Getting the church to be what it was meant to be—a family on mission—doesn’t happen only through teaching and talking. People already have enough information; they need application.
One of the first ministry opportunities I ever had was to lead a small group Bible study in college. I was eighteen years old, a brand new Christian, and I didn’t know enough to teach anything. In fact, everyone in the group had more Christian education than I did. So I did the only thing I knew how—I asked questions. Some of my go-to questions were:
What do you think Jesus meant when he said…?
Why is this important?
What do we learn about God from this text?
Tell me more…
Is there anything else?
What themes are you hearing?
How might we apply this in our normal lives?
I wasn’t leading like this to be smooth and covert. I simply didn’t know enough about the Bible to give any answers! I was asking because I really wanted to know. By leading this way, a few things happened. First off, I learned like crazy. But second, people were convicted, and many came to faith.
As a freshman in college, I didn’t know it, but I was using coaching skills. By drawing out of others, God used my lack of knowledge to create space for the Holy Spirit to bring gospel renewal. Those years were sweet. Reflecting on it now, much of my pastoral work has been an effort to see that happen again.
Why Coaching is Essential to Movements
I believe that in order to see a Gospel movement take place, we have to recover the art of asking questions. Asking questions isn’t the only piece to this, but it’s a big one.
Tim Keller has written and taught on this subject for a long time saying that three elements are essential for gospel renewal to take place:
- Contextualized gospel ministry
- Cross-denominational church planting movements
- Specialized ministries
It’s hard to get at any of these three components without a gifted team focused on this work. But one of the essential things that team needs to do is make a space to neutrally convene people. Teams fail interpersonally and in their mission when they get over-attached to their unique agendas. Teams succeed when they can learn neutrality, to ask instead of tell, to listen, and work together.
If you want a contextualized gospel ministry, you’ll need to listen to your city. Additionally, starting new churches or specialized ministries requires hearing varying perspectives. But when leaders can learn these skills, they’ll hear themes, and possibly what the Spirit of God is actually saying. What I’m talking about isn’t primarily a leadership shift; it’s a theological shift. If we really believed Jesus sent his Spirit to teach, convict and guide, wouldn’t we listen more? (John 14:26)
Coaching is essential for movements because of four factors
- Coaching convenes people.
- Coaching leads to collaboration.
- Coaching leads to conviction.
- Coaching creates culture.
Coaching Convenes People
As a 2018 focus, our central goal as Saturate is to establish a number of disciple-making hubs in Canada and North America. Coach training is a big part of this because establishing work like this requires leaders listening to one another.
In Phoenix, we have a friend who helps lead within the SURGE network who put it this way, “We’ve learned that to get at movement, we have to become neutral conveners of people.” Truth be told, people will not consistently get together if a single person has an agenda they will not put down. This doesn’t mean we don’t have a purpose for gathering, but it does mean leaders need to learn the art of asking and listening first.
A disciple-making hub is a group of five to eight churches who share a common vision of discipleship and commit to sharing their lives, their needs, and their resources with one another. No single church can reach an entire city; this is why working together is essential. Disciple-making hub leaders know not just how to listen to one another, but how to listen to the Holy Spirit. This leads to an environment of creative collaboration.
Coaching Leads to Collaboration
When leaders listen to one another, they learn the real needs of each other and their cities. Data has shown that when a person is asked a question, it forces them to focus. Environments of teaching and talking have their place. But if we’re going to activate our best thought-energy, it has to happen in an environment of question asking.
A wise man I know taught me, “Together, we’re a genius.” This one-liner has shaped the way I teach significantly. I ask more than I talk now. This isn’t natural for me. It’s taken many years of training and practice. I’ve learned that getting people to speak up takes work, but when we do it, we get to the heart of the matter. Learning to do this helps us see the themes we need to pay attention to.
My time in the corporate world as a coach and consultant has taught me that collaboration only takes place when a facilitator is truly neutral, all contribute, and everyone humbly listens. Doing this leads to conviction.
Coaching Leads to Conviction
When leaders have truly listened, learned, and collaborated, it can lead to humble conviction. Conviction is internal and long-lasting, and takes a bit longer to get to. Usually, people take the route of trying to convince one another of what needs to be done. Convincing is external and short-lived. Leaders using coaching skills make room for the Holy Spirit to convict, teach, empower, and lead. When people are convicted and empowered by the Spirit, beautiful, new things get created.
Coaching Creates Culture
Many years ago I was deeply influenced by Erwin McManus’s book, An Unstoppable Force. McManus explained that, while institutions exist to preserve culture, movements create culture. Why is this?
Many institutions were movements at one point. But when their founders died off, the next generation turned up the rules to keep the movement going in the direction it once went. Problem is, if a movement doesn’t move, it’s not a movement anymore; it’s become an institution. Why? When leaders stop listening, they don’t change, and they don’t create.
Neutrally convening people to take a fresh look at the cause means everything. It gives an opportunity to identify strengths, shortfalls, and areas where course-corrections are needed. The ways we creatively design solutions lead to culture-creating beauty. I want that, don’t you?
A Closing Story
A few weeks ago I spoke with a pastor friend where I live in the Chattanooga area. He’d grown tired of the weekly grind of preparing sermons and gathering crowds to listen. “There’s got to be more than this,” he thought.
We ran into each other at a training event where Jeff Vanderstelt and I were serving. The topics were discipleship and gospel fluency. He sat in the back and took furious notes. Immediately convicted, he returned home and began to lead toward change in his church. The problem was, he’d never led in the direction where he was trying to transition his church. He needed help.
We caught up on the phone and talked about what he’d done, his questions, and strategy. “Don’t assume your people get the gospel,” I told him. “Our tendency as leaders is to jump to strategy before allowing the hearts of people to be changed.” Then I shared a blog for him to read and share with his group. He did it, listened to their thoughts, and it made all the difference.
It made a difference because he made space to hear where his church was actually at. In doing so, he met them at their point of need, and it led to deeper conviction. He’s still very much in that place with them, but the Holy Spirit is working, and I’m hopeful of what his church will eventually do.
He could have rushed them to strategy, but it would have been short-lived. But because he made space to listen, the Spirit came in, conviction happened, and people are changing. Isn’t that what we’re after anyway? Sometimes in the rush to act and create tangible stuff, we miss the fact that God’s mission is about heart-change, and changed hearts change the world.
As we talked on the phone I added, “I know a group of pastors in our city who meet regularly to get to know one another, hear each other’s needs, and share resources. These guys are at varying phases of the journey, but we share the vision that God cares about all of life. Would you like to join?” He’s joined us, and we’re excited to work together.
I believe our city is a microcosm of what’s happening all over North America. We can’t reach our cities alone. Churches need each other.
Getting the church to be what it was meant to be—a family on mission—doesn’t happen only through teaching and talking. People already have enough information; they need application. Seeing gospel renewal takes place when we neutrally convene people and begin to ask questions.
As I said earlier, coaching isn’t the magic bullet that will ignite a movement; it takes gifted leaders, a compelling vision, prayer, collaboration, and commitment. But what could I liken coaching to? To use a metaphor—coaching is like wind blowing on a flame. If the flame starts as a small vision, when coaching is added, the vision gets bigger and grows to a fire. This isn’t the kind of fire that destroys, but the kind that warms freezing masses of people. I’m giving my life to that.
This is why coaching leads to movement.
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