Updated: Jun 16, 2022
When I say the word “coach,” what is the first image that comes to mind? Many of us think of sports, music or education. We remember individuals who poured their time, love and wisdom into us. They were always there for us and encouraged us to push past our limits.
When I think of a coach, I immediately think of Little League Baseball. As a childhood player, my good coaches would instill skills, confidence and a greater appreciation for the game. Now, as a youth baseball umpire, I still have the opportunity to watch coaches—good and not-so-good.
As a regional pastor and pastoral coach, I have also been able to observe the attitudes toward coaching in ministry. There is a difference in personal and ministry vitality between pastors who are open to coaching and those who resist it. With rising stress, increased isolation brought on by the pandemic and leaner staffs, longer work weeks (averaging over 51 hours/week), and many days of unused vacation time, pastors are experiencing burnout and ministry implosions at alarmingly increasing rates.
What can be done to turn the tide of pastoral fatigue, burnout, and resignation? What
examples do we have from scripture?
It begins with the power of words spoken to one another. Proverbs 18:21 says, “Life and death are in the power of the tongue.” For a coach, those words often come in the form of thought-provoking, life-affirming, mission-centered questions. The right questions can lead to fresh insights and critical breakthroughs. The right questions can affirm what is true in the face of adversity. The right questions can clarify the “right action, right now.”
Is coaching even biblical?
While the word “coach” does not appear in the Bible, neither does the word “Trinity.” And yet, as we see evidence of the Trinity in God’s Word, we also see elements of coaching throughout the Bible:
Right after the fall of man into sin, God seeks Adam and Eve in the garden and calls out, “Where are you?” (Gen 3:19). Later, similarly, God says to Cain, “Why are you angry? . . . Where is your brother Abel?” (Gen 4:6 & 9). God certainly knew the answers to these questions, but in keeping with what we may call good coaching, God asks these questions for the hearer’s benefit rather than to make a point. These questions were to raise awareness in Adam, Eve and Cain. We could even say that these questions allowed the Law to work in their hearts so that the gospel could be cherished.
Later in the Bible, we encounter Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, confronting his son-in-law with the coaching question, “What is this you are doing for the people?” Next, he posed the follow-up question, “Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?” (Ex 18:14). Jethro brought fresh awareness to Moses, not by telling him what was happening but by opening his eyes through questions.
We see elements of coaching in “pastoral” or prophetic exchanges when Nathan confronts King David and his sin in 2 Samuel 12. Here we witness powerful coaching that leads David to confession and the gospel (“You are not going to die.” 2 Sam 12:13). In over 20 years of vocational ministry, there have been many moments I would have dearly welcomed a ministry coach proclaiming the Law and gospel over me! How about you?
Finally, Jesus often used questions as a rhetorical device to teach and engage His followers. We see this in Luke 10 when the expert in the Law asked Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responds, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” Earlier in Luke 9, we see Jesus asking his disciples, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” Then moments later, he asks, “What about you? Who do you say I am?” These are powerful questions that lead to fresh insights and enduring transformations.
What is the common thread in the above biblical examples? Each situation was marked by someone coming alongside another through the helping skill of coaching. To come alongside is where we get the word “paraclete,” which is also used in reference to the Holy Spirit (John 14:16, 26, John 15:26, 16:7). Ultimately, good Christian coaching points to God’s Word and the Holy Spirit as the source of truth, wisdom, and grace.
It is fitting then to use the expression of “coming alongside” to describe the work of a coach. The coach is to be an advocate, a helper, and supporter of another. The coach is called to the side of a client for the purpose of helping.
How about you? Do you currently have someone "coming alongside" you, pointing you back to God's Word when you have a hard time seeing through life's chaos? How would your life and ministry benefit from the help of a coach? Because the demands on pastors today are so great, Full Strength Network has generously offered several grants to provide private coaching to licensed pastors and chaplains.
In part two of this post, I'll dive into some of the biggest challenges pastors face in balancing ministry and personal life. I will also share how you could partner with me to receive private coaching grants. You can check out the previous blog by Tania Hilton on Great Leaders Ask Great Questions. The Unite Leadership Collective is dedicated to supporting those in ministry, whether through culture, systems, and structure or to care for the hearts of ministry leaders. Join us next week for part two!