Recently I texted some friends a few “anti-inspirational” quotes about consulting, including my favorite: “If you are not a part of the solution, there’s good money to be made in prolonging the problem.” But this applies to much more than just consulting.
How many of us have started to do some remodeling and found out it would be harder, more expensive, and much slower than we thought? Or we take our car in for something that seems small only to find out that this “small issue” is connected to something much bigger and more expensive?
So the question remains: why would we seriously consider voluntarily inviting a consultant or a coach into our church if there is a chance they will make things more complicated, not less?
If you’re asking this, I get it. I was on staff and a pastor of our church for 25 years. What makes pastoring so difficult is not that we have complicated pastoral, personal, organizational, or theological issues to navigate; it’s that those issues are confronting us all at once.
So then, why would you ever invite more potential complexity or challenge by inviting a ministry coach for yourself or a consultant for your church?
The first reason is that consultants, physicians, contractors, and mechanics, who have expertise and integrity, are not inventing the issues; instead, they are directing your attention toward the areas and issues you might not be able to see. You know those times when you’ve driven to work or the store and you don’t actually remember driving there? We weren’t in a trance or asleep; our brains were processing thousands of micro-decisions along the way, and we weren’t overtly aware of them. We can easily look past things that are important because we do not see them as immediate needs. An experienced coach and well-trained consultant can help us notice what we have probably noticed at a certain level before, but they can bring it into our conscious awareness. And with that awareness, we can be in the best position to address those issues head-on.
The second reason: a good coach and consultant can give you a discerning partner in looking at the issues that you both notice. Even with 25 years of pastoral experience, I still needed an outside voice and perspective who could bring expertise that I did not have into our context. I needed someone to see things were fresh eyes because it was too “normal” for me to notice issues that could arise. I wanted them to bring their experience, training, a greater breadth of options or responses, and their awareness of structure. But they needed to appreciate that I and the other members of our church were the keepers of the story of God in our community. We knew the hurts and joys people had gone through, and those needed to be honored as well.
A good coach or consultant will appreciate that dynamic and it becomes a conversation from these different inputs where we discern together. If you want a good, quick test of whether your coach or consultant is interested in this conversational approach, just see how many questions or conversations they have with you before they start sharing with you what you need to do.
One pattern I’ve noticed: the majority of leaders I coach spend about half of each coaching session talking about how they are navigating the challenges they are facing. Having a safe person to let our hair down with, and a safe place to vent and openly share challenges we are facing is essential for pastors and leaders to navigate pastoral ministry in a healthy way. With great frequency, the coaching sessions with leaders start in one direction – and then a question will come up or a thought will be shared and the conversation will go in a completely different direction entirely. Having someone with whom you can share the whole story of how life is going, without having to assure them afterward that you really do still love Jesus and have hope for His church (we all know that feeling don’t we?), is incredibly important.
There are many more reasons, for sure: navigating the morass of ideas and strategies that are out there, helping you figure out the order of issues to be confronted, assessing whether what you are doing is working, developing the steps to take/having someone that will ask about your progress through them, or just talking to someone that has navigated what you are confronting multiple times in multiple contexts. These are all important benefits provided by a coach or consultant.
A good coach or consultant should have experience in what you are trying to do, needs to have a strong faith life themselves, and needs to be willing to listen as much as speak.
Ironically, when those elements are present, it doesn’t feel like coaching or consulting; instead, it feels like ministry. And that is what I love about it.