The difference between Coaching and Spiritual Direction?

What an excellent question and while volumes have been written on Spiritual Direction and life coaching, it is important to understand the two are not the same thing as if Coaching is a more contemporary term for Spiritual Direction.


Christian Life Coaching can be an incredible tool in real life of everyday people, but most especially for those who have specific goals in mind, things in which they wish to change, issues they wish to address.  Coaching can cover a wide variety of areas - Life Coaching, Business Coaching, Leadership Coaching, Performance Coaching, etc.

A skilled and insightful coach will learn about and evaluate her/his client and hopefully, be qualified in the particular disciplines to help the client address specific issues, barriers, and limitation; working with the client to address these questions as they relate to clearly defined goals.   Through a collaborative process, the coach assists in the distillation of a clearly defined goal, mapping deliberate, incremental steps towards the goal, and provides the support, encouragement, and accountability.  In the end, the goal will be realized, and the client will have overcome some barriers in their lives and have some practical tools in place for the next challenge.


There is no comparison between that which is lost by not succeeding and that which is lost by not trying.            -Francis Bacon


Coaching will generally deal with symptoms and issues.  It deals with parts of a person's life and as such does not generally provide a holistic approach to the whole person.  This in no way diminishes the value of coaching, especially by those who are gifted to do so.

Action is the foundational key to all success.

- Pablo Picasso


Spiritual Direction

Simply, Spiritual direction is deeper.  Spiritual direction is an ancient form of soul care which can contribute to spiritual formation. Spiritual formation is the continuing response to the reality of God’s grace shaping us into the likeness of Jesus Christ, through the work of the Holy Spirit.  This is in a context of real life in a community of faithful, forgiving friends who are on a similar journey.   This is a lifelong journey, a gradual and progressive movement toward spiritual maturity, the image of Jesus and the maturation of love in our lives.  These lives of growing intimacy with Jesus will result in more healthy and whole followers of Jesus, which are witnesses of the Gospel to a hurting world.

The focus is always on the relationship with God. Contemplating the mystery that is God in Christ in a deeply spiritual way to come to know God and ourselves in a fuller, healthier way.  This involves an intensely personal exploration beyond the defense mechanisms and false selves we present to the world and learning to live more authentically with greater freedom.  The role of a spiritual director then is a safe, experienced, caring companion for this journey.


Spiritual direction is, in reality, nothing more than a way of leading us to see and obey the real Director — the Holy Spirit hidden in the depths of our soul.                 - Thomas Merton


Spiritual direction in this way is deeply personal and very sacred as it deals with the very core of us as human beings.  It is in this light we explore:

  • Who am I?
  • Who is God?
  • Why do I exist?
  • Do I matter?
  • What is truly important to me and why?
  • Can I overcome feeling Guilt and Shame?
  • How do I live with integrity what I believe?
  • How can I cultivate a healthy relationship with God and others?
  • Where is God when I hurt, and things go wrong?


The term “direction” can be misleading as it does not mean a surrendering of one's will to another or one's personal responsibility for their own faith journey.  Spiritual direction does not seek to provide answers to questions (tell you what to think) but rather to help you ask those questions in a genuine way and helps you discover answers ("hear" God) for yourself.   It deals with our relationship with God and the implications of that relationship in all of life.  It helps us connect in a meaningful way with our source.  This is where our hurts are addressed, identity is discovered, and meaning is found.  This may or may not deal with a presenting issue directly, but all issues have their root in our relationship with God and ourselves.

“Spiritual theology has to do with living the Christian life instead of thinking about it.... The counseling movement, even within the church, became heavily psychologized and became almost exclusively therapeutic, so what people were dealing with were problems. If you had a problem, you went to a counselor. But spiritual direction in a sense doesn't begin with a problem. Spiritual direction deals much more out of health and an identity of Christian holiness, so I think it's an obvious response to the failure to transcend.

- (Excerpted from a 1995 interview of Eugene H. Peterson, Evangelical, Professor of Spiritual Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada).”


Effective Together

Coaching will address specific issues where spiritual direction cultivates relationship, cultivates life at a core level.  Both Christian Life Coaching and Spiritual Direction can be complementary tools towards a deeper richer life, but neither is a magic wand and requires deliberateness.   It takes some wisdom to discern where you are at in problem-centered stage of life to determine which tool may be right for you.

Choosing a Coach or Spiritual Director

Take your time and do some research.  Websites are a good place to start, but fancy, “hypey” websites are not always an indication of the competency of your Coach or Spiritual Director.  Many Coaches and Spiritual directors will make themselves available for a no-cost introductory telephone call.  You can share a bit about yourself, what you are looking for and also ask the Coach or Spiritual Director questions about things that are important to you.   This will also give you the opportunity to get a sense of the Coach or Spiritual Director and determine whether they are a fit personality wise and evaluate if they possess the experience, gifts, and tools that you are seeking.

  • Ask about “why” they do what they do?  Ask about the values they hold, their experience professionally and personally.
  • Ask to see their service agreement and inquire about their on-going professional development.
  • Look for a Coach or Spiritual director with some experience and who is professionally and personally accountable to an organization with a Code of Ethics and other individuals who speak into their lives with training, support, and accountability.
  • Fees for Coaching and Spiritual direction can vary.   Again, while it is generally true that you get what you pay for, this may not always be the case.  I, for example, in certain situations, provide Spiritual direction for people who are genuinely interested and would benefit from a reduced fee if finances are an issue.
  • Pray and trust that you will make the right choice!


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