What’s the Difference? Advisor, Coach, Consultant, Mentor

Solomon said in Ecclesiastes there is nothing new under the sun; life is full of cycles. It is amazing when each generation feels they have discovered something new and exciting. Occasionally, an older generation watches a trend come back around and chuckles at the younger generation’s excitement of what they discovered only for them to find out it is not new. In our present day of electronic media, the younger crowd is often disappointed when they find out their favorite television show or movie is a remake from just a few decades ago. Or the song they hear on a commercial or theme to their favorite show or movie was written when their grandparents were their age.

This “everything old is new again” idea also affects our churches. Today you can find videos and online articles sharing the latest and best new ideas for ministry. There has been a renewed interest in discipleship in the church with an increased interest in focusing on those in ministry. The emphasis of being a Barnabas to Paul and a Paul to Timothy while encouraging Timothy to teach others is the “new” thing in ministry leadership. Words like mentoring, coaching, consulting, and advising are found everywhere. This is not a new idea, but if not understood from a true biblical perspective, it can be done to the detriment of the church.

Worldly philosophy is penetrating our churches at a record pace. Understanding what is needed to truly disciple not only church members but also to build those in the ministry is needed today just as it always has been. If you look up the words mentor, coach, consultant, and advisor you will find that they are all synonyms. However, there are specific nuances to each word that one must understand in order to see the differences. Having a clear understanding of the differences of each word and using them in discipleship can really be the new/old invention you are looking for to transform your ministry.

Advisor: One with knowledge sharing with another. They ask questions for understanding.

Wanting to ensure a new generation is well-trained and equipped for the ministry, those who are experienced often give advice to the younger or less experienced. Advice is important when helping someone facing a specific ministry issue. The nuance for advice is that the person receiving the advice decides whether to follow it or not. In order to disciple the next generation, we do need to give advice, but we need to be prepared and not be surprised when they do not follow it. Sometimes, someone simply will not learn unless it is from experience. This may be why so many give up on the young ones and blame them for not listening. If Barnabas was there simply to give Paul advice, he would have quit early. Barnabas encouraged Paul for years before Paul began having a great impact on the world. If Paul only advised Timothy, Paul would not have spoken with confidence in his last instructions to Timothy prior to his own finishing the course. Helping the next generation, while fulfilling the commission given by Christ, is not a short-term project.

Coach: Developing the skills and abilities that another possesses. They ask questions so they can know the one being coached knows the answer.

Some look at helping the younger generation and those less experienced as being a coach to them. Coaching seems easy from the bleachers. After a play or a game, outsiders pontificate of what they would have done and often criticize the coach and the player. However, coaching is more difficult than you know. What makes a good coach? A coach does not need to possess expertise in all aspects of the game. A coach does not even need to have the skills and abilities to do what they are coaching someone else to do. To play the game of golf on the professional level, you must be in top physical and mental condition. A golfer must have a consistent swing, which includes a consistent body stance and movement. Those who master all the needed elements become world renown and make a lot of money. Do these skills come naturally? Basic skills? Maybe. However, to develop those skills to greatness it takes a good coach. A coach helps the athlete to develop behaviors that will achieve the desired results.

If we are going to disciple the next generation of leaders, we need to learn to coach. We need to observe behaviors that need to change to obtain the desired results. Coaching encourages the person to see negative behaviors causing issues and show them the changes needed to achieve the desired results. If a golfer wants to consistently hit the golf ball centered down the fairway 250 yards away, then the behaviors of the stance, swing, and club must all be correct every time they hit the ball. As a coach, yelling at them for doing it wrong or giving advice on how to do better will not work. A coach must help the player identify and address each behavior causing the wrong result and help the person change the behaviors keeping them from the desired result. Even if the person hits the ball one time 250 yards in the fairway it does not mean the coach can stop coaching. The desired outcome is consistency. As coaches in ministry we are not giving advice, we are investing our time and wisdom to help develop the gifts and abilities God has given those we are to help. This is a long-term, on-going process. However, coaches do not dictate actions, or demand compliance.

Consultant: One having the expertise telling the another what to do. They ask questions to determine the willingness of the one to listen and do what they have been told.

From time to time we may be called on to consult with a person or ministry. People often confuse coaching and consulting. These two are mutually exclusive to each other; they are not the same or simultaneous in action. Coaching directs one to a specific behavior to see a desired outcome. Consulting points out inefficiencies or inconsistencies and provides clear direction as to the task ahead. Consulting demands experience in the field in which they are declaring changes to be made. There are areas I would qualify as a consultant and there are areas I would not. Simply having some experience in an area does not qualify someone to be a consultant. A consultant in ministry could only truly consult on areas in which they are trained, experienced, and fluent. A coach is one who can diagnose the behaviors needed to do the task, develop the person’s skills by being their accountability to the task, while discussing or debriefing others on how they are doing in reaching those goals.

Mentor: One with wisdom sharing their life to another to add wisdom to the mentee. They ask questions to go deep into the life and heart of the person to bring growth of life.

I can give advice that you can take or leave. I can coach by taking the time to encourage you to do what is needed to accomplish the task. In some areas, I can consult with pinpoint accuracy as to what needs to be done to resolve an issue. However, if I am going to be the one who is biblically discipling, then I need to mentor those who are coming behind me. Mentoring may include giving advice, coaching, and consulting but it requires a level high above these three areas. The dictionary definition of mentoring is the act of advising or training another, especially a younger colleague. When you look further into the definition, as used in the business world, we find that there is the added part of establishing a long-term personal relationship. Mentoring involves a long-term commitment by both parties to see a desired outcome. This outcome is not merely in one area of need or level of learning.

This outcome is in the full and complete level of life. Paul mentored Timothy until his (Paul’s) death. The desire of Paul was that Timothy would do the same for someone else. The mentor relationship allows for deep penetrating involvement in another’s life. This requires that the mentor be equipped to take on the intense involvement in the life of another. All the mentee’s life struggles become yours. All their deep burdens become yours. This is when the full understanding of the scriptures of weeping with those who weep and rejoicing with those who rejoice come into play. This relationship requires that the mentee allow a mentor to become deeply involved in their lives. To be in a mentor to mentee relationship requires commitment. The commitment includes complete openness to accountability. There is a commitment of time, energy, and a passion to see the desired outcome completed. Both must be committed to this with no reservations for a true mentorship to work.

A mentor from time to time may give advice, which means they acknowledge that the mentee has the option to take or leave the advice. A mentor may do some coaching to help correct certain behaviors in order to achieve desired results. A mentor may have expertise in a specific area to consult on what you are doing wrong and make the corrections. But, if they are going to be a mentor, they will be passionate on seeing the mentee finish the task. The mentee will see all of these helps coming from someone who is as passionate about every aspect of their lives as they are. If being mentored is more than you are looking for then continue to simply seek advice from time to time or find someone’s input on what you are doing wrong or look for someone to tell you what to do with no commitment.  

The body of Christ, the church, needs more genuine mentors and mentees. We need Paul’s giving their lives to Timothy’s to ensure another generation will continue with the truth. I have had a few that took the time to invest in my life with great passion. Early on in my ministry life there were some who fed into me great passion for the ministry. God took some of them on to Glory early on. I would have loved to have had more investment in my life from them. I remember early in my call to ministry praying a prayer I had learned from my earliest mentor: “Lord, I may not make a great impact for you in this world, but please make me an impact on the life of one who will be.” If we would truly become mentors and encourage others to be truly mentored to become mentors, what a change the church would experience.

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