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Transformational coaching: Jesus

A few weeks ago I stumbled across Doug Firebaugh’s article, titled  Jesus, The Original Networker—9 Business Lessons from the Bible  1st Sept 2016 issue of Networking Times). My curiosity was piqued about number of the points he made from the life of Jesus, particularly since Jesus, in Mark, asks 65 questions to his disciples, followers and pharisees.Overall, throughout the gospels, Jesus asks some 307 questions.

Was Jesus just a teacher, using the Socratic method, to elicit learning? Or was he more like a Coach, transforming the lives of his disciples and creating great leaders to come after him?

Was this simply a mentor ship program that the disciples entered into, following Jesus? Or was there a point where they were 100% responsible for their lives and decisions, where it was purely an exercise of their free will to become better versions of themselves?

Sure, Jesus took – over a 3-year period – twelve men and created them into a tight-knit team who were transformed over the three years. They became compassionate, creative and courageous men, in spite of their weaknesses and errors. Through the questions that he asked them, living with him and following his example, the disciples gained a better understanding of their doubts, fears, priorities, understanding, faith and even the question of rejection. Even in spite of Judas’ fear, Jesus demonstrated a deep understanding and compassion for him.

Working with the disciples individually, as a group, and also simply allowing them to follow and support him as he worked with others – he taught, mentored and coached them into preparation to do a much bigger job than what he individually could achieve. When they were somewhat ready, he sent them out to practice in pairs, and then when they arrived back, had them debrief about how it had gone for them.


If you looked at the men chosen to follow Jesus, you would hardly have believed them capable of building anything. Yet, Jesus was able to work with each man’s uniqueness & strengths. This was not simply a modification of behavior – it went much deeper than this! He spoke to their beliefs, emotions & desires. Through listening, asking, seeing more than what they could possibly see, and tapping into his deep spiritual intuition, he was able to provoke within them a deep transformation. He gave them responsibilities, respected their free will and looked at them individually – what were their internal motivations?

And from this group — fishermen, a tax collector (almost as bad as thieves) and an anarchist (zealot) — we know a group of spiritual leaders! Jesus did not use advice and instructions so much as he used questions to transform their lives. You probably remember Jesus’ question to Peter “do you love me?”. Or his question to the blind men “What do you want?” Or his question to Thomas “Do you believe?”.

These questions, this process of discussion and self-awareness, lead to an internal motivation and performance. The disciples chose to improve and develop. Not because they were ordered to – but rather because they were challenged to do so.

The questions provoked deep probing and thought. They were usually confrontational and challenging. There were many “Why” questions:

  • Why are you anxious?
  • Why are you scared?
  • Why are you holding on to that thought pattern?
  • Why are you looking for me?
  • Why are you sleeping?
  • Why are you trying to kill me?

All of these questions, generate a “think for yourself” – examine your heart and actions!

Jesus was not busy telling the disciples “this is what you must believe” – but often questioned their very beliefs until they got a good understanding of what they thought! Discovering it for themselves.

There are three main characteristics & qualities that wish to highlight in the way that Jesus coached the disciples:  compassion, creativity & courage.  He did this through his questioning, his example and his teaching.

Compassion & Connection

I am continually amazed by the connection that Jesus had with the crowds of people that followed him.  They were wanting and needy, most of them looking for a miracle or “the answer”.  And yet, he always had time to stop, connect and reach out with compassion.  Even to the disciples.

One of the stories we find in the gospel is of Jesus being followed by a crowd and two blind men calling out to him. Jesus stops to ask them “What do you want?”. They responded that they wanted their sight back, and having compassion for them, he stops to heal them.

Jesus often asks “do you want to be well?”. Respecting the free will of the person that is affected – do they actually want to change? But, more than this, what we see is Jesus starts and ends always with Love & Compassion.  If there was no compassion, none of his miracles would have been as moving.

Through their time with Jesus, the disciples learn active listening, really being present to what another has said – and left unsaid.  It is through the connection – heart to heart – that they are able to know what the next question to ask is.

