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Turning Intentions into Action

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, we’re curating a series on NEXT Church resources. Members of the NEXT Church communications team, staff, and advisory team are selecting resources already on our site and sharing the ways they have (or would) use them in their ministry context. We pray these will be of use to you in your own ministry! Have other ideas for resources you’ve used from our website? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by MaryAnn McKibben Dana

When I was in the early months of a new call, I worked with a ministry coach on a process of structured goal-setting. I’d never heard of coaching, but after meeting him for a preliminary session and hearing about the process, I decided I could use all the support I could get. We met over the phone for six sessions over a period of 4-5 months, in which I shared what I was learning and experiencing in this new context, and thought through ways to move forward faithfully. My coach asked good questions and, in some cases, made concrete suggestions, but the beauty of coaching is that the bulk of the wisdom emanates from the client. I made commitments to my coach, but most importantly, to myself: to make the phone call I found every excuse not to make. To establish good habits and boundaries. To turn my good intentions into concrete action.

I have to admit that in the early days of this coaching relationship, I would sometimes feel bad about myself for even needing a coach at all. Talking to other coach clients, I know this is common. Self-sufficiency is a strong cultural value, and coaching is an acknowledgement that we can’t do it all ourselves. We load ourselves down with “should”: I should be able to manage this on my own. I should be able to set a goal and just do it. I should be able to figure out what’s keeping me stuck. More power to those who have that kind of personal discipline, but most of us need a little something more. Coaching isn’t the only place we can find that perspective, but it’s a powerful one.

A few years ago, I heard Carla Pratt Keyes address a NEXT Church gathering and she shared some startling statistics. When we set goals for ourselves, there’s about a 6-8% chance that we will achieve it. The chance increases to 30% when we write the goal down, and it increases to 60% when we tell someone about it.

What helps move that stat from 60% toward 100%? I suspect it’s a lot of what we find in the coaching relationship, in which each conversation ends with a series of commitments: What will you do in the next few weeks? When will you do it? Where will your accountability be? (Knowing that the coach will ask about it next time was always a big help to me.)

For this reason, NEXT Church has created NEXT Steps Coaching, an initiative to help ministry leaders be more fruitful in their ministries. Right now we have two primary means for people to take advantage of these resources:

  • a directory of coaches, vetted for training/certification and familiar with NEXT, whom church leaders can contact directly and contract with on their own.
  • pro-bono coaching for leaders who could not afford it, provided through a generous gift from National Capital Presbytery.

Of all the initiatives currently on tap through NEXT Church — the Cultivated Ministry field guide, the community organizing training and certificate, our stellar National Gatherings — NEXT Steps Coaching is the one nearest to my heart. I have seen a pastor’s eyes light up as they finally figure out how to streamline some cumbersome administrative process. I have heard the relief in the voice of a leader who said, “Of course… I never thought about it that way.” And I have witnessed individuals and groups who felt utterly stuck and dispirited find new vitality and purpose.

For the past several months, a NEXT Church coach has been working with a team of leaders from South Jacksonville Presbyterian Church as they make some major changes to how they worship, connect, learn, and serve on Sunday morning. Their story is theirs to tell, and I hope they will, for the sake of countless congregations experiencing similar challenges. But here’s what’s struck me about their process. Among other things, the church made the difficult decision to move from two worship services to one. It’s a painful issue that many churches are facing right now, and it can come with a lot of emotional baggage, even grief, over letting go of the way things used to be. It can lead to a real defeated, deficit mentality.

But the team at South Jax realized that with this challenge came tremendous opportunity. After attending the NEXT Church gathering together in Baltimore, they re-branded themselves the “NEXT team,” charged with helping the congregation take the best from their past as they stepped into a new chapter. They designed a church-wide campaign of listening sessions, synthesized the stories they heard, and made recommendations to session. Most importantly, perhaps, they framed the changes with genuine excitement: One of the things we value here is relationship… with this change, we will all be worshiping together, at the same time, as one community. This change allows us to live our values more deeply than before. When I chatted recently with the chair of the team, he said, “We still have a ways to go, and lots to tweak. But one of our members that had expressed great concern about the changes came up to me recently and said, ‘I see nothing but smiles since the change.’”

