Coaching is essential for a sustained missional community movement. If you are committed to decentralized discipleship, you must make ongoing investments in leaders. We call this coaching.
Training has Limits
Classroom equipping and observation can only take you so far. Eventually, leaders have to start taking steps to lead away from the training ground. As they do this, they need accountability, encouragement, and equipping around real scenarios when they are in positions of responsibility and servant leadership.
I will never forget when our community sent Kory and Emily Oman out to start a new community in their neighborhood. The Omans were incredibly equipped through extensive experience and education. They had been to seminary, conferences, and read stacks of books on missional living. Furthermore, they experienced life on mission overseas and within our community for over year. They were prepared to lead. However, our conversations took on a whole new dynamic when they began to lead. We weren’t talking theory anymore. There were no hypotheticals. They had real people with real stories and real challenges to discuss when they came to coaching sessions. Kory and Emily didn’t have to think about praying and following the Spirit; they actually had to do it. It was in this environment that they began to listen and obey like never before and they learned to pray all over again.
They began throwing the books out the window. Their lives became messy as disciples came into their midst with issues. Their community ended up looking nothing like the ideal or any other missional community Bread&Wine ever had before. Their core consisted of families scattered across the suburbs. Their neighborhood and community wasn’t walkable. Their neighbors didn’t value BBQs, art camps, or any other previous strategies our community tried. Kory had to work nights four days a week. Yet, they took steps forward. They opened themselves up to the possibility of failure. They tried different things and prayed prayers like: “Help us be the church here . . . we want to be the church.” In the end, through prayer, patience, and listening to the Spirit, they established a thriving family of servant missionaries that cared for homeless teenage moms, foster babies, and they helped each other speak the gospel to their kids. They became a diverse community, declaring the gospel, and demonstrating it on the outskirts of the city. Their lives became immersed in the needs, pains, and blessings of community. They got started with books but moved forward through prayer, faithfulness, and processing with coaches. Coaching bridges the gap between books and real life.
EVERY MISSIONAL COMMUNITY AND LEADER IS DIFFERENT
Communities are not carbon copies. Every community is different because every neighborhood is unique, every group of people is unique, and every mission is unique. Each city has different idols, culture, and barriers to the gospel. The relational dynamics within each small community is special. Each missional community’s shared mission brings unique obstacles and opportunities for the gospel. In other words, disciple-making is not a reproducible formula or recipe. Forming and developing a discipleship environment like a missional community is very different from making a cake. Primers, books, and curriculum are all helpful in getting you started and laying a solid foundation, but you can’t just follow instructions. You simply can’t write a step-by-step guide and hand it to people.
Why? This is real life, with real people. The challenges, opportunities, and growth curve for every group of people is different. Furthermore, each leader is uniquely gifted and called. Missional coaches come alongside leaders to be a sounding board, source of gospel truth, partner, and real-time advocate for your missional community. That means a coaching relationship enables the leader to stay focused and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit forward through its dynamic hurdles and calling. Coaches help leaders discover and take the next step in faithfulness. Coaches ask leaders: What does God want us to do now? Coaching is a relationship where unique next steps are discovered and followed.
LEADERS NEED TO BE REMINDED OF THE GOSPEL
Kory and Emily experienced barrier after barrier like all missional community leaders. Our job as coaches was to remind them of the gospel. Coachers are a voice calling leaders to remember who they are, what they are called to, and how discipleship is an act of endurance. As a coach, I spend a large portion of my conversations with leaders reminding them of Jesus, who they are in Christ, and what it means to be a leader of disciples. In the chaos and mess of community, mission, work, and family it is easy to forget where you are and what you are doing. It is also easy to forget what is in your control and what is not. This is why some coaches feel their primary role is to remind leaders of their own calling and its limitations. Coaches ask the questions: Who does God say you are? Why are you doing this? What is true about God in your current situation?
LEADERS NEED TO KNOW THEY AREN’T ALONE
Leadership is lonely. While everyone shares the calling to be discipled and to make disciples, the leaders of communities carry a unique burden of shepherding, encouraging, and facilitating growth in the gospel. This often leads leaders to feel isolated. It is easy for them to forget they belong to a whole, and they are loved. It is even easier to believe they are the only ones that care.
Coaches meet with leaders, in part, to let them know they are not alone. Within the coaching relationship leaders are supported, cared for, and experience friendship. In a coaching relationship, leaders learn that someone else cares about these disciples, and prays for them. Without coaching, leaders experience burnout as they carry increasing burdens on their own.
COACHING IS ESSENTIAL BECAUSE OBEDIENCE IS EXPECTED
Make no mistake, we are all called to live in obedience to who we are and what God has called us to. The gospel propels us into a new identity where our work doesn’t save us or make us acceptable. In the gospel, we are free to obey our one true Savior-King. The message of Jesus reshapes our entire life: our inner life, our schedules, our hobbies, and our vocations. The gospel changes everything and calls us into his grace in every situation; from the mundane to the spectacular. The gospel saves us into a life of joy that results in obedience. This is clear throughout Scripture:
Teaching them to obey everything I have commanded. – Matthew 28:20
Being no hearer who forgets, but a doer who acts. – James 1:22-25
For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. – Ephesians 2:10
Coaching helps leaders understand the things God has called them to do obediently and take steps toward faithfulness. Coaching is the crucial discipleship element of a missional movement that asks: What does obedience look like? What is required to obey? How can I help you? How will you obey?
Brad Watson (@bradawatson) serves as a pastor of Bread&Wine Communities where he develops and teaches leaders how to form communities that love God and serve the city. Brad is the author of Raised?, Called Together: A Guide to Forming Missional Communities, and Sent Together: How the Gospel Sends Leaders to Start Missional Communities. He lives in southeast Portland with his wife and their two daughters. You can read more from Brad at www.bradawatson.com.
Excerpted from the final installment in our Together book series Multiply Together: A Guide to Sending and Coaching Missional Communities