Research Paper By Jenny Toh
(Christian Life Coach, SINGAPORE)
According to a survey carried out by a coaching organization, Protoly1, the top executive coaches of our time are Teri-E Belf, Jack Canfield, Dr. Peter Chee, Judy Field, Marshall Goldsmith, Alan Mulally, Damian Goldvarg, John Mattone, Tony Robbins and Christy Whitman. These remarkable individuals have inspired hundreds of thousands, if not, millions of people to live better, purposeful, and fulfilled lives. As coaches, we aspire to learn from them so that we too can impact the lives of our clients in powerful ways.
Even though these coaches are remarkable personalities, my “model” coach whom I aspire to follow and emulate is Jesus Christ. Most people would not think of Jesus as a coach. They see Him as a leader with attributes of servanthood, a king, a Messiah, a brilliant teacher, a counselor, and ultimately God, for Christians.
This paper will explore the coach-like characteristics of Jesus which I believe that both believers and non-believers of the Christian faith will find useful and insightful.
Jesus took time to develop trust and intimacy
Let’s take the example of Jesus’ interaction with Peter, one of His most trusted disciples. Jesus did not immediately ask Peter to follow Him. Instead, He spent time building a relationship of trust with Peter. Once Jesus has established a trusting relationship with Peter, He partners with Peter in ministry. He begins to work with Peter to cast a vision of ministry in Peter’s life. There are instances where Jesus pulls Peter aside for on-the-spot coaching, encouraging him where there are breakthroughs and gently rebuking him when his faith has faltered.
Peter’s coaching journey with Jesus took 3 years where Peter’s life as a fisherman was transformed to be a spiritual leader.2Peter was known as impulsive and immature during the early stage of his discipleship with Jesus. It took time and effort both in terms of Peter’s commitment to develop his strengths as a leader and work through his weaknesses and on Jesus’ part to support and partner with him throughout this relationship.
In this age of fast and quick solutions, we, as coaches, also fall into this trap of wanting to see our clients achieve breakthroughs and “a-ha” moments in their lives after only a few coaching sessions. Our clients need time to grow in terms of gaining self-awareness and creating sustainable actionable steps and structures to realize their goals. Jesus’ patience with Peter serves as a valuable reminder to all of us that it takes time for our clients to achieve their desired goals.
Jesus asked questions to create insight
Karen Lee-Thorp in How to Ask Great Questions writes, “Jesus’ questions…made people think for themselves and examine their hearts.” Tony Stoltzfus builds on this in Coaching Questions when he says, “asking moves us beyond passive acceptance of what others say, or staying stuck in present circumstances, to aggressively applying our creative ability to the problem.” According to Lee-Thorp, “Jesus’ questions were simple, clear, never condescending, always provocative…(and) were always fresh and attuned to the unique needs of the people he was talking to.” This implies that Jesus asked questions with intent, considering the situation and the needs of the other person.3
The following questions have been posed by Jesus to his audience to provoke deep thought4:
- What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Mark 8:36
- Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again?... Mark 9:50
- For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry? Luke 23:31
- How can you believe since you accept glory from one another but do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? John 5:44
When read in context in the Bible, Jesus asked these questions to raise awareness in the people about their understanding of God and to create sparks of curiosity to assess how their spiritual lives fare. Notably, we will not be asking these exact questions in our modern-day coaching sessions but it is interesting to see that Jesus’ questions are clear and simple to understand. They are also very powerful as the answers to these questions require a lot of reflection and deep thought. They are not to be taken lightly.
After each of these questions, Jesus went on to teach the gospel to the people. He often spoke in parables and explained the meanings of these parables to his disciples. In a coaching context, if you are practicing pure coaching and not blending it with consulting, training, or mentoring, you will not “teach” your client. Instead, you will seek permission from your clients to make observations based on their answers. These observations can assist the client to see different perspectives in their current situations and enable them to break free from the ruts that they are in.
Jesus asked questions to “challenge”
We have been trained as coaches to not ask “Why” questions as these questions may cause the client to be defensive and “shut out” the coach.
Jesus asked these “Why” questions as a form of direct communication to his disciples. He wanted to create awareness for their areas of growth and to address their lack of faith in other areas. He asked these questions gently and lovingly while retaining his authority as the Son of God.
We may not be comfortable to ask “Why” questions to our clients but we can still learn from Jesus’ intentions behind the following questions:
Why are you thinking these things? Mark 2:8
Jesus asked this “Why” question to the teachers of the law who were thinking in their hearts that Jesus was blaspheming. He asked this question to bring to their attention that it is easier to pass judgment than to do something about actually helping others.
Similarly, in a modern-day coaching context, we can rephrase this “Why” question to a “What” question to create awareness in the client about their underlying beliefs about a particular situation.
“What thoughts come to your mind?”
“What do you think of the situation?”