This endorsement speaks to the leadership of the team shepherding this work. But it also speaks to the power of coaching — of listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit in one another, discerning the next right thing, and holding one another accountable in love to do it.


MaryAnn McKibben Dana is a writer, free-range pastor, speaker, and leadership coach living in Virginia. She is author of God, Improv, and the Art of Living, and 2012’s Sabbath in the Suburbs. She is a former chair of NEXT Church’s strategy team, and was recognized by the Presbyterian Writers Guild with the 2015-2016 David Steele Distinguished Writer Award.

Guided by Faith

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Jeff Bryan is curating a series reflecting on the 2018 National Gathering in late February. You’ll hear from clergy, lay people, community leaders, and others reflect on their experiences of the National Gathering and what’s stuck with them since. How does the “Desert in Bloom” look on the resurrection side of Easter? What are your own thoughts of your National Gathering experience, or on what these reflections spark for you? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter

by Hope Schaefer

When our associate pastor approached me about attending the NEXT Church National Gathering, I was honestly hesitant. What was I going to gain from attending this conference? It wasn’t until I started to read the workshop descriptions that I realized how perfectly NEXT Church aligned with my career and my own personal passions. As a lay leader in my church, I registered for three workshops, from which I knew I could bring back information to apply for our congregation and my job as program manager at a non-profit food pantry.

Leading up to the conference, I had several conversations with my husband about strengthening my faith and helping it guide me in my career, but it was something I was struggling with. Once we arrived, I relinquished my hesitation and allowed myself to be open to all the National Gathering had to offer. The first service of the conference invigorated me. Internally though, I was still struggling to answer my question of career and faith: just how could I intertwine the two? I feel that faith is something I should hold close. We are not a faith based food pantry, but it’s something that I recognize daily in my work. It gives me hope and strength for social justice and the immense problems that our pantry clients face.

My first workshop, Coaching for Transformation, led me to my answer, an answer that really had been staring me in the face the whole time. With a partner in our workshop, we shared a “problem” we were facing and our partner had to respond with thought provoking questions. I explained the internal battle I had of better integrating faith into my career. Right away my partner responded with, “Why don’t you change your perspective?” Why shouldn’t faith always be a part of my career? Why would I need to separate the two? She responded, “What’s stopping you from your faith always being present in your day, especially as a woman with strong faith?” That was it. I needed to change my perspective, flip my thinking, and choose to see what was already there!

The NEXT Church National Gathering was an amazing opportunity to change perspectives and inspire us to focus on what COULD be. These perspectives can allow us to praise even while something may be dying or failing that death and failure can still bring about new life and opportunity. So, thank you, NEXT Church, for breathing new life into my passion for fighting hunger, sharing my faith and letting it guide me, and speaking up for all that I care about.


Hope Schaefer is a lay leader at First Presbyterian Church in Neenah, WI. Hope is a full-time program manager at the Oshkosh Area Community Pantry. This large non-profit food pantry provides food monthly to 2,000 households and distributes over 1.3 million pounds of food a year. Hope is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Master of Science program in Recreation Management and in her spare time she runs half marathons with her husband (and soon the Chicago Marathon!) and plays cello.

The Power of Coaching

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. The majority of blog posts this month will share stories from church leaders who participated in a pilot coaching cohort in 2017. They will share the challenges they face, the movements they’ve made, and what they are learning along the way. We hope they will connect with your “me too” moments and give you a glimmer of a way forward, and the knowledge that you are not alone. We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter

by Tara Spuhler McCabe

Way way back, there was a skit on SNL with a character looking into the mirror with the mantra: I am good enough, I am smart enough, and gosh darn it, people like me.

I laughed so hard because it was silly AND it was true! Today, we have an updated version of the truth we can laugh about and recognize in our faith: You are creative, resourceful, and whole! We all are. Creative Resourceful and Whole, CRW, is the foundational mantra for the coaching practice.

