“So tell me how -do you look after all these people?”

“Well, people make an appointment and come to see me.”

“And does this work well?”

“It seems to.”

“But you have been experiencing problems?”

“I am a little jaded..”

“What do you think causes this?”

“The sheer volume of people wanting my wisdom.”

“What could you do about it?”

“Maybe I could ask appropriate people to share the pastoral load and leave the trickier ones to me?”

“When could you start that?”

“I could sell the idea at our next leaders meeting. Maybe they’ll go for it.”

“Great.I look forward to hearing how it goes.”

This wasn’t exactly the conversation between Jethro and Moses in Exodus 18. Jethro was far more direct and Moses had no leadership team to OK the plan, and … there were two million plus to look after. But it is the way a modern day coach would seek to help someone. Businesses such as Lloyds TSB and Shell have discovered that a coach can significantly improve their staff’s effectiveness and productivity. This growing phenomenon of one to one help is not of course absent in the church. The example of the Jethro/Moses interchange has been noted and many use discipleship/mentoring models.

But the use of coaching in the sort of non-directive but empowering fashion that is taking off in the business world is a new concept. Last month we examined how the coaching process works. This month we look at the ways in which good coaching could benefit churches and Christian organisations and ask whether it is likely to take off.

Five ways coaching could help you:

1) Individuals empowered

Empowerment is one of today’s buzz words and is at the heart of what the coach seeks to achieve. Empowerment means ‘to authorise or enable’, and in the Christian scene reflects the desire most church leaders have that their members take responsibility for their lives.

Trevor Waldock, Managing Director of The Executive Coach, spends 80% of his time coaching in the business world and 20% in the Christian sector. He says: “Coaching is client-centred and so the ‘coachee’ does the work. They take the responsibility for their own progress. The coach keeps the focus on the coachee and works for their own energy and development.” So coaches make the assumption that you and I want to grow and develop, but are unable to do so. Obstacles to high performance are sometimes external, due to lack of skill or more frequently internal blockages, self-limiting beliefs - what is called ‘interference’. A coach claims to be able to remove the interference, in order that we reach our potential. So the empowerment comes from the liberation brought as the coach talks through our situation and helps us see the way forward. Coaching could operate within the church and Christian organisations, whether with leaders, employees, volunteers or Christians who simply find themselves stuck.
Andrew Sercombe, a coach and business consultant with Powerchange Professional and a former Pastor says: “Coaching is not counselling. Coaching offers something different to traditional counselling techniques. It can often identify and solve in just an hour or so, problems that have dogged the client for years, whisking through them into a whole different way of seeing life. The client leaves the session keen to enjoy the changes, equipped and empowered from within. And it sticks.”

True coaching has empowering and responsibility at its very core. A good coach will be valued but not indispensable. So coaching is a million miles away from heavy shepherding models where a senior believer tells the younger in the faith what to do. Nor is it another way of controlling someone. Phil Wall, founding director of Signify, and formerly the Leader of the Salvation Army UK Mission Team who coaches full-time says: “There are three important moments that a coach looks for: when the coachee takes ownership; when they set the agenda; when other people notice.” Appreciating the value of empowerment is the starting point for understanding coaching. Everything else we say about coaching stems from this aspect.

2) Leaders stretched

The empowerment focus of coaching makes it a valuable tool in shaping and stretching leaders. Many leaders have few around them with the knowledge or ability to give appropriate feedback. In some cases the constraints of the organisational structure make any critique of performance awkward. Furthermore it is often more evident to followers where the leaders need help than it is to them! As a result many leaders find themselves stuck in ruts they have neither the time nor the energy to dig themselves out of. Andy Hickford, the Pastor of Maybridge Christian Fellowship, Worthing, says: “The church in Britain is generally lousy at critical self-analysis. A key essential for leadership is reflective feedback. We need to be constantly asking ‘how did it go?’ I find that a coach helps me assess various areas of my ministry, so that I make progress where I need to.”

