One of the best investments I ever made in my ministry was hiring a ministry coach. Now, as a ministry coach myself, I find that some pastors aren’t interested in coaching because they had a bad relationship with a previous coach. No one should stay with a bad coach, but that doesn’t mean they should throw out coaching altogether. Here are a few qualities to look for in a good ministry coach.
A ministry coach is a listener first
Some coaches treat everyone the same – they have a program and they stick to it. These coaches make you feel like a product on an assembly line rather than a person. They want to be seen as experts who will tell you how to succeed. Avoid these coaches.
A good ministry coach should have a basic game plan, but their first task is to know you and your ministry context well. This way they can tailor their coaching to what will be most beneficial to you. This is key – a good coach will be focused on you, your context, and your needs.
A pastor of a megachurch came to one of my seminary classes to talk about preaching and leadership. His favorite phrase was, “I don’t have time for that so I give it to my secretary.” I was a solo pastor in a small, rural church. When I asked, “What should I do if I don’t have a secretary?” He said, “I don’t know,” and moved on to the next thing he delegates to his secretary. He was more interested with doing things his way than with listening to my context. I had to disregard 80% of his talk because there was no way to fit it into my context.
A good coach will listen well. He will learn about your gifts, passions, and dreams. He will want to understand the context of your ministry and the problems you face. Usually, a good coach will take at least one session just to listen. Typically, he won’t charge you for coaching until you both know that there is a good fit between what he has to offer and what you need. If you don’t feel this relational connection with your ministry coach, move on.
A good coach knows the game
Superstars rarely make good coaches. Ryan Sandberg was a superstar for the Chicago Cubs but as a coach, he had limited success. On the other hand, Joe Maddon never played Major League Baseball, but he led the Cubs to their first World Series in over 100 years. The best coaches are often people who got good but not great results from their career. They are people with staying power and the tenacity to work through problems without giving up. In ministry they had to learn the game the hard way. Their struggles will give them a depth of knowledge and the ability to empathize with your struggles.
Give me a coach who has had to study, adapt, and grow in order to find some success over a highly gifted and charismatic leader who can’t understand my situation. This doesn’t mean that a superstar pastor doesn’t struggle (I’m sure most do). However, I find that many of them don’t struggle for long, or their struggles are vastly different from mine. It’s like they are playing a different game.
When you are meeting with your coach, if you get the feeling that they don’t understand your ministry context – the game you are playing – that’s a good sign that this coach isn’t a good fit.
A good coach focuses on your game
I’ve heard many pastors say, “I love my denominational leadership, I just don’t think they understand my needs.” Too many times these leaders are focused on getting you to play their game. Their coaching makes you feel like you lack the skills, resources, or teammates to succeed.
A good coach will start with where you are at. Are you in a small church with limited resources? Your coach shouldn’t try to convince you to act like a big church. Instead, he should value what your small church has to offer. Even if you lack skills, resources, or teammates, your coach should help you see how you can grow, not what you lack.
If you sense a large gap between where you are and where your coach wants you to be, it may be time to find a new coach. Find someone who will call you to the next step in improvement, not expect you to progress ten steps at a time.
A good ministry coach plays to your strengths
Some coaches have a predetermined plan that they will take each person through. A good coach will design a plan that emphasizes your strengths and minimizes your weaknesses. In ministry, every pastor has parts of the job that they are good at. If your strength is preaching, a good coach will help you become even better. If your weakness is administration, your ministry coach should help you design a plan that prioritizes the things that only you can do and delegate the rest. Ministry coaches often use assessments like DISC, MBTI, StrengthsFinder, or PRO-D to help you find the best fit for your skills and personality.
A good coach will tell you what you don’t want to hear
Finally, you should expect your ministry coach to challenge your assumptions and correct you when you are wrong. However, this should only happen after developing a bond of trust between coach and pastor. The coach should know that you will not hear the hard truths if you don’t know that the coach is on your side. He will first develop the relationship, and when the time is right, he will challenge, correct, or rebuke.
Here are some more articles to help you find a good ministry coach:
Here are some great coaches who have been in the ministry trenches. When you contact them, be sure to mention you heard about them on The Pastor’s Soul blog.
PIR Ministries – I may be biased toward PIR because I work for them but I believe their coaching process is a great value. They have several great coaches who can work with you over the phone or via video chat. Be sure to ask about the PRO-D assessment, it’s a great tool to help you allign your personality, relationships, and occupation.
Converge Coaching – Check out their Leading From Alignment podcast. Converge coaching is led by John Opalewski.
SOULeader Resources – Michael Bischof has a team of great coaches who are ready to serve you. Be sure to check out his free soul assesment.
Dave Jacobs – Dave specializes in helping small church pastors. His Small Church Pastor Facebook group has helped and encouraged hundreds of pastors.