CRW is one of the many ways I recognize we are powered through the Spirit. Remember your baptism? Or someone telling you about your baptism? God claims you and blesses you! Yet we constantly wrestle with remembering our baptism — our creativeness, our resourcefulness, our wholeness. No surprise that when we wrestle in life and in faith, the root of the wrestling tends be in forgetting, ignoring, or just not believing in our God-given CRW anymore. An example of this brokenness is when any one of us may feel stuck in our discernment and decisions and we stop or spin in our own growth opportunity. We recognize this as self-sabotaging. You deserve to connect with a coach who can support you in getting out of that cycle.

We coaches stand alongside people and support them in their work to connect with their own creativeness, resourcefulness, and wholeness. A coach is another teammate in the journey along with pastors, therapists, friends, teachers, mentors — you name it. We work with a person’s opportunity and powerful questions towards their own goal. We celebrate the work and the self awareness as the person in engaging with the power of the Spirit within them.

The power in coaching is participating in the building up of God’s kingdom with others by working and living out of our CRW(ness). The power in coaching is being a helpmate with another while someone is in threshold moments of decisions and opportunities. There is accountability in coaching through support in holding up the mirror of what one says is most important to them. Accountability and celebration is the work with your coach. That is the fun part! When the person connects with their own CRW through our coaching work together, there is automatic celebration.

During a series of sessions, one of my clients shared that she was surprised by all of the laughter. I asked, what surprises you about your laughter? She reflected on how often she is laughing because she continues to be so surprised by herself. Say it with me: “I am creative, resourceful, and whole.” This self-celebration is so vital. This is not about shaming one another in the work but supporting one another to recognize the power of the Spirit within them. Her response was about how she is surprised with her awareness that comes from the inside of her. The awareness seems so simple since it is within her, and yet the spontaneous joy at connecting to it is that sacred place of healing and wholeness. What I appreciate in her reflection is the joy and celebration (a little of not taking ourselves too seriously) and the absence of self shaming.

That is the work and the joy of being a coach (and a minister): knowing that our brokenness is not the end, modeling how to be in relationship with all of who we are, and living into the unlimited Grace that is affirmed in our baptism because we are creative, resourceful, and whole!


Tara Spuhler McCabe is a Presbyterian minister currently serving as the Coordinator for the PC(USA) Young Adult Volunteer program in Washington, DC, as a parish associate at Faith Presbyterian Church, a life and leadership coach, and as a “concierge” pastor who spends most of her time bringing pastoral presence and skill in response to the needs and opportunities in her neighborhood and community.

Love and Truth-Telling

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. The majority of blog posts this month will share stories from church leaders who participated in a pilot coaching cohort in 2017. They will share the challenges they face, the movements they’ve made, and what they are learning along the way. We hope they will connect with your “me too” moments and give you a glimmer of a way forward, and the knowledge that you are not alone. We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter

by Beth Goss

I’m a second career pastor who spent my first career in public accounting with a large firm that had clients and business relationships around the world. It was a twelve-year heady immersion into business practices and culture and a marvelous experience for me. I learned a lot about myself as well as about the way large organizations do business — successfully and unsuccessfully. So when I began following a call to ordained pastoral ministry, I kept thinking about business practices and the way our peculiar Reformed tribe’s heritage has influenced our own structural (infra-structural) ways — the business of church.

Churches in North America often look to the successful business practices found in modern Western corporations with a mixture of admiration and skepticism. Our own Presbyterian heritage has put us in close parallel to the development of capitalist corporations and their best management practices. This is partly because the power and leadership in mainline denominations have often overlapped with the leadership in those same corporations. Think of the famous Presbyterian business people you know: Andrew Carnegie, Ross Perot, Sam Walton — all of whom had significant influence in the church at one time or another. Yet Presbyterians remain suspicious of worldly success. Not infrequently do I encounter a voiced objection to adopting business best practices into church management. “We’re a church and we shouldn’t do things the way businesses do,” is the way it’s stated. Because I have seen them up close and personal, I have similar reservations about corporate personnel policies, designed first and foremost to protect corporate objectives: making money for shareholders, sometimes sacrificing employees in the process.

