The Journey Blog

Reflections on the art of leading

Would A Relational Coach Be Better for You?

If you are seeking a coach to help you grow and change as a leader, what kind of coach are you looking for? Would you choose someone with significant experience in your field, who has an insider perspective, or someone with a different skill set, from outside your industry and context?

Most would probably say, “someone in my field” and I would agree with you, in part.



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Rising from the Mud, Part II: Building Foundations

The work of Provisions Group is basically foundation building.

Its not for a building per se,  but for an entity that aims at spiritual renovation. We diligently seek to create an environment and relationships that cooperate with the Spirit's work of digging deep into the heart-soil of leaders. In a physical building a mass of hidden work goes on before construction starts. There is surveying, design work, engineering, soil tests, excavation, placing steel, and pouring footings. All must be done first, and done well so that the entire structure, weighing many tons, will not fall down.

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Rising from the mud

When I worked in the family construction business I learned that the foundation stage of a building not only determines the shape, potential height, strength, stability, and longevity of a structure, but also that its seems incredibly slow.

During all that time, if you drive by a construction site in the early weeks, it is dirty, mucky, and unattractive. It doesn’t look like much is happening.

Then you drive by again and suddenly a building has “come out of the ground.”

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Places of Safety: Culture-shaping Practice #3


A pastor and his wife sit at our dinner table after sharing a home cooked meal and a glass of wine. They tell the story of a church member whose situation looms large in their church and touches others in leadership there. It does so in a way that means there is no one in the church with whom this couple can safely, and appropriately, process or discuss what offering leadership in this context will require....

Where does a couple like this go for help as they seek to offer loving leadership in their church?

As a leader, how can you see your own leadership blind spots in the midst of trying to lead? The reality is, no one can. We are not able to coach ourselves honestly and effectively as leaders. Its the same reason that a wise physician doesn't try to be her own doctor.

We've learned that every pastor needs a pastor. Every leader needs a coach.

The situation described above is just one example of how pastors and their spouses need a place of safety and trust: a place to reflect and process, to learn and grow. They need a place where they aren't "on" as Leader. The pastor's spouse needs a safe place, too, where others understand the unique, often troubling, challenges of ministry that put demands and pressure on the marriage, family, and friendships as no other profession does.

Pastors often feel that there is no place they go where they are not expected to lead, have the answers, set the schedule, keep time, open in prayer, be the expert, always know the verse, and how to fix whatever is wrong. If it isn't actually expected of them, they often expect it of themselves. Pastors tell us it's exhausting.

Being out of role, requires being within a safe, loving, bold community, among those who know their world, among people they can trust with their questions, and struggles—their unadorned selves. They need a community of peers who love them enough to challenge them when they are bluffing or boasting. As someone said, "Alone I'm a train wreck. With other men, I'm strong."

This is not so that the pastor can act up, or act out. It is being in a place to receive.

Pastors need this, but rarely have it. Who do they trust? As one pastor's spouse said,

Even though we have great friends in the church, I can’t tell my good friends, ‘Oh yeah, there are lots of times when my husband feels like packing up and moving out of this church.’ *

Where do pastors find support and accountability before a struggle becomes a ministry derailment? Where are those who have the time, and gifts, to pastor the pastor and how can we mobilize them to meet this need?

The research shows that for pastors to endure, something other than professional training is needed. As important as those skills are, they do not help pastors avoid being crippled by cynicism and sin, or to have a healthy marriage. Even the best seminaries can attempt no more than a cursory preparation for navigating conflict with emotional intelligence, or to discern and respond appropriately to invisible cultural biases in the church, to manage the budget, and staff, yet these tasks will consume most of the pastors time.

Simple as it may seem, sustainable ministry comes from cultivating a set of life giving, and culture-changing practices where learning and growth can happen, but where spiritual vitality is central.

Here are five practices that foster thriving pastors:

Give up the hero-leader myth. Join a collaborative community. Create an environment of safety and trust. Seek out mentors and peer learning. Discover spiritual direction and formation in relational context.

* A Pastors Summit Participant, quoted in Resilient Ministry: What Pastors Told Us About Surviving and Thriving in Ministry, by Burns, Chapman, and Guthrie.


Confusing Conceit with Leadership

Another pastor flamed out.

The pastor had an affair, it was discovered, he was packed off for costly emergency counseling, and he still left his wife and kids for the other woman. He just caused a train wreck, the damage from which will shape his wife and children for decades. It will also spread through the families of the church, if it survives, for years to come coloring their view of pastors, church and notching up their cynicism. This was completely avoidable, too, given the relationships and resources he had. Which makes it all the more tragic. He isolated himself from those who would have surely spoken sanity to him, before he came to believe that his hungers and shame were past the point of no return.

As a friend and I mourned the news, we also lamented the narcissism and hubris that so often accompany leadership and lead to spectacular moral failures. As we talked I voiced something I've come to believe:

Narcissism and hubris are often confused with leadership.

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Exceptional Coaches

Those who follow the growing field of executive coaching understand that not all coaching is of equal value. Coaches who have received advanced training and internationally accredited certifications are better equipped to help their clients grow and learn.

When my coaching associates and I attended postgraduate training in executive and personal coaching with the College of Executive Coaching we were impressed by the high caliber men and women, both on faculty and our fellow students. Only those with graduate level degrees are able to take the training, so all held advanced degrees and many had decades of experience in their fields. There were Masters and Doctoral level participants in Clinical Psychology, Ministry, and Social Work. There were MBA's and MDiv's. There were professionals from tech companies and government.

During our training Dr. Jeffrey Auerbach, president of the CEC, told us that those who have had clinical training and experience have the foundation to be exceptional coaches.

Taking off from Auerbach's "Thirteen Reasons Therapists Make Great Coaches", I offer my own reflections on why theologically trained, experienced ministry practitioners have the foundation to be exceptional coaches, too.

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About a House

We are in the midst of a makeover of our mid-century Rancher in Castle Rock—our home and the home of the ministry we've named Provisions Group. We're reinvesting some of the resources with which God has so generously provided us through the sale of our home in North Carolina. The formerly dated, frumpy face of the house now smiles through new windows, doors, and a new paint scheme. It beckons through a new front entry patio, and supporting posts we designed. The old stoop was demolished, formed, poured and finished in less than a day by a crew of hard working Latino men who then shared their lunch with us. We've added a bay window: a micro-addition that gives more light and a peek at Pike's Peak. Soon we will give our home a heart transplant—a remodeled kitchen with the tools for Karen to practice her culinary gifts to God's glory.

Why are we doing this and what does it have to do with Provisions Group, and coaching? What's the point?

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Five Culture-shaping Practices - Collaborative Community

Everyone knows that Theological education is vital and necessary for ministry leaders. Many seminaries do this quite well. If you have a conversation with a pastor about this you will find that seminary education is only the beginning of learning. For the newly ordained minister or ministry leader it all remains mostly theory until the experience of immersion into parish or parachurch ministry.

One of the wise things Jesus did in training and spiritually forming the disciples was to make use of every life situation as a learning laboratory.

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Five Culture-shaping Practices for Rising Ministry Leaders

 “Most churches make the mistake of selecting as leaders the confident, the competent, and the successful. But what you most need in a leader is someone who has been broken by the knowledge of his or her sin, and even greater knowledge of Jesus' costly grace.”

- Tim Keller

This is a transparently biblical attitude, yet most of us in pastoral leadership and church planting are highly vulnerable to the seductive idol of success. Like all idols do, it will enslave us.

There are five culture-shaping practices that I believe will greatly aid both established and rising church leaders in overcoming the idol of success:

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