Supporting Article

Coaching in China

Two years ago, when I (Rose) used the word “coach” in talking to my friend, she associated it with a famous brand of handbags. After seeing my business card, a human resource manager asked me what sport I coached. Further explanation is always needed when I talk about coaching.

Coaching is a foreign concept to the Chinese even though it is very important. One can even say that coaching, and the concept of coaching, has the potential to create transformational thinking and enhance leadership. It can provide an effective leadership model, and for the church, provide tools for discipleship and pastoral care.

The Need for Coaching

In the Church

Chinese churches with their cultural background are deeply “patriarchal” and “autocratic”; one man has all the say in their governance. Pastors, elders and deacons are coworkers with a “redeemer complex.” If the congregation encounters a difficulty, the pastor and his coworkers are obligated to resolve the difficulty or take over the responsibility for dealing with it. This results in members of the congregation not having the opportunity to express themselves or being hurt by preaching that is meant to correct the problem. The pastor also feels wronged either for not receiving the expected appreciation or for being condemned as incompetent when the problem does not get resolved.

In Business

According to the Chinese Human Resource Survey[1] of companies in China, presently only twenty-four percent of employees are satisfied with the quality of managers/leaders in their companies while seventy-six percent are either dissatisfied or neutral.

There are three main obstacles that Chinese business leaders face. First is a need for communication. Employees expect to communicate with their superiors and receive feedback. Second is a need for growth. Employees expect opportunities for professional growth and development. The final problem resides in managers/leaders not meeting staff’s expectations.

The result of these obstacles is high staff turnover. In the software development company I have been following, out of twenty employees only eight remained from May of last year to June of this year. The other twelve have since “quit.” From tracking these technical staff (all born after 1989), the reasons they quit their jobs were ascertained and are summarized below.

Lack of a sense of belonging; not being recognized. The generation born after 1989 lives in a high-speed information age. They possess extensive knowledge and are exposed to many messages, facts, and much data. While they like innovation and quick thinking, they also desire recognition and appreciation. At the same time, they are vulnerable, shallow and cannot handle pressure well. They lack patience and focus. All of the 12 employees who left the company were well educated. They had their own ideas, views and unique creativity; they wanted to be listened to and recognized by their director and superiors. However, the corporate management was still operating in an industrial age management framework with their subordinates subject to their control and requirements. Under this management style, the employees did not feel they were taken seriously or valued. They felt that their director was autocratic and opinionated. Furthermore, they said that how they felt at work was important to them. Since the director used commands, lecturing and control in giving them feedback, they could not effectively communicate their thoughts or innovative ideas and were unable to voice their reasonable demands. They felt ignored when they could not get a timely response or feedback. This, together with their lack of fortitude and ineffective communication skills, led to their choice of resigning.

Lack of career planning. Among those employees who left, some could not see any career development in their future at that company. The director and their superiors did not spend time helping them effectively mesh their personal career goals with the company’s vision. They did not develop a win-win situation for both the company’s vision and the employee’s personal objectives, nor did they help the employees set growth objectives. They did not give authorization for training or provide them with increased responsibilities. The company also lacked initiatives for fostering the development of their creativity and potential through material incentives and verbal encouragement.

A sense of unfair pay, both internally and externally. Internally, they felt the pay scale between the technical resource and development staff and the administrative staff was unfair. The technical employees believed their pay should be higher than that of the administrative workers. Externally, they felt that they received lower pay compared to their counterparts and classmates in other companies in the industry or to the previous workers at the same company.

Coaching has the potential for dealing with these leadership issues both in the church and in the business world.

The Strength of Coaching

Coaching is an ongoing, intentional conversation that empowers a person or group to fully live out God’s calling and develop their potential. This concept with its techniques is the answer to resolving the obstacles that are hindering Chinese churches and companies. For the church it has the added dimension that Christian coaches believe, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness” (2 Peter 1:3). Every Christian is endowed with potential and unique qualities for life growth. Through coaching, with its appropriate techniques, the work of the Holy Spirit in one’s life is explored and one’s wisdom is mined to aid the individual in fulfilling God’s purpose for him or her.

Coaching focuses on thought processes and actions. It strives to stimulate thinking and concrete actions and avoids the shortcoming of preaching and slogans. The core of coaching is to nurture observation and a sense of responsibility. Thus, coaching is walking alongside someone to empower that individual to be his or her own problem solver. The goal is to empower and affect discipleship training.

