Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Coaching, Community, and Questions

Written by: on June 21, 2019

I do not like praying for answers. I find the results quite inconsistent in terms of their accuracy – or at least perceived accuracy. That is not to say that I do not pray about things, but rather than expecting a voice from heaven to direct me, I expect direction to come from the community that surrounds me. This sounds like a cop out I am sure, but it has been significantly more consistent in results than anytime I have asked for an answer from heaven. Then again, this could all be a misunderstanding of what prayer is or how it is supposed to work.

The primary question that comes to mind after reading Tom Comacho’s book is whether wisdom is a thing that is passed on from a coach to a coachee or is it the result of the community passing on their collective wisdom to the newer members of the community. For centuries people have matured thanks to the input of a whole group of believers and not a single specialist. Clearly something has changed within western society where the autonomous self has sought to grow on its own bringing on the need for experts that will help to guide a person into wisdom. But I wonder if coaching is a solution shaped by our time rather than a system that leans into our tradition as believers.

A single person, no matter how wise, can only bring so much wisdom to the table. Engaging with a whole community brings with it a seemingly unending supply. How then could we develop communities that share their wisdom with each other rather than falling back on the individualistic tendencies of our culture? Is not part of the mission of the church to escape the individualism that pulls us out of community with God and God’s people?

For years I lead a bible study with a group of seniors who wanted nothing more than to share what they have learned in life with younger people. I learned and grew so much just by interacting with this group of people. I always felt bad for the part of the church that had written off this group as the ‘heritage members’ of our church. What if rather than giving basic acknowledgment to those who have wisdom we were to provide them with a place of honor? What if as communities of faith we stop looking for heroes and started to grapple with the reality that wisdom is found in all of us and guidance can come from the most unlikely place if we open ourselves up to the wisdom provided by those around us.

Clearly there is a place for one-on-one guidance. The level of intimacy found in those relationships will never be replaced by the larger community. Direct questions about the path of ones life are not going to be easily solved from the community in the way that a coaching or spiritual direction relationship will be. That being said, if as a community we more openly shared our collective wisdom we might not need to find people specifically trained in coaching and could rather go to a trusted friend.

About the Author

Sean Dean

An expat of the great state of Maine where the lobster is cheap and the winters are brutal I've settled in as a web developer in Tacoma, Washington. As a foster-adoptive parent of 3 beautiful boys, I have deep questions about the American church's response to the public health crisis that is our foster system.

10 responses to “Coaching, Community, and Questions”

  1. Rev Jacob Bolton says:

    Interesting stuff Sean. My experiences with Coaching in the church has often involved the coach drawing out some sort of “wisdom” or an “answer” from within my own self . . . not from the coach . . . or from the community either. I look forward to seeing what some of our coaching researches have to say about this.

  2. Rhonda Davis says:

    These are interesting thoughts, Sean. I would love to join the small group you mentioned!
    Perhaps there is room for both. Like you, I am a grateful recipient of the wisdom of a larger community, but I have also been enriched by mentors who have sat with me and asked “deeper level questions” that helped me arrive at wise conclusions. I wonder if the real difference is in Spirit-led conversation vs. simply giving answers.

    • Sean Dean says:

      Rhonda, you’re right it really is a both/and situation. We learn from all sides – community, coaches, and the Spirit. Learning to live in the tension off those three is possibly the lesson I’m learning this week.

  3. Thank you Sean for presenting a different perspective of the collective wisdom that we draw from community. There’s so much to draw from promotion of community, I can attest to that because our African culture is relationship based as opposed to individualism (though there’s increasing influence from the western individualistic culture). There are also benefits in a coaching relationship as you have pointed out and I’m personally a big beneficially from mentors that have contributed so much to my growth in ministry.

    • Sean Dean says:

      Too often Americans think their culture is the only one to draw from. I have friends in Eswatini who have taught me a lot about what it looks like to be communally focused rather than individually biased (as we are in the west). Initially it was a revelation, but now I think we in the west are really missing out on the beauty that comes from a culture that draws on each other rather than focusing on the individual all the time. But I think you’re right that there is a place for mentors, we just need to figure out the balance between community and mentor wisdom. Thanks again for your comments.

  4. Mary Mims says:

    Sean, I agree with the others that there is a place for the collective culture, but I know coaching can help in areas of deeply personal issues that someone can help you with. After reading this book, I think coaching could really be helpful to me.

  5. Karen Rouggly says:

    Hey Sean – this is a great perspective. I would wholeheartedly agree with you too that I often get revelation from the community of people I surround myself with! It goes to show that the people who we are around really are some of the most crucial folks because we can be swayed by their thoughts, both positively and negatively. This is also true for our coaches. For instance, when you’re around a community with certain passions – maybe adoption for instance – we are more apt to also consider or participate in adoption as well. Good thoughts here!

  6. Digby Wilkinson says:

    Hey Sean. I get where you’re coming from. I’m a community person despite being an introvert. The whole mentoring/coaching thing is a recent invention, the language of which is borrowed from the secular world. The truth and history is quite different. Spiritual direction and ministry supervision has been round for centuries. Priests in particular have been required to engage in both. Certainly not everyone has, and not every supervisor or director has been good. However they have two roles: first to make sure you are connecting with God personally with all the tools of prayer and reflection gathered across the centuries. Second, supervision is simply to reflect on the practice of your ministry and to reflect on who you are in it. Once again it is not to show you a better way necessarily, but rather to allow god to speak through the community of wise conversation. Good directors are not better than you, rather they hold a bigger view of you, your circumstances and work of God you often cannot see. For me it’s both community and spiritual direction and supervision, all good stuff for an introvert with a head full of thoughts that need to see the light of day.

  7. Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Your great post has provoked wonderful commentary from our cohort community. Your post worked! As others have said, I certainly think it is both/and. I would concur with our esteemed brother, Digby, that coaching is a relatively recent practice coming out of business migrating into the church. High-quality coaching is premised on active listening and asking selective questions to open up the other’s thinking. Ethically, it forbids giving advice and utilizing leading questions (often a new coach’s mistake). Christian coaching is also premised upon the presence and expectation of the Holy Spirit within each coaching session. Mentoring and even spiritual direction have been around longer and are probably better known. The key is we all need both/and. The challenge is this often is difficult for ministry leaders to find within the context of their local church. Especially for leaders, there are strategic times we need to expand our community beyond the local church to experience the rich gifts of His Church. Hope this helps and I look forward to seeing you in London!

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