Why am I so convinced that coaching is valuable for missionaries? Primarily because of how much coaching helped me at a time in my life and ministry when I was frustrated and felt that I had plateaued and was no longer growing. Back in 2007, I contacted Dr. Keith Webb in Singapore about some questions I had about coaching missionaries. I was trying to “coach” a church planting team in FER, but I had no real idea what that meant. Rather than just “tell” me what a coach does, Keith graciously offered to “show” me by coaching me for the next 6 months.
That coaching experience proved to be the most significant learning experience of my past 15 years of mission leadership. I believe that I learned more about leadership in those six months, than I had previously learned from any book, seminar or even the graduate classes on leadership that I completed in seminary. Furthermore, I see now that God had planned that during those six months, I would face a whole series of major ministry issues and opportunities, including the realization that visas were going to be a major problem for SEND FER and the invitation from our International Director to step into my current role as SEND U Director. As my coach, Keith walked me through the decisions I needed to make to respond to those issues and opportunities. He asked probing questions, challenged me to do necessary research, helped me to identify what God was doing in our lives at that point, and above all encouraged me to take initiative and step forward confidently. I am very thankful to the Lord for the help that Keith gave me during those months, enabling me to turn these very difficult and frustrating circumstances into excellent opportunities for personal growth and maturation (as God had intended).
When is coaching most helpful? Coaching can be helpful for any person. But I believe it is most helpful at times in our lives when (1) we sense that we are no longer growing and developing as we would like in some area of life or ministry, or (2) we are facing some new challenges and opportunities in life and ministry and we would appreciate some support in figuring out what to do and how to respond. As missionaries, we are regularly thrust into contexts where we need to learn new skills (or languages), adapt to new situations or face new challenges. So we are prime candidates for coaching, and mission organizations around the world are recognizing the strategic importance of providing coaching for their personnel. Keith developed a simple questionnaire that you can use to assess your own readiness for coaching at this time. If you are not sure that coaching is what you need, maybe you would be willing to try it out for a few sessions.
You might also want to check out what Tony Stoltzfus has written in his book Leadership Coaching: The Disciplines, Skills and Heart of a Christian Coach on the “Top 5 Reasons to Coach and Be Coached.” Stoltzfus’ first chapter of his excellent book on coaching is also available to be read for free online.