“What is the difference between coaching for spiritual formation and spiritual direction?” a prospect asked during an introductory call last week. As I stammered to explain the difference, I realized I didn’t have a satisfying answer. So, I’ve spent the last few days mentally formulating a response to that question.
Before talking about their distinctions, let’s start with a clear definition of coaching.
Coaching for Spiritual Formation
The International Coach Federation (ICF) defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.
According to Christopher McCluskey, President and Founder of the Professional Christian Coaching Institute, “A coach is a collaborative partner, not a hired expert.” He says, “A Christian coach helps clients discern and then fulfill what God has uniquely placed within them.” The answers reside within the client.
Expanding on that definition, coaching for spiritual formation is a non-directive, collaborative partnership focused on the client’s spiritual growth. As with other forms of professional coaching, the client sets the agenda and identifies desired outcomes at the start of each session.
Throughout the session, the coach “stays in the questions,” encouraging clients to move proactively toward their goals by creating a plan with results that are measurable, attainable, and have set target dates.
In their book, The Practice of Spiritual Direction, authors William Barry and William Connelly explain the ancient art of spiritual direction this way:
We define Christian spiritual direction as help given by one Christian to another which enables that person to pay attention to God’s personal communication to him or her, to respond to this personally communicating God, to grow in intimacy with this God, and to live out the consequences of the relationship.
The focus of this type of spiritual direction is on experience, not ideas, and specifically on religious experience, i.e., any experience of the mysterious Other whom we call God.”
David Benner, in his book Sacred Companions, explains the role of spiritual directors in the direction process:
What exactly do spiritual directors do? The simple and most direct answer I can give is that they help others attend to God’s presence and revelation and prepare to respond to him. In other words, they help people attune themselves to God.
Spiritual directors are most often mature believers who have spent years or even decades growing in intimacy with Jesus Christ. Others seek them out for their spiritual insight and discernment.
While their approach is primarily non-directive, spiritual directors will sometime suggest such spiritual exercises as lectio divina or bring them into a session with a directee. They may also assign classical spiritual disciplines, such as The Prayer of Examen or Ignatian Prayer, to directees as a means of opening themselves to God.
Spiritual directors are “established” in understanding the ways and seeking the face of God; coaches do not necessarily have an expertise in the client’s area of focus. Spiritual direction can sometimes be directive; coaching is always non-directive. Spiritual direction is about being with God; coaching is about doing and designing actions. While there are other distinctions, these are the most marked.
What about you? How would you describe the differences between coaching and spiritual direction?