Coaching is the crucial discipleship element of a missional movement that asks: What does obedience look like? What is required to obey? How can I help you? How will you obey?

I believe in coaching missional community leaders because it makes them better leaders. Not just today, but in the future. Coaching helps leaders, in their present circumstances, think through the discipleship environment and the shepherding of their community in the gospel and mission. Coaching helps leaders move forward today. The big fruit from coaching, however, comes from the process of coaching. Leaders grow from enthusiastic, yet fearful to gospel motivated and confident. Here are the four phases of the coaching relationship. Notice the shifts in the leaders and the coaching approach.†

Phase 1: Leaders Learn What is Important

In this phase, the leader really wants to lead and is super excited about doing it. They are motivated by the gospel and called to lead an MC. They just have no real idea how to do it. They’ve been trained, and they’ve seen someone do it.

The initial phase of a coaching relationship focused on leading a missional community is coach driven. The new leader has lots of enthusiasm and passion to see disciples made within a community centered around the gospel and on mission. They have been trained and they have participated in a missional community. They know the what and why, just haven’t learned the how. Imagine how someone starts a new job, or freshman in college, or athlete on a team. They are excited to be there but they really don’t know what to do.

Furthermore, they don’t even know what is important and what is a priority. They have high enthusiasm but low competency and confidence. A coach’s job here is to teach the leader how to filter through what is important and how to gauge their current season within the context of long-haul discipleship.

Coaching: Here’s some plans, which one would you like to do?

In this phase the leader is most served by directive coaching: clearly articulated direction or clear choices for next steps. The leader doesn’t know, so the coach gets to provide that for them. In this phase of MC leadership the coach meetings should be set by the coach: Let’s talk about communication, logistics, common mission, and gospel foundation. Also, the leader is hungry to be given training wheels: “Here’s a simple curriculum to follow to lay a foundation. So a coach might give them choices, discuss each and let the leader chose (but even the choice is more about them picking their preferred training wheels). However, in this, the leader is learning to think about their leadership and their skills.

Here’s a typical order of what we lead leaders to do in this phase: Start with a Primer (“Called Together” which has theology and practice woven together), and then move to time discussing missional commitment. Sometimes a group starts with the Story of God, then Called Together, then the MC commitment.

Phase 2: Learning to Process Well

This is the most difficult phase and when most begin to consider quitting. They still don’t know much about leadership and they aren’t motivated anymore. There’s difficulty, hardships, and overall pain from serving people. Again picture the new job, new school, new team dynamic. The honeymoon is over but you’re still new and the learning curve is still happening!

Leaders aren’t burned out, yet. They are learning they can’t change people. They have now experience this truth first hand. They now know that people, no matter how well loved, do not respond the way we want them to. Leaders need lots of support and lots of direction.

In phase one, the leader has high enthusiasm and low competence. In phase two the leader has low enthusiasm and low competence. They don’t know what they are doing and aren’t that excited about it anymore!

Coaching: Let’s make a plan together

This phase is marked by giving leaders freedom to create the next steps alongside their coach. They need to be pushed to realize they know more than they think! This is a crucial point in their leadership development where they might prefer to avoid their community. The However, the coaching process forces them to process and pray about it regularly. As they process with a coach, they get better at it. They grow in their ability to articulate their concerns, hopes, and ideas.

This is when we introduce the concept of Seasonal Focus. This is a singular spiritual and transformative goal for a group. It likely comes from their missional commitment or a discipline that can be engaged communally. The coaching questions are: What one thing would be good for your community to focus on? followed by “How will you focus on that, what types of learning, experiences, shared times, would be required. In this phase the coach is giving the leader the frame-work for a seasonal focus as well as giving input into the leader’s plan they are making.

Also, during this phase it is important for the coach to demonstrate prayer for the community. spending lots of time simply praying for the community together is HUGE! and I struggle to do that, but this is when we as the coaches have the crucial opportunity to show that God moves not our strategies. 

Phase 3: Leaders Learn to Listen To Themselves

This phase is where typical “Missional coaching” takes place. This is the time where leaders feel like they know what they are doing, how to care for people, and how they lead. More than anything they need someone who can help them process what they already know and get support. They need to know they aren’t alone! They need lots of support/encouragement but not lots of direction

Coaching: How can I help you make a plan?

This is phase is the longest lasting and just great. This is where leaders come ready to work on specific issues with the coach and expect the coach to help them come up with a next step instead of looking to the coach to give them the next step. However, these leaders might struggle with communal awareness. This is why resources like “Picture of Health” can come in handy. 

Phase 4: Leaders Learn to Influence Others 

This is when you’ve got an expert leader. They don’t need to give you reports or updates. They have learned how to process what is going on and how to follow the Spirit’s leading. They may call you occasionally to talk through specific situations and turn to you as the Pastor, but not so much as the coach. Coaching meetings begin to look like prayer and friendship times. The leaders are mostly looking for relationship and connection.

Coaching: How can I help you with your plan? How can I support you?

The coach is now asking how they can resource the plans already created by the leader. In this phase the coach wants to spend time hearing about what God is doing and teaching the leader. This is the moment you get to be the cheer leader. At this point the coaching meetings take on a deeply spiritual and focused connection to what God has done and is doing. You can look back and see how the leader has grown in confidence and their ability to listen to God and walk in faithfulness as leaders. They have walked through trails, conflicts, and victories. They now know how to process them and how to ask for help.

†This whole paradigm of shifting phases, leadership growth, and coaching support comes from Ken Blanchard’s “Situational Leadership Development“. I’m completely indebted to this philosophy. I’ve simply applied it to missional community leadership.

Continue Learning about Coaching

This is one post among many for learning how and why to coach missional leaders. Here are the other “core” pieces.

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.