One on One with Dino Senesi on Sending Well: A Field Guide to Great Church Planter Coaching
Ed Stetzer: Share a little about your experience with church planting and church planter coaching.
Dino Senesi: My journey with church planting began in New Orleans in the late 1980s. The church I pastored at the time was in a more urban location and God gave us the opportunity to address the diversity through church planting. We walked beside ten new churches. I was not a church planting expert and do not consider myself one today, but we saw church planting as a way to aggressively reach people with the gospel.
So I began the church planting journey as a supporter, encourager, mentor, and friend to planters. That has remained my primary role over the past 30+ years through various ministry platforms. I have personally been a part of new churches and led a one-year-old church plant for a season—but that is the extent of my hands-on experience beyond support roles.
Coaching was a natural transition for me in 2002 because of my background. Bob Logan was my first coach. I have been engaged in being coached and coaching leaders since then.
Ed: In a couple sentences, how would you define a church planter coach?
Dino: Planters have multiple valuable voices speaking into their lives. Church planter coaches provide a walk-beside relationship to planters, giving a unique voice of listening, caring, and encouraging. A coach provides an intentional, supportive relationship that gives a planter space to reflect, process, hear God, and be accountable to take action. Coaching helps planters pursue their unique kingdom assignment.
Ed: People hear many things when they hear the word “coach.” They hear mentor, leader, boss, etc. What is a church planter coach not?
Dino: I prefer to explain how coaching is ‘different’ only to communicate that coaching is not better or smarter than other ministry tools. Here is how we explain the difference between coaching and other important ministry tools:
Counselors focus on how to solve a current personal crisis. Like emergency room doctors, they provide relief and healing. Advisors draw from knowledge, training, and experience to present a new path. Like auto mechanics, they provide reliable maintenance and repair. Teachers explain truth and provide solutions to life’s challenges. Like librarians, they are a path to valuable and life-changing information.
Mentors impart from their reservoir of personal experiences, successes, and failures. Like personal trainers, they provide an example to imitate. Coaches provide a platform to help someone get from one place to another. Like taxi drivers, they help us get where we need to go.
Our vision is for every church planter in North America to have a great coach. But to get there we first must address the question, “What do we want coaches to be great at doing?” God has given us a specific ‘lane’ from which to work. When we as coaches stay in our lane, the growth environment around a planter is more fruitful.
Ed: Why is it important for every church planter to have a coach?
Dino: Every planter needs a coach because every planter needs a lot of help. Often, planters depend on “all in one” or “Swiss army knife” relationships. In some instances, that is the best they can do. But a great coach offers consistency that other relationships can’t.
Coaching is a focused, intentional relationship that other successful planters, sending church pastors, and church planting leaders seldom have the time to offer. When a planter has a great coach, it gives other important people in the planter’s life confidence that accountability, reflection, and planning is happening. Then, they can bring their best from other areas to help the planter as well.
Ed: What are the two or three false assumptions that you see in the minds of new church planters?
Dino: First, that the only voices needed in their lives are successful church planters. My friend Neal McGlohon, founder of the Cypress Project, says, “Planters are always looking for someone two or three rungs up the ladder ahead of them.” Those voices are critical, but are not the only voices needed. What God is calling a planter to do is unique, as were the callings of the planters before them. Relying on multiple successful planters alone can have the potential to cause more confusion than help.
Second, that they don’t have time to be coached. The multiple time demands on a planter are excruciating. Yet a great coach will help a planter reflect, set priorities, and take action. I tell planters they don’t have time not to be coached. A great coaching relationship will yield an incredibly high ROI (return on investment).
Finally, that they already have a coach. Planters may already have a coach, so local leaders must help the planter vet those who they consider their coaches. Usually, planters mean they have voices in their lives that are valuable and supportive. A great coach has a unique abiding role.
The baseline test revolves around three questions. First, how many times do you meet with your coach? The more times you meet the more valuable the coaching. Second, how often do you meet with your coach? The rhythm of your meetings are critical. I prefer twice a month but we recommend a minimum of once a month. Last, how much do you talk? You should be reflecting, planning, and evaluating 80% of the time during your meetings.
Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.