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Problems in Christian Coaching

Blog: Christian Coaching

By Pastor Scott Thomas, President of Acts 29 Network

Pastors and Church leaders are utilizing coaching as a way to address the personal and spiritual and ecclesial issues that they commonly face. The problem is that Christian coaching contributors, to varying degrees, draw their theories and practices from Carl Rogers and other humanistic theoreticians who believe that the client/coachee is basically good and one finds the answers to the maladies of life by looking inside.

Humanistic Roots

Rogers taught that man is only good and corruption enters from the outside. He believed that through self-actualization, [1] man would become all that he is able to become. [2] Rogers advocated a non-directive, client-centered therapy (CCT) to solve a person’s problems. In this approach, the therapist/coach would avoid deliberately directing the client in some way. The CCT has roots in Freudian thinking, according to Rogers. [3]

Humanistic Roots in Christian Coaching

Some of the humanistic coaching methodologies utilized by Christian coaches are seemingly antithetical to the full body of their teaching about the gospel. [4] I think it is the result of a lack of Gospel-centered resources for coaching.  In an attempt to provide much-needed and beneficial coaching for church leaders and pastors, some Christian leaders and authors are drawing from the only source of information available that is seemingly devoid of an explicit gospel centrality.

Coaching that is centered on the client’s ability is contrary to the gospel. Several Christian coaches utilize John Whitmore’s principles found in his book, Coaching for Performance. Whitmore believed to “get the best out of people, we have to believe the best is in there." [5] That's Rogerian and not Christian. Even the author of the book entitled Christ Centered Coaching promotes a client centered coaching approach (ironic as it sounds), “Coaching focuses on promoting discovery…By helping you focus on the untapped potential within you, a coach can guide you to discover that potential and what needs to be done." [6] The author suggests that by discovering our own potential, our problems can be solved because man is inherently good.

No Inherent Potential without the Gospel

The Scriptures and the Gospel of Christ clearly reject this presupposition on multiple occasions.

  • Romans 3:10, “As it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one.’”
  • Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  
  • Jeremiah 17:9,  “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” 
  • Ephesians 2:1–3 states that the sinner is “dead in… transgressions and sins.”  In verse 2, we discover that the sinner actively practices evil and that he is enslaved to sin because his natural desire is to gratify the cravings of his sinful nature and follow its desires and thoughts.
  • The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy that sinners are taken “captive” by Satan “to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:26). 

Without the intervening work of Christ in our lives, we have no potential–untapped or otherwise.

Gospel Coaching Identifies our Idols

To experience full God-ordained potential, a Christian leader must recognize that he is a forgiven sinner made righteous entirely through Jesus Christ and not through his own merit or ability. Transformation occurs for the Christian when he realizes that behind every wrong action, thought or emotion is unbelief in the Gospel. We can functionally believe that our pleasure, satisfaction and possessions are more worthy of our pursuit than God. We sin when we find meaning and worth in anything except our identity in Christ. David Powlison explained the concept of biblical idolatry and the heart:

Has something or someone besides Jesus Christ taken title to your heart’s trust, preoccupation, loyalty, service, fear and delight? It is a question bearing on the immediate motivation for one’s behavior, thoughts and feelings. In the Bible’s conceptualization, the motivation question is the lordship question. Who or what “rules” my behavior, the Lord or a substitute? [7]

Whereas the humanistic approach says the problem is “out there” and the solution is inside the person (advocated by Carl Rogers and the multitudes who follow his humanistic traditions), the gospel teaches that the problem is “inside the heart and mind” and the answer is found “outside of himself” in Christ.

[1] "The full realization of one's potential" Abraham H. Maslow, Motivation and Personality. 1954. Ed. Cynthia McReynolds. 3rd ed. New York: Harper and Row, Inc., 1987.
[2] Larry Crabb, Basic Principles of Christian Counseling (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1975)
[4] Namely, the use of John Whitmore’s GROW approach utilized by several good leaders.
[5] John Whitmore, Coaching for Performance (Clerkenwell, London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2002), p. 13.
[6] Jane Creswell, Christ Centered Coaching (St. Louis, MO: Lake Hickory Resources, 2006), p. 13.
[7] David Powlison, “Idols of the Heart and Vanity Fair” Journal of Biblical Counseling, 13, no. 2 (Winter 1993), p. 35.


Sam Farina

on Jul 21, 2010 :: 4:26 pm

Scott, you have raised some possible problems with coaching but not with coaching where the coaches are trained in the skills of Christian coaching. Christian coaches trained by born again Christians understand that outside of Christ we are what it says in Romans 3:10, and Romans 3:23. They also understand that Paul went on to write chapter 4 where he describes the model of Abraham that shows us by faith Abraham was justified. Paul wrote chapter 5 that tells us we have access by faith to forgiveness. Paul went on to write chapter 6-8 that teaches us we can be sanctified by Christ and live no longer under condemnation and walk in the truth that we are more then conquerors. Thank God for Christian coaches who can coach people to the renewing of their mind that lead to permanent shifts in thinking from condemnation to freedom.
Scott, The question any Christian coach would ask of you is what does scripture say happens when we accept Christ as our savior? (2 Corinthians 5:17) Where did Jesus leave the treasure of the Holy Spirit to be housed when He left the earth? (2 Corinthians 4:7) If the Treasure of heaven is housed in our jars of clay then something changed after salvation. The Holy Spirit dwells within us. The same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead dwells in us. (Romans 8:11)
Properly trained Christian coaches know that operating as a Christian coach means you listen to the Holy Spirit while coaching and when coaching a born again follower of Christ the Holy Spirit is speaking to that person while being coached. What that Christian coach is looking to pull out of those followers of Christ are truths from the Holy Spirit. Truths they have heard and not yet applied from God's word that with the right questions can be drawn out of memory storage and become life changing behavior patterns that we call transformation. The Holy Spirit will birth insight, new truth, wisdom, discernment, in the mind of the person being coached. The Holy Spirit, within the coach, will birth powerful questions that the coach will ask allowing clear attainable strategic decisions and plans to be not only conceived by the person being coached, but also time lined, surrounded by accountability and empowered leading to transformation of behavior and deeper spiritual formation.
Scott you need to talk about secular coaching and Christian coaching in two different articles it would add clarity about the power of Christian coaching when used in the life of Christians.

Sam Farina

Roger Himes

on Jun 13, 2011 :: 12:29 pm

Scott, like Sam, I found your article interesting. As we know, everything changes in the New Testament. Even our hearts change from being untrusted when they are filled with grace (Heb 13:9). Thus Paul says to always minister grace.

After pastoring a Vineyard I discovered I couldn't even spell grace. I thought it was a scapegoat to avoid responsibility. I didn't reality it was the power God to go way beyond all I could think or imagine (Eph 3:20).

Roger Himes

Roger Himes

on Jun 13, 2011 :: 12:32 pm

By the way, you mention Larry Crabb. Have you discovered the transformation he experienced in his thinking about 1995? + -
as reflected in his later books?