What does it take to be a missional coach? What sets missional coaches apart from any other kind of coach? This week I’m doing a series on the five missional coach competencies—one per day. These represent the areas that a good missional coach must be competent in, over and above the competencies all quality coaches must possess.
You have been assigned by your denomination to work with Josh, a planter in his 20s. He feels disillusioned with traditional church and says he wants to plant a new kind of church, something completely different. When you try to engage with Josh to help him put words to his vision, he reacts strongly against the vocabulary choices you’ve made. “You just don’t understand,” he sighs. You’ve never planted a church like this—things are different now. I don’t want something that boxes people in. I want to create something that frees them. We don’t just want to play church and have a service. We want to live out the gospel in real life ways… ways that make a difference. You’re used to traditional-type churches and traditional-type people. No offense, but I don’t think someone like you is going to be able to help me.”
This is where competency #2—credibility and connection—comes in. Working with missional leaders, you will virtually never have credibility just because of your role; you’ll need to have some form of incarnational missional experience. It raises credibility in the eyes of the person you’re working with. If you’re completely divorced from that world, you don’t believe in it sufficiently to be believed in the eyes of the other person. It’s true that good coaching skills can go a long way, and you don’t have to do everything in the missional spectrum, but having had some personal experience allows you to express empathy and show that you’re relevent– even through the questions you choose to ask. People can smell the difference between a book learner and someone who has learned from experience. If you don’t have any track record at all of missional living, this is probably not an area where you should coach. Not because you couldn’t, but because of the effect on the people you’d be working with.
I’m not sure that this is as important as one might think. The power of coaching lies in asking the right questions. For example, in my practice, while specializing in smaller churches, I do work with pastors of larger churches. I have no experience pastoring a larger church and I tend to favor smaller churches. But this in no way interferes with my ability to coach the pastor of a larger church. In coaching i don’t worry about my experience, having the right answers or suggestions, or being able to relate to my client, i.e. know what it’s like for them (although, I must admit, that my ability to relate to my clients helps a lot). The only thing I worry about is having the right question. I coach a few missional guys and have not noticed any difference in my approach than with those who would not identify themselves as missional…although it’s hard to find anyone these days who does not want to be missional.
I agree that the power of coaching lies in asking the right questions. But if someone has no experience in missional ministry they’d have a hard time asking the right questions. Likewise, a small church pastor could ask a large church pastor some very good questions, but someone who has never worked at a church in any capacity might have trouble coming up with very good questions to ask a large church pastor. You don’t need to have done exactly what your client is doing in order to coach them effectively, but you need to have some experiential understanding of the basics.