This is post 3 in a series on coaching and leading leaders. So far we have  covered what missional coaching is and its potential in supporting and aiding community leaders. We’ve also acknowledged its limits and what coaching isn’t.

Coaching is essential for a sustained missional community movement. If you are committed to decentralized discipleship, you must make ongoing investments in leaders. We call this coaching.

A coaching structure for ongoing leadership development and encouragement is one of the substantial structural differences between a church that is made up of missional communities and a church that calls their community groups “missional communities.” However, most church staffs, as we discussed in the last post, are full of men and women who are used to telling, teaching, setting agendas, and creating strategies. As pastors, we are more comfortable doing counseling and consulting. We’re most comfortable preaching.

A coach comes into a leaders’ life to help them discover their agenda, their next steps, and their next lessons to teach others. Coaches engage leaders as a resource, and partner who asks powerful questions (which are usually simple: what is God calling you to do? What has he made you to do in this moment? What does God call all of his people to do?). A coach equips leaders through questions, encouragement, and partnership; not telling, teaching, and consulting. How do we make the mental shift from teller to listener?

I started by asking questions and answering the questions for those I was coaching. It was too painful to watch leaders ponder questions I could answer for them. It was too frustrating to see them come up with different plans than I had for them. I robbed them the privilege of following God. I told them: “You can trust me, I’ll tell you how to follow God.”

It isn’t enough for us to ask questions, we have to change our mindset and assumptions about our leaders.

Trust Them to Care and Lead

A coach has to trust the leader. The missional community leader is the expert on the people in their community, their discipleship, and their shared mission. They are called to lead and see their community learn the gospel through repentance and faith. They are committed to following Jesus in his mission. The leader is leveraging their lives in significant ways to create discipleship environment. They might not know what they are doing, or what they ought to do next, but they know their people and their shared mission. If that is true, they can be trust to lead. If that isn’t true, they aren’t leaders.

The coach does not have to be the expert on what a leader should say or do to disciple the people in his community. A coach is someone who can offer insight, stories, and resources. I’m repeatedly amazed by the ideas and next steps that leaders come up with. I’m even more amazed by the ones that ‘work.’ Here are just a few of the ideas I could have never thought of but have worked exceptionally well. So well, that missional communities throughout our city and nation copy them.

  • Have a monthly planning meeting for all the rhythms and activities of the community, then break and go for it.
  • Write thank you notes to Department of Human Services workers who care for foster kids and families.
  • Have “Happy Hour” one night a month in the neighborhood where people gather after work to hang out and have a drink.
  • Take flowers to the elder on and begin listening to their stories and pray for them.
  • Go the rodeo as a community!
  • Create a strategy board game for the older kids in the community that they play with dads to include them.
  • Create a google calendar where everyone can post what is happening, work schedules, vacations, etc. to keep the community on the same page.
  • Have a rotation through the month of “nights out” and “nights in” so the community can grow together but also grow outwardly.
  • Get together at 6am for prayer every morning for a season.

Remember God Made Them

The people you’re coaching are unique creations of God. Their DNA, past experiences, talents, gifts, perspectives, personalities, hobbies, interests, and their stories of faith are covered in God’s grace and creativity. They are not an accident. That they are different than you should not be a surprise. The way they lead, what they lead towards, and how they move there will be unique. We are all called to make disciples, teaching them to love God and love their neighbors. How a person fulfills that calling will line up with who God made them to be. They are made in the image of God and their lives have been resurrected by  Christ. Don’t make them conform into your way of leading, doing things, and implementing the essentials of gospel, community, and mission. The coaching mindset says: “They are uniquely fashioned by God and I’m excited to see what He has called them to do and be.”

Clarity in life [is] knowing who you are and what you are called to do. – Jane Creswell

Know Your Role

It is also important to know what you are called to do. Coaches are equipped and released to come alongside leaders and help them move forward. Even though they may have advanced experience, they are not mentoring, not consulting and not counseling. Coaches are servants fluent in the gospel.

Your role, as a a coach, is be committed to the vision of seeing gospel communities flourish on mission. You should have a working knowledge of resources and tools you can point leaders toward. However, they are not ‘experts.’ They are simply equipped and released to come alongside leaders and help. Even though they may have advanced experience, they are not mentoring, not consulting, and not counseling. Those are telling and problem solving roles. Coaching is a listening role that helps leaders solve problems.

As coaches, we need to remember that we are not merely here to solve problems; we are here to help leaders become more resourceful and more capable in their life long calling of making disciples.

Helpful Definition: Coaching is a focused Christ-centered relationship, that cultivates a person’s sustained growth and obedience. A coach is a person who facilitates actions that transport people from one place to another, from where they are to a new destination. – Linda Miller

The assumption and posture of a coach is dependency. We are dependent on the Holy Spirit. Our forefront goal is to make much of Jesus and be examples of Spirit dependence. If you are to speak, speak the truth of the gospel to leaders. Remind them of who Jesus is and what he has done. Remind them of who they are.

Remember Who Everyone Is

As you engage in helping others move toward their calling and role in making disciples, you cannot forget who you are and who the leader is. We are all heirs, having received every spiritual blessing in Christ and through Christ we have been adopted! This means you and the person you are coaching find satisfying approval in Christ. While this is a widely accepted theological truth, it is often shelved in ‘strategy’ or coaching sessions. We are welcomed into God’s presence and family by his mercy and grace. We are loved, accepted, forgiven, and belong. We sit in coaching sessions blessed.

We must also remember we are made alive and empowered by the Holy Spirit. We exist in this world as witnesses and advertisements to the world for what Jesus has done. We are marked and sealed as God’s ambassadors at work, in our homes, and in our communities of the kingdom of God. This is who we are–not an activity. We are missionaries because of the work of redemption Christ has already done in us!

You also sit down for coaching conversations as citizens of the Kingdom of God. The most basic confession of a Christian ought to ring true of every session: Jesus is Lord. Both the coach and the leader are servants of Jesus. The coach comes as a servant following Jesus’ agenda. They aren’t there to be right, know all the answers, and force their own control and aspirations of others. Coaches are citizens of the Kingdom. Likewise the leader comes as a servant to Jesus–not their coach.

Missional coaching can only thrive when both parties submit to Jesus as Lord. Jesus in charge of the world, the mission, and his church. Remember: you are not the king, Jesus is. You cannot be a good coach and simultaneously believe you ought to run the universe and other people’s lives.

Continue Learning about Coaching

This is one post in a series on coaching leaders. Continue reading or subscribe to the blog to be updated with each new installment.

Brad A. Watson serves as a pastor of Bread&Wine Communities in Portland, Oregon where he develops, coaches, and trains leaders to form communities that love God and serve the city. Brad is passionate about helping people live lives that reflect their belief and hope in Jesus. He lives in southeast Portland with his wife and their three kids.