…Why are you so afraid? Matthew 8:26
Jesus asked this question to his disciples when their boat was caught in a storm. Jesus was sleeping when the disciples woke him up. He immediately rebuked the winds and the waves. The disciples learned a great lesson about trusting God and their faith increased.
We can ask such questions to our clients to help them to dig deeper into their fears and insecurities about a situation.
“What do you think is holding you back from moving forward?”
“What obstacles do you foresee if you take this action?”
“What can go wrong?”
There are instances in our coaching journey with our clients that we need to challenge the clients’ thinking by sharing observations, intuitions, comments and thoughts, and feelings to serve the clients’ learning or forward movement.5 Once we have established a trusting coaching relationship, the client will feel safe and will be more likely to accept our observations as positive nudges to help them progress towards their goals rather than see these observations as negative judgments or criticism.
Jesus asked questions to foster learning
A coach asks questions to encourage the client’s development as an avid learner and thinker. At times, the questions enable the client to break free from their comfort zones and to think out of the box.
Who do people say the Son of Man is? Matthew 16:13
Jesus asked this question to his disciples to gauge their understanding of His identity and also to teach them the truth of His identity. This question sparked off various views from the disciples of who Jesus is and, in the end, the disciples went away with a deeper insight and knowledge of God.
Likewise, we can ask questions to gauge their level of understanding of a particular situation in their lives and to help them see if they are “blocked” from moving forward.
“What do you think is causing this?”
“How can you look at this differently?”
“What are your reasons for taking/not taking this action?”
“How can this action/inaction support you?
“If this action/inaction is not supporting you, what is stopping you from doing something different?”
What are you discussing together as you walk along? Luke 24:17
Jesus asked two men this question to start a conversation as they did not recognize that he was Jesus. He continued with another simple question, “What things?”. At the end of their journey to their destination, these two men learned that Jesus was the risen Messiah.
Similarly, if your client is trying to figure out the cause of an ineffective work meeting, you can ask the following questions to help him/her explore his/her assumptions about the meeting.
“What was the agenda of the meeting?”
“In your view, what caused the meeting to go that way?”
“What could you have done to bring the meeting back on track?”
“What support could you have obtained to help you?”
“What can you do to prevent this from happening in the next meeting?”
“What takeaways did you learn from this?”
Jesus sought to transform people’s lives
We see Jesus transforming Peter’s life as he grew from a fisherman to a spiritual leader. Paul, originally called Saul, was a persecutor of the faith. After his encounter and his transformational journey, he traveled extensively to preach the gospel and wrote 13 books in the New Testament of the Bible.
Jesus transformed people’s lives by:
- Spending time with them
- Taking a genuine interest in their lives
- Building and fostering trusting and non-judgmental relationships with them
- Recognizing and celebrating their successes
- Encouraging them when the going gets tough
- Supporting them to find their solutions
- Creating awareness of their blind spots, weaknesses and limiting beliefs
- Harnessing commitment and accountability in their actions
- Helping them to see the bigger picture of their lives
- Empowering them to make an impact in the lives of those around them and the community at large
One of the key elements to Jesus’ success in transforming people’s lives is that He developed and maintained authentic relationships with the people He interacted with. Tony Stoltzfus in Leadership Coaching writes, “Coaching is relationship-based. The power of coaching to change lives comes from the belief, trust, and support that flow through the transparent bond between coach and client.”6
The client’s life is transformed when he/she:
- Is self-aware and knows the reasons behind his/her thoughts and actions
- Feels free from the events of the past
- Feels confident about their future
- Clearly articulates their vision and life purpose
- Is truly authentic
- Starts inspiring and motivating others to live purposeful lives
The photo below portrays the outlook of a transformed individual. He/she can see the possibilities that await despite their current circumstances. They truly believe that something better awaits them and will focus their mind, energy, and resources to achieve their goals and aspirations.
It is deeply rewarding and enriching, as a coach, to see your clients’ lives transformed and they, in turn, continue to spread positive ripple effects in the lives of those they touch. May we draw insights from these examples of Jesus’ life as a coach to powerfully impact the lives of our clients.
The great solution to all human problems is individual inner transformation.― Vernon Howard, American author
Changing is not just changing the things outside of us. First of all, we need the right view that transcends all notions including being and non-being, creator and creature, mind, and spirit. That kind of insight is crucial for transformation and healing. Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese clergyman
Transformation in the world happens when people are healed and start investing in other people.– Michael W. Smith, American musician
The Top Executive Coaches in the World, published by Protoly.
Jesus as a Spiritual Coach: The Example of Peter, written by Seth Barnes on 21 April 2006.
Learning from a Coaching Pro…A Coaching Lesson from Jesus, written by Dr. Merlin Switzer on November 2009.
All scripture verses are taken from the New International Version (NIV).
ICF PCC Marker 1, Competency #7 Direct Communication, International Coach Federation.
Learning from a Coaching Pro…A Coaching Lesson from Jesus (see reference no. 3)