My first understanding of a coach brought to mind a swim workout on the whiteboard of a pool deck: 200 free, 200 kick, 200 pull, 10 x 100s free on 1:30, 5 x 200s IM on 3:30. This was the athletic language I spoke as a young swimmer and learned to speak fluently as a swim coach in my early twenties. But a decade later in 2013, through a leadership initiative with ECO, I was introduced to coaching in the context of ministry. This form of coaching has helped me make a few language adjustments and see the incredible value of the coaching relationship. And along the way, I found my sweet spot in ministry.
Far beyond the amplified voice shouting the next workout or coming up with the play to win the game, coaching is a conversation, a dialogue. And more than a position or title, coaching is a process. While there are blurred lines between many of the helping professions, and coaches often need to wear multiple hats, I have found it helpful to build a paradigm for coaching by first understanding what it is not. Here’s a brief comparison between coaching and other helping professions:
Consulting: Individuals or organizations rely on consultants for their expertise. Consultants are specialists in a particular field and their role is to diagnose problems, give advice and implement solutions. With coaching, the assumption is that individuals or teams are the experts and they are capable of generating their own solutions. The coach’s role is to supply supportive, discovery-based approaches and frameworks.
Counseling: Looking backwards into the past, counseling (or therapy) deals with healing pain, dysfunction and conflict in an individual. Peering over the horizon into the future, the primary focus of coaching is to create actionable strategies for achieving specific goals in one's work or personal life. The emphases in a coaching relationship are on action, accountability, and follow through that takes the coachee into the future.
Mentoring: Mentoring is when a senior colleague, seen as more knowledgeable and worldly wise, gives advice and provides a role model. It involves wide ranging discussions that may not be limited to the work context. With great professional experience in a particular field of work, mentoring often takes the shape of advising or counseling. Comparatively, the coaching process does not necessarily include advising or counseling. Coaches work with individuals or groups who desire to set and reach their own objectives.
Training: Assuming a linear learning path that coincides with an established curriculum, training is the process of getting knowledge, skills or abilities through study, experience or teaching. But coaching, particularly from a Christian perspective, is open to the movement of the Spirit taking the agenda and being attentive to where the coachee desires to go. It is rarely linear, more of an art than a science, and the expertise lies in the person being coached rather than the coach.
I have experienced all of the above helping professions in one form or another, both on the giving and receiving ends. They have been effective in certain seasons of life. But in recent years, I’ve discovered my sweet spot as a player-coach. Let me return to my swimming experience as an illustration. As a swim coach, I discovered that my swimmers were much more likely to complete a difficult workout and put in the hours to become a better swimmer if I got in the water with them. Once I put on my swimsuit and strapped on a pair of goggles and a swim cap, they saw that I was “in the game” with them.
As a player-coach, I have discovered a deep desire to remain “in the game” by living out my gifting in the world and the church while moving into a season of life where I spend more time coaching and equipping others. This takes shape in a few different ways.
It’s a joy to participate on the team of ECO discipleship coaches who will coach pastors and leaders all over the country in the 2016 discipleship pilot program. Additionally, my husband and I recently moved into an ethnically diverse, under-resourced neighborhood in southeast Colorado Springs. In this unique and challenging context, we are launching a Thresholds leadership cohort in January 2016 dedicated to coaching leaders in creating and leading missional communities embedded in local neighborhoods. As a next step and deeper dive into the neighborhood, we envision a future residential apprenticeship that will equip people to flourish in their gifting for the church and for God’s mission in the world.
Coaching has been a game-changer for me. I’m convinced that if we pursue the creation of a coaching culture throughout ECO, i.e. employing coaching broadly and deeply with pastors, leaders, elders, and congregants, we will see our mission realized, to “build flourishing churches that make disciples of Jesus Christ.”