Reflections and resources for lifelong learning for missionaries

Category: Coaching Page 1 of 3

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.

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.

A Time for Teaching?

There is a lot of emphasis on coaching and facilitating in mission circles today. And rightly so – these are great tools! Teaching often does not get much space at the table though. It seems to escape everyone’s notice that those who advocate coaching and facilitating are in fact teaching.

Teaching is frequently caricatured as only interested in passing on information without much concern for life change. In all my education, I have never met that straw man! I never had a teacher or professor who was only interested in my mastering information. Yes, information was the primary focus of exams, but not exclusively. Even my high school Latin teacher sought to build character as we translated Caesar’s “Gallic Wars.” Throughout college and seminary, my faculty advisors ( and other profs) aimed to build character and a faithful lifestyle. Some were better than others, but all saw their role as developing the whole person. Maybe my education was unique, but I don’t think so. For 35 years, I taught at a Bible College, and none of my colleagues were satisfied with simply passing on information. Teaching gets a bad rap when it is portrayed as simply  passing along information.

Processing crucibles with the help of others

In three previous blog posts, I have been talking about crucible experiences (trials, or in other words, painful and stressful life or work circumstances) and the role they have in transforming us. But as I have noted, difficult life experiences in themselves do not refine us. Our response to the crucible experiences of life and ministry is what allows the crucible to become transformative.

Ananias restoring the sight of Saint Paul
Pietro da Cortona, 1631

Crucible experiences are often endured alone, or at least without the company of other human beings who truly understand the pain and stress you are experiencing. Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days alone with the wild animals. Elijah ran away from Queen Jezebel to Mt. Horeb, leaving his only companion in Beersheba to travel 40 days into the wilderness alone. Abraham went to Mt. Moriah to offer up his only son as God had commanded, and although Isaac with him, Abraham bore his test in silence, without explaining all that was going on in his mind to his son.

But although the crucible may often be experienced alone, I believe that crucibles are best processed with the help of others. If crucibles are designed by God to transform us, and we are to fully mine the wealth of all that God wants us to learn from them, we need the Body of Christ to learn from them. God sent Ananias to Paul in Damascus to help him make sense of what had happened to him on the road when his whole world was turned upside down. Jesus debriefed Peter on a long walk along the beach up in Galilee after Peter denied him 3 times. Even Jesus was attended by angels after the devil had tested him in the wilderness (Matt 4:11).

The value of coaching

Training in coaching – by coaching others

In our mission organization, we provide a coach for all of our new missionaries at the mid-point of their first term.   This coach meets with the new missionary for a total of 6 times over a 3-month period to help them walk through the process of doing a self-assessment of their spiritual, physical, emotional and relational health.  This 3-month coaching period is called MOP-up (Member Orientation Program under pressure).   SEND’s pre-field training is called MOP or Member Orientation Program, and MOP-up is a follow-up event a few years later.  The whole program seeks to 1) reinforce the pre-field learning, 2) identify what has been learned experientially since arriving on the field, and 3) plan future learning goals for the rest of the first term.  You can read more about this training for first-term missionaries at this link.

At the end of the MOP-up experience, we ask the coachees to give us an evaluation of the experience.  Thus far with almost 30 responses tabulated, 64% have indicated that the coaching was very valuable and that they definitely want to be coached in the future.    This greatly encourages me, for one of my hopes was that in exposing first-term missionaries to coaching, they would see its value throughout their missionary career.

Training vs Development

Recently, I have been thinking about the difference between training and development. Both are important, SEND U is committed to both, but they are different. As Steve Moore said in a recent Missio Nexus webinar, training is oriented around the needs of the organization, while development is oriented around the needs of the individual.

Let me illustrate. Our Member Orientation Program is a training event. SEND U has put together a list of objectives for MOP, describing the learning activities and content that we believe will help a new missionary develop the competency they will need.

How can coaching enhance my ministry? (Part 2)

A second yet related way in which Christian coaching can be helpful in our missionary and church planting ministry is that it helps draw out what the Holy Spirit has put into the hearts and minds of those we coach. As Dr. Keith Webb says in the Coaching Workshop participant manual:

The Holy Spirit is the best source for insights, ideas, strategies and action points. Coaches help the coachee to hear the Holy Spirit more clearly and support them to respond well.

I have recently gained a new and deeper appreciation for the crucial role of the Holy Spirit in Christian coaching. One of my spiritual gifts is the gift of helps. Unfortunately, one of the downsides of that gift for me is my tendency to want to help people by “fixing” their problem. You husbands who may be tempted to “fix” your wife when she just wants to talk, understand how unhelpful such an approach is. The “Mister Fix-it” tendencies work equally unwell in coaching.

Instead of offering final solutions, any suggestions we give should be merely springboards for further reflection on the part of the coachee. In our coach training, we learned that after sharing a suggestion, we should immediately follow up with the question, “What ideas does that give you?” I decided to test this out when coaching a friend about support raising. In the awareness phase of the coaching session, I decided to give a preposterous suggestion as part of considering the problem from a different perspective. To my surprise, the Holy Spirit was able to use my dumb suggestion to provide new perspective to the coachee and eventually action steps that were helpful for him.

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