The concept of professional coaching isn’t new. Many leaders across industries have long benefitted from some sort of mentor-mentee relationship as they take on new roles and challenges. But for some reason, the idea of coaching for ministry professionals isn’t often talked about.
To be fair, I have recently read articles from a couple of ministry leaders that mention having a coach. But I haven’t come across much written specifically to encourage the adoption of professional ministry coaches, and it certainly wasn’t an idea promoted when I was in seminary.
I think there is an assumption that young clergy and other ministry leaders will automatically find mentor relationships within the church. But to be frank, the level of spiritual maturity in American congregations appears to be on decline. One key indicator of this is the staggeringly low number of people who read their Bibles outside of Sunday, as this recent article in Christianity Today shows. This means that the availability of mature Christian mentors is also in decline in many churches.
Couple this with the tendency for ministry leaders to be placed in situations where they often work alone or choose isolation, and what you get is a high number of leaders who may have no significant mentoring relationships at all. They have nobody with experience they can learn from, no personal spiritual accountability, and little to no outside perspective.
Mentoring and Accountability
I took a non-traditional path to pastoral ministry. I worked in the tech industry for 15 years, during which I attended seminary to earn a Master of Divinity degree and then continued my education as a PhD candidate in Wesley Studies. I was already mid-career, with 10 years of graduate school under my belt before I became a pastor. That mans I had the benefit of learning from the many friends who began pastoring much sooner than me. I am also a pastor’s kid, and have spent my life witnessing pastoral ministry up-close.
I walked into ministry with very few illusions about the role of a pastor and with enough maturity under my belt to have already dealt with some of the idealistic crusading that is so common from fresh (often very young) seminary graduates (no offense intended folks; its simply true).
And I also learned something throughout my long academic journey: I never operate at my best in complete isolation. I need the support of colleagues, who will help me stay accountable to goals and responsibility, both personal and professional. And I learned early in seminary that I specifically needed a mentor, someone who was older and wiser, to give me timely advice in life and ministry, if I wanted to continue growing as a Christian.
Fortunately, I was blessed with some tremendous mentors throughout my time in seminary. I also got deeply involved with small group discipleship and accountability. Both of these were critical to my spiritual growth and personal development. So, when we moved to Indiana, so that I could begin serving as pastor of a local church, I immediately sought out a similar small group. This has been hugely encouraging for me, but there is an element of that 1-on-1 guidance from an older, more experienced mentor that I have missed.
Clergy Coaching as Christian Mentoring
A few months ago, I was listening to the 200 Churches Podcast when the hosts had a guest on the program named Dave Jacobs, who is a former church planter and pastor and now serves as a clergy coach. He became a regular guest on the show and I began to really appreciate the guidance he offered to listeners.
I eventually connected with Dave on Facebook through a small church pastor group he administers, and it was’t long before I had a leadership situation come up at church where I really needed an outsider’s opinion and guidance. So, I shot Dave an email, which led to a free coaching call. I knew almost immediately that Dave could offer the sort of mentor relationship I need at the present time.
So, now I meet with Dave by telephone once a month and have email exchanges in-between. He has already helped me to evaluate my work-life balance and begin implementing some changes that will help me to remain healthy in ministry long-term. He has also provided a valuable, experienced outsider’s perspective to some leadership situations I have faced in the church.
Through formal clergy coaching, I have found a tremendous resource to help me grow both personally and professionally, and to help guard me from becoming a “lone wolf” or getting burned out in ministry. The relationship is different than the mentoring I received in seminary, but it is exactly what I need at this stage of life and ministry.
Leadership Doesn’t Have to be Lonely
Whether you are in ministry leadership or have a leadership role in a secular organization, you have probably heard it said that things are loneliest at the top. In fact, for many years this has almost been worn as a badge of pride by many leaders. There is something almost admirable about the person who rises above his/her peers to become successful and in-charge. We tend to put these leaders on pedestals and make their positions a personal goal.
But people were never intended to do things on our own. We know this intuitively, and many people are willing to seek out coaching for things like managing personal finances, dieting, or enhancing athletic performance. But for some reason, people still seem shy about seeking professional coaching in the arenas where they spend most of their time and energy – their family and career.
I am convinced that the desire to lead in isolation is one of the primary causes of professional misconduct and moral failure. I, for one, refuse to become a statistic. I do not want to become ineffective in ministry or a failure as a husband and father, because of my unwillingness to seek out partners who can hold me accountable and help me grow in maturity.
I decided early on in ministry that I would not become a lone wolf. I have worked to surround myself with people I can trust and have adopted an attitude of learning. Hiring a clergy coach to help mentor me was the next logical step in the process of growing more faithful and capable as family man, and in the work that God has called me to do.
All leaders are called to mentor the people under their leadership. But, if you don’t have a mentor relationship of your own with someone who is wiser and more experienced than you are, then you are putting yourself at terrible risk. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to do everything on your own. Seek out a mentor who can help you take the next steps toward continued growth in life and leadership.
If you are a pastor, I highly recommend getting your start at SmallChurchPastor.com