Very often we use words interchangeably that have very distinctive meanings. As I have started doing clergy coaching with Pinnacle Leadership Associates, I have found that friends tend to confuse three terms ”counseling, mentoring and coaching.

Counseling is a healing or therapeutic relationship designed to help a person deal with his or her past. Although there are many variations of counseling ”marital, grief, pastoral, substance abuse and so on ”the common aspect is to process feelings and experiences in such a way that the client can deal with the baggage of the past.

In a mentoring relationship, a more experienced person helps a less experienced person to develop a specified capacity. This is an educational or development process.

In a coaching relationship, the coach helps people learn or achieve something for themselves. This is an encouraging, future-oriented relationship. Although there are many types of coaching, the growing edge is in life coaching. This is a process that aims to helping clients determine and achieve personal goals. The key role of the coach is to hold the client accountable. Life coaching is relationship-based, client-centered and goal-oriented. Life coaches use multiple methods that will help clients with the process of setting and reaching goals.

When I refer to clergy coaching, I am talking about a type of life coaching ”working with ministers to develop and achieve specific goals in their lives. These may be personal or professional. Working with a coach is a great way to get unstuck if you find yourself on a plateau or at a seeming dead end.

I am excited about the potential of this type of ministry. In these difficult times, many of us are struggling. Coaching provides an opportunity to clarify our focus, discover our possibilities and then to move forward.

Ircel Harrison is an associate with Pinnacle Leadership Associates and director of the Murfreesboro center of Central Baptist Theological Seminary. A version of this column appeared previously on his blog.

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