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.