From Hope to Reality

By Jessica Tate

The Christian story is full of grand visions –

  • the kingdom of God where the last will be first, and the hungry will be filled, and the lowly lifted up,
  • Jesus’ promise of life abundant,
  • swords turned to plowshares and lions lying with lambs,
  • beloved community, in which all things are held in common, the sick are tended, bread is broken, worship is shared,
  • a promised new heaven and new earth where death will be no more, where war and crying and pain will be no more.

Most congregations are filled with church leaders who hold visions for their own communities –

  • worship services that honor God, invite people more deeply into the mystery of faith, and inspire those who attend,
  • mission endeavors that build relationships, show love for neighbor, and make a significant difference in the community,
  • Christian formation that is so engaging and life changing you don’t want to miss it and will eagerly invite a friend,
  • witness in the community that is authentic, humble, and shares the good news of the gospel in ways that people can hear it,
  • true community where people see one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, where honesty is valued and forgiveness regularly practiced.

These visions – the grand and the specific – are essential.

And they are not enough.

Casting a vision doesn’t make it so. I regularly have conversations with church leaders who say, “We can see the vision, but we can’t figure out how to get from point A to point B, let alone steps all the way down the line.” That’s usually accompanied by a litany of reasons ranging from, “I don’t know how to lead a congregation into this,” to “They (it’s always someone else) are throwing up road blocks at every turn.”

People are stuck. Pastors are stuck. Sessions are stuck. Congregations are stuck.

It is that “stuck-ness” that compelled me to attend Auburn Theological Seminary’s Coach Training Program last month. (It’s a week intensive, followed by six-months of teleclasses in an International Coach Federation accredited program led by professional coaches who are also religious leaders – I highly recommend it.)

An athletic coach helps players on a team stay motivated, work together, and sharpen their skills (or as Dean Smith put it: play hard, play together, and play smart). Coaching works in ministry in similar ways. It is a tool that can help us in the church to stay focused and motivated toward the visions our faith sets out for us, to work together to move toward those visions, and to develop and sharpen the skills we need to move closer to God’s vision for us. The International Coach Federation defines coaching as, “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”

One of the essential elements of coaching is action planning, or the process of taking the vision and making an actual, measureable plan. As one of the Auburn coach trainers, Chris Holmes said, “Coaching takes hope and makes it a reality.”

The quick template for making an action plan is to answer these three questions:

  • What will you do? (What’s a first step toward the vision?)
  • When will it be done? (What’s the timeline?)
  • Who will be your accountability on this? (How does it stay on the front burner?)

An important related question, that asks us to be honest with ourselves and helps us gauge how likely we are to move forward, is:

On a scale of 1 to 10, how committed are you to this vision?

The NEXT Church blog 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.

Jessica Tate1Jessica Tate is the Director of NEXT Church. She lives in Washington, DC.