Conferences are good — they can be inspiring and helpful. They get you out of your environment so you have fresh eyes to learn. I’ve hosted conferences, and I believe in them.
Workshops or seminars are also good — you have a bit longer to learn about a specific topic, and even interact a bit with the other people who are learning. I’ve taught many workshops over the years.
But there is nothing like coaching.
A coaching environment is way different than anything else. A conference may have hundreds or thousands in attendance … a workshop could have scores … but the right coaching environment is personal and transformative for no more than 20 people. Everyone has a chance to be heard. Every story can be told and unpacked. Coaching happens over a period of weeks or months, so there is enough time between gatherings that life has a chance to happen. You are actually learning while you are in the trenches. You have time and encouragement to roll up your sleeves and let down your guard with peers you grow to trust.
In a healthy coaching group, you find a safe place to discuss the unique circumstances you face without any fear of reprisal or judgment. You establish a network of new relationships, and find yourself surprised by how those relationships were deep enough to continue for years.
I had an opportunity about three years ago to join a coaching network that met four times over a period of 24 months. We all wanted to grow and learn, and we were all church leaders — other than that, nothing connected us. I had never met most of the people in the group — a few I respected from a distance, but did not know. I was amazed by how this concentrated time allowed us to connect strongly and grow deeply. I’m not a touchy-feely-need-to-have-lots-of-new-friends kind of guy. Yet at the end of our gatherings, I was surprised by how I was connected with the other men and women in the group. And many of those connections continue.
A few years ago, I made the decision to dive deep into coaching. I very rarely speak at conferences or workshops anymore — I spend most of my training focus going as deep as possible with eight to 16 leaders at a time. Over the past five years, I’ve had the opportunity to lead a coaching network for executive pastors, and now have 72 graduates across North America. They are men and women — some with the title of Executive Pastor, all with the responsibilities of leading a church — who have become friends. Every day, I see emails going back and forth between these leaders sharing situations, asking advice and talking about life. The six days of learning were priceless. The connection since then could never be replaced.
The impact of a conference lasts a few days; a workshop might benefit you for an entire season. But a healthy, well-led coaching environment will expand your resources and gain you years of learning. Out of 72 graduates, every single one said it was well worth the money and time invested.