Talking Church

By Dennis Bratton

During a discussion about mentoring, talk turned toward the idea of a coaching cohort. The term coaching struck a cord of familiarity.

I’d taken part in peer coaching for years. We didn’t call it that. It was just a group of preachers who got together once a year to talk church, play some golf, and talk church some more.

The benefits of those connections were far-reaching in my ministry. I was in a growing church and regularly facing issues and challenges for which I often felt ill equipped. My best source of counsel came consistently from those coaching relationships.

 

Coaching Defined

A web search introduced an expanding new dimension of activity in the field of coaching, including written materials, credentialing, professional associations, and facilitators.

A favorite definition for cohort is “a group of individuals in a population of the same species.” That’s especially good for preachers! In practical terms a coaching cohort is a collaborative journey toward shared goals and actions that participants feel spiritually led to fulfill. It involves listening and asking precise questions.

The International Coach Federation states what coaching is not. It is not telling someone what to do. It is not solving another’s problems. Nor is it equivalent to guiding or mentoring. ICF defines coaching as “partnering with others in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”

 

The Experience We Offered

KORE Foundation decided to offer a peer coaching experience to senior ministers of growing congregations. Two Monday-through-Thursday events were scheduled for 2011 in Nashville, Tennessee.

Through the generosity of a north Florida couple who have a genuine love for preachers, the expenses for these inaugural sessions were covered by KORE, including housing, meals, recreation, and travel assistance. In return, participants were asked to fully engage in the three-day experience and listen to a brief discussion of the “beyond relief” business-as-ministry approach of KORE*.

Every participant completed a survey ahead of time. Their responses set the discussion agenda for the groups. Each preacher provided basic personal information and a summary of his current ministry role and answered questions like these:

• What are the top three hot-button issues you’re dealing with?

• What is the single toughest issue you’ve faced in ministry?

• What are your strongest ministry abilities?

We asked each preacher to begin praying ahead of time for God to bless the group experience.

Invitations were sent out to those on several mailing lists, and God obviously was at work in constructing each group. Participants came from nine states and varied in age from their early 30s to late 50s. The participants served churches ranging in size from 700 to 1,500.

In both groups, men of faith, most unknown to each other, quickly bonded and traveled a collaborative journey together; they shared experiences and insights, failures and successes. In every area of the topical discussions, a group member already had faced what someone else was currently working through; someone had already found a solution to a problem others were confronting.

The ministers listened carefully to one another and asked precise questions—each one helpful to the others. Where some in the group felt most challenged, another in the group seemed most gifted. The hope was the group dynamic would benefit all involved. It was intended that each individual participant would connect with the others in alignment with the ICF definition of coaching. The hope was for the concept of a “peer coaching cohort” to become a genuine reality.

The relaxed format allowed participants to freely shape the agenda to their own needs. Morning sessions took place around a conference table. Afternoons were spent recreationally, but always the topic stayed focused on church and ministry. Meal times were also enjoyable and productive. Nashville offers unique entertainment options and each group took advantage of local talent, including Christian comedian Henry Cho or country music along Broadway Avenue downtown. Even then, these preachers talked “shop” with one another.

The top issue to emerge from pre-
attendance questionnaires concerned providing clear leadership to both church and multiple ministry staffs. Ideas were shared for imprinting vision with clarity and focus, hiring, problem solving, and more. Often noted was the dynamic tension between having a pastor’s heart and serving as administrator.

A close second topic for discussion was church finances and the current downturn in the U.S. economy. Both groups continually discussed creative ways to overcome barriers to healthy church growth, including adding services and campuses.

An enjoyable highlight for both groups was a drop-in visit by Ed Stetzer, director of LifeWay Research and missiologist in residence at LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville. He is a popular conference speaker and respected author. He has tracked megachurch development over the past decade and stays current in trends and ideas influencing the American church. The question and answer sessions with Stetzer proved to be fascinating and insightful.

 

How They Responded

The preachers who attended these first two KORE cohorts were asked to evaluate their experiences. Their comments were encouraging and prompted KORE to plan additional opportunities in 2012. Interested senior ministers can find information on the KORE website, www.korefoundation.org.

Here are sample comments:

“A great blessing for me—9 out of 10!”

“ I am looking forward to the continuing dialogue with the guys.”

“I enjoyed the peer coaching. It seemed we all were in need of that, and none of us feels we’ve got it all down.”

“I have found the most encouraging and practical help I get in ministry comes in these informal roundtable settings.”

“It provided me with some of the most beneficial ministry tools I’ve been given.”

”New friends, new ministry tools, and new perspectives.”

“It was a blessing for me to get to fellowship with, and learn from, other preachers. We are indeed struggling with some of the same issues while enjoying some of the same blessings. I came away with a better understanding of my situation and how to move forward in several areas.”

“Invaluable. I was encouraged to know my struggles were normal. I was challenged with next steps and lifted with hope knowing I now had a peer group available for counsel, prayer, and encouragement.”

“Nobody understands a preacher like another preacher!”

“What I am dealing with, they are dealing with.”

“A much-needed time of encouragement and fellowship.”

From most accounts, the idea of peer coaching has merit. There’s an interesting and beneficial dynamic that takes place when preachers can set aside the mantle of responsibility for a while and just talk church with one another.

________

*For more information about KORE (Kindness Opportunities Resource Enterprise), visit www.korefoundation.org.

 

Dennis Bratton is a retired senior minister and executive director of KORE Foundation.

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