Put Me In, Coach!

This past week, I had the joy of attending a coaching training sponsored by the Hope Partnership for Missional Transformation. This coaching academy prepares pastors and lay leaders of the church to coach pastors and church planters. The truth is, the role of the pastor in church transformation and church planting is a difficult one. Hope Partnership knows that, and equips and provides coaches to pastors of churches in transformation, and new church starts. The coaching relationship provides needed perspective which helps the transformation or new church stand a better chance of success.

In talking with people about this training, I have found that many folks have never heard of clergy coaching. As a result there is a good deal of confusion about what the relationship is supposed to look like, and the benefits of being coached. So, I thought I’d tell you my perspective and we can start a grass-roots campaign to understand the importance of being coached (both as a pastor, and really in all aspects of our lives.)

As you may expect, my greatest experience with coaching, and being coached, is in the area of athletics. I still remember many of the drills and workouts my swimming coach assigned to my teammates and I in high school. I remember the hours upon hours spent on rowing machines and on the water during my time on the Kansas State Crew. And I shudder to think at the hours I’ve spent running, swimming, and cycling under the direction of Coach Debi my triathlon coach from a few years ago. I have a lot of experience being coached, and the last several years I’ve had the pleasure of coaching a number of junior high and high school cross country athletes.

I have found, however, that there are some differences between the realm of athletic coaching and professional coaching. In both situations it is the participant; the athlete, the pastor, or the professional, who is responsible for doing the work. A coach cannot win a race, or a game, because they are standing on the sidelines. The coach’s job is to prepare the person being coached so that when they are “in the game” they are ready to succeed.

In sports, the coach has a plan to achieve a certain goal (winning) and it is the athlete’s responsibility to follow that plan. That is where the professional coach (or clergy coach) is different. The coach doesn’t need to be an expert. The coach doesn’t even supply the “workout.” Instead the coach prepares the pastor by asking good questions. “What will make the biggest difference here?” “Which of your core values does this goal express?” Professional coaching believes that each one of us has a great deal of potential, but we sometimes get in our own way of reaching that potential. The coach asks questions to help expand and clarify the possibilities.

Which reminds me of a story where Jesus expanded the possibilities by asking good questions. In Mark 12, some Pharisees and Sadducees approach Jesus with a problem. They say, “Teacher, we know you have integrity, that you are indifferent to public opinion, don’t pander to your students, and teach the way of God accurately. Tell us: Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” (Mark 12:14, The Message) They present Jesus with a dilemma with only two possible solutions, pay taxes, or don’t pay taxes.

But Jesus, knowing that it’s a trap, asks them to produce a coin for him to see. (The coins used for paying temple taxes were not supposed to have any person’s picture on them.) When they give him the coin, he asks a coaching question? “This engraving—who does it look like? And whose name is on it?” (Mark 12:16, The Message) He has just opened the door for another solution. The image on the coin is Caesars. So Jesus answers their question about paying taxes with one of the most famous scriptures of all time; “Give Caesar what is his, and give God what is his.” (Mark 12:17, The Message.)

The beauty of coaching is that it is not limited to pastors, or athletes, or even professionals. We can all benefit from having someone else who is willing to genuinely listen and ask us good questions. It may seem like a miracle, but God has already prepared each of us with the answers we need, just when we need them. Sometimes, we just can’t get out of our own way to see them. That’s when good coaching helps


Do not judge, and you will not be judged;
do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.
Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you.
A good measure, pressed down,
shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap;
for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.
Luke 6:37-38 (NRSV)

Recently I’ve been helping the Marshfield Community Theatre with some of the set pieces for the upcoming production of Beauty and the Beast. (On a side note, you should go and see the musical, because it’s a great story, because it supports local theater, and because Sean Deakyne is playing Lumiere!) All that construction has gotten me thinking about the importance of measurements.

For example, I was using a tool to mark some boards. I wanted to cut them at four inches and noticed that one side of the square was directly at that mark. I marked the boards, made my cuts, and did all the assembly. When I brought out the measuring tape, the piece was one half inch taller than I anticipated. What went wrong?

Well, when I looked back at the square I was using to make the marks, there is an extra half inch between the edge of the tool and the one inch mark. Zero isn’t marked. I just assumed it would be the edge of the tool. I was wrong. Careful measuring is important.

Measuring is important in the church, too. We want to be a growing and vital community of faith. To determine if we are, we have to measure something. To know if our plans result in the desired outcome, we have to find a way to measure that outcome. But, that isn’t always easy, especially in the church.

There are some things in church which are fairly easy to quantify and measure. How many people are attending worship? We can measure that. How does the offering compare to last year? We can measure that.

But areas of spiritual and personal growth are harder to measure. How have I grown as a Christian, husband, father, etc. in the past year? Well, that is a little harder to pinpoint. And, if that weren’t hard enough, there is the added challenge of figuring out how much of that growth is a result of my experience in church and how much happened as a result of other experiences.

Measuring personal and spiritual growth is a subjective art. Furthermore, it requires a qualitative measurement as opposed to a quantitative one. “Regular” church attendance does not directly correlate to spiritual growth. It may be a contributing factor, but it isn’t the only factor. (It may not even be the most important factor…)

In all this thinking about measuring, I remembered this little passage from Luke 6, where Jesus is talking with the disciples about judgement and measurement. Jesus says “do not judge.” But he does not say, “do not measure.” Actually, he says “the measure you give is the measure you will get back.” We should be measuring our growth, especially our spiritual growth, both as individuals and as a church. As we do so, we should be generous and gracious with our measurements.