Reflections and resources for lifelong learning for missionaries

Author: Ken Guenther Page 1 of 23

Director of SEND U

coaching for goals
Photo by Isaac Smith on Unsplash

What happens in a coaching session?

Do I need a coach?

This month, I will be thinking hard about my ministry and learning goals for 2021. My mission organization asks me to put together an annual ministry plan (AMP) and a personal growth plan (IGP) for the new year.1For further information, see the AMP/IGP guide that our training department has created. As part of that planning process, I am going to consider whether I will need a coach to help me with my ministry and learning goals. Setting up a few coaching calls might very well make the difference between reaching our 2021 goals and not doing so.

But what does a coach actually do? I have written about coaching in this blog. See “What is coaching?” and “The value of coaching” as two examples. But our blog posts have never really explained what a coach actually does. About 10 years ago, I addressed this question in a series of newsletters to our mission membership, entitled “Comments about coaching.” You can find these on the SEND U wiki. But given how long ago that was, I thought it would be helpful to revisit some of those “comments” and update them as well.

grumbling against leaders
Photo by Alex Radelich on Unsplash

Unhappy with leadership?

Grumbling and complaining should not be the theme of our conversations at this time of year with Thanksgiving just behind us and Christmas before us. But we are living in difficult times. Most of us know friends who have been sick with COVID-19 and many know friends who have died from the virus.

Frustrated with leadership decisions

But the grumbling we hear is probably not primarily about the virus. The preventive measures others are imposing upon us have caused much frustration. All around the world, governments are making decisions to restrict the further spread of the coronavirus. Despite their good intentions, these decisions are nevertheless causing additional hardships. We are limited in how much we can interact with friends and family. Most of our churches both back in our home countries and in our places of ministry are facing restrictions in how they hold worship services.

Many people, particularly in the West, resent the intrusion of the government into our social, family, work and religious lives. We see anti-mask demonstrations on the news, although those of us who live in Asia probably do not see any such protests. Nevertheless, if we follow posts of our friends and family in the West, we know that many are very upset with the government’s restrictions on their personal freedom. You may have found yourself wondering how followers of Jesus should respond if we feel that the measures to counter the spread of COVID-19 are actually more harmful than the virus itself.

Understandably, we are getting tired of this crisis. Longing for life to go back to normal, we find it hard to be joyful and thankful. We find it easy to complain when we are looking at spending another holiday season apart from our friends, hampered in our ministry outreaches and struggling to stay safe.

What is a good and godly response?

like your teacher
Image by Raphi D from Pixabay

What limits our disciple’s progress?

Over the years, I have recognized that many of those I have taught, coached or mentored have become better communicators and more effective leaders than me. I may have been their teacher, but their gifting and competency have surpassed my own. This has been a cause for celebration. I have even seen it as an indication of God’s blessing on my life.

Upon first reading, Jesus’ words in John 14:12 might seem to suggest that he had the same sentiments.

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. – John 14:12

However, I think D. A. Carson is right in saying that Jesus is talking about the greater impact the disciples will have once the resurrection has made it clear who Jesus is. The works of the disciples are greater than those that Jesus did, because in the light of his death and resurrection, these works will more clearly glorify him for who he really is.1D. A. Carson, The Gospel according to John, p. 496.

Like your teacher

In Luke 6, Jesus gives a more realistic evaluation of the potential of his disciples. But it is still a pretty lofty perspective!

The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher. – Luke 6:40

Learning by doing
Photo by VisionPic .net from Pexels

Is learning by doing better than learning through courses?

Recently I reacquainted myself with a common formula used among trainers. It is the 70-20-10 model for learning and development. The model is based on research back in the 1980s on what were the most significant learning experiences for effective leaders.1https://trainingindustry.com/wiki/content-development/the-702010-model-for-learning-and-development/.

The research showed that leaders learned most (70%) through hands-on-experience at work when they accepted challenging assignments and worked on problem-solving. This included learning from taking risks, experimenting and making mistakes.

The next greatest source of learning (20%) came from working with others. This would include collaborating with others, giving and receiving feedback and receiving coaching and mentoring. The last 10% was learning through educational courses, seminars and books.

Did Jesus and Paul avoid conflict?
Photo by Richard Lee on Unsplash

Do Jesus and Paul avoid conflict?

In a previous blog post, I suggested that sometimes Christians need to argue. In fact, I believe healthy teams must have productive and passionate debate about important issues. We will lose much if avoid engaging in them. But I also noted that Christian unity is very important to Jesus, and in fact is taught throughout the New Testament. So does our commitment to keeping the unity of the Spirit (Eph 4:3) restrain us in participating in these types of arguments? Let’s look at both Jesus and Paul and their posture toward arguments.

Jesus does not avoid arguments

Throughout Jesus’ ministry, we often find him in debate with the religious leaders of the day (e.g. Mk 8:11, 12:28). Generally, these debates were initiated by the Pharisees as they sought to trip up this young, popular teacher who was threatening their power base. But Jesus does not steer clear of controversial subjects or refuse to answer their provocative questions.

Nevertheless, when he overhears his disciples arguing about who was the greatest (Mk 9:33-34, Luk 9:46), he puts a stop to it. These were not productive debates, and reflected a completely wrong idea of what leadership entailed.

Jesus joins an argument

But I would have thought that after the dramatic events of the cross and the resurrection, Jesus would be done with the rough-and-tumble of debate and argument. Somehow I imagined that in his resurrected glory, he would not want to have anything to do with them. Then I read Luke 24. I see that in Luke, Jesus’ first resurrection appearance is to join an argument between two disciples.

Avoiding conflict

Should Christians ever argue?

In my online class on leadership, I ask my students whether they prefer “fight” or “flight” when it comes to conflict. By far, the majority tend to avoid conflict. We feel uncomfortable with passionate arguments on mission teams. But can conflict and disagreement on mission teams ever be productive? Could it even be necessary?

For many years, I have been intrigued by Patrick Lencioni’s claim that one of the five dysfunctions of a team is a fear of conflict.1The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. See diagram of the 5 dysfunctions on the SEND U wiki. Recently, I listened to a podcast by Pat Lencioni and his Table Group on “The Upside of Conflict.” He made the startling statement that very few companies that he has worked with have even close to enough conflict. This view seems to radically differ from the prevailing view that Christians and Christian organizations should avoid conflict at all costs! Often our organizational cultures seem to discourage any open expression of disagreement. We do not want to undermine our unity in Christ.

follow-up and reinforcement of training

I don’t really know if the training went well

How can we know if it is effective?

I have spent the last 10 years of my life in training missionaries. Training events have taken me to more than a dozen countries. Through online courses, workers from at least twice that number have participated in training that I have led. Furthermore, I head up our organization’s training department and so have the privilege of leading a great team of trainers and facilitators. But despite my experience and travels, the question does not go away. How can we know if our training is effective?

Recently I saw that the parable of the sower sheds some light on this question.

The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. – Matthew 13:20–21

Biblical understanding

Jesus’s explanation of the seed falling on the stony ground shows us that a joyful response to the hearing of truth is no indication that people have understood the Word. As is clear from Matt. 13:15, a biblical sense of understanding is to understand with the heart, resulting in a change of behavior. We can only say that there is true understanding when the person repents and turns from their previous behavior to adopt new behaviors or habits.

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