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What is a “life coach”? I wondered as an acquaintance from a local church told me that he had one. He also said he had a “health coach.” His phone rang while we were talking, and it was the health coach, which ended our conversation abruptly.
The man has been on the outer fringes of my life for years in this small town. I am embarrassed to say that all I ever knew about him was that he had a wife living in another state whom he would visit, and that she told him upon every visit that she didn’t want to live with him. He would mention her on every encounter, and he always looked sad. It was none of my business, so I said nothing.
On this recent chance meeting (before we were cut off by the health coach) he made a point of saying he doesn’t visit his wife anymore; they are officially divorced as of a few months ago. I said, “Your heart must be heavy.” He seemed surprised by the statement for a moment and then recovered and replied that that’s all behind him now. His life coach helped him through it.
Counselors I know. And pastors I know. And softball coaches I have had. But what is a life coach? I thought.
So I googled “Life Coach,” thinking to push back the boundaries of my ignorance. But the first several listings were advertisements for life coach schools, rather than definitions. Apparently I can become rich by being a life coach—and in six short months. I can learn the art of helping people in my neighborhood to find their true goals. (Which I myself would not have to find, since my own goal would be met to the tune of $5,000 to $10,000 a month by counseling other people.)
Paul warned about seeking wisdom and coaching on personal matters from the unchurched.
I have just reread the first five paragraphs of this column, and it sounds like I’m down on life coaches. But I’m not. I’m down on the state of the church if that’s the reason we need life coach schools to help people find the meaning of their lives and solutions about wives in other states who don’t want to live with them.
J.K. Van Baalen (1890-1968) wrote that “cults are the unpaid bills of the church.” The way it works, I take it, is like how kwashiorkor is a symptom of a problem rather than the root problem itself. Malnutrition shows up in a bloated belly; and if you really want to fix it, you don’t press on the belly but you get proper food.
This is not at all to say that life coaches are a cult. Indeed, there may well be Christian life coaches, for all I know. In fact, the church man I was talking to said that when his life coach asked him what his vision was, and he answered that it was to glorify God, the life coach was fine with that and told him that obsessing over his estranged wife was not going to glorify God. So it sounds like the life coach is on board with helping him pursue his stated goal of glorifying God.
But what I gather from the life coach school adverts is that the coaches will help you pursue your goal nonjudgmentally, no matter what your goal turns out to be. Their philosophy is not from Jesus but from the 13th-century Islamic mystic Rumi: “What you seek is seeking you.” They say that the answer is within you.
Early on Paul warned about seeking wisdom and coaching on personal matters from the unchurched. He scolded the Corinthians who were doing that: “Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! ... Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough? ” (1 Corinthians 6:3, 5). Paul called it “a defeat” for them (verse 7). Why a defeat? Because it looks like Christians are not up to the challenge of counseling their own, which doesn’t bring glory to God.
It’s no use throwing mud at the life coach phenomenon. Far better to live such godly lives (1 Peter 2:12) that we have practical counsel for brothers that renders their life coaches superfluous.