So when I found myself as a solo pastor in a small church, I was in the same conflicted state. Best practices in business don’t translate easily into church settings. My dilemma was how to handle an employee whose behavior had become more and more difficult over a long tenure that preceded mine. For a variety of reasons, the prior pastor and leaders had not taken steps to address it. For at least seven years, I had not taken definite steps, either. The employee was growing less and less effective in the position, partly as a result of age, and partly as a result of failing to keep current in their field of expertise. The person had also seemed unaware of their own declining ability to do the job.

After several years of poor evaluations, and several offers for honorable retirement, the person had steadfastly refused to step down, and instead engaged parishioners (not involved in the process of personnel evaluation) in conversations about how “the powers that be” were poor judges and “out to get me” because there was “no decline in my abilities.” Not surprisingly, that behavior created a lot of distress both for the employee and the church leadership who could see what was happening, to say nothing of those church members who were unaware of the full picture. Those of us in leadership put off confronting the situation, instead hoping that the employee would eventually step down. We felt it was the loving thing to do.

Finally, it became clear to me that the situation could no longer be ignored. This happened about the same time I found an opportunity to participate in peer group coaching. My colleagues in the group gave me the opportunity to share my frustrations and clarify my own leadership role in the quandary: How could church leaders and I behave in such a way that the employee’s own distress could be acknowledged and dealt with in love, and, at the same time, fill a critical position on the church staff with a person who could do the job we feel needs to be done in this moment in the life of the church? The church had been trapped by a picture of ourselves as “loving,” thinking that failing to tell the truth — to either the employee or ourselves — was the way to express that love.

What we needed to learn was that there are spiritually healthy ways for churches to relate to employees that don’t undercut our values as a community of faith. Sometimes these ways are remarkably similar to business best practices. Truth-telling has to be part of it. We had to acknowledge our own failure to be honest and forthright about past employee evaluations, and we had to admit we had not been clear about employee expectations. We have taken steps remedy both, and put in process a way to fill the position. “What would Jesus do?” is still a valid question and an aspiration. Our read of the gospel helps us see that love and accountability are not mutually exclusive. Jesus actually practiced both all the time. And we’re trying to as well.


Beth Goss is pastor of Church of the Covenant in Arlington, VA.

The Changing Landscape of Youth Ministry

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. The majority of blog posts this month will share stories from church leaders who participated in a pilot coaching cohort in 2017. They will share the challenges they face, the movements they’ve made, and what they are learning along the way. We hope they will connect with your “me too” moments and give you a glimmer of a way forward, and the knowledge that you are not alone. We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter

by Susan Wisseman

Background
I serve as associate pastor in a suburban church nestled in a neighborhood – the church and neighborhood grew together. Over the past 61 years, the neighborhood has changed and changed again. The church has not kept pace.

When the previous youth director relocated, I was asked if I would add youth to my portfolio. I inherited a ministry in decline. Since then, we have had some failures, and some successes. The good news is that it’s broken, and everyone sees it… which means we get start from a new place. Nonetheless, change is hard!

I requested a meeting this fall with key stakeholders in youth ministry, to be facilitated by a National Capital Presbytery coach. We met, and were fairly successful at deciding on and aligning priorities. One of the changes is a metamorphosis of our previous “Club 456” (an upper elementary youth ministry) to a new pre-teen ministry that will encompass grades 5-8. One of our struggles last year was trying to have a grade 7-12 youth group. (It’s not really surprising that the 12th graders weren’t all that interested in hanging out with the middle school kids on a regular basis.)

Trial and Error
Reinventing youth ministry for a changed context is not for the faint of heart. Once upon a time, the church was filled with families with young children and youth. The youth ministry was of good size and participation – vibrant by any measurement scale. There is a deep yearning for a return to those days.

