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The Value of Having a Coach
By: Bill Easum

Everyone understands the value of a football team having a coach or coaches. Why, then, don’t we understand the need for pastors to have a coach?

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. He now had to relate to a secretary and a youth pastor. Since John had never had a staff before, he had no idea what to do in a staff meeting, so about all they accomplished was the perfecting of the calendar. John didn’t know that the perfecting of 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. After all, he had a much larger congregation to care for now. It never entered his mind that he wasn’t supposed to do it all.

As time went on, the church grew to more than 500 hundred people in worship due to his relentless work ethic. Now John had a worship leader and a children’s director, but still all they accomplished in their staff meetings was the perfecting of the calendar and putting out staff fires.  Everyone on the staff was working in a silo, going a different direction, while working themselves into an early grave or divorce.

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 “whom” he left behind. John finally realized that people are what build the Kingdom, not buildings and programs.

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 the church, the staff, and the people began to grow once again. John just moved one step along the leadership path.

Having successfully navigating the first transition point, John’s congregation experienced significant growth and John was called to a semi-mega church. 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 administer, a small group leader, an outreach leader, and a servant evangelism leader, not to mention several other part-time ministry staff. What was there left for John to do? He even had his very 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 coached 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 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, nor ever get bogged down in day-to -day decision -making. A lead pastor has to focus on the whole – are the systems in place and working to develop the leaders of the future?

John did as his coach suggested, and 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. Addition in anything was now out of the question. In a church this size, hundreds of people would be coming and going every month. If the church was to continue growing its impact on the community and the world, it had to learn how to multiply everything: leaders, worship services, locations, and community and world ministries. 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 mega-church. 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.

Otherwise, the hire would be disastrous for John and for the future of the congregation. The shift to an executive pastor is a big step. It requires a healthy ego on the part of the lead pastor because now not only is the lead pastor not involved in any hands-on ministries, but the lead pastor is no longer the coach of the four core staff.  An executive pastor must have the same DNA as the lead pastor. This person’s heart must beat to the same drum as the lead pastor.  

There can be no variance in how they understand the mission of the church. John is at a crucial moment in the life of the church. A misstep here can derail everyone’s hard work over the years. During this period, John stayed close in 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. It simply wasn’t in their genes to hang out a “no vacancy” sign.

Because John had been visiting with other pastors and reading many of the books on innovative churches, he knew there were more options than relocating. Finally, he decided it was time to take serious his coach’s advice about developing a multiplication mindset and become 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 one location. Many pastors make the assumption that if you can run a single location church, you can just as easily run multiple locations. Not so.  Becoming a multi site church is like having twins. Ask any parent of twins if it’s as easy as having one child. If you’ve ever had twins, you know that one plus one equals more than two.  

It’s not just adding another site. It’s multiplying locations, and that means geography will make everything more complex for everyone, especially for the staff. 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 was the coach of the coaches, 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 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 to coach the campus pastors or assigns this responsibility to someone other than the executive pastor. And, the role of the executive pastor assumes more of a direct role in helping relieve the stress multi-sites have on the staff at the original location.

So, could it be you need a coach?

Bill Easum is president of 21st Century Strategies, Inc. a full service church consulting group since 1987 whose mission is to equip Christian for global impact. You can learn more about 21st Century Strategies at www.churchconsultations.com. He is a consultant, author, ex-pastor, futurist, husband, and father, who enjoys releasing Billfish. You can reach him at easum@aol.com and keep up with him at his blog, www.billeasum.com.










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