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.

An Object Lesson on Hospitality

When I ask congregants to tell me their church’s greatest strengths, one answer is always “we’re friendly.” They like to think of themselves as welcoming, hospitable and kind. Closer to reality, church folks are friendly to the people they know. They greet visitors with a forced smile or a handshake, then leave them to go chat with other members or their own family.
Businesses understand the work that goes into welcoming visitors. Their livelihood depends upon staff showing hospitality, or as they call it excellent customer service. Anyone who has ever been in a store where the salesperson is grumpy or rude appreciates a respectful, smiling customer representative. Hospitality has the power to determine the kind of experience people have and whether they will return.
Congregations could learn a few things from corporations like Starbucks and Apple.

Have you ever been to an Apple store? They make hospitality a priority.

1.     It is easy to identify who works at an Apple store. They are dressed nicely in matching shirts and equipped with technology to communicate with one another. What if congregations had hospitality teams that were easy for visitors to identify and equipped with the tools they need to make folks feel welcome?

2.     The staff gathers before the store opens to go over responsibilities and get pumped up to serve customers. What if church leaders and greeters gathered before the church doors opened to get ready for the days’ activities and pumped up to serve visitors?

3.     Someone is assigned to meet you at the door with a smile and a welcome. They also find out what you are looking for and connect you with the person to help you. What if trained church greeters were at every entryway and in the parking lot to welcome and direct visitors.

4.     At our local Apple store, the greeter not only welcomes those who walk in the door, but also smiles and speaks to people walking by. What if churches had greeters outside the building just to say hello to folks passing by. (This is a great idea for urban congregations that have a lot of foot and bike traffic.)

5.     The Apple greeter connects customers with a specific person to serve their need. This person stays with them for their complete visit. What if congregations had people trained to stay with visitors through the complete visit to help them find their way around, follow the order of service, and get information they want about the church?

6.     Apple employees always ask customers if they got what they needed and thank them for coming. Thanking people for visiting is not just the pastor’s job. What if the church had specific strategies for thanking people for coming and following up with them?

7.     Space matters as well. Apple stores are modern, well-lit, clean and well-staffed. What if churches put a lot more thought into their space like companies do? What message does the space give visitors – warm and cozy like a Starbucks, or bright and energetic like an Apple store? Congregations have plenty of people to help with hospitality because every member can participate.

There are many ways to show hospitality, and true welcome does not stop with the first visit. To be truly hospitable means to show people the kindness, grace and love that Jesus shows us. It means welcoming all, especially those who may not fit in to our cultural expectations. Before we can practice this kind of extended hospitality, we need to get past the first step of welcoming the visitor. How is your congregation doing?

Changing Habits Change the Church

“If organized religion has become less relevant, it’s not because churches have held fast to their creedal beliefs; it’s because they’ve held fast to their conventional rituals, roles, and routines. In other words, the problem with organized religion isn’t the ‘religion’ bit, but the ‘organized’ bit.”
This quote comes from chapter 5 (Becoming an Enemy of Entropy) of Gary Hamel’s book, What Matters Now: How to Win in a World of Relentless Change, Ferocious Competition, and Unstoppable Innovation.” His assertion is that the Church, like other institutions, is stuck in an organizational paradigm that keeps us from moving forward in a time of constant and rapid change. It is not our message that needs work. The message is timeless. Our way of doing “business” is what is holding us back.
Rev. Watson Blake once said, “Bad habits are like a comfortable bed; easy to get into, but hard to get out of.” For many mainline Christians, our way of “doing” church is habitual. A habit is something that is done repetitively to the point of becoming unconscious. The way we worship, educate, fellowship, and serve has been practiced into habit, one might say a bad habit.
This crazy, wild ride of change in which we now find ourselves invites us – implores us – to evaluate our rituals, roles and routines. In order to be resurrected into the church we are called to be today, we need to let old habits die. Everything we do as an organization is subject to critical examination. No part of the institution is sacred.
This work needs to be done on every level of the Church, from the local congregation to the national denominational structure. Hamel states, “To thrive in turbulent times, organizations must become a bit more disorganized and unmanaged-less structured, less hierarchical, and less routinized.” He offers suggestions for moving from our habitual ways into a more missional and relevant ministry.
Be humble. “In a world of discontinuous change, arrogance is a mortal sin.” Can we, on every level of the Church, be self-critical, and gracefully accept the critic of others? Can we put our own jobs on the line for the good of the Kingdom?
Be honest. Listen to the dissidents and innovators in our midst. They have something to teach us. Because habits are unconscious, it is sometimes difficult for us to see what needs changing. The dissidents among us, and the critical outside observers offer new perspectives that can help us identify needed changes.
Keep the mission paramount. “It is easy, over time, to elevate form over function and confuse programs with purpose.” The purpose of the Church is to proclaim the Gospel, not to maintain itself. Mission means “sent.” We are a people called to be sent into the world to bring good news, give voice to the voiceless, and work for reconciliation and peace. We are not called to be catered to, or programmed to death. We get enough of that from the rest of society.
In addition, I suggest that we have as many purposeful conversations as we can, and really listen to one another. As leaders, we want to know what our parishioners’ deepest passions and most profound questions. What matters most to them? Where is God calling them to engage in the world? Along with serving their worship and pastoral care needs, let us keep them in prayerful discernment that leads to action. Create opportunities for dialogues about faith, current events, and mission. I believe these kinds of continual conversations will help us break old habits, and move us from “doing” church to “being” church.
“As institutions mature, the positive thrust of mission diminishes and the pull of habit strengthens – until one day, the organization can no longer escape the gravitational field of its own legacy,” writes Hamel. “We need to remind ourselves that it’s impossible to build adaptable organizations without adaptable people – individuals who are humble, honest, and inspired. These are the human roots of renewal.” Adaptable people can change their habits.
If one wants to lose weight and become healthier, she changes her eating and exercise habits. It takes a lot of practice and determination. Likewise, if we want to become healthier and more relevant churches, we need to change our habits.
What are the institutional habits that need to change in your ministry setting in order to move from doing to being?
(Originally written for, and published by