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Support Structures in the Coaching Relationship by Tony Stoltzfus

Jan 9th, 2012 | By | Category: Featured Content, Transformational Coaching, [None]

Eli had a problem: his sons were out of control. He had put them in influential ministry positions under his leadership, but they flaunted the rules and became increasingly unethical. When people came to give their offerings to God, Eli’s sons would dip into the pot for their own personal use. If objections were raised, they would threaten to take whatever they wanted by force. Eli’s sons acted as if the things God’s people had placed sacrificially on His altar were their own. God was not pleased.

Eli made an attempt to challenge his boys, weak though it was. He’d heard reports of their sordid affairs with their female co-workers, and he remonstrated with them over their sinful behavior. “Why do you do such things?” he inquired, clearly pained by what was happening. But they wouldn’t listen, and Eli could not summon up the courage to remove them.

Twice God spoke very clearly to Eli about his failure to take responsibility for the situation. He was told directly that he was putting his sons before God, and that he and his family would be severely punished for his failure to honor God first. When Eli still didn’t act, God spoke prophetically again through a young boy, Samuel, Eli’s protégé. Even as Eli mentored the boy in how to hear God’s voice, the first prophetic word the boy gave spoke of the disaster that was coming to Eli’s household. While his sons were the ones who had cast off all restraint, Eli was in charge, and God held him to account for failing to lead. He still had one last chance to change.

But by that time Eli had lost hope. He acknowledged that God was speaking, but in despair simply replied, “It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.” Not long afterward, Eli’s two sons were both killed, and the ark of God, the centerpiece of Eli’s ministry, was lost. Eli himself fell over and died of a broken neck when he heard the news. All these disasters came to pass in a single day.

The Process of Change

Eli’s real problem was that he knew what he needed to do, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. We’re often in the same boat. We know we need to lose weight, but somehow it’s always easier to eat ice cream straight from the carton instead of going to bed hungry. We’ve read a hundred times how regular exercise can make us happier and longer-lived, but every time we try we run out of steam after a few weeks and give up. God has been speaking to us about our devotional life, but it’s so hard to find the time.

The process of habit change is not well understood by Christians, and neither are the relational resources God has given us to do it. The key factor in change is motivation, not information. It isn’t knowing what to do that produces change—it’s having the incentive to tackle the hard work it entails. We have to get motivated, to get energized to change, and then stay motivated and energized long enough to form a new habit. When our energy and motivation wane, we fail.

Coaching helps people change because it offers a support system that adds extra energy and motivation to the change process. Healthy support structures are a key reason why clients who are coached can do more than they can on their own.

People fail to change because they run out of energy when the process gets difficult or feels prolonged. Changing a habit takes a serious, concentrated effort over a period of weeks or months. It requires picking yourself up when you are down and trying again. Most of all it takes consistency. And right when you are starting to make progress, life comes along and throws you a curve ball. You’re trying to get out of debt and the transmission goes out on the van; or you’re trying to jog every week and it rains for eight days straight. People fail to change because life knocks them down and they don’t have the energy to get back up. Change has to do with energy, and succeeding at change has a lot to with staying energized.

A Team Sport

The thing that we’re too often missing is the body of Christ.  The reason we run out of energy is that we were not created to overcome these obstacles all by ourselves. Change is a team sport. The fact that we are made for relationship is so deeply encoded in us that no one can fulfill the call of God on their life without other people. God did not create us to be independent entities. We are specifically designed to be interdependent with God and others. This principle is evident in Scripture from the beginning. It was not healthy for Adam to be alone—he needed a helper suitable to his needs. Jesus never sent His disciples out to minister alone—it was always two by two. The same concept is repeated in Paul’s writings. We are a body, and each part needs every other part. Many of the promises of God in the New Testament, which we unwittingly claim for ourselves as individuals, are actually given to the Body of Christ as a whole organism (For example, see Ephesians chapter one). It is only “the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly,” that “makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love” (Eph. 4:16).

People fail at change because they fail to draw on the relational change resources God has provided. Coaching delivers those resources. For instance, coaches supply accountability for action steps, encouragement when we’re down, and a place to celebrate when we triumph. When we’re out of gas and ready to give up, the knowledge that “tomorrow my coach is going to ask me how I’m doing” keeps us going when our own resources wouldn’t have been enough. When life knocks us down, a coach is there to help us dust ourselves off and get back in the saddle. The support, encouragement and accountability (SEA) a coach provides is so invaluable that it can transform lives all by itself.

Personally, I’ve reached the point where I don’t even try to change a habit on my own any more—it simply wastes too much energy. Recently I asked my coach to hold me accountable to rise to a new standard in my thought life, and right now I’m kicking myself about it. Why didn’t I talk to him about this months ago? I frittered away more energy feeling guilty about where I was at than it has taken to make the change! Once you get over feeling embarrassed that you can’t do everything on your own (do yourself a big favor and get over this lie quickly), building support structures for change in your life is one of the most empowering things you can do for yourself.  Coaches serve their clients by offering the relational support they need to maximize growth and change.

Too often, well-meaning believers refuse the blessing of the support, encouragement and accountability that can be provided through a coaching relationship.  Their reason is that they only need the Lord to help them change.  If that’s you, I encourage you to remember Eli.  God spoke to him clearly and repeatedly about the changes he needed to make, but that obviously wasn’t enough—Eli never did make the necessary changes!

Tony Stoltzfus is a master coach, author and coach trainer. More of his writings on the disciplines, skills and heart of a Christian coach can be found in his book, Leadership Coaching.

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One Response to “Support Structures in the Coaching Relationship by Tony Stoltzfus”

  1. Ann Robertson says:

    In re-reading this (great post, Tony!), it occurs to me that there is another embarrassing thought
    (besides thinking that we should be able to handle things on our own) that keeps people from seeking support: “What’s wrong with me that I don’t have anyone in the Body of Christ that I can go to without paying for the support we are supposed to supply for each other? Does it mean I don’t have deep relationships?” I believe that you are correct in saying “no one can fulfill the call of God on their life without other people”. I also believe that coaching is used in amazing ways to support and release people in the change and growth process. Since all of us need to give and receive this kind of support, are professions like counseling and coaching simply a reflection of this fallen world?

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