"Coach." The word conjures up many images these days. Not long ago it simply referred to the person calling the shots on a sports team. But in the last decade or so this has changed. Life coaches, corporate coaches, leadership coaches, relationship coaches, career coaches, etc., are now familiar vocations in society. Most people today either know a coach or know someone who is receiving coaching.
However, as widespread as coaching has become, there is still a lot of mystery surrounding it. This might be especially true in the church world. I was a lead pastor in Cleveland, Ohio when a congregant told me she was considering a career in coaching. While I supported her decision, at the time I did not see how coaching would become such a relevant and valuable resource in the church.
This changed dramatically for me a few years ago when I myself became a professional leadership coach. As I began training for my new vocation, my eyes opened to the power of coaching and its nuanced skills in understanding and helping people. These were skills I wished I had grasped earlier in my ministry. My desire was always to help people experience, in the words of Jesus, "life to the full," (John 10) but I lacked the tools to successfully lead them to that place. My training, and now experience, in coaching revealed certain needs that people in the church haven't necessarily communicated but need from their leaders.
Listen to Me
"It is a rare thing to be listened to."
This is the opening line of a coaching textbook I use. When I first read this, it seemed simple enough. I did not realize at the time the profundity of the statement.
Pastors, elders and leaders may try to be immune from cultural influence but the truth is, they are not. One big influence today is the lack of listening skills.
Think about it: when was the last time someone truly listened to you? With actual eye contact, without a cell phone ringing, and without one-upping you with a story of their own?
When someone takes the time to listen without words, they communicate volumes: respect, patience, and love, to name a few. "Coach" is synonymous with "listener." Coaches learn how to listen on multiple levels. Level 1 listens primarily to the voice in our own head. Level 2 listens to and for the other person. Level 3 listens to what is not being said, including what the Holy Spirit is speaking.
Ironically, we live in the most plugged in, and yet detached, culture of all time. We have never been more connected or more disconnected than we are now. These distractions keep us in a perpetual state of pseudo-listening that chisels away at the foundation of authentic relationship. This is the church's chance to shine. It might be hard for the church to compete with the technological advances in society, but we can do what no gadget can do...listen, and listen deeply.
Ask Me, Don't Tell Me
I used to believe my job as pastor and leader was to transfer information I had acquired through education and/or experience to those who needed it. And, obviously, there are right times to to provide answers and to wear the mentor hat. People need good teaching, and Scripture is certainly clear that one of the roles of a pastor, elder and even discipler is teacher. But I felt very one-dimensional in how I related to people and their struggles.Being the "answer man" fell short of providing what people needed.
When I discovered coaching, I found a new way of looking at my role in the church. A coach sees the person being coached as already having the answers inside of them. One of my favorite phrases is, "most of us need to be reminded more than instructed." No longer did I need to be the answer man. In fact, I shifted my focus from providing better answers to asking better questions.