A Coach’s Coach

May 12, 2018 initiated a devastating year for me (Mark). My adult son David died after a 10-year struggle with osteosarcoma. Then, on March 1, 2019, I was laid off by my employer of 13 years.

The anguish of the past year remains mostly unresolved in my heart. I miss my son terribly; he was my best friend. I miss the work that gave my life meaning and the people with whom I spent most waking hours for more than a decade.

People suggested that I see a therapist following David’s death. I sought help at a local grief center, but quit after two sessions. I felt the grief counselor was focused on empathizing with my loss, filling up the silence with stories of her own tragedies. I needed someone to walk with me through my grief, yet remain outside my experience—because it was MY experience.

This is where I brag on Peggy, my wife and my partner. Peggy is a bonafide certified coach. Without an official “coach-coachee” relationship, Peggy would occasionally throw a question my way when she noticed me struggling. Questions like:

“What one word describes your grief today? How is that different from last week?”

“What color is your grief?”

“What are some ways you can honor David’s life?”

“Where do you imagine your grief will have led you after another five years?”

And then following my lay-off:

“What have you learned about yourself in the way you responded to the news?”

“How can you be kind to yourself? How will you do that?”

Peggy has a way of inviting her clients to take a step back and look at their situations from a different angle. My grief persists, but thanks to Peggy’s ability and commitment to professional coaching, each day is a bit better. Three steps forward, two steps back, sometimes—but I am moving forward.

Jesus’ Joke

I’ve been reading Luke 15 lately, doing some research. Luke 15, for a lot of folks, is the pinnacle of the Gospel. It includes three parables—the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost (or prodigal) son. In worship services, these three stories are rarely read together and that’s a shame. Luke positions these teaching stories just so to show Jesus’ comedic side.

Story tellers know that classic jokes follow the law of three—1) there’s a setup; 2) there’s a second event that follows the first in form and tone, setting up expectations; and 3) the punch line breaks the pattern set by the first two parts. The Three Little Pigs is a kind example; a less kind example is “A priest, rabbi, and minister walk into a bar…”

So, Jesus tells three stories with similar construction—there is something or someone lost, which is found, resulting in joyful celebration! Let’s look closer for the comedic triad.

In the first two stories, the sheep and the coin are lost, which leads to the shepherd and the woman dropping everything to find their respective possession. The “finding” corresponds to repentance in each story. So, in the third story, after the younger son takes his money and runs, we expect someone (the father?) to drop everything and search for him. Once found, we expect the son to repent. That’s the pattern. But it doesn’t happen!

No one goes in search of the younger son!!! Let that wash over you for a few seconds!

What might this mean for us?

Many churches today wring their hands about “the lost” and devise evangelism programs to search for them. For the most part, those efforts have been judged futile. Whether the “nones” or the “dones,” they’re not coming back because of our efforts. The “punchline” of the three parables suggests that those efforts are wrong-headed. What we in the church are called to do is to be ready when they come back by the movement of the Holy Spirit (my interpolation).

The joke’s on us. Replace your evangelism committee with a party committee that is always at the ready!! Be prepared to welcome any and all who enter your community’s life with rejoicing!

Give me a call or send me an email if you’d like to talk about what Hinds Coaching and Consulting can do for you!

Knowing and Believing

“…once upon a time there was a man who had a vision and began pursuing it. Two others saw that the first man had a vision and began following him. In time, the children of those who followed asked their parents what they saw. But what their parents described appeared to be the coattails of the man in front of them. When the children heard this, they turned from their parents’ vision, saying it was not worthy of pursuit.”

What do we learn from this?

As Jacob the Baker says, we discover parents who believe in what they have never experienced and children who deny what they have never experienced.

Let me invite you to see yourself in this story. Imagine that you are the one pursuing the initial vision. How exhilarating to catch a glimpse of life’s deepest meaning and to know in the depths of your soul that it is within reach! As you pursue the vision and begin to make sense of it, you undoubtedly bring the sacred texts of your tradition to bear. These texts help to lend a vocabulary and definition to your search. Over time, you hear these texts in new ways—it’s almost like a veil has been lifted and you see your life as if for the first time. What a liberating, empowering experience!

Now, you notice others following you. These students have been drawn to you, to learn from you. What is your responsibility to them?

You may be tempted to try to recreate your experience in your students’ lives. But you can’t do it! Your vision, your experience of grace was a result of God’s initiative—both your vision and your ability to discern the vision are God’s gifts to you.