Coaching emphasizes effective listening and meaningful questioning. This unique approach helps to establish good communication and boosts the feeling of being respected as well as openness on the part of the one coached. It also promotes the latter’s self-knowledge.

For defensive Christians and workers who have grown up in Chinese culture, the self-assessment and feedback technique of coaching are undoubtedly effective tools to see one’s own blind spots. They are an effective means of self-evaluation. Christian coaching is walking in step with the Holy Spirit. In so doing, not only can one help deliver a pastor from a “redeemer complex,” one also humbly allows the Lord to reign so that he or she can rest in Christ’s partnership in shepherding his church.

The Future of Coaching in China

“As the lotus flower begins to bud, the dragonfly is already on it.”

In the world of business, companies like Huawei, Lenovo and others have started to bring coaching techniques into their management practices and are gradually establishing a coaching culture. Some companies specializing in offering training in coaching techniques have been established in Shanghai, Guangzhou, Tianjin, and other places. In churches, some pastors, as well as brothers and sisters in caring or counseling ministries, have started to learn how to use coaching techniques in discipleship and pastoral care ministries.

Beginning in April 2012, I have been quietly applying the coaching concept and its techniques[2] in different ministerial dimensions in the church where I serve.

Bimonthly discipleship training. The application of coaching’s self-evaluation feedback allows coworkers to participate in self-feedback as a way of fostering discipleship growth. This approach promotes a sense of security and openness for participants. It also leads to a willingness to change and improve. In team coaching, discipleship topics such as discipline and prayer are studied. Comprehensive and profound questioning stimulates reflection, awareness and a search of Scripture. More importantly, it focuses on a course of action, outlining a step-by-step plan to “work out” the truth. This particular coaching technique is quite powerful; it enables coworkers to personally design their own action plans and first initial steps. Subsequently, each action step will be targeted with training to align it with the SMART Model[3] application. This will ensure the steps are feasible. As a result, these coworkers will be effectively assisted in working out their faith while the most critical aspect of discipleship is reinforced.

Shepherding and caring. These are included in the concept of coaching. For instance, at prayer meeting, the hour of sharing before prayer is a group coaching opportunity. One-on-one caring and counseling is even better, allowing the benefits of coaching to shine. Sharing feedback in a group enhances mutual understanding, clarifies questions and indicates the direction of future plans.

Adult Sunday school curriculum. We have been using “The New Disciple Training” curriculum since April. It begins with a weekly message and then daily questions and exercises for the remaining days of the week. On the following Sunday, the class time is used for evaluation of personal exercises and gains. This time of self-evaluation of gains made is also done in a team coaching format which allows all the students to participate by listening and learning as well as by taking the lessons and their applications seriously. This effectively inspires the development of everybody’s potential and encourages deeper and broader thinking.

During our church retreat in early July of this year, it became apparent that the concept of coaching and its techniques have quietly blessed our church, be it in blessing church ministry leaders and their ministries or brothers and sisters in their commitments to God and personal spiritual growth. We cannot help but give God all the glory; it has been his work! He personally established the church. When we, his fellow workers, follow the core of coaching—total dependence on the Holy Spirit and walking in step with the Spirit—then everyone will have the God-endowed potential to solve their problems. There will increasingly be rest from our own work in our ministries. In addition, brothers and sisters will have healthier and speedier growth. Almost all those in attendance at this past retreat say that it was one of the most filled with the presence of God and his blessings. It was also one that was most filled with love, sacrifice, and God’s anointing as well as the most enjoyable.

I believe that whether in depth of training or width of implementation, the concept of coaching with its techniques will be a tremendous blessing to institutions, businesses, churches, and families in China. The momentum of its development will not be stopped.



[1] The source of the survey is a coaching company named Co-Active Coaching. The original information is from China HR Executive Board of the Human Capital Practice at

[2] For further information on coaching techniques, see the Resource Corner in this issue.

[3] The SMART model of goal setting is widely used in business and management. It refers to goals that are Specific rather than vague, Measurable rather than vague, Attainable rather than unachievable, Realistic rather than impossible, and Timely with a deadline rather than open-ended.

Photo Credit: Dragonfly and The Lotus by David A. LaSpina, on Flickr 

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