Coaching & Ministry Teams
When I stumbled upon coaching as a church planter, the very first place I began to take a coach approach was in my work with teams (we did not have committees).
One team I coached was our hospitality team. They were responsible for greeting guests, helping them feel welcome, connecting with them and such. I asked them how well, on a scale of one to ten, they thought they were doing. Answer: about a six. I asked, “What would it take for you to be at an eight?” For the next twenty minutes they brainstormed and problem-solved; tossing out and throwing away lots of ideas before settling on three key actions that fit our church perfectly: provide home-baked food and great coffee each week; greet each person who entered, whether they were first-time guests or not; strive to get into conversations with new people rather than stay in the safety zone of talking to people they already knew.
What a great to-do list!
That might sound easy, but coaching our teams involved major and oftentimes awkward shifts for me. As the Lead Pastor of an infant church, I was used to being the answer man; teaching, training and motivating the team to carry out an assignment – typically with limited results.
As I experimented with coaching teams I realized how important it was that I trust the team members and truly believe that they had valuable and workable ideas. It took me a while to figure out a simple truth: if the team members were not capable of being coached, then I had the wrong people on the team.
Another shift I had to make involved my willingness to allow others to have good ideas. I sometimes hear pastors and other leaders say that delegation means you have to be willing to live with solutions that are not as good as what you would have offered. Maybe this is so. But to coach our teams, I had to go further and believe that differing ideas are seldom about better or worse. For most issues, there are many good options and solutions that are equally valuable, and coaching works because it brings out the ideas from the people who will actually be carrying out the ideas – so there is ownership, which promotes an “okay” idea to a “great” idea.
When it comes to coaching teams, here are some points to remember.
- A group is not the same as a team. Teams function as a unit or a whole, whereas a group is a collection of persons with similar interests or responsibilities.
- Teams create awareness and own actions at the team level, and each action needs a name assigned to it in order to ensure follow through.
- Groups such as committees or councils usually create awareness at the group level and commit to actions at the personal level. Also, many groups function to make decisions, not take actions.
Coaching & Board Meetings
Coaching can also have a positive impact on board meetings. In some churches, these would be referred to as elder meetings, council meetings, or something similar. Whatever the name, the function is to provide high-level oversight and direction for the church.
Many board meetings follow a rule of order or process (such as Robert’s Rule of Order) and are constitutionally bound to such a process. This might cause one to think there is very little room for coaching. Not true. While coaching cannot replace a pre-determined order or process, a coach approach by the leader and/or board members can have a profound and positive impact on how the process unfolds.
When a church takes a coach approach to board meetings, the quality of listening increases among the board members and therefore the quality of discussion improves, resulting in better decisions.
One of the most powerful ways I have seen coaching make a difference in board meetings has to do with distinguishing interests from solutions. Coaches are savvy at knowing the difference and at helping clients distinguishing interests (what the client wants) from solutions (how the client might go about getting their interest met). All too often, board meetings are a battle of proposed solutions when the underlying interests are not at all clear.
I once facilitated a church elder meeting where the discussion (shall we say argument?) revolved around what style of worship the church would conduct at the 11:00 hour. One camp wanted to stay with the traditional hymns while another wanted to go contemporary – not an uncommon discussion among churches in the past decades. As the coach, I posed many questions aimed at exploring why each camp wanted what they wanted. One of my tactics was to push each side to complete the sentence “I think we should do ______ because ______ is important to me.” While their solutions were incompatible (traditional versus contemporary), their interests were not. One side was most interested in honoring the long-time worship pastor (a classically trained and very gifted conductor who was nearing retirement) while the other was most interested in attracting young people to the church. The board meeting turned when the board members let go of either/or thinking and began to ask how both interests could be met. Both/And thinking is at the heart of great coaching. They decided that the 11:00 worship could continue to meet the first interest and that an early service could be added to meet the second interest. They also decided to do all they could to honor their current worship pastor as long as he remained at the church and that upon his retirement they would openly and honestly explore altering the style of worship at the 11:00 service.
Not all board meetings turn out so well. I have also coached boards who, when their true interests were revealed, were found to care less about Christ and the gospel and more about their own petty preferences and grievances. Yet, the coach approach to these meetings is what finally allowed these deep and unsavory interests to be expressed and dealt with.
As you can see, coaching provides an effective approach for dealing with teams and board meetings. It’s certainly not a silver bullet for all of the dysfunctional ills that afflict church teams and boards, but I’ve found it to make a positive difference.
Next week we shift our attention to leading and managing, exploring how these important ministry functions can be enhanced through a coach approach.