What can you do?

Parker Palmer says that the primary task of the teacher is to create a space for learning in which obedience to the truth may be practiced. This space is characterized by a particular mood or tone—openness and a willingness to entertain different, even opposing views. Perhaps the most significant contribution of the teacher to the learning space is the willingness to testify to his or her personal relationship to the truth.

Consider knowing. Every good teacher asks two basic questions: what is worth knowing and what is the best way to teach and learn the known? Is this only a question of imparting information, dates, and data? If a teacher’s personal relationship to the truth is a significant aspect of the learning encounter, then knowledge must be more than information. The Hebrew language gives us a clue—the word “yada” (to know) has a deeply intimate connotation. “Adam knew Eve and they bore a son.” Biblical knowing is personal, intimate; God knows us intimately and comes to us personally, in the flesh. Knowing and believing entail more than head knowledge. They indicate a relationship of trust and a willingness to be vulnerable with your students.

Notice how this changes the way we talk about teaching. As the teacher, you have probably been assigned a meeting location and time. Your first thought might be that you have a certain amount of time to cover the material in the lesson. Think about what that phrase—“cover the material”—means. When we cover something, we hide it from view. Is it possible that the teacher’s dutiful attention to following the lesson plan provided in the time and space allotted actually hides the truth from view? Might that result in learners who believe in what they have never experienced? How would a teacher “uncover the material”?

Uncovering the material is related to the teacher’s own vulnerability. Perhaps you can best prepare your students to hear the truth of the Gospel by modeling a trusting openness—by uncovering your personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Offer this relationship to your students not as a technique to adopt or an achievement to admire. Simply invite them to make themselves vulnerable before God and to trust Holy Spirit with their questions. As a teacher, uncovering the material may mean that you have to sidestep the lesson plan to provide the space required to practice obedience to the truth.

Does your church want to assess its educational ministry? Send me an email at hindscoaching@gmail.com.

It’s All About the Follow Through

Why invest in a program or consultation that will end up collecting dust on a shelf? Invest in a coach to help your congregation accomplish its goals and move into the future God has for you.

The leaders of Trinity Church were excited about participating in the latest church growth strategy offered by their denomination. They had tried other programs before but this one was different. This one would be the program to transform their ministry and grow their membership.

For six months they worked tirelessly to promote full participation by all their members. They followed every program strategy and worked closely with their denominational consultant. At the end of the process, they were handed a beautifully packaged report filled with qualitative and quantitative data and reasonable and exciting recommendations.

With the report in hand, the church board voted to accept the recommendations and put a committee in place to oversee their implementation. They sent a letter of thanks to the denominational consultant, who wished them well and offered to give them further advice should they need it.

Fast forward six months. The members of the implementation committee are frustrated and tired. They complain that they do not have enough direction and help to do the work they have been given. They lost one of their most energetic members when her family moved. Others are talking about stepping down because they have too many other obligations. The report sits on a shelf in the pastor’s study collecting dust.

What went wrong? The denominational program energized the congregation. The recommendations that came from the program seemed realistic and attainable. The board was fully committed. And yet the program never got off the ground.

Unfortunately, this scenario happens in too many organizations. It is not that the programs and consultants are not helpful. Instead, they are incomplete. Once the program is over and the consultant has departed, the already busy congregation is expected to implement the recommendations. Without someone to assist them and keep them accountable, they can too easily get stalled and frustrated, or simply lose interest and motivation. As a result, congregation members get angry with the board for doing nothing with a program for which they spent a lot of time and money, and the board feels disenfranchised and incompetent.

Having excellent recommendations for change is useful only if they are implemented. People need to not only envision the organization’s goals, but they also need to see movement toward those goals. Marshall Goldsmith writes, “We don’t just need specific targets; we need to see ourselves nearing … the target. Anything less is frustrating and dispiriting. … Progress makes any of our accomplishments more meaningful.” (Triggers, p. 112)

The key to making the most of any program or consultation is FOLLOW THROUGH. The best way to ensure follow through is to retain a coach to work with your implementation team. A professional coach skillfully guides an organization to accomplish its goals. They offer the team direction, encouragement, resources, and accountability. Coaching is action-oriented, which means the coach’s goal is to help the team overcome obstacles to reaching their desired outcomes in a timely manner.

Contact me for a free consultation to learn how I can assist your congregation.

