Is coaching a Christian leader a biblical concept or simply an American construct? Well, it all depends on how one understands coaching. Certainly the word “coach” is not in the Bible…unless we translate I Cor. 4:15, “Even though you have ten thousand guardians (NIV) or instructors (KJV) in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel” (which means tutor, guard, train, teach in order to guide or oversee the development of a younger person). What the apostle Paul is saying is that though you may have had thousands of coaches shaping you, you do not have many father type mentors in the gospel and that is what he was to them, a gospel mentor.
What is the difference between a “gospel coach” and a “gospel mentor”? Someone explained it like this: a mentor pours in and a coach draws out. But that really is a narrow idea and limits the role of a mentor, and especially the coach. Coaching is far more than drawing out of someone, as I will explain later.
Robert Clinton and Paul Stanley defined mentoring in general as, “Mentoring is a relational process in which a mentor, who knows or has experienced something, transfers that something (resources of wisdom, information, experience, confidence, insight, relationships, status, etc. to a mentoree, at an appropriate time and manner, so that it facilitates development or empowerment” (Paul Stanley & Robert Clinton, Connecting).
I explain Gospel Mentoring this way: “Gospel Mentoring is a series of guided conversations between Mentor and maturing Mentoree/protege with engaging discussions centered in the gospel, aiming to flourish the relational, personal, missional, and spiritual life of the Mentoree.”
Now that we’ve defined Gospel Mentoring, let’s define Gospel Coach.
When trying to best describe the role of a Gospel Coach, I think the most basic question is “How do people change?” No matter how you might define coaching, at least we agree that coaching is about helping someone get from one place to another — i.e. Change.
My friend and colleague at CMM, David Whitehead, wrote a “Coaching Booklet” to assist potential partners in understanding how coaching fits into their system. He writes, “The word ‘coach’ first appeared in the 16th century and referred to horse-drawn carriages manufactured in the Hungarian town of Kocs. The term eventually became synonymous with all horse-drawn carriages in the same way that to ‘google’ now means to search for things on the internet. In the early 1800s, Oxford University used the word ‘coach’ to describe tutors who ‘carried’ students through an exam. By the 1860s, the word expanded to coaches who ‘carried’ athletes forward. The basic concept is moving someone from one place to another.”
During one of my Gospel Coaching calls with a pastor named Richard, he raised an issue that was bothering him. He was working with what we had termed his “Antioch Team”, a small group of people who volunteered to help renew the church. After several months of meeting he could not seem to get anyone interested in inviting others to the church — no one wanted to move into a bringing or gathering mode. He was getting frustrated and admitted feeling a bit angry with one or two in particular. Now, a Life Coach or Leadership Coach might listen and ask enough questions to help Richard set some goals to help change the team. Or he might set up personal goals and strategies for himself.
In contrast, Gospel Coaching does not begin with the “problem out there” (i.e. this unmotivated, unengaged team), but with his own heart. Change has to happen in his heart first. As we explored Richard’s heart, he realized that he was working to change them so he would not look bad as a leader. He admitted that he sometimes appealed to their pride about how impressive it would be to see how successful this team was at bringing in new people. And he also realized how angry he would get sometimes and confessed his dreams about just firing them all. Richard needed the gospel “preached” to him.
Change occurred when Richard first confessed to the team of his own lack of inviting others and that he wanted to change. He reminded them of their position in Christ and them having become a people for loving others. He told the team how they could now move toward others, out of love for God and gratitude because God came for us. He encouraged them to know their calling and that would be God’s enabling. They were freed now to set clear, concise, gracious key objectives and set smarter strategies in order to follow the One who had reached out for them.
Can you see the difference between Gospel Coaching and other types of coaching?
Gospel Coaching is a one on one relationship with the purpose of imparting encouragement, skills, knowledge, or other resources to the coachee in order for him/her to succeed in their leadership role in a church (elder, deacon, small group leader, youth leader, women’s leader), a para-church ministry, a non-profit or a for-profit organization, all in the context of a gospel friendship. Gospel Coaching is an intentional gospel conversation with focused discussions about the leader’s relational, personal, missional and spiritual life.
At CMM, we are an experienced cadre of trained and certified Gospel Coaches, men and women, who are able to coach Christian leaders in the private sector and Impact sector (also called the not for profit sector) so they succeed in the best possible way. We are Coaching leaders to multiply the gospel in their spheres of influence all over the world (Col. 1:6).
by David Whitehead, Coaching Catalyst with City to City in New York
The life of a Christian leader is filled with contrasts. Being a loving shepherd while dynamically leading a congregation forward creates clashes in values that are difficult to navigate. That’s why Gospel-centered Coaching is key to the thriving of both a leader and their church.
For example, instead of just coaching someone on strategies for breaking the next numerical growth barrier (200, 400, 800, etc.), Gospel Coaching intentionally explores the leader’s motivations for reaching that number. Growing as a church is good. But instead of limiting our conversation to how to grow the church, gospel-centered coaching requires asking questions about why the church planter or ministry leader wants to grow the church. How does he think breaking the next growth barrier will change his life? What is he looking for in church growth? Due to the pressures that all church planters and ministry leaders face, what starts as a sincere desire to reach viability can easily turn into an inner quest to justify their value as a person or pastor.
As many leaders who have experienced church growth can tell you, an expanding congregation also expands the issues that need to be addressed and the costs to maintain that expansion. To have a coach who is not focused solely on growth is invaluable for helping the leader keep a gospel perspective as he faces these daily (if not hourly) pressures. A trained Gospel Coach can help the leader manage church growth without forfeiting his personal spiritual vitality.
The gospel is a great gift for leadership: we are more sinful than we want to acknowledge, yet more loved by God than we could dream. The ramifications of this truth are huge for a leader. For most of us, the mistakes we make are in obscurity, but many of the mistakes that leaders make are public for others to see. One of the great opportunities that the gospel gives leaders is admitting their weaknesses while maintaining a sense of worth. The gospel tells us that failure is not the final word––therefore, leaders can look at their mistakes with honesty while believing that Jesus will guide them into the future.
As the reader knows, this is easier said than done. The pressures to hide from or justify mistakes are great. A coach who understands the gospel can help this process of growth by exploring where the planter finds rest in Jesus. How does the planter measure his self-worth? Without the gospel, he may look to the church plant for identity, which can cause great pain and even hinder the progress of the church when things go wrong.
The gospel tells us that we are loved by God before we ever start a church plant. Therefore, God will save us from getting our self-worth from failure or success (both are different expressions of the same idol). A gospel-centered coach can be pivotal in keeping a church planter or ministry leader anchored in the gospel instead of basing his or her identity and value on the number of people who are coming (or not coming) to their events.
Remember: You don’t have to be alone in ministry.
At CMM, we believe every pastor, church planter, ministry leader, and missionary is created to thrive in ministry. We suggest getting a Gospel Coach to help walk with you through the challenges you’ve never faced before. A Gospel Coach will help encourage and equip you every step along the way.
Dr. Tom Wood
I've been in the Church Planting business my entire career. I want you to know, you don't have to plant a church alone!