Would meeting for spiritual direction or coaching better match your current needs and goals? What’s best for you in this season of your life in Christ?
Coaches and spiritual directors are both trained to provide listening and guidance that can support your journey with Jesus. But depending on your specific goals, one approach may be more fruitful and beneficial for you.
In this article, we explore the main differences in the approaches of coaching and spiritual direction so you can best discern which would be most helpful to you.
Differences Between Spiritual Direction and Coaching
Not only are spiritual direction and coaching different, but also within each field the providers vary widely in their purpose, values, and methods. Soul Shepherding has a unique approach that integrates Christ-centered psychology and spirituality with both spiritual direction and coaching.
In Soul Shepherding, when we meet with clients for free initial consultations, the most common question is this: “Can you help me decide whether I should meet with a coach or spiritual director?“
We can help you discern which is a better fit for you. To get you started, let’s go over the basic differences between how Soul Shepherding approaches coaching and spiritual direction.
Spiritual direction focuses on your relationship with God and your intimacy with Jesus. A spiritual director will meet with you as Christ’s ambassador (2 Cor 5:20), ministering the love and presence of Christ Jesus to you as you reflect and share about your experiences with God in your life, relationships, work, and prayers.
Coaching helps you to focus on moving forward with the specific goals that you have for your life. These goals can be about your work, relationships, health, time, or spiritual life.
If you’re primarily looking to develop a closer relationship with God that influences your relationships and work then probably you’ll want to talk with a spiritual director.
If you’re primarily looking to improve as a leader in ministry or as a business leader, then probably you’ll want to work with a coach who helps you to discern goals, take positive steps, receive feedback, and make adjustments.
Let’s look more deeply into what to expect in a session with a spiritual director and a coach…
What to Expect in Spiritual Direction
A spiritual director is a companion who helps you to engage with God more prayerfully and intimately.
Spiritual direction clients often find themselves longing for God, are struggling in their spiritual lives, or desire to discern God’s voice more clearly for themselves.
Spiritual direction helps you feel known and loved by God. Your spiritual director listens to the Spirit of Jesus with you, offering empathy and guidance in your spiritual and psychological development to help you experience God’s love more deeply.
Let’s explore what you’ll experience in a spiritual direction session…
What Does a Spiritual Direction Session Look Like?
The Soul Shepherding approach to spiritual direction combines the wisdom of ancient traditions, intimacy with Jesus, and Christ-centered psychology in the journey of your soul.
The Sr. Spiritual Directors with Soul Shepherding have completed two years of training and supervision to earn a certificate in spiritual direction. They follow our PEPS model of spiritual direction:
Prayer is the foundation of every spiritual direction session. You and your spiritual director will use times of silent or verbal prayer during the session to help you and your spiritual director to pause and reorient to the Spirit of Jesus with you.
Your spiritual director may ask you questions about your prayer life and offer prayer exercises that may help you experience Jesus’ presence with you in new ways.
Empathy (Holy Listening)
In a spiritual direction session, you will receive the gift of empathy or holy listening. Your spiritual director reflects Jesus’ compassion to help you grow in awareness of your emotions, struggles, needs, and God’s grace.
In fact, the real Spiritual Director of your session is the Holy Spirit. You will experience a co-listening, Trinitarian love as both you and your spiritual director trust the Spirit’s presence and guidance in conversation, decisions, and prayer.
Your spiritual director is grateful to serve as an ambassador to the Spirit of Christ by ministering God’s continual friendship, care, and loving wisdom to you (2 Cor. 5:20).
Holy listening helps you explore times you sense the presence of God and times when God feels distant or absent. This includes spiritual direction questions like these:
- What are you feeling in your relationship with Jesus?
- How have you been sensing God’s presence recently?
- Recently what has distracted you from sensing and following the leading of the Holy Spirit?
- What are you praying for God to provide or do for you?
- What is something that has been helping you to grow spiritually?
As you appreciate Christ’s empathy through your spiritual director, you will grow in self-awareness and develop increasing access to God’s grace in your life. You will also be able to offer increased empathy to those you love and shepherd.
Goal-setting in spiritual direction is perhaps better described as listening for prompts from the Spirit of Jesus. The source of this spiritual discernment is experiencing the Spirit attuning to you through Scripture, prayer, and the empathy you receive from your spiritual director.
A main reason why people have difficulty hearing God’s voice is because they have repressed emotions or dislike having emotions or needs. In addition to God’s word, an important way to “hear” the still, small voice of God is through the feelings and thoughts of your heart and mind (1 Kings 19:11-13; Psalm 63:7; Rom. 12:2).
