Mentor or Coach or ?

So does a young pastor or seminary student need a coach, a mentor or something/someone else? Many technical business books and articles make a distinction between coaching and mentoring.

For example, in the book "Coaching & Mentoring" by Harvard Business Essentials(1), we see the following definitions:

  • Coaching is an interactive process through which managers aim to solve performance problems or develop employee capabilities. The process is directed by the coach.
  • Mentoring aims to support individual development through both career (performance & skills development) and psychosocial (personal development) functions. The scope of mentoring is vastly greater than coaching. The process is directed by the person being mentored.

Whereas the International Coaching Federation(2) defines these terms this way:

  • Coaching is focused on individuals or groups reaching their own objectives. IE, the the person being coached directs the process.
  • Mentoring is providing wisdom and guidance based on the mentor's experience. Mentoring may include advising, counseling and coaching. Here the mentor directs the process.

There is not agreement on the terms as to who is directing the process, though certainly in practice the lines get further blurred.

Robert Hargrove in his book "Masterful Coaching" see coaching as including both personal and professional development because they are always interrelated.(3) I would agree. From my vantage point, trying to make a formal technical distinction between mentoring and coaching is not helpful, especially inside the church. First, we know from the scriptures that to separate performance/skills from personal character development is a false dichotomy. Secondly, to assume that the person being coached or mentored knows what they need to work on or the way forward fails to adequately take into account the deceitfulness of the heart (Jeremiah 17:9). Thirdly, to assume that information flow is always top down from the coach/mentor to the mentoree is too hierarchical and fails to deal adequately with the priesthood of all believers.

The bible refers to these bible coaches/mentors as equippers, gifted men and women that God has given to the church to equip the saints for the work of ministry in alignment with their gifts, skill-sets, personality and capacity. (Eph 4) I think a better pardigm is to see coach/mentor (equipper) as the one taking the initiative and guiding the process. The information flow is back and forth but the goal of the relationship is for the person being equipped to leverage the wisdom and experience of the equipper. Consultant / author Chip Bell defines mentoring as “A mentor is simply someone who helps someone else learn something that he or she would have learned less well, more slowly, or not at all if left alone”(4)

The primarily clientele for Overseed coaches are young, inexperienced pastors who need more intentional coaching. A better modern day example would be a football coach, who is bringing his experience and gifting to bear in order to develop a good young athlete into a better mature athlete. Question asking alone will not get an athlete to that level of competence, nor does the athlete have everything they need in order to discover how to get to the next level.(5) Equippers need to intentional about providing those being equipped with the help needed for them to succeed, such as knowledge, advice, counsel, support, and additional opportunities for ministry.

Seminary students need equippers who can reflect back to them what they are saying, give feedback on their ideas, and provide firsthand evaluation and critique of their ministry skills in a particular context. Seminaries and older pastors have to be intentional about encouraging seminary students and young pastors to pursue coaches. Young pastors ought to take to heart the biblical model that their twenties are used by God for continued preparation for what He is calling them to do. Gerald Roche notes, “With rare exception, I have found that most executives view the first fifteen years of their career as the learning and growing period.” Students need to realize that like an up and coming executive, it is foolish to attempt to navigate these learning years without a coach." (6)

Rather than fight the trend and try to create yet another word that needs to be defined, at Overseed we use the word "coach," when referring to biblical equippers, while emphasizing both the intentionality required of the coach combined with a broad focus on both performance/skill-set and personal development. Our Overseed coaching topics aids coaches in addresses both of these needed areas of growth.

1 - Harvard Business Essentials, Coaching and Mentoring, (Boston: Havard Business School Publishing Corporation, 2004), 79.
3 - Robert Hargrove, "Masterful Coaching," (San Fransico, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2008),11-16.
4 - Chip R. Bell, "Mentoring as Partnership" In Coaching for Leadership, by Marshall Goldsmith, Laurence Lyons, and Alyssa Freas, (San Fansisco, CA: Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer, 2000), 133.
5 - Many of the current visions of coaching see the coach as primarily asking questions and allowing the coachee to arrive at the needed conclusions and applications. This theory of coaching is built on the foundational assumption that the one being coached already has everything needed to discover the solution and coach’s role is to guide them there by a process of asking questions. It is sort of a Rogerian approaching to coaching. The bible paints a more complex picture due to the sinfulness of man and the complexity of the world. We know that the heart is deceitful and that sin keeps one from readily coming to the light that the heart might be exposed. This requires the role of the coach to be more dynamic. It requires asking questions for sure, but it also requires firsthand observations, teaching, exhorting, and so forth. The kind of coaching that we see done by the Apostle Paul.
6 - Gerald R Roche, “Much Ado About Mentors,” Harvard Business Review, January-February 1979, 20.

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The Author

Jim Harrell is president and co-founder of Overseed. Jim has his Doctor of Ministry in renewal ministries and Masters of Divinity from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Jim's background is in discipleship, mentoring and church planting.

Jim is also the Vice President of Systems Engineering for Winslow Technology Group, LLC.