Lessons From the Coach





A close analysis of the way Jesus trained His leaders reveals how those same coaching skills can help any pastor minister more effectively.
If one were to poll a group of teens regarding their choice for a "dream career," it would be revealing, though perhaps not surprising, to see how few would desire to become pastors or Christian leaders compared to how many would want to become coaches in their favorite sports. What they would be missing, however, is how integral coaching is to ministry. The fivefold ministry outlined by the apostle Paul in Ephesians 4:11 (NKJV), "for the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry" is, in actuality, a ministry of coaching.

Consistently rated as one of the most esteemed careers in the United States, professional athletic coaches are commanding higher and higher salaries for the opportunity to produce winning teams. In our school systems, teachers and coaches are expected to help shape the values and characters of our young, emerging leaders. In the business community, "life coaches" are replacing highly paid consultants for pivotal guidance in times of personal and corporate transitions.

In churches around the world, the recovery of the fivefold equipping ministry is mirroring some of the practices of athletic and business coaches, but many don't realize the gospel's source from which these practices spring. Ministry leaders are shifting toward the role of coaches in raising up workers and leaders for the end-time harvest. People expect pastors to coach (or mentor) them into their personal spiritual development and the fulfillment of their destinies. Dozens of books have been made available in the last two years that describe the uniqueness of such approaches, with an increasing number being written from a Christian perspective.

With many people in our postmodern culture having the opportunity to have a personal trainer or life coach, what does the church have to offer beyond sermons, teachings, classes and cell groups? Are there strategies Jesus practiced that have yet to be fully embraced and reproduced through the discipling and equipping mandate of the church today? Is there more than anointed and prophetic messages that we need to model to our culture that demonstrate that God's Word, the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the methodology of Jesus are relevant to cultural trends?

The answer is yes. We discover these strategies when we take a closer look at Jesus the trainer instead of only Jesus the teacher. When we do, we find that Jesus asked a lot of questions that required a lot of reflection. We discover that Jesus emphasized transformation over information. And we observe that Jesus "raised the bar" on the level of listening skills required to raise up other leaders.

In fact, we might realize we have developed an unhealthy dependence on a one-way communication style in much of our leadership strategy. As a church planter, pastor and seminary professor for more than 20 years, I am sorry to report that we have relied too much on simply "telling" as opposed to truly "teaching."

All across the spectrum of leadership training for ministry, I have found that leaders need to adjust their training to meet the needs of learners. Many of us who have spent considerable time and money to have something to say effectively are now sensing that it is not how well we can say it but how well our followers can get it. But moving from a style of "telling" to a more effective style of leadership training will require a closer look at how Jesus the coach trained leaders.

Many classics, such as The Training of the Twelve by Alexander B. Bruce and The Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert E. Coleman, have described in great detail some of these principles. Following are some foundational strategies that are making a comeback in leadership training in churches, ministries and schools across the nation. These strategies provide tools that will break a dependence on "telling" to training Jesus' way, resulting in more effectiveness in what God has called us to accomplish for His kingdom.

ASK POWERFUL QUESTIONS

One of my students came across a doctoral research paper that dealt exclusively with the questions Jesus asked. When we study the types of questions the Savior asked, we find that they were very powerful. Why is that? What made them a more effective means of mentoring than simply "telling?"

Most people remember His famous question, "'Who do men say that I am?'" (Matt. 16:13). That is a powerful question especially because Jesus asked it in Caesarea Philippi, a crossroads of the Roman Empire where many came to inquire of a pantheon of gods. By making such an inquiry, Jesus was training leaders to ask questions that the predominant culture is already asking and passionate about.

Few people remember the question, "'Why do you sleep?'" (Luke 22:46). In the natural mind it was obvious: the late hour and the depression of the disciples from Jesus' predictions of His own death. But this wasn't just any hour He asked them to pray with Him. This was the hour--the hour of His greatest agony. He wanted His "community" to be by His side. By this query, Jesus was training leaders to ask questions that reveal the urgency of the hour, the time of the fulfillment of God's kingdom plans.