To Be Let Go

Congregations and denominations talk a lot about mission. It is a broad term that can mean different things to different people. We also like to create mission statements that define our unique calling.

At its root, mission means to let go or to send. The Church has a mission. In the Great Commission (commission meaning to give authority to represent), Jesus directed his followers to go into all the world. Since its beginning, the Church has been a “sent” people.

What the Church has paid less attention to is the notion of being “let go.” What does it mean for a congregation to be let go? From what are they being let go, and for what?

In a recent interview with Faith & Leadership, Sister Maryanne Stevens talked about the turnaround at St. Mary’s College in Nebraska where she serves as President. She spoke about the importance of knowing your mission:

My philosophy of leadership is to focus on what’s core to your mission and make sure people are well-versed in that so they can choose whether to give their all or else, basically, to go away.

What a bold statement! Know your mission, get on board with it, or leave. It seems to be working for St. Mary’s and Sister Maryanne.

Unfortunately, most congregations are unable to be this bold. They create broadly focused mission statements with which everyone can agree. They explore mission possibilities, then choose those that make the most people happy or satisfy the squeaky wheels. Very few congregations define their core mission, proclaim it, and invite people to get on board or leave.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Book of Order states that the “Church is to be a community of faith, entrusting itself to God alone, even at the risk of losing its life” (F-1.03). Sometimes taking the risk to be faithful means letting go of programs, policies, and people who hold a congregation hostage and prevent it from being who God calls it to be.

I recently worked with a congregation with a desire to do something different to reach out to their community and grow their congregation. As I listened to church members’ many hopes and frustrations, I realized that they would never discern their core mission because they were afraid to take risks. They were fearful of offending members or losing what they have.

Unfortunately, this is not a unique case. For a people who should be emboldened by faith, fear cripples many.

What would it mean for your congregation to risk losing its life to be faithful to Christ’s commission? Are our buildings, budget, and programs more important than our proclamation? Are we so worried about losing who we have that we cannot reach those who need to experience the love, mercy, and acceptance of God? Can we let go of whatever is preventing us from being sent?

How Coaching Is Like Coaching

Long before I became a professional life and congregational coach, I was a professional tennis instructor and coach. People who know my history will ask if life coaching is anything like tennis coaching. My answer is “yes” and “no.”
Yes, life coaching is similar to sports coaching, so similar that corollaries are helpful to draw. No, they are not exact, so the comparisons are only suggestive. The following characteristics and behaviors are indicative of sports coaches that I consider exceptional. Good life coaches can offer similar benefits to their clients.

  • Coaches care about their players. Exceptional coaches care about their players as people. Life coaches genuinely care about their clients, and want what is best for them.
  • Coaches want each player to be the very best s/he can be. Exceptional coaches care about their players and want them to succeed in all aspects of life, not just in the game. Coaches strive to strengthen and develop players’ character as much as their skill. Life coaches have the same goal.
  • Coaches want their players to succeed. Exceptional coaches, particularly those who work with young people in academic settings, want their players to develop into healthy, productive and intelligent adults who contribute to the well being of the world. Life coaches also focus on holistic growth so that clients reach their full potential and discover where their passion and the world’s needs intersect.
  • Coaches help players improve their skills. Exceptional coaches work with players to discover their abilities and build on their strengths. They also help them learn how to be team players. Life coaches help their clients discover their inner passions and build on their own wisdom and abilities to have the life they want and to be effective work colleagues and leaders.
  • Coaches motivate players. Exceptional coaches are encouragers and challengers. Life coaches do the same for their clients.
  • Coaches and players work toward mutuality and symbiosis. Exceptional coaches cultivate with their players a particular rhythm in practice and in play that is unique to that relationship, and they have a shared outcome. (Think of Coach Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs.) When a person finds the right life coach, the same thing happens. Coach and client have a unique relationship, and the give and take of the coaching session is like a dance. Coach and client have a shared vision for the outcome of coaching, and they work together to reach that goal.
  • Coaches win when players win. Exceptional coaches and smart players embrace mutuality. Shared goals and shared practice lead to shared win and a shared celebration. The goal of a life coach is to help the client win—that is to reach their desires goals. When the client does this, it is a shared win and a shared celebration.

Smart players know they need a good coach to help them improve their game and their win percentage. Whether playing an individual sport like tennis, or a team sport like basketball, coaches are essential to success.
Do you want to improve your life, and your contribution to your work or the world? Do you want to have a high “win” percentage? Consider finding the right coach, and make an investment in yourself.