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Fire the coach

Unchurched life counselors are not what Christians need

Fire the coach

(Krieg Barrie)

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.



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  •  bwsmith's picture
    Posted: Fri, 09/16/2016 08:08 am

    Good point: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.

  • DWayne
    Posted: Sun, 09/18/2016 06:02 pm

    What a thing to say ... a reprimand, clearly: "Can it be there is no one among you wise enough?" Indeed. Because we so easily regard God's Holy Word as boring or irrelevant, or poor entertainment, the world and its solutions for any and every problem ... solutions that have far more to do with profit ... look so delicilious, sound so good, feel just right. Having been on the run from the God of my Christian upbringing, I remember how I so easily fell in love with Carl Rogers (an unhappy pastor before becoming a world-known psychologist). Ironically, a close Rogerian understudy snatched me out of a "Christian" college's clutches, as I was hating more and more the whole idea of sin. Of further interest is that this man actually chaired the Department of Psychology at that same "Christin" instituion of higher learning. He taught me with words and textbooks and personal attention and said, bottom line, "Really now. What's all the fuss about sin? If you just dig deep enough and truly see the human heart, you'll easily see that we are basically good. Stick with me, and I'll show you how to do that, and one day you can help people get over the sin and guilt they carry." Now, coach others with that kind of stuff stuck in your craw for 20 years, finally fall into the arms of Jesus, and then try living with the memories of the hundreds of lives you've ruined. I'm not sorry to say outright, I AM down on such people who seek to ease the pain from divorce by saying, "Forget about her. Forget about him. It's better that way. Be like King Xerxses and get a new one." I'm also willing to admit that such godless life coaches are the unpaid debts incurred by churches who are either too afraid or too lazy to step up to the very messy problems of a hurting world.    Thank You, God, for still not giving up on us. Help us to see the unvarnished ... Your truth, whether we like it or not.  

  • CF
    Posted: Mon, 09/19/2016 07:06 am

    "Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly."  Psalm 1:1

  • vantil
    Posted: Mon, 09/19/2016 09:07 am

    Amen.  Well-written.  I have numerous life coaches, the main one being the person bringing the message on Sunday.

  •  nevertheless's picture
    Posted: Mon, 09/19/2016 10:28 am

    Perhaps life coaches are stand ins for true freinds ....


  • DS Gerlach
    Posted: Mon, 09/19/2016 01:24 pm

    My brother is a life coach...and a pastor.  In my opinion, it's the best of both worlds.  His life coaching skills help him ask the right questions and assist people in coming up with steps to make the change they long for.  The pastor in him keeps people pointed toward Jesus and following a biblical path, rather than a humanistic one.  Life coaching without Jesus is just another self-help fad.  Life coaching with Jesus is a powerful tool to help others become more like Jesus.