Case Study #1: Individual Coaching with Ministry Candidate
The credentialing body of a regional arm of the United Methodist Church engaged me to coach a candidate for ordination to increase her self-confidence and boldness in leadership presence, increase her boundaries, and to equip her through leadership development strategies. The candidate’s ordination was being delayed for one year due to these coaching needs. Additionally, the candidate has Asperger’s Syndrome, which presented challenges to coaching. If she was going to handle leading churches, she had to level up her leadership and develop strategies for countering the default mechanisms of Asperger’s.
I utilized a self-managed learning framework or “Strategic Learning Contract,” to set up our stated goals for coaching, a plan for achieving those goals, and measures of success. We included additional desired goals to those requested by the client. I asked her to keep a “learning journal” as well. I analyzed her CliftonStrengths assessment and the results of her Riso-Hudson Enneagram Type RHETI). I coached the ordination candidate on implementing changes to increase her self-awareness, to notice her thinking patterns, to shift her inner dialogue, and challenged her mental models. I also coached her to gain congregational and supervisor buy-in, improve her preaching skills, and refine her approach to advocating for herself. Finally, I equipped her for ongoing success by developing a behavioral strategy using specific mechanisms and skills to counter her Asburger Syndrome Disorder.
Outcome: Within four months, the client representative reported she was much more relaxed and not in a constant state of anxiety and was satisfied that the candidate was functioning at an elevated, more strategic level. The candidate was approved for ordination and was promoted to a position with a significant increase in responsibility. The candidate’s job satisfaction went from wanting to leave this region to affiliate with another, to, “ministry is fun again!” She was offered a position in the other region and chose to stay here.
Case Study #2: Coaching with Open Space to Facilitate Self-selecting Congregational Participation
I began coaching with this client in June of 2019. Here is where he was in his words when we started coaching:
Planting a new church was never something I had ever considered. However, … I began to realize (it) was something I was being called to do. I am challenged in having to reshape the way I am engaged in the practice of ministry – everything from my exercise of pastoral care, to administration and governance, to worship and preaching, to faith formation — has had to change. At times that has been uncomfortable and frightening but has always also been energizing and exciting. I have been forced to discover gifts and creativity that I never knew I possessed. …(T)he reality of having to worry about whether this new church can afford to pay me so that I am able to support my family has always been at the back of my mind. However, the fact that we have survived for 1 year and are thriving and are starting to see growth in faith and in numbers, has helped me let go of some of my fears.
This client’s pastoral experience, like that of so many pastors, was in “we’ve always done it that way” churches where structures and processes have been in place for decades.
My client is introvert who doesn’t like to step out of his comfort zone. He told me, “God is dragging me out. Anything is possible. I like to be in control – I need to trust God and let go – when I do, I enjoy the journey.” For this client, the blank slate was daunting. He was working with a new church start, with a strong core group, a set of bylaws, and healthy finances. The fact that he was working with something rather formless, that the “sky is the limit,” felt frightening and enormous.
During Coaching – Sessions 1, 2 and 3
The client’s stated desire for our work together expressed the following concerns:
- How to structure the work of ministry – how to create processes and task teams
- How to get systems into place and make sure they function effectively
- Being a big picture person and needing help with details
- Engagement, or how to increase participation and involvement across more congregation members. At the time we began coaching, about 5% of the congregation was participating in the work of the church.
- Sustainability – How to make the church not ‘pastor dependent’ to do all the work and keep things going
- What is the next phase for us?
- What is our identity/who are we?
- All the possibility is scary
We began by considering how he might go about equipping and engaging already committed leaders and those who do not take initiative, or ‘increasing the engagement of the congregation.’ Coaching sessions focused on holding space for my client to think and to process out loud around how he might build a foundation for the church’s next phase – structuring the work of ministry. He was seeking how he might garner leadership for programs and activities in the church, identify priorities among program ideas, and finally, how to allocate the budget for this work. My client was worried about burnout on the part of the active leaders.
I explained that there are ways of working with groups of people to help them create their desired future together. These “interventions” have a byproduct of increasing ownership and engagement among people while also giving them the experience of their own capacity to self-organize. I sent my client more thorough explanations of each intervention for his consideration. My client selected a process called Open Space Technology1. I sent detailed instructions on how to lead this process. My client set a date for a congregation-wide event. He was feeling hope, energy, optimism and an overall good feeling about potential for engagement in his congregation.
Some coaching wins for my client are expressed in this dialogue:
Client: “The blank slate was unsettling but I’m enjoying it now. I am coming to the realization that we (the congregation and I) are going to work it out together and move forward together. It’s fun.”
Me: “What’s shifted?”
Client: “I used to dread going to church. Now I look forward to the unexpected and that nothing is the same from day to day. The growth (spiritual) in people, in numbers, in commitment and engagement, everything is moving us forward.”
Coaches are taught to coach the person, not the problem. So, this was a huge relief for me as a coach to hear him describe a significant change in his way of being regarding his fear of losing control.
Client: “(I am learning to) jump out of my own way – learning to step back in order to increase the engagement of others – get out of the way of other people.”
After the Open Space event
Me: “So how did it go?”
Client: “We went from 5% participation to 45% participation!
Me: (on the inside: Holy s*%t!!! This stuff really works!! Inner yelling and jumping up and down). “Wow, that’s incredible! How are you feeling about that?”
Client: “I was hoping for more.”
Me: “How many were you hoping for?”
My client and I continue to coach. It is my absolute joy and privilege to get to work with him. How would it be for you if 45% of your congregation self-selected to lead ministry in your setting?