Christ-Centered Coaching: Seven Benefits for Ministry Leaders
Here are seven ways Christ-centered coaching can infuse new life into your ministry and in those you lead.
By Jane Creswell
Christ-centered coaching can be beneficial to ministry leaders in a variety of ways. Over 10 years of coaching, I have seen seven benefits that keep recurring. Christ-centered coaching:
- leverages a person’s strengths.
- provides clarity and focus.
- instills confidence.
- catapults learning.
- fosters intentional progress.
- rubs off on others.
- encourages God-sized goals.
Not every ministry leader experiences all of these benefits, but most experience them at some level. Thus they are able to transition from just barely surviving the challenges to thriving in their calling. What do these benefits look like, practically speaking?
“Charles” is a ministry leader who has experienced these benefits. Here is an example of what the benefits can look like in daily ministry.
Charles has pastored a relatively large church (500-plus attending Sunday worship) for 20 years. He has earned respect beyond his congregation. People across the district recognize his name and appreciate his leadership.
If you ask pastors in the area to name a pastor who is successful, many would put Charles at the top of the list. His congregation loves him. He has a great family life, with kids who are proud of him.
But while Charles has achieved a level of success, he feels a lack of challenge. Charles wonders: What’s next? I have a lot more years of ministry in front of me. Is God calling me to use my successful experience to have greater impact for the Kingdom?
In our first coaching session, I asked, “Where are you and where would you like to be?”
Charles responded: “In most people’s eyes, including my own, my ministry is successful. There is no conflict in my church. Things seem to be going well in my church and region. I guess that is where I am and where I want to be.”
“Really?” I probed. “You are living your full Kingdom potential?”
A more thoughtful, honest answer this time: “Well, I have been wondering if there is something more I could be doing, somewhere I might have more impact, something more God wants me to do.”
Orienting Around Strengths
As we explored whether Charles was loving God with all his strength, Charles realized he enjoyed writing but seldom found time for it. He was spending about 12 to 15 hours a day on church and ministry-related work. He was increasingly challenged to give his family the time they wanted and deserved — and that he wanted to give them. He did not see how he could find time to write.
“Tell me more about your strengths as a writer,” I encouraged.
“In college and seminary my professors gave feedback that I was able to give good examples; reduce complex topics into simple, understandable language; and include humor that was not derogatory or at anyone’s expense. I am not sure if that is anything special. A lot of people going through a D.Min. program probably have that level of skill and ability — if not greater.”
Remembering he wanted to focus on finding time to write, I said, “And maybe not. Writing may come so naturally to you that you do not even have to work at it. Maybe that is a top strength for you, and we need to focus on helping you use it to full Kingdom potential. How can you find the time?”
He already thought he did not have enough hours in the day. “You can’t just create more time, you know. I don’t know where I could find time,” Charles said.
Clarity and Focus
“What are you currently doing that is not having as much impact as sharing the successes of your 20-year ministry at this church with others?” I asked.
“That’s a great question. It sounds like something I would ask someone else but do not ask myself. I do want to be a person of impact, and I am not holding myself to that standard.
“I sometimes think about the possibility of expanding my ministry beyond my congregation and my district by writing about experiences that might benefit others and help them in their ministry. I do things every day that are less important than that. For one, I spend a lot of time attending committee meetings where I do not think I am really needed. Some of these committees do not accomplish much. They meet for 90 minutes. Usually I would only call about 15 minutes of the 90 minutes productive. Most of these meetings are in the evenings. If I did not go to them, I would probably choose to spend more time with my family over writing.”
“How could you do both?” I asked. “Spend more time with your wife and children and also find time for writing?”
Charles mentally ran through the list of committees. After some thought, he determined he could begin with one committee. He believed he could stop attending these meetings without jeopardizing the work of the committee or his relationship with committee members. But almost as quickly as he determined to take this course of action, he began to wonder again whether they would think he was not doing his job if he started missing meetings. “What would people think? What would they say?” His concerns — fears, really — quickly popped to the surface.
“What strategy can you develop to communicate this change in how you choose to spend your time — a strategy that people will see positively?” I said.