“It is said that experience is life’s greatest teacher. Actually, evaluated experience is life’s greatest teacher,” adds Wall. “The challenge of the church is that it is too busy running programmes and spends too little time reflecting on what has been done.” Teresa Marshall is a full-time coach in the Bournemouth area and told Christianity+Renewal of a client she worked with. “Daniel felt that his life was out of control. He was a very capable man juggling his commitments to his family, the community, and leadership roles in church, his own spiritual development and his thriving consultancy practice. The feeling of being ‘scattered’ left Daniel feeling that he was neither open to the opportunities he wanted for himself nor those that God wanted for him. Coaching helped him to strongly and prayerfully define his role. Once he identified his strengths he took time for God to speak to him as to how he should develop. The next step was to create a plan and strategy to put things into practice.”

Though coaching is largely one-to-one, groups can also benefit. Paul Sandham is a freelance coach who has worked in the last 12 years with church leaderships and Christian organisations such as World Vision. He told Christianity+Renewal : “A coach can provoke groups by asking new questions they haven’t thought of. I use the image of the person walking across a wheat field. Once they have worn a path they will be most likely to follow the same trail again. Churches do the same. Coaches can ask the questions which may need asking and help them identify a rut. This coaching of a group (also known as facilitation) can provoke interesting conversations: I once asked a leadership team: ‘How do you think that an all male leadership team is perceived in a church that is predominantly female?’ It was the sort of question only an outsider could ask.” The beauty of coaching is that the coach won’t allow a group or individuals to duck the issues that matter. A coach loathes leadership meetings that produce more heat than light, and inspires those being coached to follow through on resolutions.

3) New leaders motivated

It will be no surprise to discover that coaching can be a key means of developing new leaders, especially where the nurturing of new blood is part of the organisation’s philosophy, (which ought to be the case for every church). Training events can assist in providing some help with skills but a good coach will focus on the specific areas that need development. Russell Rook is the Leader of the Salvation Army UK Mission Team and was coached by his predecessor Phil Wall over an 11-year period. Rook says: “There was a covenant of commitment between the two of us. He said he would do everything he could to develop me and I in turn committed to serve him. It was mutual submission for 11 years and Phil became my best friend.”

Coaching can also develop leaders who serve the church in a ‘lay’ capacity. Teresa Marshall says: “I was coaching Nikki through her redundancy. Having more time was one of the advantages of being out of work, so I encouraged Nikki to develop her network of friends. She noticed that there was no daytime prayer group with child care facilities at her church, so decided with the help of a newly established friend to found such a group. This cemented her friendship and provided spiritual support for other women, most of whom were single parents or whose husbands did not share their faith. Nikki blossomed under her leadership role and her faith grew.”

This use of coaching to develop new leaders has some biblical precedent. Wall believes that the way Jesus developed his disciples gives clues about how coaching should benefit new leaders: “Jesus tells his disciples, ‘you will do greater things than me’. In part, he is saying: ‘my success will be in what you do with what I have taught you’. But if you are insecure or threatened by the success of others then you will not want to see others succeed.

Success is seen not on what you go on to, but by what you leave behind. Do we leave a legacy or a gap? My abilities as a leader will truly be seen not with my past performance but in a few years’ time.”

Coaching Asks: ‘What do you want to talk about? What do you want to go away with? Tell me more. What are your options? So what are you going to do?’
Mentoring Says:‘This is the way I do it, copy me and we’ll discuss how you got on’.
Delegating Says: ‘Here’s the job, let’s clarify what you are going to do and what support you need. Then let’s get on with it.’
Dictating Says: ‘This is the way to do it. Do it this way and you will be fine’.

