If I’ve learned anything in the 15 years I’ve been leading, teaching, and coaching college students, it’s that millennials want to learn. Although the classroom lecture has its place, I’ve found that most millennials want to test their learning through dialogue, even if some of them are initially skittish about initiating conversation.

More than all of that, the Christ-following millennials I work with have a deep longing to be transformed. In various ways what they tell me is this: “I want to be changed for the sake of my calling in God’s Kingdom.”

One of the approaches we’ve taken to cooperating with the Holy Spirit as He changes students lives at Impact 360 Institute is life coaching. A traditional definition of life coaching is simply this: helping people get from where they are to where they want to be. But how do we know that where they WANT to go is healthy and redemptive?

Distinctively Christian coaching is helping people get from where they are to where God wants them to be. This is similar to Henry Blackaby’s “moving people onto God’s agenda” thesis in his book, Spiritual Leadership.

Christian coaching assumes Romans 12:2 as its foundation: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Coaching, Discipling…What’s the Difference?

Some people believe these terms are synonymous. They are not, and it is important to be aware of the differences. What may be an appropriate approach for one person on his journey may not be what another person needs at that time. Here are some helpful definitions. I’ve taken these, as well as some of the main ideas for this post, from Dr. Gary Collins’s book, Christian Coaching: Helping Others Turn Potential into Reality, 2d ed.

Counseling or therapy deals mostly with a person’s past trauma and seeks healing.

Consulting: An expert who leverages knowledge of best practices in order to improve a business process, team, academic curriculum, etc. and makes specific recommendations for improvement.

Mentoring: Guidance provided by a “master” who has gone before the mentee in a certain field. It often deals with succession and is used to help someone do what the mentor does.

Discipling: Christian life guidance to an apprentice provided by a more spiritually mature disciple of Jesus Christ. It deals mostly with spiritual development and gives instruction that will enable individuals to grow in Christlikeness and in the knowledge and favor of Jesus Christ.

Coaching: Unlocking a person’s unique, God-given potential to maximize his or her own performance. It deals mostly with a person’s present and seeks to guide him or her into a more desirable future in conformity with God’s plan for that person.

One of my new friends, himself an experienced Christian coach, has Proverbs 20:5 as his life verse. It says, “The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out.” This is what a transformational life coach does— uses God-given insight to draw out purpose in someone else’s life that may not be altogether obvious to him or her.

But what about Transformation?

As we look at the Gospels, we can identify key ways in which Christ was a transformative presence to everyone he came in contact with, whether it was his disciples, the tax collectors, or the Pharisees and Sadducees. Like Jesus himself did, a Christ-following transformational coach will:

  • Foster confidence
  • Cheer others on
  • Give positive and corrective feedback
  • Empower and challenge
  • Hold coachees (the people being coached) accountable
  • Keep hope alive
  • Seek to understand the coachee holistically through capitalizing on genuine curiosity—a question asking approach
  • Help those being choached to translate goals into action through good questions

This is the kind of person who God uses to transform others’ lives in radical ways. I’ve found college students in particular to be drawn to people whose very being is characterized by these behaviors.

Who can you think of in your life, past or present, who has exemplified this way of being? What can you do today to be more of a Christ-like transforming presence to everyone you come in contact with?

Interested in what you can do to help guide your student through their college transition? Check out John Basie’s book, Your College Launch Story: Six Things Every Parent Must Do!