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Making Contracts Biblical by Tony Stoltzfus

Jun 11th, 2010 | By | Category: Featured Content

Over the years I’ve personally been deeply grieved to watch a number of important relationships in the Christian coaching world implode over contract issues. Those experiences started me thinking: what does scripture have to say about a Christian coach’s relationship to contracts and the legal system? We all use coaching agreements, and we have contracts with the schools that train us with those who do work for us. Is the way we craft these agreements biblical, or are we just copying common business practices without really thinking about how the fit with a Kingdom perspective?

So let’s dive in and explore what a biblical approach to coaching contracts might look like.

Biblical Motives for Coaching Contracts
Because what we do comes out of who we are (Mt 12:34), figuring out what constitutes a biblical practice starts with determining what is a biblical motive. What’s the reason we are entering into a contractual relationship? Sometimes agreements are motivated by the fear of being taken advantage of again, or of not getting paid for our work, or of having to endure conflicts over expectations. If you’ve been around the block at all, at one time or another this kind of thing has probably happened to yo. However, the Bible speaks pretty clearly to acting out of a motivation of fear:

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love” (I Jn. 4:18).

The problem with fear is that it is about me. I focuses on my loss, my needs or my desire to avoid conflict. While love focuses on the other person, fear is about protecting the self. So what does that mean for us as coaches? Well, since coaching is designed to be about the client, not about the coach, entering into contracts out of fear starts your coaching relationship out on completely the wrong foot.

If you’ve been burned in the past, I am not saying you should intentionally try to get hurt again. Far from it—get healed instead! Reflect on your worries, find out what memories or events they are rooted in, and meet Jesus in that place. If you feel vulnerable or afraid, the only real protection comes from Jesus. Once you are settled in his protection and those fears are dealt with, you are free to enter agreements motivated by wisdom and love instead of fear.

Love  vs. Fear
So what would a contract grounded in a motive of love look like? It would be about the other person and their good, and not just about mine. In fact, biblical contracts are about mutual success. Phillipians 2:4 states, “…Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” That verse calls for us to consider the good of both parties—to make our deals a win-win where we both get what we want. Creating biblical agreements involves listening to the other person’s heart, truly understanding their interests and taking care that the deals you make meet their needs.

Another way to look out for the interests of others is to use a contract to clarify expectations and promises. When I make a contract with you I am promising to deliver a service for something you will give in return. A good contract says, ‘Here is what we are agreeing to give and get. Is this really what you want?” Nothing is hidden, and there is no spinning things to look more attractive or withholding negative information to get the deal done. Your coaching agreement should be clear, readable, fair, and take care not to promise what you can’t deliver.

Some people will sell you on a vision or service by telling you all the positives things that could come out of it and the progress that has been made to date, and conveniently glossing over the obstacles and the problems that may crop up. I don’t appreciate being treated that way—would you? Christianity is about being in the light, with absolutely nothing to hide or gloss over. When we have to try to look good instead of being ourselves in order to get a coaching client, we are functioning out of fear: fear that we aren’t good enough, that our financial needs won’t be met, or that God can’t bring our destiny about.

Biblical contracts don’t spin or withhold information: they make clear promises in the light and fulfill them.  As proverbs says;

?a?Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it. Do not say to your neighbor, “Go, and come back, and tomorrow I will give it,” when you have it with you.”

Biblical contracts are also built on a desire to walk in integrity and keep ones’ word. We attempt to be clear on what is “due” that we have promised, so that we can be sure to perform our word. This type of integrity is indispensible in a coaching relationship.

Authentic, vulnerable coaching relationships are only possible where there is trust; and trust can only survive in an environment where promises are kept and people honor their word. That’s why even little things like making sure you are on time for your coaching calls are so important. Keeping your word builds trust.

Contracts, on the other hand, do not by themselves create trust—they can only define the actions that will produce it. This is a vital point. The best contracts are created between people who already have a trust relationship. You get to know someone well first, then you make a contract with them (or else your first agreement is around something you can afford to lose). If you choose to risk something you can’t afford to lose with someone whose heart you don’t know, it is almost impossible not to operate in a fearful or controlling way. Keep your risk commensurate with your trust, and you will have much less need to depend on contracts

Scripture teaches that there is a power in the spoken word to define reality. It is just as strong if not more so in a written agreement. The spirit you are functioning in when you make agreements will define that relationship. If you come in a spirit of love and trust, seeking the other’s good, you are actively working to define that relationship in terms of mutual success, collaboration, and respect. If you come in a spirit of fear, hoping not to be hurt, that will tend to define your relationship in terms of suspicion, distrust and competition.

Biblical Practices
The bible shows a great deal of concern for how we treat others, particularly other brothers and sisters in the body of Christ. Let’s focus in on the kind of agreements we in the Christian coaching community might have with each other.

First, the New Testament is pretty down on using the court system in disputes between Christians. Paul, scarcely believing what he sees in Corinth, says, “Does any one of you, when he has a case against his neighbor, dare to go to law before the unrighteous and not before the saints?” So check your agreements with other Christians. Do they talk about legal remedies in case of a breakdown? Why not remove that clause and call for Christian mediation in case of a dispute instead?

In the same passage, Paul add, “It is already a defeat for you that you have lawsuits with one another. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded?”

Paul asks a good question. One of the greatest gifts of my life was being taken for a hundred bucks in my early twenties. I had given the money to a guy from our church who needed work to fix the exhaust system on our car, and he found out that there was a warrant out for his arrest and he fled the state—with my money! I raged against him in my mind, and struggled with my feelings of betrayal, and finally wrestled the thing to the ground. And you know what? The next time someone took me for $100, it wasn’t that big of a deal. Being ripped off set me free from the fear of being ripped off.