Charles hesitated, and then said, “Well, I guess I could be open and explain my reasons for not coming.” The minute those words were out of his mouth, he realized that, if he felt like he was wasting time, others might feel the same. He decided to explain his reasons and at the same time offer to help the committee figure out ways to have more impact and reduce the frequency and length of their meetings. This kind of change would be a win for everyone.
In our next coaching session, Charles reported that the committee — even the committee chair — gave him a round of applause for helping reduce the number and length of their meetings. Everyone was thinking the same thing but no one, except for Charles, had the courage to say anything.
He was excited about spending more time with his wife and kids. They already noticed a difference in his schedule just by changes in working with one committee.
Charles was so pleased with the way this committee had responded he began to wonder what would happen if he could help all committees in a similar way. Then he wondered if anyone else had done this before and whether other ministers might like to hear how he had approached this situation and made this positive change in his life.
“How can you find out?” I asked.
He began to list. “I could ask some friends in district offices. I could see if any leadership journals I receive have addressed this issue. And at a conference not long ago, I met an editor from a publishing house. He would give me some pointers if I called him. In fact, I remember he had information about a writers conference he was doing. I did not pay much attention at the time.”
“Which of these ways best fits with your way of learning?” I asked.
“I think I would like to pursue this from several different directions. So I guess — all of them.”
Charles did talk with others. He found that, while a lot pastors were writing about churches doing away with committees, or transitioning committees to teams, they had not written much about making committee meetings more productive, about the pastor’s involvement, or about how frequently some committees need to meet. But the team concept really intrigued him. In many ways this sounded like the next step for what he was beginning to do with the committees at his church.
He gathered literature about team ministry. He liked the different model, the ministry focus, and he thought his people would like it too.
Charles was right. The more he talked about team ministry, the more excited he and his congregation became. They felt their time was better spent, more productive, and more about ministry than administration. Teams were actually looking for jobs to do, people to help, rather than sitting in meetings. This team concept was pulling people together, giving them focus, and reaching new people. The church was addressing community concerns, and the church was growing again.
But Charles had not lost his goal of finding time to write. He could see that many churches would be moving to the team concept, and he already had a smooth transition and positive experiences to share. He knew that the process his church used would help others, and his church’s success could allay some fears of other ministers about this big change in church operations.
Charles also noticed that his way of relating to committees and teams was changing. Before he was often the silent partner or the expert on the team. But his behavior was changing.
He began to ask questions in meetings. He listened intently to what people were saying. And he saw that his questions were not seen as threats but as tools to move the meeting and ministry along. People were leaving committee and team meetings excited, talking about how productive the meeting was and the ministry their team was doing now and planning to do. Laypeople were accomplishing more than they ever had before — with commitment and enthusiasm. Some people who had accepted little responsibility in the past were stepping up to the plate, and some who had done little but grumble and groan were now productive team members. And the longer this continued, the more he realized the teams did not need him all the time. Once they caught a vision for where their team fit in the church’s overall ministry, all they had to do was work out the details. They seemed to enjoy having that responsibility and accountability. They knew he was available, if needed, so they did not feel neglected. They were busy with their ministry, and he was busy with his.
Eventually, Charles was able to find 2 hours a week for writing publishable articles on church health. This was something he would have considered almost impossible previously because it would take a miracle for him to have more time with his family and find time to write. Charles began to feel there really was more God wanted of him. God had been faithful to help him get to a new level in his ministry. Now he believed God had created the desire in his heart to do more and had used a coach to help him move forward.
Charles was ready for another level.
What Are the Benefits of Coaching?
Charles, over time, experienced almost all the major benefits of coaching. Some people are stuck and need help in only one area. Others, like Charles, just keep benefiting from the experience of coaching.
1. Orienting around strengths. First, Charles discovered he had strengths he had discounted or neglected. Coaching helped him discover those unused strengths and search for ways to use them. With a coach’s help, Charles leveraged his strengths.
2. Clarity and focus. When ministers, and even churches, lose their focus — their vision or purpose — they often end up involved in denominational politics. The current issue begins to consume their time and energy. Because the pastor/minister/denominational leader has lost focus for the ministry he is called to do, politics begin to take the focus. Coaching helps redirect that focus.
Charles was able to help his committees abandon their administrative, discussion-driven meetings, and turn to a team-ministry approach that focused on results. This new approach was helping people and changing their lives. Participants felt energized and the church was growing. Coaching helped Charles see new possibilities and focus on new approaches to ministry, clarify tasks, and arrive at better ways to do the work.
