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November 2, 2015

Asking The Good Question: Discipleship and Coaching


I recently heard a preacher quote Paul’s injunction to Timothy, “…and what you have heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will be able to teach others as well” (II Timothy 2:2). Among other things the preacher was supporting the idea that discipling is all about one person giving something to another person which the latter does not possess. Right. People don’t know what they don’t know. Core aspects of acquiring a Christian faith and identity involve one person receiving something from another – from outside oneself. This is a central dimension of Christianity as a “revealed” religion, and a central dimension of discipling relationships – but there is more to be said.

What about the discipler asking questions of the disciplee in the course of being spiritually formed? Jesus did a lot of that. There are aspects of truth and spiritual growth that are better introduced and nurtured with probing questions than hand delivered answers. Augustine’s central question of life in The City of God – “What do you love?” – is a case in point.

“Asking the Good Question”

The recent wave of what one might call the “coaching movement” has not invented the art of asking questions. Jesus, the prophets, the Apostles, good pastors, theologians, spiritual directors, philosophers, artists, therapists, educators, merchants, craftsmen, business leaders – not to mention wise parents – have been asking questions of those in their sphere of influence with great effect for millennia. What “coaching” has done is embrace the art of “asking the good question” and popularized it. Disciples grow when they have to wrestle with and respond to a question.

I sat down with Hedy Knight the other day and picked her brain about coaching. Hedy is an elder at Christ Pacific Church (ECO) in Huntington Beach, CA, and a certified coach with years of experience in the business world. Aside from the primary duty of asking good questions, Hedy highlighted other marks of good coaching which I believe capture and articulate certain “discipling” best practices. I posed some questions. Consider her answers.

What is coaching? “Guiding people in finding their own God-given potential, shape, and answer.”

What is the key to good coaching?

  • Listening [actively, so that you build on a given answer with another question]
  • Being in the moment [fully present – not distracted]
  • Knowing the difference between helping them find their own right answers versus giving advice, and naming the difference . . . so I know and so they know they don’t have to do anything with it [for example, when I say “I’m going to step out of my coach role and give you some advice.”]
  • Patience
  • Self-awareness (the coach knows who the coach is and who the client is);
  • Really good coaches don’t play the game – they stay on the sidelines (whatever the setting – they are not in the middle)
  • Catching people doing things right and coaching to that so they do it again;
  • Catching people doing things wrong and coaching to that so they do not do it again;

And then I asked Hedy about her view of the difference between mentoring and coaching. “A mentorwalks along side, holds the hand, gives advice, helps people get through it, imparts knowledge. A coach has degrees of knowledge, butdoesn’t impart the knowledge. A coach asks questions from the knowledge, so the person gets their own answer.”

“Coaching” does not encompass “discipling.” But let all the above be grist for the mill as you continue your ministry of taking “what you have heard from me through many witnesses [and] entrust to faithful people who will be able to teach others as well.”

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