By Bob Harrington
I am the founding minister of Harpeth Community Church in Franklin, Tennessee. Ours is a healthy church with about 500 in attendance, 50 baptisms a year, and a plan to move into our own building within the next 12 to 18 months (where we anticipate significant future growth). From the outside, things look very good. But there is an untold story from the first days of this church planted in 1998. The early story was of heartbreak and pain.
When my wife and I launched out with a small band of friends to start this church, we had lots of faith, but little idea what we were doing. Then, just months after the launch, suddenly, and without notice, many of our closest friends and financial supporters left. We were in shock. We were out on a limb, with little support, and in a crisis of survival.
But I had a coach, and he guided me as I led our small and insecure new church, step by step, and we survived those early days. I could not have done it without my coach. He came alongside me, helped me see God’s leadership path, and enabled the church to thrive.
Since those days, I have become a big supporter of coaching for church leaders. I believe in it so much, in fact, that I am now the national director of coaching for Stadia: New Church Strategies (a national church planting organization), and I recently formed a team to start an organization to provide coaching for Restoration Movement church leaders called Church Coaching Solutions.
What is a ministerial coach?
A coach is someone who comes alongside a minister as a special encourager. A biblical model of a coach is Barnabas, who was known both as an encourager (Acts 4:36) and a challenger (Acts 15:39). Like Barnabas, a coach helps you discover God’s agenda for your life and ministry and then, in the power of the Holy Spirit, helps you turn that agenda into reality. The coach does not tell a leader what to do; instead, he helps and guides the leader to discover it for himself and put it into practice.
What is a church planting coach?
A church planting coach is a man who has successfully planted a church and now acts as a coach to a new church planter. At Stadia, we send out every church planter with a coach. He is the most important support we provide for a church planter and a big part of the reason 90 percent of the churches we plant are successful.
A coach helps a planter to develop skills, make good decisions, and use his giftedness wisely. He has experienced the highs and lows; he knows what works and what doesn’t, so he is able to coach the planter through the land mines of church planting.
What does a coach do for the minister of an existing church?
Ministers of existing congregations also find that coaching makes a big difference in their ability to lead. We all get into ruts and find ourselves limited by blind spots. A coach guides a minister by asking questions, exploring key issues, and pointing to helpful resources. Most ministers say having a coach is a life-changing experience.
About a year ago, we hired a new children’s minister. She came to us with talent, a great personality, and all the abilities necessary to make her a highly effective children’s minister. But she had no ministry experience, so we hired a coach to walk with her.
It was the best financial investment our church has made in children’s ministry. Every week she talks to her coach, an experienced female children’s minister and wise guide. Through coaching she has learned a great deal about herself as a minister, about people, and about what to do or not do with ministry difficulties. She is developing her leadership vision of children’s ministry into something more advanced and refined than she could ever have developed on her own.
What does the coach do for the leader?
A good coach brings out the best in a minister. He helps the leader see his or her situation realistically and what leadership actions need to be taken (or not taken).
Coaching is a respectful process, where a coach brings out the higher vision that already exists in the heart of a leader. In some circumstances, coaches may provide advice and guidance, but they are careful to do so only in ways that respect the beliefs, hopes, dreams, and aspirations of the person they are coaching. In the end, a coach uses his experience to help a leader achieve his highest leadership potential.
How does someone secure a coach?
Coaching is a common business practice, but unfortunately it is rare within our churches. Experienced ministers, elders, counselors, and others can make good coaches. But because coaching is a unique process, it is wise to receive training. Our natural tendency is to guide another person into our beliefs, commitments, and practices. But those trained in the art of coaching explicitly reject this approach. More and more of our ministers, elders, and leaders will benefit from coach training as we seek to raise the level of leadership in our churches.
Until recently, it was hard to find a ministerial coach, and the best place to find one was by asking friends, elders, church leaders, Bible colleges, and seminaries for recommendations. Now groups like Church Coaching Solutions are being formed to help our churches.
What is Church Coaching Solutions?
Church Coaching Solutions was formed to provide training and high quality coaches for churches and ministers. Dave Smith and Ted Cornelius have joined me in creating this organization. We are starting by providing coaches for church planters and we plan to eventually provide coaches for all types of church ministry positions (from children’s ministry, to praise and worship ministry, to senior pastor ministry).
I have experience in coaching through my ministry experience and through Stadia. Dave is an experienced church planter, coach (with ministry positions at East 91st Christian Church and the Orchard Group), and college professor (Ozark Christian College). Ted is a trainer who trains coaches for a national nonprofit organization.
We plan to train and certify an increasing number of church leaders in the art of coaching so our movement will have a greater abundance of coaches to help us develop more and more effective leaders.
How are coaches trained and certified?
There are lots of secular training courses for coaches, but until now there have been few uniquely Christian resources.
Church growth experts Bob Logan and Gary Reinecke (with the help of Chuck Ridley) recently completed a qualitative research project on four continents that defined the specific profile of high-impact Christian coaches. Logan took the results of his research and created a training program that equips Christians in the skills of highly effective coaching. Church Coaching Solutions has formed a strategic alliance with Logan’s CoachNet International Ministries (www.coachnet.org) to bring his model into Restoration Movement churches.
We now offer a nine-month course, where our trainers use the material to train and certify ministerial coaches. Our training program sets objective and international standards on effective coaching.
What will coaching do for our churches and movement?
I was at the Catalyst Conference for young Christian leaders recently and met many church planters and new church leaders. They are young, committed, idealistic, and full of vision for the future of the church. Some will make a big difference for Christ in the world and in the Restoration Movement—and some will not. Some have coaches and some do not, but I wish they all did.
I spent extra time with one dedicated, young church planter who launched a new church six months ago. He described the value of the coaching he has received with these words: “I do not know how I would have made it without him. His personal care and guidance has made all the difference in the world. He has helped me and the church more than he will ever know.”
That is what coaching can do for a leader and a church—may God bless the Restoration Movement with lots of them!
To learn more about Church Coaching Solutions, go to www.church-coaching.com.
Bob Harrington is national director of coaching for Stadia: New Church Strategies, founder of Church Coaching Solutions, and senior pastor with Harpeth Community Church, Franklin, Tennessee.