I was speaking with a young mainline pastor (we’ll call her Rev. Rebecca) who was sharing about her “coach.” The “coach” was the pastor at a nearby church. She had significant church leadership experience, had been successful by most matrices, and was willing to give her time to meet with the young pastor. Rev. Rebecca was excited because she was certain she was spending time with someone who would help her be a successful pastor and church leader. When I asked her about the content of the monthly meeting, she said, “We spend most of the time talking about how I’m doing, how much time I’m spending with my family, and self-care kinds of issues. It’s mostly a pleasant get together and she always prays for me and buys my lunch. I feel re-energized whenever we meet.”
To be fair, Rev. Rebecca is a very lucky pastor. We all need someone who will come beside us to offer care, prayer, and encouragement – and buying lunch is a huge bonus. I suspect Rebecca’s personal life will benefit from the regular sessions.
However, let’s be clear, Rev. Rebecca is not being coached, at least not in the sense of becoming a more effective pastor. Her monthly meetings are spent with a great encourager, but let’s not confuse encouragement with coaching.
Don’t get me wrong, a good coach will be an encourager, but that encouragement has a very different goal. Coaches are there to help draw out the very best in you. And though there will be professional, certified coaches who will strongly disagree, in my experience the best coaches double as mentors who pour their lives and professional practices into their charges. The best coaches are those who encourage you to be your best, to do your best, and who invest their knowledge, experience, and expertise in you.
A good coach will help you set goals for the week or month or quarter and will hold you accountable for achieving those goals. They’ll also push you to be better than you are, to be more productive than you are, to push harder than you do, and to maximize your potential. The truth is, few pastors are good coaches … unless they’ve been trained to coach. Most pastors are very good pastors who will encourage you and love you. And it’s both a lucky and wise leader who finds a caring and experienced pastor to come alongside them. But be clear as to the scope of that relationship. If you want to succeed as a church leader, then you’ll need a coach. A real coach. Someone who’s willing to look through the smoke you’re blowing about how you spent your time last month and hold you accountable for what you really did – or didn’t – do. If you don’t have someone who’s coaching you, find someone who will.