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EVERY CHURCH LEADER NEEDS A COACH. And every church leader needs to be coaching other leaders. Many years ago, I felt this conviction burning inside of me because I knew it was biblical truth—I just didn't have a good paradigm for how it would work! Now, after having formally and informally coached hundreds of pastors and trained thousands in this model of coaching, I am seeing an even greater need for a way of serving the needs of church leaders that will multiply the message of the gospel, encourage the health of leaders and churches, and promote the expansion of the church globally.
Ministry leaders tend to be the most underresourced members of the church, often receiving the least amount of support and attention. I often hear lay and vocational leaders in the church share that they feel uncared for, underresourced, undertrained, and unappreciated. Coaching ministry leaders is a key aspect to their ongoing effectiveness as shepherds of the Lord's flock. We believe coaching is necessary because it is a process of imparting encouragement and skills to a leader in order to fulfill their ministry role—something every leader needs—but it is done in the context of a gospel friendship.
Far too often, churches treat those serving in the church as a commodity. We adopt a consumeristic approach to our relationships, and we use people to get the ministry done. We believe there is a better, more biblical way to work with the people in our churches. Pastors and church leaders can engage other church leaders and volunteers in a personal, loving, and equipping manner, providing the tools necessary to help them fulfill God's calling on their lives to make disciples and glorify him. People do have an immense need to be useful, but no one likes to be used.
WHAT IS COACHING?
Business professionals and church leaders are now seeking out coaching relationships to deal with many of their personal and professional challenges. The term coach originally referred to a horse-drawn carriage, something that was designed for the purpose of transporting people and mail. These horse-drawn carriages were originally manufactured in the small Hungarian town of Kocs (pronounced "kotch") beginning in the fifteenth century. The word became used in a symbolic sense around 1830 to refer to an instructor or trainer. It appears in some of the publications of Oxford University as a slang term for a tutor who "carries" a student through an exam. Later, this metaphorical use of the word as someone who "carries" another was used in the realm of athletic competition, beginning in 1861.
Coaching, in its original intent, refers to the process of transporting an individual from one place to another. This can be applied to athletic endeavors, music, art, theater, acting, public speaking, and professional skill development. One can now obtain a coach for almost any endeavor they wish to pursue. The concept of "life coaching" can be traced back to a former college football coach-turned-motivational speaker in the late 1970s. The life coach was considered to be a unique professional relationship in which one talks with another individual, over a period of time, exploring how to more fully engage their life to live "on purpose."
A few years ago, I [Tom] decided to join a health club and began the regimen of getting my body into a healthier condition. I visited a local club and was invited to walk around the facility to see the services they provided. After watching men and women work out on machines that I had never seen before, I realized that I would need a personal coach to show me the ropes.
Working with a coach taught me several things. First, I learned that I needed the trainer's knowledge to help me get the most out of each exercise I was doing. Second, I saw that I needed a coach to train me in a holistic approach that included my diet, my lifestyle, and my physical exercise. It was not enough to look at just one area of my life—all of these aspects were interconnected. Third, I realized that I needed his encouragement and motivation. Many times I remember him spurring me on, pushing me just a little further than I would normally go, using words like, "You can do this; keep going; don't stop yet!" In addition, I also discovered that I needed accountability. Many mornings, if I hadn't scheduled an appointment with my coach and prepaid for the time together, it is likely I would never have made it to the workout. My coach was able to help me measure my progress as well. We had a starting point and were able to assess and measure improvements as we went along. This coaching relationship was a key to my physical success.
Many church leaders experience trials and suffering, both in their ministry and in their personal lives. Some of these are health related; others come from family issues or marital problems. In addition to these personal struggles, church leaders feel the burden of the multitude of problems faced by those they care for, those in their oversight. These are real issues—cancer, loss of employment, abandonment by friends and fellow elders, serious financial setbacks—and they can end up devastating leaders for months, sometimes taking them out of the work of ministry altogether. The pain they feel is acute and ongoing.
Church leaders are not exempt from life's problems, and like others, they experience personal weakness, wrestling with doubts and losing their passion for God and for his mission. In addition, they often face supernatural spiritual attacks. The question that we need to ask ourselves is this: Who is shepherding the shepherds? Where do ministry leaders in the local church find their own pastoral care? Most church leaders have no idea where to turn to find help. Paul Stanley and Robert Clinton note the following:
Society today is rediscovering that the process of learning and maturing needs time and many kinds of relationships. The "self-made" man or woman is a myth and, though some claim it, few aspire to it. It leaves people relationally deficient and narrow-minded ...