We still have families, but our demographics are uneven. Many of the kids of youth group age are actively involved in a myriad of other activities… and sometimes church falls to the bottom of the list.

Lack of participation may be due to those activities, different priorities, or lack of relationships with some of the others (because they go to four different high schools)… or the change in culture. I know that our church is not alone in this cultural change!

As we try to discern needs, we’re throwing things at a wall and seeing what sticks. Some of things we are trying include:

  • Trying to engage our youth in all aspects of church life.
  • Posting their game schedules, concerts, plays, etc. and encouraging the congregation to go and support our youth in their endeavors (if we can’t always get them to church, we can get the church to go to them).
  • Creating real estate they can “own” – not just on Sundays, but to hang out and do homework, or play games at other times.
  • Offering random opportunities (or pop up events) to gather for lunch, coffee, or ice cream.
  • Increased service opportunities.

Hoped for Outcomes
Not only is it necessary to change how we engage with our youth, we need to develop a new measurement for success that is not about large numbers on a Sunday night.

Success, for me, would be for our church to be a sanctuary – a safe place where every one of our students feels comfortable being their own best self. A place where they know in their hearts they are beloved as the very person God created each one of them to be. That they know that there are adults here who willing to listen (without immediately jumping in to problem solve or judgment). And to know (in their minds and hearts), and trust, that this body of Christ would be greatly diminished without their presence.


Susan Wisseman is associate pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Springfield, VA.

Can We Talk?

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. The majority of blog posts this month will share stories from church leaders who participated in a pilot coaching cohort in 2017. They will share the challenges they face, the movements they’ve made, and what they are learning along the way. We hope they will connect with your “me too” moments and give you a glimmer of a way forward, and the knowledge that you are not alone. We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter

by Don Meeks

Background
I am currently in my 17th year as the Pastor of a medium size, predominantly white, conservative church located thirty-five miles west of Washington DC. The changing cultural landscape in recent years has left many of our folks in a somewhat confused and anxious place, often feeling disconnected from the larger denomination.

In 2012 our Session voted unanimously to affiliate with the Fellowship of Presbyterians (now The Fellowship Community). Overall, this affiliation has been a positive experience for our church and has (mostly) helped folks to calm down.

With some training in Bowen family systems theory, I have been trying to offer non-anxious and self-differentiated leadership. One critical strategy for keeping myself calm has been an intentional effort in the past several years to reach across the theological aisle at our presbytery in an attempt to build relational bridges and mutual understanding.

A Calculated Risk
Like many, I followed the June 2014 General Assembly with keen interest. The night the marriage overtures passed I received an email from Jeff Krehbiel, a colleague from the ‘other side of the aisle’ whom I had begun to know through some shared presbytery work. Jeff acknowledged, with a gifted pastor’s touch, that the same news being celebrated at his church was likely to be a source of disappointment in our church. He was right.

Jeff offered himself in support of me in any way he could. In reply, I took a calculated risk and invited Jeff to address our Session and Deacons on how he makes the case from Scripture for same-sex marriage. This experience began a rich conversation and collegial relationship that grew as Jeff and I committed to facilitating an on-going conversation within our presbytery. We simply called this effort, “Can We Talk?” Jeff’s untimely death earlier this year has been a huge loss for so many, including myself, as we had begun to extend this conversation beyond our own presbytery, including an Ignite presentation and workshop at the 2016 NEXT Church National Gathering in Atlanta.

Beyond Either / Or
It’s no secret that the growing polarization in our culture tends to push us towards a binary paradigm that views things in terms of ‘us/them,’ ‘conservative/progressive,’ or ‘for/against.’ One of my greatest challenges has been to find a way beyond the ‘either/or’ dilemma that many denominational conservatives like myself believe we are faced with: either seek dismissal from the PCUSA, or stay and face membership defections and leadership battles.

Not surprisingly, I am finding few examples and fewer colleagues with the appetite for doing the relational work necessary to move beyond this ‘either/or’ mentality. For some it may be a lack of vision, imagination, or desire. For others it may be asking too much to abandon deeply embedded patterns of binary thinking.