Jesus had a unique way, also, of teaching the disciples about rejection.  If we recall the story of the young rich man, who when asked to sell all he had, give it to the poor and follow Jesus – we watch him walk away.  Jesus, however, does not suffer a rejection personally – this was not about him… this was about the rich young man.  Jesus is clear on the boundaries and priorities – are you willing to accept these?  The young man is not.  And so he walks away.  But this isn’t something that Jesus takes personally – he simply lovingly accepts that the young man is not willing to part with the security that he finds within his possessions.

And just like the swipe left or swipe right of tinder, Jesus could easily be seen with teaching the disciples the value of “Next!” If this town does not want to hear your message – fine. Shake off the dust and keep moving.

How do you handle rejection? Is it all about you? Or can you see how it might be about the other person?

At no time, however, do you get the feeling that Jesus judged the young man.  The same way that there is no feeling that he judged Peter, for denying him three times, or judged the tax-collector who had been unethical in the way he treated others.  Even with Judas, there is only a sense of compassion – not judgment.

Creativity – the art of asking the right question

Another area in which I am awe-struck is Jesus’ ability to ask questions, to tell stories (parables) at “just the right moment” in order to make a point, and then to know when to explain the story and when simply to allow others to mull it over and decipher the meanings for themselves!

He told stories and used pictures of the imagination.  The most powerful way to explain yourself is with a story that another person can relate to. Many times, the questions Jesus asked were “Do you understand?” — “What do you think?” — “How will you … ?”.  He invited those listening to discover their own solutions, rather than giving them the answer simply on a silver platter.  He asked questions that stung “What were you thinking when you lost your faith?”.

His questions dig deep – challenging the thinking patterns and beliefs of those questioned.  How do my thoughts & beliefs shape my life?

He questioned priorities – such as when he suggested to the young rich man to sell all of his belongings to follow him.

He questioned the disciples ability to listen to the still, small voice – sitting in silence.  Are you listening?

guidance, direction, decision, decision-making, silence, stillness, peace, quiet

Courage – to overcome doubt and step into faith

Jesus made very clear to those that followed him that decisions had to be made – apathy was not acceptable.  You are either in or you are out.  You are hot or you are cold.  Make a decision – even if you are terrified and doubting!  You are called to greatness – what does that translate into in your life?  How are you living up to that?

Do you step up in faith – even with so much happening around you that is out of your control?  Are you anxious?  Jesus acknowledged openly that doubt and fear existed.  That each one of the disciples had a level of fear – and he pushed them to use that fear and doubt as a healthy catalyst of transformation.

While he was, on one level, their teacher – he pushed them and helped them to learn.  He set up the challenges for them to succeed, not fail.  But he also understood their failures and fears.  Even when faced with death – life’s biggest unknown – he challenged the disciples about the way that they would face it.

Free will & responsibility

Most importantly, he respected their free will and laid the responsibility for their responses to life’s challenges at their feet.  What do YOU want? Clearly, in his conversation with Peter – it was clear that Peter would be responsible for how he would respond to life’s challenges.

After the fact, there is accountability – even in the face of failure.  Did you do what you said you would do?  Not as an accusation.  Simply that the acknowledgement that the results did not live up to Peter’s word.  You failed to do as you said you would. And now, you’ve lived through the consequences of those actions.

Jesus prepared them for the life to come – the challenges that they would face when he was not there.  They became effective at helping others – themselves – rather than relying on Jesus to help others.

Coaching is simply a learning process –  but it is relationship based.  And between Jesus and the disciples, it was based on an authentic relationship.  Through this relationship, he turned fishermen into leaders of a movement!

How are you being coached into learning to stand up into a bigger and better version of your strengths and overcoming your weaknesses?

Jesus, transformational coaching, questions, His questions dig deep – challenging the thinking patterns and beliefs of those questioned.  How do my thoughts & beliefs shape my life?  He questioned priorities – such as when he suggested to the young rich man to sell all of his belongings to follow him.  He questioned the disciples ability to listen to the still, small voice – sitting in silence.  Are you listening?

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