3. Confidence. When Charles first considered making some changes, his thoughts were full of fears: What will people think? What will they say? What will they do? Not changing seemed safer in many ways; after all, things were going pretty well. Why rock the boat?
But as he thought through a way to make his first change positive for all concerned, he determined he would go through with his plan in spite of his fears. That small change was so well received and so positive for everyone that he gained confidence and continued to suggest changes. Without the fears dragging him down, he began to see more possibilities. He was energized by the positive actions taking place. This was transforming his life and ministry.
4. Learning.It had been a long time since Charles felt he had really learned anything new, taken any risks, charted any new course, challenged the status quo, or felt any adventure. Of course, he went to conferences, and he heard what others were doing. And he might come home with an idea to implement. But he had never been a big believer in seeing what worked well somewhere else and copying that in his church.
Now Charles found himself in the middle of self-directed learning customized for him. He and I focused his interests, strengths, desires to expand his ministry — and ways to make this happen. He set personal goals guided by how he was being led by the Holy Spirit. Together we explored ways to reach them.
5. Intentional progress. Nothing is more encouraging than success. Charles was having success in his personal goals — to spend more time with his wife and children and to write — as well as in his ministry at church.
With my help, Charles closed the knowing-versus-doing gap. He had known since seminary that writing came easily and was something he enjoyed, but he had never done anything about it. With an intentional plan, worked out with his coach, he moved toward his goal. He found time he thought he did not have. With an intentional plan his two goals moved from impossibility to reality.
Charles designed a way of making himself accountable to himself, to do what he set out to do. He had not thought about writing in years. That strength lay dormant. Who knew if it could live again? If he thought about it, he might have decided it was a silly idea, and he had little to offer. But I listened, affirmed, asked questions, kept confidences. Because of the trust we developed in our relationship, he wanted to be accountable. That made the difference.
6. Coaching others. Charles did not enter a coaching relationship to help him with his church ministry or his ministry relationships. He felt good about how all that had worked through the years. He did not begin the process because his life had problems. He just wanted to be more effective in ministry.
Charles learned a lot from his coaching experience. He experienced having someone really listen to him, asking questions to cause him to go deeper into his strengths and behaviors, and helping him find untapped potential within himself that took him by surprise. The process was so affirming and empowering for him, that without even thinking about it, he began to use some of his coach’s skills with the people around him. The basic skills were similar to what he had learned in seminary, but they were delivered in a way beyond anything he had learned since then. These skills seemed to fit the postmoderns he had been trying to move into leadership positions, and they responded positively as well. His staff and lay leaders felt affirmed. He was grateful to help others experience the benefits of coaching he had realized. (See the article, “Coaching NEXT-GENERATION Ministry Leaders” by Sam Farina.)
7. God-sized goals. When Charles first met with me, he said how good his life and ministry were. He did not have any complaints. But radical changes would take a miracle, he thought. He was out of time, and he did not see how he could do anything more.
His church was doing well. But he learned through the years just how much to expect of people. Unrealistic expectations of laypeople only led to frustration. But coaching changed that. Charles was more focused, more energetic, and accomplishing more than he had dreamed he could. He expanded his ministry through writing, and his church had expanded its ministry by engaging laypeople. He was mentoring younger leaders. People were involved, and they were reaching more people.
Charles still had to deal with conflicts in the church. He still had to work hard to envision the future of the church and to communicate it to church leaders and members. He still had to deal with the dynamics of change. But he faced these challenges with more confidence and a more positive perspective.
Many ministry leaders can benefit from a trusted, confidential, and competent coaching relationship. Your situation may not be the same as that of Charles. However, these benefits, particularly encouraging God-sized goals, can infuse new life into your ministry.
The writer of Proverbs wrote, “The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out” (Proverbs 20:5). This is what coaching is. Drawing out the purposes God has in mind for your ministry is available as you participate in being coached and also to others as you, in turn, coach them.
The author excerpted portions of this article from Christ-Centered Coaching: 7 Benefits for Ministry Leaders, by Jane Creswell. ©2006 Jane Creswell. Published by Chalice Press, www.ChalicePress.com. Used by permission.