“Coaching” is a term that is all the rage in the business community and across the Christian church. It can refer to different practices depending on its context and usage. Most coaching in the church entails coaching leaders to improve their performance. Because the church is a system, a change in any part of the system affects every other part of the system. The simplest way to improve the way your church organization works to accomplishing its mission is to make its leadership more effective. Leadership is the key to effective ministry. Rick Warren has said,“If you want to know the temperature of your organization, put a thermometer in the leader’s mouth.” No one in your church will be more committed, focused and enthusiastic than your designated leaders. It makes sense, then, to put significant resources into supporting the health and vitality of your leaders.
Continuing education is one place to do this, but more is needed. Leaders need the an objective person to walk along side them who understands the context of the leader’s work but is not a part of that context, who demands a clear delineation of the plans the leader has for the future, and who asks the difficult questions when those plans are not unfolding on schedule. Such is the role of coaching in church life.
Sometimes a leader needs a mentor; someone who has experience and wisdom in similar circumstances who can share best practices and warn of potential pitfalls. But the coach is not a mentor. The coach is not there to bring expertise to the leader, but rather to help the leader bring his or her own knowledge and skills to bear most effectively.
Sometimes a leader needs consultant to do an objective evaluation of the operation of various systems in the leader’s organization and to prescribe remedies for those places where there is dysfunction. The coach is not a consultant. The coach is there to hold the leader accountable to the stated plan, not to offer a new plan.
Sometimes a leader needs a counselor to give emotional support and direction. It is easy to lose one’s self in the complexities of ministry and a wise counselor can help us balance our lives. But this is not the coaching role, for the coach is focused outcomes, not on the intricacies of emotional life except to note when performance is being impaired.
Sometimes leaders needs a spiritual director to help with the forward momentum of their spiritual development. But even though the coach may be keenly interested in realization of spiritual development goals as laid out as a plan for the church, the personal spiritual development of the leader is outside the scope of the coaching relationship, except insofar as it helps or hinders progress toward realizing the vision for the church.
The coaching role therefore is unique and limited; an aid to the discipline of leadership, and a way to help leaders stay on top of their game. When you are thinking of all the ways you can help your leaders be effective, do not leave out this simple but important tool. It has the potential of turning your good leader into a great leader.
Lauren Swanson is a consultant with Strategic Missional Solutions and is available to help your mission-based organization align with its purpose.