Questions can be powerful because they cause people to stop and respond from the heart rather than from the head. Powerful questions invite introspection and reflection and lead to greater creativity and insight. They can knock people off their automatic pilot program and make them fly the airplane themselves.

The foundation of the "Jesus method" of leadership development is asking rather than telling. The cornerstone to this foundation is powerful questions.

All across the country the Holy Spirit is moving people beyond the practice of conventional questions that simply elicit information to powerful questions that encourage personal exploration and discovery. Not only is this a return to a key methodology of Jesus, but it also is the key to rapid development and deployment of the millennial generation, which values relational dialogue rather than slick presentations.

In the secular mentoring and coaching movement, leaders simply assume that anything in the heart or core values of the person they are training is worthy of supporting and encouraging through the method of questioning. The result: secular humanism applied to coaching and mentoring.

In the kingdom of God, however, we want our questions to help our trainees to engage with God in the ways He is shaping their characters and values for the sake of His glory and His kingdom. The more we recover from our propensity to tell and develop the skill of asking, the more we will see the fruit the Holy Spirit will produce in the lives of our learners.

One couple I know who lead a weekly Bible study took this to heart. The husband would read the biblical text over and over, and then spend the week preparing powerful questions to ask at the study. His wife would discern the heart of those who responded to the questions. Then both of them would follow up each week, bringing healing, deliverance and salvation to those God had revealed were ready for a breakthrough. Their group and their leadership base grew beyond any others that were based only on the traditional approaches highlighting an expert "teller."

Ask yourself the following questions to make a personal application in your own ministry setting:

**How can I achieve my training goal by doing less telling and more asking?
**How can I rework my questions from simply getting a response (yes or no) to getting a reflection?
**How can I develop my "asking muscles" to design and deliver more and more powerful and penetrating questions?

PRIORITIZE TRANSFORMATION

Think back on a training experience that impacted you greatly. What kinds of methods were used that resulted in your growth as a disciple or a leader?

More than 90 percent of the responses to this question asked in leadership training programs I have researched linked the most dynamic impact of the training experience to the relational involvement with the leader who modeled the desired behavior or activated with the learner to put it into practice. Very few remember a great sermon or teaching that transformed them.

John Wimber, founder of the Vineyard churches, impacted much of the training strategy of churches from various streams by emphasizing the "clinic" aspect of training. Extensive teaching times always led to the "now let's practice it" applications that moved learners from information to transformation.

If you lump together everything Scripture records of Jesus' teaching and eliminate the duplication, we could read the content of His teaching in less than an hour. Ralph Neighbor, a pioneer of the cell-church movement, believes that most of the other things Jesus did were to intentionally place His disciples in "clinic" situations that would reveal their hearts and values. Jesus was going for the goal of transformation--changing people and leaders from the inside out.

Instead of a five-part series on servanthood, for example, Jesus modeled it numerous times, including washing His own disciples' feet. He then added the clinic part by having them act out numerous applications of servanthood, including washing one another's feet.

Lasting transformation of our hearts, habits and value systems probably requires at least six to 10 of these types of experiences with feedback. Unfortunately, that is not how thousands of other leaders or myself have been trained for ministry leadership.

It has become too easy to simply read what the gospels say but miss the point that what is said has an experiential context. Jesus' words tie in directly to what is actually happening in the hearers' lives at a particular moment. But because we read Jesus' words outside of their living, first century context, we tend to see Jesus as telling us what to do, rather than showing us by modeling a principle Himself or illustrating it in a real-life experience.

Information is critical, and knowledge is necessary. We need great sermons and classes. These will have the greatest impact in leadership training, though, when what is told interprets past or present experiences in our lives. This is where transformation takes place--in the everyday experiences in our lives in which we can identify and embrace God at work, shaping and forming us from the inside out.

I have specialized for years in training pastors on how to avoid ministry pitfalls and finish well in their callings and ministry vocations.

But when I added an element called a "personal timeline," described in J. Robert Clinton's book The Making of a Leader, results stepped up a notch. Now leaders were able to relate my informational telling with the history of their key trials and victories--and their learning curves shot up off the graph! The "Ahas!" of transformation heard in those classes were like the sweet sounds of popcorn popping.

