In some recent coach training events, the participants have pushed me on the difference between coaching and consulting. Are the lines of demarcation as hard as I seem to make them? In Disciple Development Coaching, Mark Tidsworth and I define the foci of these two people development practices in this way:
- Consulting deals with “problem solving, action plans, specific problems.”
- Coaching is “developing people through learning by doing, partnering between self-discovery and sustainable action.”
Consultants are generally seen as persons with expertise in a particular area of content whereas coaches are process experts who work in many different contexts. A coach does not have to know about education to coach an educator or be an expert in the law to coach a lawyer. Coaches are hired to promote clarity rather than inform their clients. Consultants are generally seen as resource people and teachers.
Even with these definitions, I continue to struggle with the dichotomy. I think that one way to resolve the struggle is to adopt an approach to coaching that is more collaborative. In this approach the outside person works with individuals, but more often groups, to identify an area that needs attention, determine the best course of action, and then develop the plans to pursue that path. I am coming to see that this “collaborative consulting” uses the basic approaches of coaching and depends on the expertise and resources of those in the group to move the process forward. It is a “coach approach” to consulting.
In his work on the missional church, Alan Roxburgh teaches that “the Spirit of God is at work among the people of God” and provides all that the church needs to fulfill its role as part of the missio Dei (mission of God). I think this undergirds the approach to collaborative consulting—the resources to define the problem, discover solutions, identify the path forward, and pursue the resolution of the problem (or opportunity) are already present in the church. The role of the coach/consultant is to help people discover what’s already there.
In my consulting with churches, I spend time in conversation with leaders and congregants and then offer not answers but questions for them to consider. For example, “If you are really serious about church growth, what are the changes you will implement in your (worship, leadership, community ministry, etc.) in the next year?” “What are the resources needed?” “When will you begin?” These sound a lot like coaching questions to me.
As you think about changes and challenges that your church faces, perhaps you need a consultant who is also a coach.