Over the past five years I’ve seen a tremendous shift in my ministry. Ten years ago, the bulk of my ministry consisted of local church consultations and workshops. Occasionally I would be asked to coach a pastor following a consultation. Today, almost half of my ministry is coaching pastors either before, after, or totally absent of an on-site consultation. Don’t get me wrong: I’m still doing consultations on-site or by mail-only, but now most of them are coupled with some form of ongoing coaching.
I’ve asked myself, “Why this change?” Every time the answer comes back the same: “Because the world is changing faster than the average pastor can keep up with while still leading a church.” So I see my role these days as “packaging experience.” My experience as a pastor and consultant has allowed me to gather experience from both worlds of ministry. So in a sense I’m “packaging experience” to pass on to those who want to build the Kingdom.
Let me show you how “packaging experience” works in the life of a pastor by telling you John’s story.
John’s first church right out of seminary was in a rural area of the Midwest. He was the staff. If something was going to get done, John had to do it. After five years of becoming proficient in hands-on, one-on-one ministry, he was called to a suburban church twice the size of the rural Midwest church.
Immediately John was faced with something he had never experienced before – a staff. Since John had never had a staff before, he had no idea what to do in a staff meeting. Just about all they accomplished in their staff meetings was the perfecting of the calendar. Since John had never had a staff before he didn’t know that perfecting the calendar in a staff meeting was a waste of time. Worse than that, John didn’t have a clue that it was up to him to set out clear expectations of what he wanted his staff to accomplish.
Over the course of the next year John went about doing ministry the way he had learned to do it in the much smaller rural Midwest church. An 80-hour week was not unusual because it never entered his mind that he wasn’t supposed to do it all. As time went on, the church grew to over five hundred people in worship due to his relentless work ethic. Now John had several staff members but still all they accomplished in their staff meetings was the perfecting of the calendar and putting out staff fires.
It wasn’t long before the church began to decline – 450, then 400, then 350. John couldn’t figure out what was happening. The staff was still working as hard as they could but it seemed the harder they worked the more the church declined.
One day, on the advice of a friend, John hired a coach and the coach changed his life. The coach first helped him see he was working too many hours, not managing his staff, and was robbing the congregation of the joy of serving and growing in their discipleship.
Next he opened John’s eyes to the two essential ingredients to personally growing along with the growth of the church. Through the guidance of his coach, John realized that his legacy would not be measured by what he left behind, but by who he left behind. John finally realized that people build the Kingdom, buildings and programs don’t.
Next, his coach helped him realize that the more ministry he handed off to others, the more potential for growth there was for the individual, the church, and the Kingdom. Over time John learned to apply these two ingredients to his ministry and as a result, the church, the staff, and the people began to grow once again. John just moved one step along the leadership path.
The more ministry John handed off, the more the congregation grew and guess what – John was called to a small megachurch. Again he felt like a fish out of water. He had just learned how to work with a staff; now he was asked to work with a staff that included a full-time worship leader, children’s leader, youth leader, business administrator, a small group leader, an outreach leader, and a servant evangelism leader, not to mention several other part-time ministry staff members. What was there left for John to do? He even had his own secretary who was used to doing research for parts of the pastor’s Sunday message. Clearly, John was in unfamiliar territory once again. So John did what he had done before: he turned to his coach.
At this stage, John’s coach reinforced the fact that from now on, John’s success depended more on his staff than him. It was impossible now for him to know everyone in the church or meet every new person, much less have the time to multiply the number of leaders necessary for a large church. If he was to reach his goals, he would have to gather around him a group of passionate, skillful individuals who could function as a team.
John’s coach made it clear – if John was going to be able to keep his church growing he had to be totally out of day-to-day ministry and focused on two or three major critical missional directives for the entire church or churches. A lead pastor can no longer be concerned about the individual ministries of the church or get bogged down in day-to-day decision making. A lead pastor has to focus on the whole – whether systems are in place and working to develop the leaders of the future.
John did as his coach suggested, the church grew, and once again John had to turn to his coach. This time his coach helped John to see that the future of his church, not to mention the Kingdom, was through the multiplication of everything. To continue growing the church, John had to develop a multiplication mindset and the only way to achieve multiplication of everything is through doing ministry through other people. Now he had to learn how to add staff who could multiply themselves over and over.
By now John thought he had seen it all – or so he thought. He had successfully navigated through some of the most turbulent leadership shifts a person can make and he had grown a megachurch. Still, something nagged at him. Every conversation he had with pastors in churches his size or larger mentioned how much they relied on their executive pastor. The more John talked with them the more he realized the need to redo the staff configuration one more time. Hopefully, this would be the last time. Finally, after a long search, John hired an executive pastor. But before he did, he had another conversation with his coach who told him the most important part of hiring an executive pastor is finding someone who had his same DNA and vision for the church. There can be no variance in how they understand the mission of the church. Otherwise, the hire would be disastrous for John and for the future of the congregation.
John is at a crucial moment in the life of the church. A misstep here could derail everyone’s hard work over the years. During this period, John stayed in close touch with his coach to ensure the transition went well.
John had come a long way in his personal growth. Having maneuvered through three gut-wrenching shifts in how he led the church, he had now arrived, or so he thought.
Not long after hiring the executive pastor, the two of them were having a conversation about the future of the church. During their conversation it became obvious that the church had become about a big as it could become. If the church was going to continue to grow it would have to have more parking and a bigger worship center. John and the executive pastor spent hours in prayer about how to proceed.
Because John had been visiting with other pastors and reading many books on innovative churches, he knew there were more options than relocating. Finally, he decided it was time to take seriously his coach’s advice about developing a multiplication mindset and becoming a multi-site congregation. Again John turned to his coach for guidance.
The first thing his coach helped him to see is that shepherding a church in more than one location is more complicated than shepherding only one location. Many pastors make the assumption that if you can run a single location church well, you can just as easily run multiple locations. Not so. Becoming a multi-site church is like having twins. If you’ve ever had twins you know that one plus one equals more than two. Now they have to coach and delegate at a distance. Making this decision meant the staff had to make one more gigantic shift in their leadership. And again John turned to his coach.
John’s coach helped him see that he would be the coach of his campus pastors, and while the coaching skill set remains the same, it is complicated by the fact that the one being coached is not always nearby. If the campus pastor is local then there should be some cross-pollination of staff meetings. If the other site or sites are not local then regular Skype or other form of conferencing the whole staff together is in order. Any way you cut it, putting geographical distance between the lead pastor and campus pastor creates additional challenges.
The most difficult transition for John and the staff when they went multi-site was learning to value the success of all locations equally. They could not talk about the “main campus.” Now all locations were essential to the ministry. It’s not as easy as it sounds to treat all sites as if they are equal in the overall mission but that is what you must do if you want multi-sites to work.
At this point the Lead Pastor either takes on the responsibility of coaching the campus pastors or assigns this responsibility to someone other than the Executive Pastor. And the Executive Pastor assumes more of a direct role in helping relieve the stress multi-sites have on staff at the original location.
Question: Have you been impacted by a coach’s influence? Share your experience in the Comments section below.
Do you need a coach to help you achieve your God-given dream? If so email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit our coaching site, Next Level Coaching Network. Both Bill Tenny-Brittian and I do one-on-one coaching.
Also check out our blog on coaching.