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December 6, 2016

Are you Coaching? Well?

By Derek Hanna

My wife is all about “bringing the outside in” to where we live at the moment. I didn’t know what that meant until plants started appearing in every spare inch of our house. She’s really good with the plants and takes care to learn how to care for each one. The other day she showed me that when she watered one particular plant, it thought it was raining and shot the seeds off the sides of the leaves trying to pollinate elsewhere.

I felt a sense of awe in the moment. She understood how the plant worked, and she knew what she needed to do to help it grow.

As I’ve worked with and learned from Scott Sanders, who is the Executive Director for Geneva Push, an Australian church planting network, it struck me how there aren’t a lot of things more strategic and important for the multiplication of churches than to understand, nurture, and help grow those who are planting churches. Within the ecosystem of church planting, this privilege falls to those who have gone before.

So if we’re going to do this effectively, we need to know how to feed and nurture well, without letting planters die of thirst or drown from overload. Here’s a few reflections on my own shortcomings and how I realized I needed to improve.

A good planter isn’t necessarily a good coach.

When I started coaching, I assumed I’d know how to coach well. I hadn’t been coached, but I’d trained volunteers, theological students, ministry apprentices, and counseled people through tricky pastoral situations, so I was pretty sure I had my bases covered. I was wrong. Very wrong. Not because it was beyond my ability to do. Just because I didn’t understand what I was meant to be doing. And while this can be hard on the coach, the people who really suffer in this situation are the planters we’re trying to feed, and the people they’re feeding.

Know what you’re trying to do.

Everyone defines (and labels) coaching differently, but to have an effective coaching relationship, I realized that the coach and the coachee need to be on the same page. At Geneva Push we talk to coaches about their job not being primarily to impart skills nor to act as a planter’s boss. Their job is to walk alongside the planter in those first few lonely and challenging years, encourage them, and help them to define and solve the issues and challenges they’re confronted with in light of the Gospel. We don’t want ministry clones or ministry drones. A coach’s role is to nurture theologically sound, self-aware problem solvers who know whether or not something is a problem, where to go, and to whom they can go to find solutions to that problem.

And to do this, coaches need the right tools.

It’s so tempting, as a coach, to want to problem solve for planters. “I’ve been there, I’ve had that problem, I know what not to do and what to do…so it’ll save everyone some pain if we just short-circuit the process and I tell you the answer!” And look, while sometimes we need to point out the iceberg at the bow of the ship, if our default is to provide the solution we probably have an inflated sense of our own abilities, as well as stunting the growth of self-aware problem solvers.

This is where the right tools are so helpful. Whether it’s the GROW model or the CROSS model (Scott Thomas and Tom Woods in Gospel Coach), alongside questions that help them probe their challenges from the relational, personal, missional and spiritual angles—we need to be deliberate about how we invest in planters and coach them. Coaching is a particular skill, and just as we learn the tools to exegete, preach, counsel, and all other aspects of ministry, we need to love those we’re coaching and coach enough to find the right tools and get good at using them.

But as with anything skill, it’s primarily caught not taught.

In my hands, a chisel is just an awkward screwdriver. In the hands of a master wood-carver it’s a tool of creative beauty. Even the best coaching tools can seem formulaic and relationally distant—until you see them used well. There’s no substitute for seeing a good coach in action, seeing them connect with those they coach, uncover the real (not just stated) struggle, and use questions to help people work through to a solution and way forward. Good coaching is caught, not only taught. We need the tools, but we need to know how to use them as well.

Finding the time to coach is never easy. No one in ministry is looking at their journal thinking “I’ve got too much spare time and too few people to invest in…I think I’ll coach someone!” But for us to build a network of healthy, growing churches, we need to invest deeply, wisely and prayerfully into those doing it for the first time.

So, how’s your journal looking for 2017?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Derek Hanna

Derek grew up and became a Christian in Sydney, Australia. After studying Computer Science and working in London, he decided to do something he was completely unqualified for, but desperately passionate about, and started working for the Church Missionary Society helping churches talk to youth & children about what God was doing throughout the world and how they could be involved. While doing this, he studied theology at Sydney Missionary & Bible College and then headed up to Brisbane, Australia to work in pastoral ministry. Nine years ago he planted Village Church in Brisbane City, and this year started working with Geneva Push, an Australian church planting network, as the Director of Training. He's been married to Jacqueline for 18 years, they've got three boys who bring them joy and worry in equal measure, and they're all part of Christ Community Church in Brisbane, Australia.

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