The Gift of Coaching

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 Jeff Krehbiel

I distinctly remember the feeling I had as I began my ministry at each of the three congregations I have served as pastor: I was on my own. No one from the presbytery said it in so many words, but the overall message I received was “Good luck. We don’t really have high expectations for what you might accomplish in that congregation. Don’t call us, we’ll call you. And, by the way, if we do call you, you’re in trouble.”

Especially in my first call right out of seminary, the shift from regular assignments and grades at the end of every semester, to the open-ended figure-it-out-as-you-go nature of parish ministry, was particularly difficult. Where should I place my energy? What should my priorities be? What should I do first? It’s not that I didn’t have ideas about all these things, it’s that I didn’t really have anyone to talk them through with. I was isolated.

46-next-20140401-110621What I realize now is that I needed a coach– a role that, at the time, didn’t yet exist, at least not in church world. A coach is different from a consultant or a mentor, though I have benefited from both. Coaching begins with the premise that the one being coached is creative, resourceful and whole. The coach doesn’t suggest what you should do. They don’t create your priorities for you. They don’t assess your situation and tell you what they see. They don’t tell you what they would do if they were in your place.

The coach helps draw out your own best ideas and then helps you determine your best path forward. In coaching, you do all the work.

What I have learned over the past two and a half years of coaching and being coached is that the key is accountability. The coach asks where you want to go and how you’re going to get there– and then holds you accountable every step along the way.

For me, the moment of transformation happens when I say out loud to my coach for the first time what I think I should do — and am then held accountable to my own commitments. So often, we know what we should do, we’re just not ready to do it. Most often, the biggest obstacle in our way is ourselves! Coaching helps us get unstuck and move forward by identifying what is really holding us back, freeing us to act with clarity and intention.

So my modest proposal to presbyteries across the country is this: Make coaching part of the Terms of Call for every new call in the presbytery, not just for the newly ordained but for veteran pastors as well. Offer the gift of coaching for the first year of ministry. The dividends that will pay for pastors, congregations, and the presbytery, will be enormous.


Jeff Krehbiel is pastor of Church of the Pilgrims in Washington, D.C., a graduate of the coach training program at Auburn Theological Seminary, and is working on certification through the International Coach Federation.