Read an Excerpt
Coaching Life-Changing Small Group Leaders
A Vision for
What is coaching? Why is it so essential to have people in the church who are willing to guide and encourage leaders? What does it look like when someone takes on this role and invests in the life of a leader?
In order to become and build effective coaches in the church, first we need to embrace a vision for the practice of coaching. It is often a misunderstood role, mistaken by some to mean 'boss' or 'fault-finder.' But that's not coaching, at least not when the spiritual growth of leaders and church members is at stake. It is different from mere oversight or supervision. Coaching is personal, developmental, and supportive. Coaches bring out the best in leaders. So let's take a few moments to get a clearer picture of what is means to coach leaders in the church.
John Donahue, Bill's dad, was in his forties when he became the head swimming coach of George Washington High School in Philadelphia. For fifteen years, the teams he coached remained undefeated in league competition. Think about that for a moment --- fifteen undefeated seasons in a row. Obviously he had everything needed to establish such a winning tradition: years of swimming experience on a nationally ranked college team, the fastest swimmers in the league, and the greatest training facilities in the city of Philadelphia. With all of that, one would expect him to win. Except he didn't have all of these advantages --- actually, he had none of them.
John was an unlikely swimming coach, and Washington High was an unlikely place for a swimming dynasty to take root. The team practiced only three days a week at a rented facility, because that was all the school budget allowed.
The swim team also had the same challenge every scholastic sports program faced --- constant turnover. A successful tradition was hard to establish as experienced swimmers graduated and were replaced by a cohort of skinny, wideeyed freshmen who thought the 'backstroke' was a massage technique and the
'butterfly' a transformed caterpillar.
New challengers also threatened the tradition of winning. The teams Washington defeated one year often hired new coaches the next, who were eager to make their mark. These former college swimmers came to coaching armed with the latest training techniques and filled with the energy Donahue had twenty years earlier. The competition had studied his poolside techniques and practice regimen for one purpose only --- to be the first team to defeat Washington High
School in a dual meet. But for fifteen years, no one ever did.
Standing 6' 2' and weighing 265 pounds, Donahue was hardly the prototype for a championship swimming coach. He was a heavyweight wrestler in college, and prior to that, he was in the US Navy, where he re-fitted airplane engines on the USS Hornet. Throughout his entire life, he never swam competitively. What generated this success in swimming and in other sports he coached? I believe there were several likely factors --- factors that apply to sports, business, ministry, or any endeavor that requires the development and support of people.
Consistency: I believe that consistent coaching ensured the same discipline,
values, winning attitude, and solid work ethic throughout those fifteen years. Donahue developed a rapport with swimmers and an enduring reputation of almost legendary stature. Students called him John 'the Duke'
Donahue, after screen actor John 'the Duke' Wayne. New swimmers on the team gazed at him with awe and respect (as one might do to Penn State football icon Joe Paterno, or former Indiana basketball legend Bobby Knight).
Love: Though he could be hard on swimmers in practice, demanding their best and pushing them to their limits, Donahue also had a tender side. The team knew from the stories that circulated around school that he would do anything for swimmers or their families in times of need.
There were the cold, rainy winter nights that the Duke took stranded swimmers home from practice. Or the times when a few dollars for lunch money helped a struggling student make it through the week. He balanced a tough, courageous personality with a tender, loving heart. I think that is why his swimmers were willing to work so hard for him. He loved them,
and they knew it.
Courage: Years before working at Washington, Donahue coached at a troubled inner-city school in Philadelphia. A large, brawny student --- known fondly as the 'Caveman' --- jumped the Duke one day in the lunchroom,
knocking him to the ground. Unfortunately, this colossal tyrant had no idea that the guy he just attacked had recently completed four years in the navy during World War II, followed by three years of wrestling in the heavyweight class at Temple University. In a few moments, the Caveman was tied up in knots, a pain-filled pile of twisted limbs in the arms of the Duke.
Students would later speak of the incident with awe. When word of the event traveled to Donahue's new school, students asked, 'So whatever happened to the Caveman?' The Duke calmly replied, 'I put him back in his cave.' Though he kidded about the incident, it took courage to walk into that school each day. Crime ridden and drug infested, it was truly a dangerous place, even for big guys like John Donahue.
Coaching was in John's blood; he was made for it. Though he appeared an unlikely swim coach at times, in reality he was exactly what a coach should be --- consistent and disciplined, a lover of those he coached, and courageous enough to do what was right and stay the course in the face of overwhelming odds or intense opposition. Today, at over eighty years of age, he is living in a retirement community made up mostly of people who are over sixty years old,
and he is still coaching people.
(He taught a woman to swim for the first time in her life --- in just three lessons!) He would never say that he was qualified to be a championship coach --- just that he was called. And he took that calling and learned all he could to be the best coach in the city.
What will you do with the calling God has placed on you?
The Underwhelmed Need Not Apply
God doesn't usually call people to easy jobs. Try finding someone who ever felt competent for the service
God demanded of him or her.