Paracletos and Coaching in our NEXT and Present Church

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 Tom Tate

Our annual statistical report to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) this year records 156 members at Plaza Presbyterian Church. Many are older. Many are no longer able to get to church. Some have moved to be closer to family members but won’t give up their membership; and we won’t give up on them, either.

homecomingForty-eight people worshiped at Plaza on Transfiguration Sunday 2016. Twelve of them were not yet members – four were first time visitors; four attend regularly but have not joined; four are choir section leaders. All of us gathered around the communion table for the last part of worship where we sang and prayed together, celebrated the Lord’s Supper, received the blessing, and passed the peace. Fifteen minutes following worship many of us were still visiting, not yet ready to head home.

Without a coach for the past few years that Sunday experience might never have happened.

Jeff Krehbiel, pastor of Church of the Pilgrims in Washington, D.C. and our coach, came into our lives in June 2013 as part NEXT Church’s Paracletos experiment. Coaching was part of the vision for that program and a concrete way NEXT came along side us to support us in ministry.

In September of 2013, after only a couple of months of coaching, and following a summer in which we were unable to use the sanctuary because of air conditioning problems, we engaged in a two-week process in which we removed some pews, moved others, and changed the look and feel of our sanctuary. (You read that right – only two-weeks for a transformation of our sanctuary.) Today, worship in our seventy-year-old sanctuary has a fresh intimacy for us. It’s almost as if the change has communicated in a way that stimulates us with creative ideas for embodying the values of the Gospel.

During the Paracletos year, Jeff got to know the Session and me and lead a retreat for about forty members. It was there we established a new direction for our church which has become an integral part of our worship and community life. Our once-a-week, thirty minute phone conversations during the first year kept me grounded and focused. They proved so useful that they continue still. Without the coaching I am quite certain the positive things happening inside the church as well as in the community around us would not now be taking place.

We have discovered that we want to be a congregation that recognizes that God is calling us at this moment in time, not just for something out there in the future.

There’s new life in our Room In the Inn homeless ministry that provides hospitality and a warm place to stay during the coldest three months in Charlotte. We have reached out to community members, parents from our Week Day School, friends, and family to be partners in this ministry, helping us serve others as Jesus taught us.

Last November, when a regular visitor suggested that we have “Cookies and Carols” for thirty minutes each Wednesday evening during Advent, we jumped at the idea and gladly got to know twenty-five folks who live nearby and are presently unchurched. We are becoming a resource for worship for many, if not for all.

When a former member recently returned to Plaza she wanted us to become involved with the parents and children living in a nearby shelter. We said an enthusiastic “yes!” to monthly meals and fellowship that have drawn members together who had not been previously engaged in the community and are helping us define what it means to be all accepting and present in the community, learning to identify and respond to the needs of others and ourselves.

We took over the medical transportation ministry for older adults in our part of Charlotte when the agency that had been providing it went out of business. We are becoming a renewing resource for ministry for many, if not yet all.

And the Session has a greater sense of community, purpose, outreach, and faith than ever before as we are seeking to be a living testament to Jesus Christ and the teaching of the Gospel.

While we’ve all benefitted from Jeff’s coaching it is transforming me. Every week we talk about how things are going. Every Friday morning I reflect with Jeff regarding where we are and what I’m doing. The result is encouragement, guidance, perspective, challenge, and help for the week and the ministry ahead.

The result of our initial work with Jeff as coach and NEXT Church as partner has been a new vision for us, a vision that is continuing to inform everything we do, everywhere we go.

At this moment in time, God is calling us
to be a living testament to Jesus Christ and the teaching of the Gospel;
to better serve others as Jesus taught us;
to be present in the community,
identifying and responding to the needs of others and ourselves;
to be all-accepting;
to be a renewing resource for worship, education, and ministry for all;
and to communicate in a way that stimulates us with creative ideas
for embodying the values of the Gospel
everywhere we go.

To be coached, or not to be coached was not even a question three years ago at Plaza. The reality of being coached, though, has breathed new life into our congregation. It has literally changed lives, especially mine.

Tom Tate is pastor of Plaza Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC and a member of the Charlotte Mecklenburg school board.