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Organizational Development and the Church, Part 3

The development roles of both coaching and mentoring

By John Michael De Marco

Was Jesus a coach, helping His team study, practice, and enhance their performance toward specific outcomes? Was He a mentor, offering a certain way of being and creating a context for significant character development and critical thinking? Or was He both, using each of these related but distinct disciplines as the situation demanded? Do we expect the same of leaders in the church today?

During His approximately 3 years of earthly ministry, Jesus coached His disciples on many things, usually through modeling an activity for them and then critiquing them after they had tried it for themselves. For example, He taught them how to pray, evangelize, handle crowds and difficult people, cast out demons, teach, and what was appropriate behavior on the Sabbath.

At the same time, Jesus mentored His disciples through His presence. By sitting at His feet, observing Him in action, and participating in much of His ministry, the disciples who endured with Jesus eventually received a multifold portion of His Spirit. They caught Christlikeness through spending quality time with the Son of God.

The fact Jesus powerfully employed both coaching and mentoring emphasizes how these endeavors are not the exclusive property of the business or secular communities, where people first popularized them. For many years church leaders dismissed these intentional practices as irrelevant to spiritual growth and church development; ostensibly, they belonged to the world.

When I was pastoring full time, coaching and mentoring were on the periphery of my denomination. I had to read outside books — such as business publications — to learn more about coaching and mentoring even though Scripture contains the best possible case studies for how to excel in these practices.

In recent times, however, people within and beyond the local church more readily recognize the transferable principles of coaching and mentoring that transcend business and ministry. Whether the setting is a congregation, financial services office, educational institution, or 501c3 charity, leadership development isleadership development — worthy and indispensable work for any entity desiring long-term influence with customers and community. (For more information on coaching and ministry, see the sidebar “Ministry Coaching: A Powerful Tool for Growth.”)

Coaching and the Attitude Factor

“To successfully coach or mentor anyone,” says popular leadership author and speaker Ken Blanchard, “you must be committed to that person’s ongoing development. Such commitment often requires saying things that might not be popular with that individual.

“Jesus had a small group of people whom He could be more intimate with,” notes Blanchard. “We have become interested in the old concept of having a truth-telling group that can be there for you, to give you feedback, to keep you on track, to push you. A coach can play many roles, but the biggest one is to keep you on track and be a truth-teller when you seem to not be applying what you know.

“A person offering such coaching,” Blanchard adds, “must coach with a sense of humility, and the person being coached must receive it with the same dynamic.

“One of the differences between self-serving leaders and serving leaders is how they receive feedback. Self-serving leaders think they own their position. The minute you think you own something you begin to protect it. And when you get feedback you do not like, you dismiss it. Serving leaders see their position as being on loan. When they get feedback they say, ‘Thank you.’ Coaching is not going to help anybody who is not open to feedback.”

Blanchard’s organization enlists coaches who work with churches and ministry leaders by utilizing three key aspects.

“We talk about performance planning, where they agree on goals and objectives,” Blanchard says. “The second step is day-to-day coaching, where you observe people, praise progress, and redirect. The final step is performance evaluation, where you evaluate performance over time.”

Al Winseman, D.Min., the Gallup Organization’s global practice leader for faith communities, has been observing a huge movement of coaching within churches.

“Coaching is about performance. It links the well-being part with the well-doing part,” Winseman asserts. “We see a great deal of this happening around strengths development, with our StrengthsFinder — an online assessment tool popularized in books such as Now, Discover Your Strengths. This has become another program that a church offers as part of its DNA through the power of coaching. Churches are training people to give feedback to others and coach them how to best develop their talents into strengths and use those concerning service to the world.”

In addition to Jesus, Winseman notes that the apostle Paul was a coach as well. “When you look at his relationships with Timothy, Barnabas, and others … they wanted to accomplish something great for the kingdom of God. Paul was coaching them on how to better accomplish this. His letters are coaching letters — ‘You have some issues here, and this is what you need to do to fix them.’ Paul was forthright in naming the issues they were dealing with and offering corrections, but his letters also are full of praise as well for the well-doing aspect of what was happening in these churches.”

Max Yeary has pastored Christian Life Center (AG) of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for 29 years. He has seen the church survive an early split and grow from 200 persons in attendance to an average of 3,500 today.Yeary says coaching is a frequent activity within his leadership team where they critique pastors after sermons and music interns after performances.

“We point out their strengths and weaknesses,” Yeary notes. “We work on those things with them.”

