Mistakes to Avoid When Coaching Church Leaders

Last week I posted about the role of coaching church leaders, specifically missional community leaders and church planters. Coaching is about coming alongside of a leader to help them reflect and listen to the Holy Spirit about what it looks like to move forward.

If I’m honest I haven’t always viewed coaching this way. In fact, my first years of coaching missional community leaders and church planters I made LOTS of mistakes. In fact, what I was doing was hardly coaching. Here are 3 of my biggest coaching mistakes.

1. Know-it-all-ism. I must admit that I am a recovering Know-it-all. For many years my “coaching” was more like an advice giving session. I’d sit down with a leader and ask a couple of questions, let them respond, and then launch into a 10-15 minute monologue of what I’ve done or how I’d fix their situation. I’d leave thinking I really helped a leader, only to be frustrated the next time we met when they were still stuck. I bet many of you can relate. Perhaps you struggle with know-it-all-ism. Here are some of the symptoms: the inability to listen and ask questions, always sharing what you know and what you’ve done, failure to truly listen to what leaders are saying because you’re thinking about what you’re going to say next. The problem with giving advice (even good advice) is that leaders will be less likely to own the outcomes. The action steps that they walk away with were your ideas. They were never forced to slow down and reflect on what the Holy Spirit might be saying to them. As I’ve repented of my know-it-all-ism, and started asking questions rather than giving advice, I’ve found that leaders are much more motivated to own the outcomes when the Holy Spirit tells them to do something rather than me!

2. Coaching the problem rather than the person. Here is a good example of what this has looked like.

ME: What issues are you facing that you’d like to chat about today? LEADER: I’m really frustrated with some folks in my missional community. They just aren’t committed like I’d like them to be. ME: Well, what options do you have to help them become more committed?

Although I did a good job of using questions to generate reflection, I moved too quickly to action. I completely skipped over what God might be wanting to do in the leader. Perhaps the reason the people in their missional community aren’t committed is because they’ve got issues going on in their life. Perhaps they need to be loved, pursued. Perhaps God wants the leader to deal with their frustration and grow in patience and grace. This leader is seeing people as obstacles to their mission, not sheep that need to be shepherded. Remember, there is a spiritual dynamic to coaching. We have to coach people, not problems. Note: Often times people who get into coaching do so because they are action oriented people. They love to accomplish. They are builders and doers. We must remember that we don’t “get people done”. We develop people as disciples of Jesus first and leaders second. We disciple people into Christ-like leaders. Coaching is about coming alongside the work of the Holy Spirit to see leaders developed and matured.

3. Asking clunky questions. This is something I am still trying to get better at. Asking clear and powerful questions is the hardest part about coaching. A clear question is a question that is clean. It’s easy to process and leads to immediate reflection. Beware of asking complex, prefaced, or stacked questions. Powerful questions are questions that cause genuine reflection and lead to new insights. Don’t spend too much time peppering a leader with questions about stuff that has already happened. Ask forward moving questions. Be careful not to ask too many clarifying questions. You don’t need all the details of a situation (remember your not giving advice, so you don’t need to understand things perfectly). A good rule to follow is that 80% of your questions should be for the benefit of the leader (helping them reflect and gain insight), and 20% of the questions are for the benefit of the coach (helping the coach gain clarity and understanding of the topic).

If you want to learn more about coaching church leaders I highly recommend Coach Model for Christian Leaders by Keith Webb. This book helped me realize and correct these coaching mistakes I was making. Also, I’d be glad to serve you anyway I can. You can contact me here.

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