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Coaching poses questions with ministry-shaping results

Wed, 06 Feb 2013 - 4:02 PM CST

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Sam Farina (standing) presides over a coaching session attended by pastors Cal Swenson of Bethalto, Illinois, and Julie Pierce of Flower Mound, Texas.

Jesse Martin recognized God's call to plant a church in downtown Austin, Texas. To enhance his effectiveness, the North Texas District of the Assemblies of God required Martin to connect with a coach.

The reason was simple: While only 61 percent of church plants make it, for those with coached planters the figure rises above 90 percent. A growing number of AG districts nationwide require coaching for all pastors planting churches.

What's more, leaders explain, a coach can help produce greater Kingdom impact through just about any church or ministry - from churches in revitalization to folks working in church coffee shops. That's why the Assemblies of God has launched a coaching movement within the denomination.

Still, Martin was skeptical. During 15 fulfilling years of youth pastoring, he'd already mentored dozens of leaders and served as a ministry consultant. In contrast with mentoring and consulting, coaches typically don't have extensive experience in the field of the person being coached. Most of the relationship is via telephone. For the coach it's all about asking questions designed to help the client.

Martin wondered: Didn't the whole thing sound like something out of a corporate playbook? So how could somebody who hadn't necessarily been there or done that - let alone somebody he may never have met in person - possibly inform him about planting a church in one of America's most challenging urban centers?

But early into his coaching relationship with an Oklahoma pastor, Martin realized that the Bible records Jesus asking approximately 150 questions. And while Job asked God a single question, God presented Job with 50-plus queries. The all-knowing Creator of the universe was asking in order to prompt discovery rather than gather information.

"The Master Teacher didn't go and push stuff on people," Martin notes. "Instead He asked, ‘Who do people say I am?'"

Arden Adamson, leader of the AG coaching task force and retired Wisconsin-Northern Michigan District superintendent, explains that coaches' questions help those being coached discover their own solutions and maximize their performance to reach their future goals.

"Coaching focuses on careful listening and asking powerful questions about today in order to help the client move forward into the future," Adamson says.

Compared with those left on their own, coaches hasten clients' progress. Hence churches are incorporating coaching into the culture of the congregation, according to Sam Farina, AG evangelist and coach trainer.

"It's for people from all different walks," Farina says. When the North Texas District added a coaching component to existing church health programs, attendance jumped at those churches, he says. Everybody benefits.

Chi Alpha missionaries find coaching appeals to university students.

"If we're going to keep reaching into younger and younger demographics, part of that is adopting a coach approach," Farina says.

Though principles and examples of coaching abound in Scripture, coaching has been a secular business leadership practice for decades, arriving in Christian circles only in the mid-1990s. Counselors, mentors and consultants are professionals who give clients advice, telling them what they should do, Adamson says. "That takes the self-determination away from them," he says.

In contrast, asking questions helps clients realize what they may not have thought of before.

"Clients' sense of self-control remains intact because they decide for themselves how to answer the question. Thus the impact is greater," Adamson says. "Coaching is drawing out of you what's already in you. It helps you connect the dots."

Adamson's own coach is Jane Creswell, a former IBM senior manager who founded the giant international corporation's coaching program. Creswell, who led the establishment of the AG coaching movement, notes that coaching isn't just for clergy. It's for anyone who wants to be more effective for Christ.

"It's especially effective in getting people to see their full potential, whatever God is calling them into - giving them support, encouragement and space to realize, ‘Oh, this is the direction I need to go, the actions I need to be taking,' and encouraging them as they're taking these actions," Creswell says.

She cites the story of Jesus and the disabled man at the Pool of Bethesda as an example of biblical coaching (John 5:1-8). Instead of chiding the man for not figuring out what to do to get into the pool, Jesus asked him if he wanted to be healed - a question to help promote discovery.

"There's a lot more in that question than if He'd just told the man what to do," Creswell says. "What are you willing to do on your own behalf? It prompts discovery."

Because of Jesus' questions the man sees his own plight in a different way.

Coaching is all about life purpose and goals, hence it offers natural avenues to share the gospel, Creswell says. As soon as the client acknowledges that life has a purpose, he or she wants to figure out what that purpose is.

"They get to the point where they want to know who the Creator is," says Creswell, who notes that she has coached several executives who had never been inside a church, yet accepted Christ as Savior over the telephone.

The secular value of coaching clients - especially those who need a relationship with Jesus - isn't lost on Jesse Martin. He's planting Venture Community Church amid powerhouse downtown Austin law firms and government agencies. That's part of why he underwent training and is himself now a coach. One of his four clients is a non-Christian.

Martin believes his coaching certification brings credibility to himself that clergy in the 21st century no longer automatically hold in society. Coaching helps pastors contextualize the gospel and understand businesspeople in the church, Martin says.

It also provides a relationship opportunity to ask clients what drives them and what's their vision.

"The Holy Spirit moves on the bridge of friendship," Martin says.

Because the downtown community instantly recognizes coaching as something of value, the conversation turns. The coach naturally introduces the greatest value of all: eternal life through Christ.

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Author: Deann Alford, Pentecostal Evangel



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