I have also found a real tension lingering at the edges of this work: Can we be in meaningful relationship across the aisle without also being seen as a traitor, of sorts, to our own convictional community? Or from another angle, will our convictions be an honest stumbling block to others’ living out their own theological convictions?

Quite frankly, many times I have wondered if this is all a fool’s errand.

A Modest Attempt
I believe the implications for this work are profound, not only for the health of our churches, but also as a witness for Jesus Christ in our polarized and fragmenting culture. I have been greatly encouraged by the warmth and receptivity by the NEXT Church community and a pilot coaching cohort experience following the 2017 National Gathering in Kansas City.

Is respectful and robust theological conversation about issues that divide possible? I think so. Could it ever be more than conversation? I hope so. But unless we first learn to sit and talk, it’s going to be virtually impossible to see ourselves as ministry partners in any meaningful way.
As I have continued to ponder and pray on all this, I believe the place to begin is with some kind of simple covenant that I would quietly commit to in my own life. I think it would be a covenant that commits to live toward unity with other Christians, that acknowledges the ‘log in my own eye,’ that honors the intentions of others as noble and just, and that respects the convictions of others even when they stand apart from my own convictions.

In short, I find myself wanting to make a modest attempt to be part of the solution, rather than part of the problem with our denomination and our world. And I would be honored to have others join me.


Don Meeks is the senior pastor of Greenwich Presbyterian Church in Northern Virginia. He is active in the Fellowship Community within National Capital Presbytery.  His vision for ministry is to invite people to experience and express Christ-likeness in all of life. He is an avid golfer, psalmic intercessor and songwriter.

We Want Things to Be Different

by Jessica Tate

As we get our bearings this first week of 2018, many people (consciously or not) are thinking about what they want to be different in this new year. Some even go so far as to set up resolutions. It turns out that half of all resolutions aren’t kept and a third are disposed of by the end of January. If you are like me, you resemble that statistic.

For many of us, we want things to be different… to be more like the promises in scripture where hungry are fed and peace is present and life is abundant and the meek inherit the earth… but we’re not sure how to get there.

We want our worship services to carry more meaning, comfort, and challenge for people. We want our work in the world to have a meaningful impact. We want to be in communities that form us (not individualistic, consumeristic ways) but into fullness, abundant life, hope (and resolve) in the midst of suffering. We want these things, but we can’t seem to get there.

As we set sights on the NEXT Church National Gathering in February, we know many people come because they are hopeful (or need an infusion of hope) that things can be different. And yet at the end of a National Gathering (even a spectacular one!), we return to the contexts that go us here in the first place. As the calendar turns into 2018, we are still ourselves, with our same gifts and struggles, graces and vices. Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky say, “There is no such thing as a dysfunctional organization. Every organization is perfectly aligned to achieve the results it currently gets.” I think it’s true for people, too. We are perfectly aligned to achieve our current results.

So, if we really want to change, if we really want our lives/ministries/work to be different, how to we move toward it?

One tool NEXT Church has been exploring is coaching. Coaching, according to the International Coaching Federation, is “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.” Coaching is a tool that can help us move from a wishful thinking to an intentional action. A survey done by the International Coaching Federation found that across 2000 corporations, 34% of executives receive coaching and it does not tend to be remedial help for underperformers but those receiving coaching are usually the mid to upper level performers engaged in coaching. We need action-driven partnerships to support us in the work of leadership and change.

Following the 2017 NEXT Church National Gathering, we piloted a group coaching cohort for ministry leaders (pastors, musicians, and elders) to help support leaders in making the kinds of change they long for in their ministries. (You can indicate interest in a similar group when you register for the 2018 National Gathering.) One of the biggest surprises in the cohort itself was that every time someone raised a sticky issue they faced in ministry in their church, there was a chorus of “me too” around the table. From sleepy worship experiences, to a youth ministry in decline, to Sunday school models not working, to trying to shift a theological culture — even though contexts were different, many of the challenges are the same.