At North Little Rock First Assembly of God, Rod Loy has emphasized performance coaching to the point where he has eliminated annual employee reviews. “I think reviews are the antithesis of coaching,” declares Loy, the church’s senior pastor. “An annual review says, ‘I am going to watch you for a year, and then I am going to have a little list of everything I think you can be better at. You are going to be stressed, and I am going to be stressed.’ ”

Instead, at the beginning of 2007, Loy had each member of the church’s leadership team — pastoral, support, and volunteer — identify the one thing they were going to accomplish to make a difference in the church. Each person talked through his goals in front of the entire team.

“My focus for the year was to help coach and guide them to accomplish that one thing. I almost had everybody’s goal memorized; there are about 30 people. As we went through the year, I periodically said, ‘If we would do this or tweak this, we can get there.’ Peers did that as well because everybody knew others’ goals.”

Loy continues, “We were all coaching each other toward those common goals and objectives. At the end of the year the entire team sat down and asked, ‘Where was the goal, and how did you do?” Everyone listened as each person shared.”

John Lindell, senior pastor of James River Assembly of God in Ozark, Missouri, notes how his team practices performance coaching in real time. “After I preach, the two other guys on the preaching team talk to me between services. One might say, ‘Here is an idea.’

“I do this with them also. We might say, ‘There was a grace on this part when you preached,’ or ‘You know what, you don’t need your notes. You have this down.’ ”

Lindell adds, “We are trying to create a culture of improvement. Excellence is a subjective term and can create a pressure on people that can become unbearable at some point. Instead, we are always getting people to ask, ‘How can we do it better?’ ”

Mentoring as Distinct From Coaching

“I think coaching is much more specific to a situation,” observes Nancy Ortberg, an internationally known church and business consultant. “Mentoring to me is more relational and broad based. I think God does both for us. They are two sides of the same coin — the leader who is more experienced than you coming alongside you and speaking into your life. I have had some stellar leaders in my life; I would not be where I am without those people.”

Adds Blanchard, “To me, a mentor is someone who has been successful in what you are trying to be good at, whom you meet with periodically. You are there to pick his brain and ask his advice. A coach is there to help you accomplish your goals. A mentor is a resource for advice.”

“We have some staff who are better at mentoring than others,” observes Yeary. “But based on the fact most of our staff has been mentored and brought to where they are, I do not have to convince them how important mentoring is. We have no one on our staff that came aboard simply because they finished our School of Ministry. Before that, they probably had latched onto one of our leaders, or one of our leaders had seen their potential and latched on to them.”

Yeary says he sees fewer differences between coaching and mentoring but recognizes their distinctions. “When you are mentoring someone, that person has entrusted you with their education and ministerial preparation. Whereas in coaching, a person might not want you to coach him, but you are still coaching him. We use coaching to mean fine-tuning certain areas, trying to stretch them into other areas where they have giftings. Regardless, when someone enters our School of Ministry, we begin like Elijah did when he put his cloak on Elisha; we make a commitment to get them from where they are to where God has called them to be.”

Yeary adds, “I can teach ministry to just about anyone, but I cannot change character. That has to be between them and God.”

Lindell mentors members of his executive team through individual meetings that usually take place once per month. Some members meet with Lindell weekly, depending on the area of leadership or the issues involved. These top leaders are responsible for mentoring those who serve on their teams. Lindell sees mentoring as a vital opportunity for transparency and honest communication, and he peppers coaching moments into its practice.

“I told one person concerning his wife, ‘You are embarrassed by her. It doesn’t make you look good, and it certainly doesn’t make her look good. It is going to ruin your marriage,’ ” Lindell recalls. He added, “I needed to follow up that conversation with subsequent conversations.”

Another team leader had experienced a great deal of turnover on his staff. “I realized I needed to talk with him. ‘Listen,’ I said, ‘how do you create loyalty and joy in serving your department in the people around you?’ ” Mentoring, Lindell asserts, is “more troubleshooting and discernment than just, ‘Let’s read a book.’ ”

Quality mentoring does not take place in the church by accident, Winseman has observed. “Part of leading is influencing and being selective in choosing people you identify as having promise and in whom you want to invest yourself,” he says. “That takes a conscious decision on the part of most pastors and religious leaders. So many pastors are subject to the tyranny of the urgent; a great deal of ministry is reacting from one crisis to the next. You need to be intentional about mentoring, about stepping back, taking the long view and saying, ‘If am going to succeed here, I have to invest some of myself into some of my best people so we can make the best difference.’ ”

In the final part of this series, I will address another challenge faced by leaders in all industries and organizations: How to constantly be leading change initiatives in the most effective manner. As the church is often slower to change than most other institutions and organizations, the savvy ministry leader will learn how to remain relevant to the culture without sacrificing the timeless message and power of the gospel.

JOHN MICHAEL DE MARCO is an ordained United Methodist pastor, leadership consultant and writer, based in Nashville, Tenn. To learn more, please visit www.johnmdemarco.com.

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