Since then I’ve gone through several more rounds of that kind of processing, with more and more at stake. And you know what? God came through. Through those experiences I learned that my call and my provision depends on no one but God, and no one can stop God from bringing it about. Losing everything gave me the gift of discovering that God alone could give everything I needed right back to me.

So ff a coaching client feels you took advantage of him, or you that didn’t produce what was promised, just give the person his money back. There may be a great gift for you in allowing yourself to be defrauded? If a person pays ahead for eight sessions, only uses five, and then wants a refund for the unused session; give it back, even if you could make a case for keeping the money. It’s only money. These are the places where we get the chance to get a little radical for Jesus:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.”

Ironically, most of what we write into our contracts is designed to keep us from having to do just what Jesus tells us to do!

Now, there is nothing righteous about intentionally trying to be taken advantage of. Fostering situations where people get angry at or use each other isn’t exactly going to produce the righteousness of God. The key to sorting this out is motive. Am I holding on to the money because it is the right thing to do, or because I am afraid of losing it? Am I making a contract because I love you and want to treat you right, or because I am afraid of what you might do to me?

Fear is a symptom of not being fully grounded in Christ. Where there is fear, Jesus can come in and set you free—free from worrying about money, free from anxiety about being taken. Just be aware that your freedom may be won by finding Jesus in the midst of the very thing you fear!

Why Not Let it Go?
One type of agreement that is becoming more common in the Christian coaching world is a non-compete. In essence, it usually says, I am giving something valuable to you on the condition that over this time period you won’t use it in any way that might take business away from me. So coaching schools ask students to sign a non-compete that they won’t train others, or coach trainers are asked to sign agreements that they will only work with one training organization. Sometimes even churches are asked to sign non-competes so they won’t take what they are learning and give it away in a place the other party could make money selling it.

From a biblical standpoint, there are several big problems with the way I have seen non-competes used. One is that they tend to be motivated by fear. We are afraid the person we are investing in will turn around and take from us, so we ask for the legal right to keep them from harming our interests.  Wouldn’t it be better to just let ourselves be defrauded, than to have to threaten legal action to protect ourselves?

Or even better: why not build a strong relationship before you partner, so you can operate on the basis of trust and honor instead of fear? I think sometimes we rely on contracts to define our relationships because we are too busy to have the kind of real relationships that wouldn’t require a contract.

The worst thing about non-competes is that they are often written so broadly that they give others veto power over our future and what God would do through us. By signing them, we voluntarily put boundaries around God.

It would be well to consider: do we really have the right to say to other believers, “What you have to give comes from me: therefore, I get to decide how and when you use that ability?” And then go even farther and implicitly threaten to use the legal system to enforce our desire to control what others do or don’t do with what we’ve given them? This doesn’t seem to me to line up very well with the way of the Kingdom.

Paul has a different way of dealing with competition. When he was stuck in jail, and other leaders came into the churches he himself had founded and competed with him for support, influence and authority, Paul’s response is striking:

“It’s true that some here preach Christ because with me out of the way, they think they’ll step right into the spotlight… Their motives are bad. They see me as their competition, and so the worse it goes for me the better—they think—it goes for them. So how am I to respond? I’ve decided that I really don’t care about their motives, whether mixed, bad or indifferent. Every time one of them opens his mouth, Christ is proclaimed, so I just cheer them on!” (Phil. 1:15-18)

Paul can say this because his core motivation is not that he gets to do God’s mission, but that God’s mission gets done. If the mission of your coaching business is to make money, then maybe this doesn’t apply to you. But if your mission is to help people fulfill their God-given destiny, I believe it does.

A Culture of Honor
The fact that we feel a need to use non-compete agreements among us is a symptom of a lack of trust and honor in our community. Non-competes offer legal protection where there is a lack of trust of those to whom a gift is given, and a lack of honor given to those who give.  As an author, I have been contacted many times by people who want to use quotes or passages from my material. When they honor me by checking first and making sure what I am doing works for me, I usually give permission pretty freely without getting anything in writing.  When those who receive a gift know how to honor the giver, and honor the deposit that has been made in them, they will work for the good of the giver and not against it.

Just last week, I had someone who wanted to use some of my stuff press me to make sure that I would benefit from what I was offering to them. That’s how it should work. I recognize honor, and I respond to it with gift. And if I get taken advantage of occasionally, I win then, too. Those experiences help me identify with the Master who gave up everything for us and doesn’t always get the honor due him in return.

What can you do to create a culture of honor? Find someone who has invested in or given to you, and find a way to give back.

What Only God Can Do
A final word.  I once bought a house with a friend that we ran as a discipleship house for a number of years. When I got married and moved out, we had to split up the equity in the house in a way that recognized each of our contributions. Feelings were running high. Fortunately, when we bought the house we had agreed on a clear set of guidelines for what to do if one of us moved out, and we wrote them down. That contract saved us from a relational breakdown.

Scripture says to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” I am not advocating for stupidity. Make contracts that address where things might break down, in order to preserve your relationships. Be clear about your expectations as a way of looking out for each other’s interests. Make all your deals a win-win. Just don’t depend on the American legal system to be your protector. It’s when God is put in charge of the needs that only he can fill, that you’ll make the kind of contracts he’ll be proud of.

Tony Stoltzfus is a well known author, speaker and leader in the Chrisian Coaching movement. His materials are available at his Christian Coaching Bookstore.


?a? Rom 13:7; Gal 6:10

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