A coach is particularly important when you step into a new responsibility or try to do something you have never done before. A coach is also helpful when you bog down in a responsibility.
Many church leaders and pastors feel lonely, abandoned, and vulnerable, deeply desiring relationships where they can be real and honest with another person, but they are also fearful of safely sharing their heart's deepest concerns with members of their particular church body—even other leaders—so they frequently suffer in silence. Often, they fail to practice repentance or confession of their sin, and as a result, they are hampered in their ability to properly shepherd the flock they have been assigned to oversee. They are wounded, and the entire flock suffers when its shepherds are not healthy. Coaching other disciple-leaders is vital to the health of the leader and his family, as well as to the organization he is serving.
EFFECTIVENESS OF COACHING
Dallas Seminary professor Howard Hendricks once estimated that between 80 and 90 percent of leadership development is on-the-job training. This means that without on-the-job training, much of the work of training and equipping a leader is simply a waste of time. Those who participate in the fields of sports, education, business, medicine, the arts, fitness, and finances instinctively know this is true. In fact, if you were to take a moment to reflect on your own life and professional development, you will likely remember one or two people who had a large influence in shaping your thinking, abilities, career decisions, and possibly even character. I am indebted to my high school English and journalism teacher, Dave W. Robb, who "coached" me through some on-the-job training in the area of writing while I served as a columnist and editor of our school paper. His investment in my life has paid multiple dividends over the past thirty years. I also remember my high school principal, Warren "Wo" Carere, who coached me "on the job" to lead the basketball team as its captain for two years. His investment in me was another turning point in my life.
Michael Jordan is arguably the greatest basketball player to ever play the game. But prior to Phil Jackson coming on the scene, Jordan's team won only 48 percent of their games and their team had no championships, even though Jordan often led the league in scoring. After Jackson became the head coach for the Chicago Bulls, they won 75 percent of their games and six championships. Michael Jordan always had great talent and natural ability, but coaching made a significant difference in helping him reach his full potential.
Much of our own experience in coaching leaders is in the area of church planting. The Southern Baptist Convention recently conducted research on six hundred church planters, and Dr. Ed Stetzer concluded, "Planters who met weekly with a mentor ... led churches that were almost twice the size of those who had no mentor." In a similar study by The Foursquare Church, they found that church planters who met monthly with a coach or mentor increased their baptisms by 150 percent and experienced a significant increase in worship attendance in contrast to those who lacked a coach or mentor. While numerical growth in itself is not an accurate gauge of the effectiveness of coaching, it does provide a leading indicator, hinting at the difference coaching makes in the life of a leader.
BENEFITS OF COACHING
When I train leaders how to be gospel coaches, I always ask the participants why they believe it's important for church leaders to have a coach. Here are some of the most common responses:
Coaching helps remind a leader of the gospel that shepherds need to be shepherded.
Coaching exposes a leader's blind spots.
Because leaders are capable of succumbing to sin's deception, coaching is preventative maintenance, a practical means for a leader to pay careful attention to one's self.
The stakes for a church leader are high, and coaching can protect the flock from a leader's mistakes and bad decisions.
Coaching models biblical community and discipleship.
Coaching provides a prayer partner for a leader.
Leaders can be prideful, and coaching helps a leader identify and fight arrogance.
Leading can be lonely, and coaching brings encouragement to a leader.
Coaching improves a leader's perspective and objectivity.
Coaching facilitates a leader's growth and equipping.
Coaching sharpens a leader's calling.
Coaching is a means for intentional accountability and submission.
Ministry is a difficult and complicated task, and coaching sharpens a leader's skills and abilities.
Coaching provides a safe sounding board and a means to obtain advice from a fellow leader
Coaching is fun, and it encourages friendship and provides affirmation for a leader's decisions.
Coaching enables personal sanctification.
Coaching protects family and marital health.
As you can see from the responses, the benefits of coaching are not only for the leader himself; coaching is also of great benefit to the church and to the community the leaders are serving and reaching.
Faithful leaders will make disciples, but great leaders focus on making other leaders. A leader doesn't learn to lead by attending a class or reading a book on leadership. A leader learns to lead best when he or she begins to lead others and is coached along the journey by a mentor. As the ministry leader is learning and applying the gospel in his or her own life, the followers will learn from what they see modeled in the life of their leader. They will be equipped and empowered by the gospel through the practical example and the visible fruit of that leader's life.