The majority of the blog posts this month will share stories from those who participated in this cohort… the challenges they face, the movements they’ve made, and what they are learning along the way. We hope they will connect with your “me too” moments and give you a glimmer of a way forward, and the knowledge that you are not alone.

As you embark on your work and your life in 2018, take a moment to reflect on what you want to be different. If you are quick to come up with a long list, narrow it down to three things. (Most of us can’t manage more than that, anyway!) And then, for each of those three things, choose one, small action step. Maybe your goal is to lost 15 pounds by spring. A small action step might be to put three workouts on your calendar for this week. But don’t stop there, then ask yourself who can be a partner in this to support you and hold you accountable. Reach out to that person and ask if you can check in with them at the end of the week to share what progress you’ve made. And in all of it, be reminded that the processes of letting go and letting come, of death and new life, often happen in teeny, tiny steps along the way that lead us to transformed lives.


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

Experiencing and Creating Sacred Ground

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 Jan Nolting Carter

My friend Mark turned to me in our small group at CREDO. I had just shared with them how I thought I had discerned what my next steps in ministry would be. Then he said, “Jan, you are forgetting something. I’ve watched you. You are a natural coach. You should consider exploring coach training.” Was that the voice of the Spirit? That was October. Could this be how God is calling me to help others find their giftedness?

24701264781_dd0d40ddf1_zNot entirely familiar with coaching, I did some research. I thought about the arc of my experience. When I taught social studies before I went to seminary, my primary image of teacher was coach—I saw myself as the one who was charged with drawing the gifts of my students out. Later, I found myself listening and encouraging colleagues as I served on the Committee on Ministry. Now nearly twenty years later, I have encouraged, essentially coached, folks in and out of the church. Perhaps Mark’s voice was indeed the voice of the Spirit, drawing attention to something that dwelled within me.

In January, I participated in a week-long residency with Auburn Theological Seminary and now I continue towards certification with 28 hours of teleclasses and 100 hours of student coaching. With some jest and a measure of seriousness, one of our teachers from Auburn closed our time together in Florida asking us to say our name and identify ourselves as coach.

“My name is Jan and I am a coach,” I heard myself saying as I claimed my place among our cohort of coaches-in-training.

What have I learned? Coaching is a valuable part of a tool box that offers pastors possibilities towards transformation. In this church-world that we live in that on dark days feels very discouraging, it has the potential to help pastors and church leaders identify the gifts that dwell within, pointing towards a future that is filled with hope, covenant and promise. The fine art of asking open-ended and essential questions. Through coaching, there is the possibility of being the vessel of the message of how God is nudging people and congregations towards the future that God envisions for us.

As a pastor engaged in intentional transitional ministry, using coaching skills to help leaders of congregations discover the potential within has the possibility of turning discouragement to hope and confusion to clarity. Beyond my interim work, it has the possibility of creating a coaching practice that helps me serve the church by creating a viable tent-making ministry that is both fulfilling and vital.

But that is the interesting thing. You may have noticed, to this point, I have been using the language of potential and possibility. Future-oriented. The reality, is, however, that I already am a coach. If I am really quiet, I can turn myself over to the work of the Spirit. It’s a humbling experience.

I mentioned the International Coaching Federation requires 100 hours of coaching. Three-quarters of it must be with renumeration. Peer-to-peer coaching counts—it’s bartering. A number of us in our cohort are coaching one another. So far it has been a profound experience.

Just this week, when I put the phone down, I took a deep breath. The first thought that entered into my head was, “Wow. I just experienced holy ground.” Through careful listening and asking open questions, my friend had experienced a kind of “aha” moment. She has found that what she says she really wants to do is not supported by the choices that she makes about her time. Journeying with her in her discovery felt sacred. By serving as a witness to the moment, I shared her wonder and her joy. Then, in reciprocity, as my friend coached me, I found a clarity about a question about direction that had eluded me. I felt a kind of certainty in my heart that had not been evident before.