4) Teaching personalised

Churches and Christian organisations typically spend many hours a month on teaching and training. But it is clear to many that real learning and real change doesn’t always take place. Waldock says: “Having spent years in the training and consultancy business I have witnessed literally tens of thousands of pounds being flushed down the drain from training budgets. Few, if any, participants would have had discussions with their line managers before the course to agree learning objectives; few ever had conversations with their line managers after the course to look at how to embed the learning from the course into the work place.” These patterns are sadly duplicated in the church.

Sercombe adds: “Many Christians are desperate to be part of the answer, yet time and again we have been hampered not by a lack of desire, but a lack of understanding and skill. We’ve found that the usual encouragement to ‘Try Harder, Do More Evangelism, Go to More Meetings, Pray More’, etc. (whatever “more” may be) doesn’t get the anticipated results. Underneath most of us know that continuing to do something that isn’t working is actively damaging, reinforcing failure and destroying personal confidence. So much energy has been expended, so many new projects begun - for what?” Some Pastors have completed years of ministry and wondered whether they have really been getting through. Coaching provides the opportunity to tackle the sticking points first-hand and provide the back-up to the good intentions that never actually become reality.

5) GenerationX attracted

This appreciation of teaching styles links with the appeal of coaching to the younger generation. According to sociologists those born between 1965 and 1983 (known as Generation Xers or baby busters) are especially keen on the sort of feedback and leadership development that coaching provides. While learning preferences should not drive the church, it does mean that many of us are actually instinctively hungry for coaching and so will readily benefit. Wall says “The rise in coaching is partly a cultural phenomenon. The breakdown of the extended family means that some people have had few if any mentors. When a former employee of one large company was asked why he had left he said: ‘There wasn’t anyone there whom I aspired to be like.’”

All of which may mean that if we seek to shoe horn a Gen Xer into a model with clear organisational hierarchies but with little of the feedback and personal interaction he/she craves, we will be stifling them. In the long run they will leave us and go somewhere they can be developed. Wall adds: “People are hungry for development. One of the top three things people want in a job is employability. The key for a company is its ability to recruit and retain top people. The success of the company flows from its staff. So any employee is looking for development within the company.” The same applies to leadership development within churches and Christian organisations. Even if we don ’t opt to involve a coach, it is wise to include some coaching elements to staff/ministry development.

Will it take off?

Coaching is already a growing phenom- enon within the corporate world.But will it take off within the Christian sector? Sandham has worked with New Church streams as well as World Vision,Scripture Union and Latin Link.He believes that coaching is far from being a mainstream concept,but sees its development as likely.“I would say only the ‘early adopters ’have bought into it.In the mid 90 ’s it became more popular to have some- one come in to facilitate discussion.I believe the next few years will see Christian organisations and then churches increasingly use coaches.”
Forms of mentoring have existed for many years. New Church streams in particular have utilised one to one styles of leadership development, and there are churches within all denominations that have perceived the benefit of such coaching style teaching and training even if they called it something else. Given the close links between mentoring and coaching (see box) we can imagine that some groups will see the value of the less directive coaching approach. Phil Wall argues: “I believe the church already has the tools to use coaching. There is a massive crossover between what is done in discipleship and coaching/mentoring.”

The next step?

There are details of a few Christian coaches at the end of this feature. Costs will vary according to the issue discussed and the time frame involved, but some coaches offer the first consultation free. Picking up the phone and arranging an appointment may be your next step. If you want to learn coaching skills, so that you can assist others, then ask about seminars that they put on. Just as a Christian may counsel without calling themselves a counsellor, it is also possible for them to pick up coaching skills without being a coach. Alternatively, you could seek out help from people you know who have coaching skills, even if they don’t call it that. Wall has a number of coaches he sees, some a few times a year - some more regularly depending on the input he wants. Whether we make a step ourselves or not it is likely that many will. There are many who believe this is a vital area for the next stage. Hickford says: “I would say coaching must increase. Unless the church changes it will decline. For a church to change, leadership must change, and the best way for leaders to change is via reflective feedback and reflective feedback is best achieved with a coach.” Maybe if Moses had a coach he would have made it to the Promised Land!