After years of my gym membership not bearing fruit, I switched to a gym where a fitness coach leads each workout. It’s been a little over a year now, and I’m in better shape than I’ve been in 20 years. I had no idea how important a good coach is.
The coach starts each session by demonstrating the proper way to do the exercises. Then he corrects us as we exercise, and challenges us to increase our effort or the level of our workout when appropriate. Finally, he encourages and praises us as we make improvements and try our best.
Many of the people who work out at this gym are extremely athletic, driven and confident. None of them are pushovers. Some of them are downright intimidating. Yet we all let the coach tell us what to do. In fact, we pay him to tell us what to do. We do that because:
- He demonstrates a level of physical fitness we want for ourselves.
- We’ve realized we can’t get to the next level of fitness on our own.
- His coaching is practical and applicable.
- His coaching produces results. We can see and feel progress.
There are so many lessons for the church here.
People value good coaching. Canadians hire life coaches, career coaches, transition coaches and nutrition coaches, to name a few. They’re also looking for spiritual coaches, which should be good news for the church, because spiritual coaching—what we call discipleship—is the primary activity Jesus calls and empowers us to do. What’s concerning is that, while interest in spiritual coaching is on the rise, interest in the church is declining.
Well, Canadians are looking for a coach who is able to help them increase their level of spiritual fitness. Spiritually hungry people are looking for the same thing in a spiritual coach that I was looking for in a fitness coach. We want to make progress and see results. They aren’t looking for a church to assure them they’re okay the way they are, because they don’t want to stay the way they are. They want to grow. We’re useless as coaches if we don’t help them develop spiritually.
Canadians are also looking for coaches who demonstrate a level of spiritual vitality they want for themselves. If a coach is obviously out of shape, they’re not interested. And why should they be? Modelling vulnerability, authenticity and honesty about our imperfections and shortcomings is important, but only if we’re demonstrating transformation and progress in these areas as well. Otherwise, why on earth would they want us to coach them?
Jesus says, “Anyone who doesn’t keep moving forward, focussing on the goal ahead, isn’t fit for the kingdom of God” (My paraphrase of Luke 9:62). This means that without focus and progress we aren’t fit—spiritually fit—to be coaches in the kingdom of God.
So how do we become spiritually fit?
By doing what our coach tell us to do. Pentecost, the day we’re explicitly reminded that Christ sent the Holy Spirit to be our coach, is quickly approaching. Christ promises that we will see results if we let the Divine Spirit coach us. Christ also promises us that it won’t always be easy, pretty or painless, but if we listen and obey, progress will happen. Growth is guaranteed if we stay connected to the “vine.”
In short, we become spiritually fit as we let the Divine Spirit coach us.
We become spiritual coaches as we allow the Divine Spirit to flow through our lives, and demonstrate, instruct, correct, challenge and encourage others to move towards that which is evident in our lives.
Perhaps the key lesson for the church that I’ve learned from my fitness coach is that we should focus on coaching people who actually desire spiritual fitness. This might mean refusing to keep the spiritual “workouts” we offer undemanding because certain members desire it.
If I asked my fitness coach to make the workouts easier, he’d try to address what I was struggling with, and scale the exercises to my current abilities and fitness level, if necessary. However, if I was capable of doing the workouts but simply didn’t like doing them because they were hard, he’d tell me this probably wasn’t the gym for me.
Jesus did the same thing. He consistently let people go who didn’t want to do what was necessary to move towards spiritual fitness, which was different for everyone. That’s how Jesus coached, and that’s how he dares us to coach.
Troy Watson (@troydwatson) is pastor of Avon Mennonite Church in Stratford, Ont.