At its best, coaching offers an invitation to be our best selves, to identify the giftedness that dwells within and to move us to action. I add my voice to the voices of Jessica Tate, Jeff Krehbiel, Laura Cunningham, and JC Austin to encourage you to seek out a coach and give it a try.


Jan Nolting Carter is a Transitional Pastor serving St. James Presbyterian Church in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. She is currently engaged in Coach Training through Auburn Theological Seminary.

A Balancing Act

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 Margaret Burnett

I love ministry in the church. I love the people, the mission, the theology, the relationships, the privilege of sacred spaces and thin places. I love it, and it totally overwhelms me at times—spiritually, emotionally, and physically. After nearly 20 years in ministry, I’ve learned a lot about the need for balance.

yoga-167062_1280For me the support of good friends, time with an excellent counselor, and much prayer are vital for maintaining healthy life and ministry. Twenty-four outreach ministries to coordinate, sermons to prepare, visits to make, classes to teach, emails to read (and maybe even to reply!), parishioners to meet with, community groups to support—then there’s being a wife, mother, pet owner, and friend. Oh, and I encourage people to take care of themselves, so I really need to do it, too.

When ministry became more of a juggling act than a joy, I decided to try something new. I began to work with a coach. Being coached is very different than being counseled. While counseling is important to face hurt, history, and conflict, coaching is focused on the next steps. Typically coaches work with people who are ready for something new rather than people whose focus needs to be on healing. Coaches enter the relationship believing that the person being coached is naturally creative, resourceful and whole.

My first experience with a coach helped me determine how to best guide the adaptive change of a new system for my church’s outreach ministries. I had the basics and knew the questions, but my coach walked alongside me, asking hard questions, challenging me, helping me gain confidence in newfound gifts, and offering tools that supported my growth and the health of the church. If he had tried to answer all the questions and “fix” the issues, the system would not have changed. Today our 24 outreach ministries are coordinated by a team of six people who are answering God’s call to faithfully use their gifts and skills. And when new ministries are suggested, we have the space and energy to be creative and realistic about adding another program.

My other experiences with coaches have helped me discern my call, discover gifts I never knew I had, work in healthy ways with colleagues, and prioritize my time at church and at home. I set goals with my coach, and he holds me accountable to them—no more resolutions for someday; he checks to see if I am actually moving toward those things I promised myself to do.

I would have never imagined that adding one more thing to my plate—-enlisting the help of a coach—would move my life to become more balanced and whole.


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Margaret Burnett is Associate Pastor for Outreach Ministries at Idlewild Presbyterian Church in Memphis, TN.

Vocational Discernment Paradigm, Part 3

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 Peter Hazelrigg

In the first section of this blog post, we looked at the question “who are you called to BE?,” as the first step to yield sustainable success and personal satisfaction in a career. Then, we explored the second component: knowing the networks we exist within. Today we open up the final building block – Doing.

Hazelrigg pictureDO: Once there is some clarity about who we are and how we like to be and interact, once we have cultivated our network and explored what we know and what we want to learn, it is time to do a more formal job search process.

I often find that professionals have an easier time finding work they can do, but it is harder to find work they want to do. Finding work is more than just matching skill with a position. When job hunting, there is a lot we can’t know from a job description. What is my boss like? What is the culture of the organization? How does this company invest in the development of it’s people? Are there opportunities to advance? With whom will I be working?

All good questions. And those questions should come from understanding what will be important for us based on our experiences, values, stylistic preferences, and other factors uncovered at the Being level. When we get to the point that we are ready to do a search for a particular position, many of the established search skills come into play – writing cover letters and resumes, interview skills, researching target companies, etc. These skills are well documented and often the place where people begin the process of a job search. However, asking the question “what am I going to do?” might look a lot different if we first do the hard work of answering the question, “who am I called to be?” There is no shortcut to creating sustainable success and personal satisfaction. That is the hard work of vocational discernment today.


Hazelrigg headshotRev. Peter Hazelrigg is senior partner at the Pilgrimage Professional Development Group, www.pilgrimpro.com.