Coaching Life-Changing Leaders

Everybody needs a coach—whether to help you plant a garden, build a home, improve a golf swing, or lead a small group. The question is: What does coaching look like? How do we inspire, shepherd, and develop leaders of groups so that they grow in wisdom, maturity, and skills?

To help our coaches, we’ve outlined four key practices for the oversight of leaders.

Modeling: Pursue Christ-likeness.

Grow in the life of full devotion you’re inviting others to lead. Paul said, “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). I remember when Ryan, now almost 16, was about four years old. We were walking down Michigan Avenue in Chicago, and I was holding his hand. I let go to pick up a large piece of paper in our path on the otherwise clean sidewalk. I threw it in a trashcan and turned to grab Ryan’s hand—but he was gone. For a split second, I panicked—it was a busy street with many passersby. I turned around and discovered he was several feet behind me, picking up another piece of trash he had spotted. He threw it in the can and grabbed my hand. It struck me—he watches everything I do!

We’re always modeling, whether we realize it or not. Coaches should pursue the Jesus way of life for their own benefit and growth, but should be aware that leaders are looking to them—at least sometimes—to show the way and to live a life worth emulating. We inspire others when we pursue Christ. It’s job one for coaches.

Guiding: Shepherd Intentionally.

Guides are sometimes holy sages and mystical gurus—but that’s not the image we want to portray. Coaching is simply helping people take the next step on the journey. Sometimes, it’s a journey you’ve taken personally; other times, it requires pulling out the map and saying, “Let’s head this way together.” The point is being intentional and conscious that we have opportunities to guide a leader toward growth, service, and connection with Jesus. Coaches help leaders identify and take their next step of spiritual growth. “Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people” (2 Timothy 4:2).

Envisioning: Dream Together.

“Don’t lose sight of good planning and insight. Hang onto them, for they will fill you with life and bring you honor and respect” (Proverbs 3:21 NLT). Proverbs says, “When dreams come true there is life and joy” (13:12 NLT). It’s one thing to cast vision to leaders—it’s another thing to cast vision for them. Instead of using “let’s take the hill” vision casting, think of ways to help leaders see what God is doing in and through them. “Rita, I believe God is using you to deeply affect the lives of people in your group, even though we do not see all the fruit now. I watch you—you pray, use your shepherding gifts, bring fresh ideas, and speak loving truth to people. Imagine the payoff that will come from that—people will stand stronger and run the race better. Do not underestimate the power of God working in you!” That kind of talk will inspire people, not simply call them to action.

Equipping: Develop Skills.

“Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12 NLT). Coaches are not expected to be skill trainers in the formal sense. However, they shouldn’t underestimate their ability to share wisdom and experiences with leaders, and to point them to training classes, books, messages, and experiences that will help them grow in effectiveness.

Think of yourself as a golf or tennis coach more than a football coach. Observe people as they lead and describe their ministry, and then speak into the situation. If you cannot help, get help. Simply sharing a personal success and a few ministry tips can go a long way. Always come prepared to offer something—a word, idea, insight, or a resource—to leaders when you meet them one-on-one or at a leader gathering. See yourself as an equipper that comes alongside leaders to offer help and support for ministry—either directly or though the gifts of others you know.