By Jeff Brumley
Courtney Krueger is so excited about ministry coaching that he can barely contain himself when asked about it.
“It has opened a whole new world to me,” said Krueger, the senior pastor at First Baptist Church of Pendleton, S.C.
And it’s not the leadership of the nearby Clemson Tigers that gets him so enthusiastic. Rather it’s the training he’s nearly completed to become a certified professional coach.
He isn’t alone in either his training or enthusiasm. Observers say the coaching craze is spreading rapidly from its beginnings in the corporate world to just about every sector of society, including religious groups.
And they add that it isn’t a fad.
“It’s effectiveness is what’s causing it to spread,” said Dock Hollingsworth, executive director for the Center for Teaching Churches at the McAfee School of Theology.
‘Geared toward action’
But what is coaching?
Advocates usually begin with what coaching isn’t.
“It’s not therapy,” said Rhonda Abbot Blevins, associate pastor for congregational life at the Community Church at Tellico Village in Loudon, Tenn.
It’s also not mentoring, spiritual direction or pastoral counseling, though gifts needed in those activities can overlap with coaching, she said.
Like Krueger, Blevins is undergoing Lilly-funded coaches training in return for coaching McAfee School of Theology graduates who enter full-time congregational ministry. The program is headed by Hollingsworth.
“Coaching is geared toward action,” said Blevins, a Cooperative Baptist-ordained minister. “If I were to coach you, it would be you deciding your goals and then I work with you to identify practical action steps.”
Those action steps are identified by asking a series of questions based on the assumption that only the student knows the answers, Krueger said.
“We stay away from leading questions – this isn’t a lawyer thing,” he said. “You are asking questions and you have no idea what the answer is.”
Widespread in Baptist life
That the process works for seminary graduates is borne out by anecdotal evidence and by the Lilly Endowment’s continued willingness to put money behind the process, Hollingsworth said.
McAfee received a $2 million grant seven years ago that included providing ministry coaches to seminary graduates who enter full-time congregational ministry. That was followed by a $1 million grant given years later, Hollingsworth said.
Participating graduates are assigned a coach who provides a one-hour, monthly session for two years.
Hollingsworth defends the approach against those skeptical of it as the latest gimmick, asserting that it would have come in useful early in his career.
“We did need it when we were coming along, we just didn’t get it,” he said.
Nor is coaching meant to replace mentoring relationships between older and younger ministers, he said, adding the two approaches can actually complement each other.
“A coach is trying to ask the right kind of provocative questions and be a collaborative brainstormer,” Hollingsworth said.
Other Baptist-affiliated organizations are using the approach, too, including The Center for Congregational Health and the Pastoral Institute in Columbus, Ga. The institute is providing the training for the coaches in the McAfee program.
“The coaching bug is in a lot of places right now in Baptist life,” he said.
Coaching experts acknowledge the profession is met with doubt, and say that’s in large part because it’s an unregulated activity.
Anyone can call themselves a coach – life coach, executive coach, ministry coach, etc. – and charge money for it, said Janet Harvey, 2012 global president of the International Coach Federation.
But for more than a decade, self-regulating agencies like the ICF have developed standardized training and certification, and coaching is becoming increasingly recognized as a legitimate profession, she said.
The trend began in corporate America with the advent of executive coaches and is now being adopted by religious groups of different faiths and denominations, Harvey said.
“It’s spreading quite strongly,” she said. “There is even a Christian coaching community.”
In 1998, the organization had 5,000 certified members and today there are 20,000. There are also now about 8,500 certified coaching instructors.
The pay can be lucrative, according to an ICF study. The median fee for a one-hour session in the United States is $160, and the average fee is $214 an hour.
‘On a coaching high’
The coaches in the McAfee program do not charge the seminary graduates, but they are free to use their skills in their own congregations or inside businesses.
That’s a crucial part of the deal for Susan Rogers, pastor of The Well at Springfield, a CBF of Florida church plant in Jacksonville, Fla. Rogers is already building a client base in the community, and hopes her coaching will eventually provide enough income to sustain her as her small congregation grows.
Others pastors she knows are being trained, or thinking about it, for the same reasons, she said.
But it’s more than money, she added. Helping two or three people a day sometimes is personally rewarding, and is beginning to fit into her overall calling to be a missional pastor – inside and outside of a congregation.
“I’m on a coaching high right now,” she said after a recent session in which a client achieved a new insight into her relationship with God.
“It brought home for me that this is also an avenue for ministry.”