Coaching in the Mennonite Church

Jeannette Slater, of Phoenix, Ariz., is an ordained Mennonite minister. She has been in the coaching ministry for 18 years.

By Jeannette Slater

How many times have leaders attended a seminar, workshop or even read an inspiring book and said “THIS is what I need to do in my setting to make a difference or to see my congregation move forward”. Then they go back to the trenches and are quickly overwhelmed with the latest crisis and the ‘great idea’ gets relegated to the bookshelf. What if leaders could actually follow through on accomplishing their goals?

As newly trained pastors are launched into ministry there is a large drop-out rate. Conferences will often provide a mentor for new pastors. But a mentor, who shares how they did it 30 years ago, may not be the only, or even the best way, to help new leaders in a changing ministry landscape. As the Mennonite Church attempts to replace retiring pastors and prepare for growth, closing this drop-out gap will be essential.

Coaching is more than the latest buzz or technique used in business and increasingly in the church. It is a simple yet powerful process of empowering leaders to accomplish goals, to make a difference. This is not done through the more directive skill of consulting (where the consultant comes with the answer/solution) but by coming alongside a leader/team to listen and ask powerful questions that enable the leaders to discern the path ahead. The result is change and growth in both the leaders and the ministry.

In the Christian world of coaching, we believe that God has already spoken and is speaking to the leader/team being coached. The coach serves as a ‘midwife’ to help the leader(s) listen, uncover, discern and clarify vision, goals and action plans to accomplish what God is calling that leader/team to do. The coach then serves as an accountability partner, encourager and trouble shooter as they walks out the path agreed upon.

Coaching fits well within our denominational polity and theology. Following in the way of Jesus, a quick read of the gospels (or an internet search) shows how Jesus used powerful questions with his disciples and those he encountered. It is non-directive yet empowering, supportive and encouraging. It can be applied to teams as well as individuals. It uses skills we may already have so training can be accomplished quickly and effectively. I believe that coaching is the single most effective process for empowering leaders to accomplish God’s purposes.

There are two basic kinds of coaching, Life Coaching and Executive Coaching. Life Coaching focuses on personal goals a person might have. This can include spiritual direction. While this is a valuable kind of coaching, the kind of coaching I am proposing is Executive Coaching which works with a leader/team either to improve their own leadership skills and goals in a specific ministry environment or works with a leader/team to accomplish corporate goals within their ministry environment. I would call this Leadership Coaching or Ministry Coaching.

An easy example is that of church planting. The church planter may have personal goals (exercise, diet etc.) or a desire to sharpen their spiritual life which would fall under life coaching. However Ministry Coaching would primarily focus on the larger goal of planting the church and how the church planter leads that process.

Mentoring is another way we often ‘come alongside’ each other. Mentoring assumes that the mentor has walked this way before and the mentor often shares their own experience of ‘how they did it’. As a coach, I may not have held the role of my coachee but I understand the dynamics of the situation well enough to ask powerful questions that allow the leader to discern their own path.

For example I have coached church planters, pastors, missionaries in other countries, and denominational leaders at every level, but I have never served in any of those roles. However I do understand the principles of leadership and strategic planning which are transferable to all of those situations. Exactly how they apply will be different which is why I bring key questions for the leader rather than advice on how to proceed.

Pastors who simply want to maintain status quo, manage what is, and serve as chaplain for their community will not find coaching appealing. Coaching is for leaders who see a better future for their church and want to lead their church into what they believe is God’s invitation to them. Coaching will help them clarify their vision, discern milestones along the way to reaching that vision, write action plans to reach their goal, mobilize the team they need to move forward, negotiate the obstacles they encounter along the way, and stick with their plan to see it come to fruition.

I believe we need to find ways to empower the leaders of the future to discover new ways of being the church within the Anabaptist tradition rather than just following the ways of the past. Cultivating a coaching culture within the Mennonite Church can be a critical piece of that picture both for the church of today and the church of the future.

If this is a path you would like to explore, it would be good find out if there are other leaders interested in this approach to ministry. There is already some familiarity and perceived value for coaching with in the church planting community. There may be other pockets of interest as well. Perhaps an online round table discussion could help us clarify what is known and what next steps should be.

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If you would like to be in touch with Jeannette directly, email her at jbslater728@gmail.com

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One thought on “Coaching in the Mennonite Church

  1. Wish my father had lived to see this one ~ M. Morrow-Farrell, Philadelphia, PA.

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