A Review of “Gospel Coach” by Scott Thomas and Tom Wood

gospel-coachLeadership books all have a certain phraseology to them. There’s usually some strange comparison (a business is like a bus, or a hedgehog). Then there’s the characteristics of a leader outlined in a simple format (the Four G’s of a leader). And, finally you’ve got the process of implementation, whatever the main thrust of the book there’s a simple process of applying it to your business (6 Sigmas). Add to that a host of pithy, if cliché, sayings about leadership and you have the basic formula. In many ways Gospel Coach isn’t all that different. It’s got all of those annoying features of leadership texts. Yet, in one very significant way Gospel Coach is entirely different. Its emphasis on the gospel makes this book both a great training tool for leaders and for basic disciple-makers.

Though it is geared towards pastors, mentors, and church planters, this is a book that is useful for anyone who does basic discipleship. The authors write:

Gospel Coach provides Christian leaders a theological foundation and a practical system to develop and equip other leaders in the local church to make disciples and to shepherd them to glorify God and to effectively lead. While its subtitle suggest it is for leaders, it can be used to coach believers in all stages of their lives – men and women of all maturity levels and ages. (13)

In many ways, those who are familiar with discipleship at all won’t find a lot of new material here. It’s a pretty straightforward approach that involves asking questions, probing heart issues, gauging spiritual growth, and listening well. Yet the presentation of the material is extremely helpful. Thomas and Wood give readers a practical tool for evaluating their own work at disciple-making, and evaluating the progress of those they disciple.

The book is broken down into three parts. Part one addresses the theological foundations of the coaching. The foundation of this method of coaching is essentially the gospel, that message “proclaiming that God takes weak and ordinary people and does great things through them to show off the surpassing greatness of Jesus Christ” (29). Quite opposite other models of business coaching, gospel coaching aims to alleviate the stress and pressure of ministry by focusing on the identity of the leader in Christ. A “Christian coaching methodology that fails to begin with the gospel will often end up relying on technique-oriented methods that are derived from a humanistic foundation” (48), and which ultimately build self-worth off of some worldly idea of success. Gospel coaches free leaders up to fulfill their calling because their worth and identity are not bound up in it.

Part one sets the tone for the rest of the book. It is this gospel foundation which makes Gospel Coach a different kind of book. It gives disciple-makers help in thinking through not simply the techniques of leadership, but the character of leaders. This approach focuses on more than just techniques, it looks at a potential disciples identity, worship, community, and mission. It asks questions about his or her personal, spiritual, and missional life. The authors write:

The main difference between the gospel coach approach and other coaching approaches is that gospel coaches integrate knowing (head) with doing (hands) and being (heart). Though “doing” is important, coaching leaders only in external skills and techniques can bypass real heart issues. The gospel coach approach is grounded in the belief that from our being (in Christ) emanates our doing. (14)

This foundation assures us that we will do more than just train leaders. We will train up disciples of Jesus Christ.

Having laid the foundation and established the starting place, the authors move on to consider, in part 2, the specifics of a coach.  The authors utilize the language of Scripture to speak of Biblical leadership, calling all leaders to be “shepherds.” There are ten qualities of a gospel coach, each categorized under one of the four roles of a coach: knowing the sheep, feeding the sheep, leading the sheep, and protecting the sheep. Throughout the five chapters that make up part two, the authors help readers learn how to develop personal relationships, equip leaders for specific tasks, give direction, apply discernment, listen carefully, and much more. In many ways part two can serve as useful instruction on building gospel friendships. That is, after all, a vital distinguishing feature of gospel coaching. “Effective coaching,” Thomas and Wood write, “is about friendship. But it is a unique type of friendship built on the gospel” (18). They remind us repeatedly throughout the book that shepherds are also sheep, and we shouldn’t lose sight of that as we develop relationships. It’s the difference between being a hired coach, and being a friend.

Finally, in part three, the authors direct us to the coaching process. They walk us through how to have effective “coaching conversations,” the “five practical phases of a coaching session,” and conclude with a sample coaching session for us to observe. They help us in this final section to put all the pieces together and apply what they have outlined in the rest of the book. If it’s sometimes “too simple” or formulaic, I can still appreciate the general content. The appendices too provide some helpful tools for use in the coaching process, including series of questions to pose to disciples, and a Seven-Day Prayer Guide.

Overall this is a very helpful tool. For those of us who are passionate about training leaders, making disciples, and equipping future pastors this is just the resource we need. In its pages is a wealth of practical wisdom aimed at helping readers to be more effective at making disciples and being spiritual friends. I will utilize the material in this book for years to come and recommend Gospel Coach to many friends.

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