Ask these questions to make a personal application of this principle:

**How can I redesign my training practices to be more relational, including personal demonstration of what is being taught?
**How can I incorporate a clinic approach to my training time that involves my learners in real-time learning?
**How can I move more toward transformational experiences rather than informational transfers of my notes to their notebooks?
** How can I connect my content to my learner's context?

LEARN NEW LEVELS OF LISTENING

All of us listen. None of us has arrived at having "ears to hear" what is really being said all the time. Think about a leader, a pastor or a trainer who helped you develop your leadership call. What value common to a coaching approach did he or she model to you?

Jesus modeled a listening strategy in His life and in His teaching as defined in John 10:3: "'To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.'" Before He leads the sheep out from the protected sheep pen, through the dangers of pitfalls and predators, to the higher ground, He calls them by name. In biblical times, knowing someone's name was more than what we read on the surface.

To know someone's name in Jesus' time meant to know why he or she received that name. It meant listening to the dreams, hopes, values, fears and concerns of an individual long enough to know the destiny of the family and the individual through that particular name.

Sheep would follow because the shepherd knew them. Learners and followers quickly become workers and leaders when they know the authentic voice of Jesus speaking through us in the way John 10:3 depicts.

There are three levels of listening:

**Level one listening is where we start. This is when we listen to meet our own agendas. The issue while we are listening at this level is, "What does this mean to me and my vision, goals or agenda?"
**Level two listening begins to express the John 10:3 strategy. We listen to know what is really in the heart of the person communicating with us. The issue while we are listening at this level is, "What does this really mean to him or her?"
**Level three listening incorporates both powerful questions and transformational thinking. We listen to know what is in the heart of God for the person we are training. The issue while we are listening at this level is, "What does this really mean to the kingdom of God for him or her?"

Levels two and three are the gateways through which transformational training takes place. It is the method that Jesus used, and it is the method that Jesus' under-shepherds today will use to capture the heart and mind of a culture that thinks coaching is a discovery of modern athletics or Fortune 500 companies.

I had the opportunity to meet and chauffeur Christian businessman and author Bobb Biehl during a 20-minute drive several years ago. Within that short time frame, I had a transformational experience as his powerful questions and level two and three listening skills revealed a new area in my life for reflection and research.

Probing for answers to the following questions can help you make a personal application regarding listening skills:

**What relationship is there between developing "listening ears" to the Holy Spirit and increasing our listening levels with those we are training?
**How does understanding and embracing our identities in Christ help us move out of level one listening?
** Who models level two and three listening to you in your leadership development? What difference has it made to you?

Today I am networking with Christian leaders, pastors and authors around the country to recover Jesus' methodology of leadership training in our churches and training schools. Coaching innovators and authors such as Bob Logan, (www.coachnet.org) and Gary Collins (Christian Coaching: Helping Others Turn Potential Into Reality) are helping to establish standards of Christian coaching that model the character and compassion of Jesus the Coach.

Our own ministry, Transformational Leadership Coaching (www.transformationalcoaching.com), is training close to 200 leaders from 150 churches to bring an authentic relational process into Christian leadership development.

I believe Christian coaching will become normative to serve existing pastors and leaders who are willing to incorporate "Jesus the Coach" training strategies into their existing skills as expert tellers. The training of new leaders in this recovered New Testament method will find its way into Bible schools and seminaries such as Regent University Divinity School, which offers graduate credit for leadership coaching classes. Christian leaders in various callings are seeking to become "certified" coaches to serve their constituencies more effectively.

The "passionate for Jesus" millennial generation in our churches will have the opportunity to be trained the way that is most relevant to their culture. Many will find that the combination of anointed teaching and anointed coaching will bring a great refreshing to their desire to pay the price in training to fulfill their destinies in Christ.


Joseph L. Umidi is ministry professor at Regent Divinity School in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and senior director of New Life Christian Fellowship, a "one church family" of six congregations. He has pioneered a leadership coaching strategy. For more information, log on to his Web site at www.transformationalcoaching.com.

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