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Ask the Coach: Can a Pastor/Leader Coach Their Staff and Staff Team?

Dear Coach,

I hear a great deal about supervisors and managers coaching their staff in businesses and organizations. So, can pastors and staff leaders coach their staffs and teams in their church?


Just Wondering

Dear Just Wondering,

Here is good news for you! Yes, they can. There are certain key elements that must be in place, though, for you to do your best work. The idea of coaching especially works well when the leader is functioning as a servant leader. Here are some of the elements that are crucial:

  • Your primary interest is the growth and results of the leader or team, not your expectations. Hopefully, you have had other conversations to help a staff or team member to be clear about the overall purpose, vision, and goals of the congregation. For a coaching conversation, your interest should be assisting the staff/team member to establish their own goals and actions that fit into these goals. If your primary interest in the conversation is to make sure they set the goals you want them to have, then you have moved away from a coaching conversation. A coaching conversation is focused on the goals that the person or a team agrees to set and how they will get the results.
  • The leader approaches the staff and team as collaborators. If it is important for you as a leader to be directive and to “lead” over them, you can still use some of the coaching skills like active listening, encouraging, and asking powerful questions. Coaching assumes that the power of the conversation is in the person you are coaching, not the one who is leading. So, for those moments’ you coach, you must let go of positional power and give the power to the staff members or team.
  • The staff member or team agree to be coached and let go of their need for you to be the “leader” for that moment. Sometimes, this person may have a difficulty being honest and deal with tough topics with you because of their concerns with what you will do with the information. Confidentiality is paramount in a coaching conversation. If your focus of being a leader for the organization trumps your concern for the agenda of the person or team, then it is hard to accept a coaching arrangement.
  • The conversations can be kept confidential. I once thought a pastor approached our relationship as confidential and as a collaborative one. Then, he turned around and used information that I shared with him against me. He felt he had to show he was a “directive leader” to those who were his advocates and colleagues. The violation of trust and agreement floored me. If your conversations cannot be kept confidential, then you cannot coach the person. Again, you can take a coach approach with proper skills, but if you can break confidentiality, I will not be honest and trust you with my best interest.
  • If you work with a team, get agreement with the team on the role you will play with the group. If you are coaching the team, clarify with them their understanding of your role. Think about all the roles you play with the team – facilitator, agenda setter, coach, teacher, etc. Ask the team to help you name the roles you play as the leader. Then help them be clear on how things will be different when you are serving as coach.
  • Think also about the framework you will use for the group conversation. Coach Approach Ministries talks about four frames for our conversations:
    1. Free Range – the client sets the agenda. (pure coaching)
    2. Familiarity – the client sets the agenda, but I have familiarity with the agenda. Sometimes, we create an agenda for the conversation together. (pure coaching with assistance from coach)
    3. Framework – The coaches have a process that they want to use with the coachee because of their expertise. (Content neutral, coach-generated process)
    4. Formula – The coach is working with a client on key principles that the coach has for him/her. (Content rich, but focused on client)

When you gather for a meeting as team, make sure you are clear on what frame you will be using for the conversation. Talk that frame through with the participants. The agenda, stays though, with the team purpose and team results.

Yes, you can coach a staff member, team leader, or a team in your church. The results will create a process where each team member will own their actions and results and will propel their ministry forward with more energy and focus. And in many ways, our own theological approach as believers fits better with a coach approach than the traditional “top-down” leadership approach. Think about these beliefs in our experience:

  • The Trinity is a key theological concept of God’s work as Father, Son, and Spirit.
  • Priesthood of every believer calls for each person to take responsibility for our work together as believers as well as our connection to God
  • Gifts and roles have been given to the body for our work together. The Head of the body is Jesus, not a human leader.

What would you add to this discussion?

If you want more information about coaching, contact me at ken.kessler@bgav.org.