In the Bible Paul teaches, “Since we live by the Spirit let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Gal. 5:25). That’s the discernment process of spiritual direction and how it informs your relationship with God and your whole life.
Your spiritual life is intertwined with your emotional and relational health as you follow Jesus through the stages of faith (the CHRIST stages we unpack in Journey of the Soul).
Sometimes we can unknowingly experience roadblocks or soul splits in our development by denying emotions or distrusting God. Soul Shepherding Sr. Spiritual Directors are uniquely trained in spiritual and psychological development to help you explore and reintegrate your emotional, relational, and spiritual life in Christ.
In your step-by-step journey with the Spirit of Jesus, your spiritual director has hundreds of Soul Shepherding spiritual direction tools to guide you, including these:
- Praying Psalm 3: A Model Lament
- The Examen of Conscious to Practice God’s Presence
- Interpreting Your Dreams
- Don’t Worry (Lectio Divina Guide)
- Sample VIM Plan to Be Thankful and Joyful
- Suggestions for Solitude With Jesus
Now that we’ve explored what to expect in spiritual direction, let’s turn to coaching…
What to Expect in Coaching
An excellent, Christ-centered coach can help you reach goals that have been inspired by God. Coaching guides you to improve your awareness, effectiveness, and competence in your personal life, spiritual life, leadership, and work.
Oftentimes, we see people trying hard and feeling like they are not making much progress on their own. They need support and guidance to step into Jesus’ easy yoke for their lives where they learn to do hard things the easier way by working with God (Matt. 11:28-30).
Let’s look at the coaching approach in more detail.
What Does a Coaching Session Look Like?
Sr. Coaches with Soul Shepherding have completed a two-year certificate program in spiritual direction and a three-month certificate in coaching. Their approach to coaching is informed by Christ-centered spiritual direction and psychology. They follow our PEGS model in their coaching sessions: Prayer, Empathy, Goals, and Steps.
As with spiritual direction, prayer is the foundation of every Soul Shepherding coaching session.
Your coach prays for you before your scheduled meeting, at the start, the close, and throughout the session. Coaches recognize that Jesus is the greatest coach you could ever have! So your coach will seek to be present with you and Jesus in the session to help you discern the Spirit’s voice.
You will be met with empathetic listening throughout your coaching session. Your coach will be nonjudgmental and curious, asking deep questions and listening attentively to you while caring for your emotions and tuning into God’s presence.
Here is a sample of some coaching questions that will help you receive God’s care and guidance:
- How are you feeling in your work? What do you enjoy most? What is frustrating you?
- What limits are you setting on your work to care for your soul? To spend time with Jesus?
- What would you do in your work or ministry if you were not afraid to fail?
- If you could have God change one thing about your life or work, what would that be?
- What is an example of you experiencing God’s blessing in your work?
Achieving your goals is not always (or usually!) about doing more or trying harder. Often there are emotional roadblocks that keep you from growth and progress. As you find a safe place to share your feelings and receive empathy, you can identify where you’re stuck and trust Jesus’ grace to you right where you are. Then you can harness the empowerment of this grace to grow and progress in your goals.
From the foundation of prayer and empathy, you will explore your goals. In life and leadership, it’s often hard to know the best things to do and then even harder to do them and keep doing them!
Oftentimes our desires and goals are multifaceted. A Spirit-led coach can help you find the root of the issue you’re facing through the questions they ask and the ways that they listen beyond your words to your heart’s intentions and wrestling.
Through these collaborative conversations, you’ll find the support and insight you need to take positive steps.
Once you’ve discerned a goal the Spirit of Jesus is leading you toward, your coach will help you break down your goal into actionable steps. Identifying your next step and then checking back in with your coach to report on your challenges, lessons, and progress are crucial aspects of successful coaching.
Your coach has hundreds of Soul Shepherding coaching tools to help you. This includes resources like:
- Your Mission Matrix
- Job, Ministry, Work, and Life Circles
- A & B Conflict Resolution Tool
- Setting Boundaries With Jesus
- 7 Ways to Enjoy Sabbath Rest
Connect with a Spiritual Director or Coach
If you’d like to experience companionship to grow in your spiritual life or encouragement to attain your goals, a Soul Shepherding provider would be honored to journey with you.
Check out our list of Sr. Spiritual Directors and Sr. Coaches or schedule a first session in the Soul Shepherding directory.
If you’re not sure whether to choose spiritual direction or coaching or how Soul Shepherding can best help you, you can book a free 15-minute consultation with our staff at a time that is convenient for you.
May the Spirit of Jesus guide you to the care, guidance, and encouragement you need to flourish in your life, relationships, and work!