Coaching and mentoring for the college crowd


When Gary Benedict, then the president of Crown College, called me about coming to Crown as the vice president of Academic Affairs, I wasn’t interested. As we talked, I told him that many colleges didn’t care about the things I cared about most: combining academic excellence and Christian formation to develop the next generation of Christian leaders. He emphasized that this was the very reason that the Alliance established and invested in colleges like Crown.

“Most colleges and universities have a disintegrative culture that is more about the transfer of information than the integrative, transformational development of leaders,” I said. “They tend to hire faculty on credentials alone rather than on character and the commitment to develop students as well.”

Gary said, “Let’s join together in developing an unusual college.” By this point, Crown had captured the hearts of my wife, Cheri, and I, and we have been there ever since.

“How Can I Help?”

Although coaching and mentoring have been around for decades, these techniques have become the growing edge of leadership development. Many are beginning to realize that from kids’ soccer teams to Tiger Woods and LeBron James, anyone can benefit from others who skillfully speak into their lives.

But what is the difference between coaching and mentoring? Both are valuable as they seek to be holistic, dealing with all aspects of a person’s life and leadership. While there is some disagreement, generally coaching is a more focused activity between a skilled coach and participant focusing on specific areas of development. Mentoring on the other hand tends to be more general. Bobb Biehl, who has written many books and articles on the topic, describes a mentor as the one who asks, “Where do you want to go and how can I help?”

Coaching in the corporate setting has become very popular in recent years and has sprouted a whole industry. Harvard Business Review, perhaps the leading journal among corporate leaders, is devoting more and more space to the topic of coaching managers and leaders toward greater effectiveness.

Tried and True

In the ancient world, the mentoring of students, disciples and/or apprentices was a central activity of teachers, masters and faculty members. From medieval times, European craftsmen were nurtured in professional guilds that were strongly tied to the community church. And throughout the centuries Oxford University, one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious educational institutions, assigned tutors to individually guide students through the rigors of scholarly life, which traditionally also was associated with the church. For Christians, Jesus’ relationship with the men and women who followed Him is the supreme example for all mentoring/coaching situations.

Until the end of the nineteenth century, teachers focused on character development as well as intellectual and professional growth. However, in the last hundred years, most Western colleges and universities have adopted a German model of education. Faculty members have moved from being holistic educators and mentors in the life
of the student to being primarily researchers and experts. Academic disciplines replaced students as the central focus of attention. The development of character in students was replaced by work on publications and grants. In the end, students were the ones who suffered most from this shift from a teaching college model to a research university mentality.

Institutions like Crown College are seeking to be countercultural by remaining focused on the holistic development of students in the context of a teaching college. Faculty members are recruited who have the vision and skills to not only give expertise in the classroom but also to coach and mentor students toward Christian maturity and leadership.

Learning to Grow

Today’s college students are looking for an environment that goes beyond just an information dump or the disintegrative climate of a university culture that separates spiritual life and leadership development from academics. They are looking for integrative relationships that will provide not only instruction but also wisdom, insight, dialogue and support.

Coaching takes mentoring to the next level. Care, support, dialogue and resourcing of mentoring with the additional skills, focus and engagement of coaching lead to the accelerated development of the students.

A skilled coach can help students to connect the dots in their educational experience, which leads to clearer vision, purpose and growth. When our oldest son, Jason, attended Harvard University, he encountered many capable faculty members, but today does not have a large number of them who were memorable or central in his life. By contrast, our son Josh attended Crown and was profoundly impacted by the lives of the faculty and staff. He could name many who spoke effectively into his development and experience both inside and outside the classroom.

Building Relationships

Coaching structures ideally bring together four levels of engagement. Lead coaches provide training, encouragement and overall oversight of the coaches and coaching systems. Coaches speak into the lives of participants through listening, reframing issues, skill building and accountability. At the same time and in many of the same ways, these participants also engage others. This keeps the multiplication alive and actually accelerates the learning and growth of the participants as they coach others. It is fascinating to see these four levels of coaching addressed in 2 Timothy 2:2, where Paul coached Timothy, who in turn coached reliable people who then coached others.

What do coaches actually do with their participants? The first thing that coaches do is connect. The relational connection can happen in different contexts, such as over lunch, on the phone or while fishing. Next, the coach seeks to care and celebrate with the participant. This can occur through catching up on the burdens in a participant’s life as well as the joys that the person has recently experienced. These three—connecting, caring and celebrating—form the foundation for the continuing relationship.

Next, coaches have the opportunity to address challenges in a person’s life. This may come from a number of areas, such as family, health or finances. As these challenges are addressed the coach joins the person in seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit to reveal new pathways of growth and development, which help each of us to move to new levels of effectiveness.

Over the last two years, Gary Benedict and I have interacted with the leadership of Building Champions and Ministry Coaching International. These two premier coaching organizations have partnered over the last 10 years to coach executives, pastors and nonprofit leaders, as well as lay leaders. One aspect of our work together is the vision of integrating coaching into the collegiate experience. We believe that the life and growing leadership of our college students can be enriched through effective coaching.

By investing in Alliance colleges, we can not only train pastors and missionaries for traditional ministries, but also we can raise up a wide variety of professionals who can give significant Christian leadership in the United States, open countries and creative-access countries. We have high hopes for what God is going to do through the next generation of Christian leaders in advancing the Kingdom of God.

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