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Put Me In, Coach!

Coach…a term I always associated with sports—a term I connected with words like boss, chief, advisor, manager, commander, and trainer. Coach…the one who made you run suicides!

I never associated the word coach with ministry until I became involved with KINDLE (Karpenko Institute for Nurturing and Developing Leadership Excellence). The KINDLE experience provided a circle coach for two years to help my small group develop personal and professional goals and create action steps to head in the right direction. After two years of being in the program, I was asked to be a coach for others, and so for the next two years, I helped a group of peers in the same way.

Coaching is a hot term right now. There are life coaches, financial coaches, marriage coaches, and many more in specialized fields. Definitions of coach may vary with each individual too. Let me share my view of coaching and the value it has in ministry.

Coaching always steers towards self-discovery and an end result of improvement.Coaching is not giving advice. As a coach, I am not an expert on anything, I just have developed a process of asking good questions. Coaching always steers towards self-discovery and an end result of improvement. Sharing past experiences is acceptable, but if someone is looking for advice, they might have come to the wrong person. When interacting with volunteers or ministry teams, I have found coaching to be useful rather than giving my own direction or advice. For example, last year a group of Sunday school teachers approached me and wanted to see some changes in Sunday school. They were willing to do the work too! Through questioning and evaluating where they wanted to see change, they identified the direction they want to take, and a plan became very clear. Because they came up with the plan and not me, there was much more buy-in and ownership towards all the work that had to be done. I actually had to step back and allow these great volunteers an opportunity to work alongside me in God’s kingdom.

Answering a question with another question can help identify the real issue that is sometimes masked or hidden.Coaching is not having all the answers. A good coach will answer a question with another question. As a teacher or youth leader, others might expect you to have all the answers—or at least to present an aura of knowledge. Through the coaching process, rather than providing the answer, one draws out an answer or direction from the one being coached. One example: In a heated meeting I was asked if I thought calling parents of youth would increase attendance. Having no answer that would satisfy this inquisitor, I simply asked the question back to him. “What benefit would calling parents of kids who haven’t been around have for ministry?” Through asking a question and hearing his answer, I realized the issue wasn’t really calling parents to increase attendance. The underlying issue he had was in communication. Answering a question with another question can help identify the real issue that is sometimes masked or hidden.

Coaching is active listening. Coaching, counseling, and consulting all have a similarity in active listening. Stephen R. Covey said, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” I have to remind myself of this a lot, especially when I’m in a coaching situation. So often I will hear something in the conversation that I want to know more about or that might lead to an action step. It’s hard to continue listening without formulating the next question in your head. Awkward pauses can be your friend! Wait for the person to stop explaining and then go back to the next conversation piece or the next question. If you can get over the general fear of awkward pauses, you will become a better active listener. In one coaching session I led, I had a talker. In order for me to get a question in I had to keep interrupting and asking if they could clarify. I wasn’t really listening but coming up with the next question. I asked, “What has been helpful in the process?” Their last sentence before I asked that question was “I have found talking to my spouse to be most helpful in this process.” They looked at me kind of dumbfounded, and I had to apologize as they had already answered that exact question! Be a good listener!

Coaching means encouragement.

I am not a strong encourager. It does not come naturally to me, and I cannot stand encouragement that is not authentic. I never want to be one who says “Great job!” and not mean it. Many of my growth plans have been centered on encouraging others…authentically. What does that even mean?

The best encouragers I have known usually have the following characteristics:

Coaching is and is not a lot of things, but don’t get caught up in a definition. Rather, use the principles of coaching to improve your ministry or classroom. It is a process that presents teachable moments. It is a process this generation finds valuable. It is a process promoting servant leadership. So, put me in coach! Get ready to play!

Aaron Grube is a DCE at Zion in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where he lives with his wife, Andie, and daughter, Eliza. He has been in ministry for 11 years and wishes he had known about coaching since year one.

Photos © iStock/Ondine32, iStock/Katarzyna Bialasiewicz, AsISeeIt