Five Gifts Of Coaching For Pastors
In 2010 I made the shift from associate pastor to senior pastor. After years working in congregations, I knew my first year as pastor would set the pastoral tone and leadership trajectory. The smallest leadership decisions during this first year would expand over the course of my ministry of service.
Leading up to this pivotal year, friends and peers spoke in passing about engaging leadership coaches to guide them in their work. Personally, I had no experience with a professionally trained leadership/clergy coach. The idea intrigued me, though. If the first year in a church is critically important, surely hiring a someone to coach me through the first year would not just help my ministry, but the church as well.
At the time, I knew one clergy coach. I called him. For a year, we had regular monthly coaching calls. This experience in coaching made me a clergy coaching cheerleader. My life and my congregation’s life would never be the same.
No matter your place of ministry or length of service, a clergy coach will help you find your way to where God is leading. Reflecting on my years of utilizing a clergy coach, I have identified five things a pastor receives from a coach.
1. Ministry partner
As a ministry partner, my coaches worked with me to accomplish my ministry purposes and goals. One of the first thing every coach asks, is, “What do you want to talk about today?” Coaches call this being “client centered.”
During my first year as pastor, I brought my leadership stuff to each coaching session. One of my biggest early challenges centered on our deacon ministry. My deacons were frustrated by their structure. So, within two months of starting as pastor, I was sitting around a table with deacons trying to find a new way forward.
I brought this issue to my coach. He listened as I described the challenges of finding a way forward with deacon ministry when the church still lacked a sense of identity and mission. I remember ending the coaching session with the realization I was creating the urgency of the situation. The deacon structure really could wait. There were other more critical challenges to tackle before the church restructured their deacon ministry.
And that is what happened. It took another 6 years, but, eventually, the deacons and church developed a newly structured deacon ministry that serves the vision and values of our church.
2. Ministry Guide
As a ministry guide, a coach helps you navigate the balance between doing and being. Coaching is not therapy. What coaching does best, though, is help a pastor find the work life balance that sustains him or her in the long term.
The pastoral life stretches even the healthiest of relationships. Stress at the church causes stress at home. As a ministry guide, my coach would listen to my stressors, ask questions, and guide me to some healthy practices. In one season, we worked through the difference between being the pastor and doing the work of the pastor. I had allowed my spiritual practices to lapse under the duties of my weekly obligations. The coaching session lifted my eyes from the immediate and pointed me back to the disciplines I needed to sustain myself in my work.
3. Ministry Friend
As a ministry friend, a coach listens deeply to the joys and challenges of the ministry life. Listening is the primarily practice of leadership coaching. A good coach listens deeply to you and then asks the right questions to guide you to find your own insight.
As a pastor, I talk a lot. I get paid to talk and write. However, even with a great pastor peer group, I rarely, have someone who listens to the joys and challenges of my ministry life. My coach has often served in this capacity for me.
At some point during our congregation’s adaptive change journey, there was much to celebrate. However, there were few people who really understood all the risks and decisions and holy experiments the church took to get us to this point. For many of us who had gone through the changes, it just felt like life. In that moment, I found myself looking forward to my coaching call. My coach had helped us get through many of those changes and understood. He listened to me outline all the ways God had moved to help us arrive at the present moment. Together, we celebrated God’s future in a way no one else could.
4. Ministry Practitioner
As ministry practitioner, a clergy coach provides a deep well of leadership resources. While coaching will always be client centered, a clergy coach also brings with them experiences and resources to help a pastor do the tasks of leadership.
After my first year as pastor of my church, I next engaged my clergy coach when our church began a season of futuring together. My coach worked with me as I developed the process and stayed with me throughout the season. His experience and resources made our custom developed process stronger and the results better.
I am thankful that Pinnacle clergy coaches are not just leadership coaches. They come out of congregational life and are on the cutting edge of congregational shifts and movements. They bring this experience and knowledge to the coaching call.
5. Ministry Bridge
As a ministry bridge, a clergy coach opens new leadership options to help a pastor and church get from here to there. When I think of coaching, this metaphor often comes to mind. A coach helps a person get from where they are to where they want to be. Coaches help clergy discover the barriers and pitfalls that lie in between.
Several years ago, our congregation faced push back from some of the changes we had initiated. I struggled to find my way forward in how to lead. My coach became a valuable ministry bridge to help me see a future when all seemed dark. I was able to lift my vision beyond the present. I saw the challenges more clearly. I discovered new pathways I did not know existed. I could not have made it through without my coach.
I am grateful for my coaches at Pinnacle Leadership Associates. They saved my ministry at different points over the last 8 years. I am a better pastor because of them. My church is stronger, healthier and more missional because of their influence on my leadership.
In fact, I loved my coaching experience so much, I felt drawn to engage in clergy coaching as well. I received coach training. I hired a mentor coach and started coaching in my congregation. Today, coaching is part of my pastoral ministry in my congregation. I am also building my own clergy coaching clients. I love the opportunity to take what I have received and to give back to my clergy peers as we make our way into this brave new world of 21st Century ministry.
Rev. Dr. Eric Spivey
Lead Pastor, First Baptist Church, Cornielia, GA