading, we will not ultimately be effective coaches. We need God’s guidance to discern when and how to address an issue, or sometimes whether to address it at all. As coaches, abiding in Christ means seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit at each stage of the coaching process, recognizing our dependence on him as we discern the needs of those we are coaching.
Many coaching decisions, both large and small, are made in-the-moment as issues and opportunities arise during a coaching session. The best coaches have their ears attuned to the Holy Spirit, following his lead as they coach.
Listening to the direction of the Holy Spirit involves giving up trying to steer things according to our own ideas or agendas. Opening with a question such as, “Where do you want to start today?” can help coaches place the agenda of the session in the hands of the person being coached. Continuing the session with questions such as, “What do you sense God is doing in this situation?” keeps the agenda there. When you approach coaching this way, you are less likely to miss what God is doing in a person’s life because you don’t assume you already know.
Have you ever had that sense that the Spirit is nudging you to say something but you realize it involves risk, discomfort, or may come off as presumptuous, so you’re hesitant to say it? This often happens when we least expect it. But if it truly is a message the Lord wants you to communicate, it will have the desired impact.
Recently, I was observing someone coaching a client–a church leader and businessman–in order to provide the coach with feedback. What I observed between the coach and client was a sweet synergy, partly because the two had a long history, but also because the coach was sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit and was able to encourage and support the client as he clarified his core values and mission for life.
The coach did something very important after the client shared his thinking behind each value: he simply affirmed the work of God in his life. The timing and manner in which the coach gave his affirmations was life-giving to the leader. As an observer of the situation, it was evident to me that these affirmations were more than just encouraging words; his words were empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Here are three suggestions and exercises for growing in the area of discernment:
1. Practice exercise
- Practice listening for the tugging of the Holy Spirit as you are coaching. When you get a hunch, sometimes you’ll want to ask the client about it.
- Don’t phrase it as, “God told me to tell you this,” but more like, “This might sound off the wall, but….Anything going on there?” Another helpful question is, “I’m wondering….How does that resonate with you?” This type of question gives the client the opportunity to respond freely and honestly. After all, you might be wrong.
- Challenge: Try following through on what you are hearing from the Holy Spirit. Speak what you discern and see what happens.
2. Spiritual direction
- Consider finding a person with expertise in spiritual direction and ask them to guide you through the Ignatian Exercises to help you become more attuned to the voice of the Holy Spirit.
3. Explore spiritual rhythms and the daily offices
- Visit with a friend from the liturgical world. Ask them to share their journey that led them to engage in these practices, the challenges they face, and the fruit they experience.
- Read Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero.
- Visit a monastery for a personal retreat. If possible, join the community for prayer throughout the day and night to experience the rhythms of life in a cloistered environment.
Growing in the area of discernment is both a process and a practice; the more you practice listening for the Spirit’s voice and responding to it, even if you’re off at times, the more attuned to His voice you will become. And the more attuned to the Spirit you are, the better off your clients will be.
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