Beware: I have just completed a four-day course. “Transforming Conversations.”
For the record, I had to. Three-line whip from the Diocese (which has a stronger hold over its members that the current Labour party).
Essentially it was a course on coaching – and I have to admit (somewhat reluctantly), it was rather good. With the valuable bonus I got to know 20 of my fellow clergy so much better.
I had always associated coaching with Joe Walker on a wet autumn evening pouring scorn on my woeful efforts of running 10 repetitions of 400m in intervals of just two minutes. Coaching for me meant torment.
But now coaching – like its cousin, mentoring – now has a precise meaning, at least in the language of human resources. It even has its own professional body.
So what is coaching? And how does it differ from mentoring? Something I have been trying to get a handle on over the last few weeks.
Working this out for myself (and so I may be wrong) coaching is what happens when a molecular biologist gets stuck on their project in zone electrophoresis. (Don’t be impressed: I’ve just lifted these words from Wikipedia). They just can’t see the way forward.
Now they can go to a more experienced molecular biologist who may mentor them or now that I have done the course on Transforming Conversations (I have the certificate), they can come to me.
I have no understanding of their subject whatsoever but in asking the right questions in the right way, I can help them shift their vision, see new pathways, open up new vistas. And for the record, such a conversation is often highly productive.
The fact that I don’t know the subject can be a huge advantage, something I will remember when I next have a conversation with someone working in zone electrophoresis.
In other words in talking to someone about their problem you don’t need to know their story. It is simply an exercise in helping them to discover what they already knew but hadn’t realised they knew
As in the much-quoted poem by T S Elliott:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Now all this, I now realise, has huge implications for the way we present the Gospel, how we share Jesus.
What are we doing when we present Christ crucified? At first sight it seems an uphill struggle for the simple reason, in the words of the apostle Paul, that a crucified Saviour is “a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:23).
And so we use all the resources at our disposal to persuade an unbeliever to see the truth and so place their trust in Jesus as Lord of all. Such a step, of course, means surrendering all that we are to God in the sure knowledge that he loves us. This may well mean hardship, even suffering.
In fact, C S Lewis took the line that you could – so to speak – argue someone into the Kingdom. Once you had proved the resurrection of Jesus took place, then everything else inevitably falls into place.
To be fair, I may be over representing him here but certainly he took a high view of apologetics, the use of reasoned argument in presenting the claim of Christ on our lives.
However, all this ignores an important dynamic. As the apostle writes, Jesus is not just one Saviour among many. “For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels—everything got started in him and finds its purpose in Christ) (Colossians 1:17 Message translation)
When we speak of Jesus we are speaking to human beings who owe their very existence to him. We are made through him – “for all things have been created through him and for him.” (1:16). And this makes all the difference.
Selwyn Hughes used to talk about a witness for Christ in every human heart. Evangelism is then, like coaching, discovering what you already know. And because the cross is at the heart of God’s purposes, so the purpose of the cross is embedded in each of our hearts.
For Jesus, in the words of Charles Wesley’s Advent hymn, is the “dear desire of every nation, the joy of every longing heart.”
So in sharing Christ, we are pushing on an open door, albeit a door with a rusty hinge with a lot of rubbish piled up behind it.
Our task then, like a good coach, is to help people discover what they already know in their hearts, that Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us. And in surrendering to him we fulfil the core purpose of our lives.