Gary Collins once made a bold statement about the importance of leadership development: "Good coaching is the key to producing good leaders. In changing times, to be a good leader you must be a good coach. And to be a good coach, you must recognize that coaching is a significant and increasingly emerging form of leadership and leadership training." A church planting oversight team from a church I was working with once asked me (Tom) about my coaching relationship with their new planter. "Here's how I see my job as coach," I said. "It's to prepare him every week to be ready to play up to his personal best, as God has equipped and made him. He may never be an All-Pro-level pastor. I am not trying to coach him to be that level. But I can assist him in becoming someone in and through whom God can do miraculous things."
The key benefit of this type of coaching is not that it somehow produces the next all-star, celebrity leader. The benefit of gospel coaching is that it takes the message of the gospel—a message proclaiming that God takes weak and ordinary people and does great things through them to show off the surpassing greatness of Jesus Christ—and uses it to transform leaders and their churches so that they, in turn, will be used to transform the lives of others. Coaching isn't the secret to greatness; it's a proven means to facilitate gospel transformation in every area of a ministry leader's life so that he can effectively lead others in the mission of God through his local church.
WHY EVERY LEADER NEEDS A COACH
Many ministry leaders serving in churches find themselves overwhelmed by the challenging task of leading and ministering in a congregation. Being a church leader can be compared to herding cats, and it is far too normal for leaders, over time, to become disillusioned, distracted, and depressed. As a result, the ministry suffers and the leaders suffer, and the result is often an unhealthy church that has little or no gospel influence.
Every leader needs someone in his or her life who serves as a coach. After observing Christian leaders for thirty years, I (Scott) have compiled a list of twenty issues that I find Christian leaders hide from others, with the result that they often suffer alone. With only a couple of exceptions, I have experienced every one of these at some point in my life.
1. I'm really just average in my skills.
2. I'm often not sure what I'm supposed to be doing.
3. I have hidden emotional issues, some of which are derived from my relationship with my father and my mother.
4. I'm often motivated by self-glory.
5. I'm battling sin constantly (and losing occasionally).
6. I work way too much.
7. I have an inconsistent spiritual life.
8. People get on my nerves.
9. My marriage is average.
10. I'm not sure if I'm a good dad/mom/husband/wife.
11. I really don't find joy in my job.
12. I'm too young and inexperienced/my best days are behind me.
13. I'm really uncomfortable around unsaved people.
14. I don't have a close friend I can trust.
15. I rely on my position and guilt to get people to do things.
16. I make decisions without prayer or consulting others.
17. I waste my time on trivial matters.
18. I am often more concerned about myself than others.
19. I'm struggling financially.
20. I'm often tempted sexually.
At the heart of many of these problems are several things. Loneliness and isolation can become debilitating factors that negatively affect church leaders. Archibald Hart notes that the aloneness factor often leads to arrogance, which can lead to addiction and then adultery. Another major reason for these problems is the reality of spiritual warfare, an issue that sometimes is ignored or minimized. Satan, the enemy of God, hates the church and does not want to see healthy, reproductive churches led by gospel-empowered people. Why should it surprise us to find Satan working to destroy the church by devouring ministry leaders and their families?
Though these and many other causes need to be addressed, our greatest concern in all of this is a leader's heart. Every human heart has a tendency toward dependence on its own ingenuity, natural ability, and fleshly effort. And church leaders are certainly not immune to this tendency. A very real and present danger in the life of every church leader is a growing coldness of heart, losing the vitality, pliability, and centeredness on God's grace that gives life and empowerment to all that we do.
In an attempt to help church leaders succeed in their personal and professional lives, some have introduced coaching systems that promise to help them be more productive, strategic, and effective in reaching goals and developing their leadership skills. The focus has typically been on competence through consulting and mentoring and on guiding him or her into a more desirable future. While these things are important in their right context, coaching of this type fails to address the fundamental issue for pastors and church leaders: Who is shepherding my soul? The truth is, you can pay someone $300 an hour to coach you in making decisions about budgets, bylaws, buildings, boards, and Bible studies. But even after finding solutions to these technical challenges, a leader can still feel miserable, living in a state of hopeless anxiety that is devoid of God's power and presence.
What leaders need is someone to shepherd their souls so that they, in turn, can lead others to the chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ. Coaching for church leaders looks less like corporate consulting and more like biblical shepherding. Every church leader needs someone to come alongside them to encourage, admonish, comfort, and help with words of truth drawn from Scripture and godly wisdom, grounded in the gracious saving work of Jesus Christ and presented in the context of trusting relationships.
Excerpted from Gospel Coach by Scott Thomas Tom Wood Copyright © 2012 by Scott Thomas and Tom Wood. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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