The Importance of Coaching

Church planters, think about your leaders. Maybe it’s your ministry team leaders or small group leaders or other pastors in your denomination or network. Take a moment to think about their giftedness, abilities, and skill. Consider their maturity level, ministry experience, and aptitude. Reflect on their personality and strengths. Now if I gave you a blank whiteboard and asked you to start brainstorming a list of all of the characteristics for all of the leaders you lead, it wouldn’t take you long to fill up every square inch, would it? Most likely you are working with a large group of leaders with an even more sizeable collection of attributes and experiences.

As you know, this is how God designed his church. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 12:4-6,

There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.

The leaders you lead are unique and as Paul reminds us in the rest of the chapter, this uniqueness is important for the body’s health and effectiveness. God has designed the church to flourish and be effective in it’s calling through its unique gifts being used in various ministry roles. However, this uniqueness is also what makes leading leaders such a challenge. How does one go about effectively equipping and empowering a group of people with such diversity?

In the church, our approach is typically to provide teaching and instruction then delegate responsibilities and tasks, which makes sense when you think about it. We have a lot to do, especially in the early stages of church planting, and this methodology allows us the opportunity to maximize our time and resources. Not only that, but this is how most of us were taught so it’s natural we would do this with others. But we can’t treat every leader the same. If we are going to train leaders so they are equipped to carry out their God-given roles, using their unique God-given gifts then we cannot rely on direction and delegation alone.

Enter Coaching

Now coaching enters the conversation. The word coach develops in fifteenth century Hungary town called Kocs (pronounced “kotch”) where carriages were made to transport people and mail from one place to another. These carriages made their way into England in the nineteenth century and soon after took on the additional meaning of a private tutor or sports trainer. Coaching most basically is transporting a person from point A to point B in some area of life.

My introduction to coaching came when Acts 29 hired Bob Logan to train church planters in our network. He defines coaching as “the process of coming alongside a person to help them discover a greater agenda for their life and work, and to see that agenda become a reality.” Coaching allows you to meet them where they currently are, in their experience, giftedness, development, and calling, then walk alongside them to help them advance to the next point on their journey. Instead of just giving the same direction and delegation for every leader with the hope that they will be able to apply and practice, you are recognizing both the unique place God has them currently and the direction he wants them to go.

Ongoing & Intentional

Keith Webb, author of The Coach Model for Christian Leaders, says coaching is “an ongoing intentional conversation that empowers a person or group to fully live out God’s calling.” Notice the words “ongoing” and “intentional.” Coaching requires more than random or one-time conversations. It is a process of multiple discussions honing in on that leaders unique situation.

One more thing needs to be mentioned for coaching in a Christian context. It’s very easy to focus only on what you do and ignore who you are, yet both are vital for a disciple. In John 15, Jesus mentions “bearing fruit” seven times, so achievement does matter, but it must be noted that it is always intended to flow out of abiding in Christ. Doing is important, but it should always flow out of being.

As we coach our leaders, we must keep this in mind. Especially in the early stages of church planting when the demands of ministry and the daily to-do list feels insurmountable. The temptation will be to focus solely on doing that is motivated entirely through the direct and delegate model. But if you can take the time to walk alongside leaders, coaching them through the current leg of their journey as a leader and disciple, you will not only be building into their effectiveness, but you will also be developing leaders who are able to do this with others—which is paramount for a healthy, growing church plant.

Coaching in Context

What might coaching practically look like in your context? While there isn’t time to discuss coaching in-depth for every context, I’d like to suggest a few best practices that can be applied immediately. You don’t need extensive training as a coach for these, just a little practice and experimentation, and you’ll grow in proficiency and effectiveness.

– First, a coach needs to connect personally with the leader they are coaching.

The coaching relationship is one to cultivate, not a project to manage. As you walk together, take the opportunity to get to know them. Hear their story. Listen for passions. Look for giftedness. Remember what they’ve said. Take an interest in them.

– Second, ask powerful questions that help both of you listen to what the Holy Spirit is saying.

Questions will help you unearth what’s right, wrong, missing, or confused currently in the leader’s life. Ask questions that help a leader think deeply. A great example of this is with your children. How many times have you asked, “How was your day” and gotten the same answer: “Fine”? Try reshaping the question to “What was something you learned today?” or “What was the favorite part of your day?” and see if you don’t get a deeper response.

Here’s an example of asking a question in an increasingly more powerful way:

  • Are you happy with your ministry?
  • How do you feel about your ministry?
  • What about your ministry do you find most satisfying?
  • How does your ministry connect to God’s calling in your life?

– Third, practice active listening.

Active listening involves paying attention to the person, not just what they are saying. Non-verbal communication can be just as telling as verbal. You will also need to defer judgment. Listen to all of what they are saying and hold off on forming an opinion or response until they are finished. Finally, listen to gain clarity by repeating what was said to make sure you have received it correctly and asking follow up questions to gain understanding.

As discoveries are made and obstacles are overcome, we must chart a plan. A coach works with the leader to set a course and clear action to move forward. Coaching takes a person from point A to B, so figure out where B is and the path to get there. Force them to be specific and realistic, so that, when they leave the conversation, they know where they are going and have a very clear and attainable plan to get there.

Use powerful questions and active listening as your primary tool so you aren’t telling them how to get there. There might be times to step in and put on the mentoring hat, but don’t do that too quickly. Help them to think through their path forward.

– Finally, celebrate new discoveries, steps taken, and markers hit.

A good coach will stop the leader along the journey to celebrate development and draw attention and hopefully affection to God whose gracious leading has made it all possible.

Jethro and Moses

To tie some of the above together, let’s see how these principles were practiced in the interaction between Jethro and Moses (Ex. 18). Often when pastors teach this passage, they emphasize the direction Jethro gives and the work Moses does in response.

However, if you pay attention to how the story unfolds you’ll notice that Jethro uses many coaching principles to help Moses lead God’s people more effectively.

  • V7-8 – Jethro takes the time to listen to Moses share all that God had done through him and for the people.
  • V9-12 – They take time to celebrate and worship God together
  • V13 – Jethro watches Moses do his work
  • V14-16 – Jethro asks him a penetrating question about his work and why he is doing all the work alone.
  • V17-23 – He then works with Moses to come up with a solution that will be more sustainable and will allow others to share the weight of the work.
  • V24-26 – Moses put the plan into action.
  • V27 – Only after the plan was in motion did Jethro depart.

Church planter, think again about the leaders in your church, networks, or denomination under your care. As Jethro’s involvement in Moses’ life shows, coaching is an instrumental tool for helping others develop in their unique gifting and growth while also helping them move forward in the calling God has placed on their life. Who might you begin doing this with today?

Jason Roberts is the founding Pastor of Crosscurrent Church, an Acts 29 church in Virginia Beach, VA.  Fourteen years ago while working for Spanish River Church in Boca Raton, FL, God began to lay the church planting calling on his heart and after some time of investigation and holy arm twisting, he packed up the family, moved back to “the Beach” and planted in the fall of 2002. For the past eight years, he has also given considerable time to coaching and training church planters and pastors. This past fall he transitioned into the corporate world where he now works as an Executive Coach for CACI, International, coaching senior and mid-level managers at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard. He still lives in Virginia Beach, with his wife of 23 years, Aimee and his five children.