How Do I Know If I Need a Coach For Ministry?

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month will focus on the art of coaching and the practice of ministry. Some posts will layout insights or frameworks of coaching and some will be stories of coaching that transformed a pastor or congregation. We hope they will inspire you. We hope that inspiration will turn into actual movement in your own life and ministry so that we might move closer to that vision of the church we long for, closer to the vision of the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. We invite you to join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

by Laura Cunningham

How do I know if I need a coach for ministry?

The short answer to this question involves two others: Are you a pastor in the twenty-first century? Do you have a pulse? Then you need a coach. (I know, that’s not so helpful.)

After working with a coach myself and interviewing other pastors who have used coaching to discover what makes it particularly helpful, I’ve seen some instances where coaching can be particularly helpful for pastors.

1) You’re in a rut, at an impasse in your leadership or ministry. A session or committee keeps circling back to the problem with church communications, or you’ve tried everything to create some energy around a new children’s program, but you find yourself ending up back in the same old place. Your sermons on the paralytic in need of healing or Psalm 130 feels a little too personal.

2)  You self-sabotage your best efforts. You avoid the details you know are necessary to make worship effective, or you undercut yourself in describing your leadership. You miss obvious issues because you don’t know blind spots. Jesus’s words about loving your enemy refer to loving yourself and what you’re called to do.

3)  You can see the far-off vision for where ministry is going but can’t picture all of the details you need to get there. You know it’s time to work with the deacons on a new approach to hospitality, but can’t get your head around how to get them to own it. In other words, you’ve become a presbyopic Presbyterian.

4)  Or, you’re stuck in the details of ministry and unable to see the big picture or channel your energy in the direction of a larger vision. Sundays – or whenever you worship – feel more like a relentless return than opportunities to lead God’s people.

5)  You need another set of eyes and ears paying attention to and investing in the dynamics of your leadership. You’ve got issues – we all do – but they don’t require psychotherapy. You’ve been doing the ministry thing long enough or your situation is unique enough that you don’t need a mentor. You know your spiritual resources, you have an accountability group, you keep good professional boundaries, but you could use someone who knows you and how you lead to help you navigate what lies ahead.

What you could really use is someone who is in your corner, who trusts that you have the gifts you need for ministry, who knows when you play well and the places you consistently trip, and works with you to improve your game.

I go back to my ordination and installation promise to serve with “energy, intelligence, imagination, and love,” knowing that I have them all but sometimes they seem in short supply. In those situations, I turn to my coach. Sometimes a good question from her is all I need to realize my promise was not in vain, that the gifts are still there. Chances are you have made the same or a similar promise, and that a good coach just might help you keep it, too.  

CunninghamLaura Cunningham is pastor of Western Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C.  Her Doctor of Ministry work profiles the coaching of two pastors.

1 reply
  1. Amelia Richardson Dress
    Amelia Richardson Dress says:

    This is really helpful! I’ve worked as a coach in an education setting so I’m a big believer in coaching overall but I really appreciated the specific items you listed. That brings some clarity around when to get a coach but also around how to talk to the congregation about why/how you’re using one. Thanks!

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