This is our sixth and final installment of a series exploring coaching and the ways coaching can make a positive difference on ministries at the local church level. Today, we’ll look at three specific aspects of congregational life: conflict, preaching and small groups.
I have yet to see a church that did not have conflict among members. There is nothing wrong with conflict, it just so happens that many churches engage in unhealthy conflict: arguments that linger, attacks that are personal, and divisions that block decisions and progress from being made.
Coaching is not a cure-all for unhealthy conflict, but I have seen it make a positive difference in how churches engage in conflict by equipping leaders and members with new skills and attitudes that are more effective. In short, a coaching attitude helps us shift out of a debate mentality (where healthy conflict is almost impossible) and into a dialogue mentality (where healthy conflict is much more likely).
Coaching helps us make this shift be affording us the skills to be clear and to prompt others to be clear. And the first place to be clear is in our thinking. When I coach groups who are in conflict, I start by helping them get clear what their mental framework is. I share the core beliefs that lead to debate:
- I am right and those who disagree with me are wrong.
- I see things as they are, and those who disagree see things erroneously
- I have to state and defend what I think, and not budge an inch; any openness to what others think is weakness or lack of loyalty on my part.
Honestly this is the default setting for many, many people, whether we are talking about the church or the marketplace or even the family setting. It is so hard-wired that we can find it difficult to consider an alternative. But there is an alternative. A dialogue mindset chooses to believe things such as:
- People may disagree with me and still have pure motives
- If there is a problem, I may be contributing to the problem
- Each of us sees things others don’t see
When church leaders and members are trained in coaching, they naturally open up to the possibility of a dialogue approach. This happens because coaches are trained to engage in conversation without trying to control the conversation. Also, coaches know that telling is not the only or the most productive thing to do in a conversation. Coaches are practiced in the art of productive conversation.
If ever there is a time to tell, it seems that preaching would be that time. And since coaching is less about telling and more about asking and discovering, one might conclude that there is very little room for coaching from the pulpit. However, I have found that coaching can impact the way we preach in at least four ways.
1. Coaching can remind the preacher to seek a balance between telling and asking. If all one did from the pulpit was to ask questions, few would consider it to be good preaching, but dialing down the telling and turning up the asking can add vitality and power to sermons. One of the most life-changing sermons I ever heard ended with the question, “What tough decision are you putting off that’s standing between where you are and where God wants you to be?” I don’t even recall what the sermon was about, but that question (and my response) shifted the course of my ministry and family for years.
2. Coaching can help preachers become clearer in their overall communication. Too many preachers muddle along and provide far more quantity than quality when it comes to words. One of the core coaching competencies outlined by the International Coach Federation is Direct Communication, which they describe as the ability to communicate effectively for the greatest impact on the client, to use language of the client, to draw on the language of the client in creating metaphors and analogies. Preachers trained in coaching will know their congregation and use language that fits with them. Hearers should not need to translate the preacher’s lofty or limited vocabulary in order to learn and be transformed.
3. Coaching can reinforce the preacher’s attention on creating awareness among hearers. Delivering truth is not the same thing as creating awareness. Learning only happens when the hearer expands what they know to include something new, and what is often lacking in sermons is time to reflect on what has been said, time to chew on it and ponder what it means for one’s life, and time to formulate a more meaningful awareness. Preachers who are skilled in coaching and take a coaching attitude into the pulpit will sprinkle in plenty of intentional pauses that prod people to reflect and reach new awareness based on what’s been said.
4. Coaching can expand the preacher’s ability to motivate hearers to action. All good preaching has a “So what?” factor. And rather than tell people exactly what to do (one size fits all hearers), preachers familiar with coaching will use questions and silence to provoke actions that are tailored to each person.
One of the most fruitful expressions of coaching within the local church over the past decade involves training small group leaders to use coaching in their leadership of the group. Whether the group focuses on study, community, missions, or even recreation, a small group leader skilled in coaching can have productive conversations with group members – conversations that lead to new awareness and new action.
In groups that involve Bible study or the study of a book aimed at faith formation, coaches can move the conversation beyond learning and discussion and toward behavior, ensuring participants have clear take-away learning that will be expressed in action. These small group coaches are action negotiators. They are also splendid listeners who tie together the study experience, varying life experiences, and the challenge to live like Christ to garner tangible commitments and shifts in behavior from small group members.
As you can see, coaching can have a dramatic impact on the church in a number of areas. This is true, and it would be inaccurate to overstate the power of coaching, per se. Coaching, in and of itself is not powerful. God is powerful and God chooses to convey power through many channels, including people who coach. Men and women who skillfully practice coaching under the guidance of God’s Spirit can be used to bring about wonderful fruit within the church. The list and descriptions above are only glimpses of a few of the ways God is using coaching and coaches in the local church. As you learn about coaching and begin to practice coaching in your local church, my hope is that you will add to this list and will bring rich blessings to your local church.