"What is life coaching?" some may ask! "I know about football coaching and tennis coaching, but is that the same thing?"
A good question! And the answer is no! I do not play so much sport as I used to but I do know that a sports coach, while also wanting to get the best out of their players, imparts knowledge and passes on information for skill development.
Life coaching, on the other hand, is a conversation between coach and client in which the client is able to articulate and discover for themselves what is going on in their lives, where they want to change, what they are aiming for and what might be stopping them moving forward. Life coaching draws out of the client what is already there but is perhaps hidden or forgotten. A coach is an encouraging friend who walks alongside for a season, not to tell the client what to do or exhort them to a particular response, but rather to listen and enable the client to clarify, decide and take action. Life coaching is a change process, as Tony Stoltzfus, one of the foremost Christian life coaches in the US, writes in his excellent book 'Leadership Coaching':
Coaching is practicing the disciplines of believing in people in order to empower them to change. 1
Life coaching is future oriented, whether it is about a new decision regarding career, calling or location, or whether it is about a change in mindset, attitude or relationship, including relationship with God. Coaching can also help in the discovery of limiting self beliefs which become obstacles to moving forward. However the coaching process is not counselling in the sense of dealing with the effect of past hurts and wounds or deeper issues of identity.
Coaching is practicing the disciplines of believing in people in order to empower them to change
However, coaching does follow very well after debriefing because a person may need to bring closure to the recent past, for example the experience of leaving the overseas mission field to return home, or leaving a country in a time of war, or finishing a particular role or job in an organisation.
So after you have had debriefing, what next? Receiving some life coaching could help you move forward.
Some people make decisions very easily; whilst others seem stuck in a transition that goes on and on. After such rich and sometimes extreme, or unusual, experiences serving God in far away or difficult places, how do you then come home, 'settle' down to a 9-5 job and make sense of vocation and career, especially in mid or later life? Others may be giving up a particular role in an organisation or taking on a new one. I am coaching a younger leader at the moment who is increasing in their responsibilities and influence and needs someone to help them clarify a healthy work/life balance.
My own background in Christian service has included over 8 years in church work in England, and then over 25 years with Youth With A Mission in Amsterdam, Liberia, Switzerland, Spain and the UK. After 13 years overseas, I returned to the UK to continue working with YWAM in training, teaching, mentoring and leadership development. Back in the UK, I also trained in conflict mediation and debriefing and now do both when called upon.
The longest period of overseas missions work was in Liberia, West Africa during the civil war years. I needed a lot of debriefing after that, having experienced three evacuations during rebel attacks on the city of Monrovia. The debriefing process was not just one meeting. It happened in various ways and was really very helpful. However, although I have done a lot of leadership development, mentoring and training of younger people in YWAM, developing coaching as a tool to serve others has been very exciting. In mentoring one imparts skill, knowledge, understanding, and wisdom ... but in coaching, one draws out from the client all of the above, thereby enabling the client to take ownership and responsibility for their decisions, because their motivation level is high.
My initial training with Coaching Mission International www.coachingmission.com began with receiving ten sessions of coaching myself before beginning to coach others. This enabled me to re-define, clarify and re-state my heart, vision, calling, gifts, core competences, dreams and ideas that have shaped decisions I have made about life and ministry, as I head rather speedily into later life! I have discovered how effective the discipline of coaching really is and I do highly recommend it for missionaries/leaders/ Christian workers in service, in transition, in personal and leadership development. Coaching can help the missionary stay healthy and effective on the field, as well as when they return home.
Sometimes a missionary or church leader might need a retreat in a quiet place to reconnect with God and themselves. Sometimes they may need debriefing to enable them to talk about and bring closure to a season. Sometimes they need a prophetic word, or a teaching to inspire them and keep them on track. Other times they need a life coach who can ask good questions, provide accountability for decisions, goals and action steps to help keep them healthy, effective and moving forward. Life coaching is a professional skill with training, supervision and ongoing development.
Finally life coaching in missions/leadership is also a tool that we as mission leaders can use to serve our staff. This is why so many friends and colleagues in YWAM are now getting trained in life and leadership coaching.