Thursday, December 01, 2016

Thoughts about Faith-Based Coaching

Usually when the topic of faith-based coaching comes up, the immediate response is, “Oh, you mean Christian coaching.”  In recent days, I have started to ask myself, “Is this what it really means for me?”  To put this in perspective, let me first share three observations.

First, I am a person of faith.  I am a follower of Jesus Christ.  Even though I am probably better at it on some days that others, the relationship is there and the strength of it is more dependent on God’s grace than my faithfulness.

Second, I am a Christian who is also a coach (life coach or leadership coach) and that means I want to be a good coach.  Martin Luther said, “The Christian shoemaker does his duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.”  If we do our work well, that in itself is a witness to what is of value to us.  Whether I am coaching a Christian or a non-Christian, I will seek to do my best.  Whether the topic is spiritual or not, I will help to the client to address it well.

Third, I must make clear that I believe Christians, and especially Christian leaders, should seek to find common ground with other faith leaders in their communities.  Whether one is a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, a Hindu, a Sikh, or a Buddhist, he or she wants the same things for the family, the children, the neighbor, and the community—health, education, food, beauty, and safety.  These are basic human needs no matter what one’s belief system happens to be.

Given those observations, is it possible for us to think about an approach to coaching that is grounded in faith, no matter what that faith may be?  Is there a distinct way of coaching that will benefit all faith communities and faith-based organizations?   Although rooted in a Christian perspective, I believe that these principles could apply to any faith community.

  • Embraces the potential within each individual to choose, plan, and act.
  • Recognizes the value of community for growth and accountability.
  • Respects differences of opinion in matters of faith.
  • Strives for the common good in society.
  • Seeks to understand the dynamics at work in a community.
  • Encourages mutual responsibility in planning and implementation.
  • Processes past experiences for positive action in the present and future.
  • Values the potential for change in individuals and communities.

What do you think?  What does “faith-based coaching” mean to you?

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Trends in Theological Education: Gaps in Expectations

In a recent report by the Association of Theological Schools, graduating students “perceive theological education to be effective in helping them think theologically, but somewhat ineffective in preparing them to administer a parish.”  Generally, students rated their programs high in “the ability to think theologically, the ability to use and interpret scripture, and the ability to relate social issues to faith.” They gave very low ratings to skills such as “ability to give spiritual direction,”ability to integrate ecological concerns. . . [and] insights from science into theology and ministry,” and the “ability to administer a parish.”

These are all important concerns, but let me address just two of these—opposite sides of coin, perhaps, or complementary practices—spiritual formation and administration.

 First, one of the biggest challenges of congregational clergy today is helping parishioners grow in their faith.  We use terms like “discipleship,” “spiritual formation,” and “practicing spiritual disciplines” to describe this process, but it comes down to helping believers learn “how to feed themselves.”

One reason is that seminary graduates are not able to do this is that they often come to their theological studies lacking spiritual practices in their own lives that enrich and empower their ministries.  Most seminaries have become more aware of this and don’t assume that students already make such practices a part of their lives.  As ministers benefit from these disciplines in their own lives, they will be more motivated and better prepared to share them with those in their congregations.

Second, denominations and congregations are increasingly calling for ministers who are effective administrators and leaders.  What is the role of theological education in preparing future ministers for these roles?  One of the advantages of having so many mid-career people responding to the call to ministry is that they already have acquired some of these skills in previous careers.  They have been administrators, managers, and supervisors.  This is not usually true for a younger generation of new ministers.  They need to learn these skills to better serve their churches.

Both of these competencies are being addressed as seminaries assess and redesign curricula. Central BaptistTheological Seminary in Shawnee, Kansas, has address this in new Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry programs, taking into account the need for real world applications of theological learning and reflection.

At one time, the parish or congregational minister was the most educated person in the community.  This may no longer be true, but the pastor can develop the skills to link theological insight with everyday life to make a difference in the lives of church members.