When I hear the word, “coach,” I automatically think of sports.  Having played lots of sports in high school and college, I had my share of excellent coaches and poor coaches.  When my children were small, I coached their soccer and softball teams.  However, when Talitha’s kindergarten soccer team not only did not win a game, but never scored a goal for the entire season, I decided it was time to retire.

I’ve always thought of a coach as someone who motivates and helps you to become more proficient at whatever sport you are playing.  That’s why, when I decided to train for an ironman triathlon this coming October, one of the first questions I asked was, “Do I need a coach?”  A coach will not be able to turn back the clock and enable me to compete as a 25 year old.  However, never having participated in a triathlon this grueling, I thought a coach might be able to help me with a training plan, nutrition, equipment and mental preparation.

Some people who are skilled in their area of expertise are self-taught.  However, most of us, whether we are athletes, artists, musicians, pastors, politicians or CEO’s, benefit greatly from the wisdom and motivation of others.  Last week I attended a workshop on The Ministry of Coaching.  Held at Cornerstone UMC, the workshop was geared toward new church pastors in the West Michigan and Detroit Conferences.  The purpose of the clinic, led by presenter Jim Griffith, was to introduce the concept of coaching and why pastors, especially new church pastors, would benefit from having a coach.

Coaching is different from other roles that people play in our personal and vocational development, such as mentor, trainer, supervisor, spiritual director, counselor, or trusted friend.  There are several types of roles that we assume in the lives of others. 

Mentors, counselors and trusted friends focus primarily on character and personal development.  Counselors and friends offer insights into relationships, behaviors and interpersonal skills while mentors provide guidance in life direction, goals and character development.  Mentors are often older than we are because we rely on their life experience and wisdom to direct us along our life’s journey.  Many churches also provide Stephen ministry, a complete system for organizing and training lay people to provide one-to-one Christian care to hurting people in and around the congregation.

Coaches and trainers, on the other hand, focus primarily on professional competencies.  Dennis Kinlaw, in his book, Coaching for Commitment, defines coaching as “a mutual conversation between coach and client that follows a predictable process and leads to superior performance, commitment to sustained improvement, and positive relationships.”

Whereas a trainer emphasizes the development and enhancement of skills, a coach focuses on performance and results.  (Griffith makes a distinction between life coaching, which is similar to mentoring, and performance coaching, which is his focus).  Griffith used the biblical image of bearing fruit to describe the essence of coaching.  As followers of Jesus Christ, we called to be fruitful as well as faithful.  Coaches help us bear fruit. 

Griffith, who has planted a number of churches and coached many new church pastors, says that the primary reason new churches fail is not because of character flaws in the pastor but because of competency issues; hence, the necessity of good coaching.  Coaching is peer-oriented but is always focused on the needs and goals of the client, not the coach.

A third role is that of a supervisor.  Supervisors focus on accountability.  Because supervisors have to hold people accountable for their performance, they cannot be peers as well.  Supervisors must see the big picture and maintain a degree of separation.  However, supervisors can still demonstrate pastoral care and create a culture within the organization where employees are encouraged to grow personally and professionally.

A final role is that of a spiritual director.  Spiritual directors focus on the movement of God in a person’s life.  They are more concerned about spiritual development than personal or professional development.  They ask the questions, “Where is God leading you?  What is God saying to you through your ministry and experiences?  How are you living out God’s call?” 

It is clear to me that, as clergy, we cannot function at optimal levels without others walking alongside us.  At various times in our ministry, we may need a mentor, counselor, trusted friend, trainer, coach, supervisor, or spiritual director.  It is especially critical to rely on the guidance and counsel of others at times of transition:

  • Changing our role as pastor as our church grows and has different needs
  • Being appointed to a new church
  • Entering into a building program or starting a new ministry
  • Coping with personal or family crises

At the same time, we have to realize that our parishioners look to us to assume any or all of these roles in their life.  Certainly, it is impossible to wear these different hats for hundreds of people, for we must maintain boundaries in our ministry.  However, we can model the importance of looking to others for guidance.  We may choose to mentor or coach selected staff or lay leaders.  We can also identify those in our congregations who have the gift of coaching, mentoring, Stephen ministry, etc., and connect them with people who need their expertise. 

  • What roles do you play in your ministry and when?
  • Is there a particular role with which you feel most comfortable?  i.e. your default role?
  • Are you able to switch roles when needed?
  • When you need guidance, do you naturally turn to a coach, mentor, spiritual director, supervisor, trainer or friend?
  • What do you need right now to enhance your ministry and your personal and spiritual development?

I do have a spiritual director, but that won’t suffice for my big race.  I also have a supervisor, but I don’t think he can help me, either.  I may just need a coach.     

Blessings, Laurie

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