Committed to developing Kingdom leaders


It would be hard to support the notion that there are fewer conflicted relationships in churches than in non-Christian organizations. I would like to think there are less. Nonetheless, we all know that conflict exists within our ranks, indicating the absence of the oneness Jesus prayed would prevail among those He commissioned.

During my years as a district superintendent, I have made it a habit of spending extended time at the end of each calendar year asking God for a specific theme and ministry plan for the year ahead. But at the end of my seventh year, I just couldn’t discern what God would have me do. I wrestled for an answer and waited. It seemed to take a long time, but when the answer finally came, I knew it was from the Lord.

I spent about seven months just listening to each of my pastors. I arranged a schedule that allowed three hours of private, one-on-one conversation with every senior pastor in the New England District. It wasn’t long before a definite pattern began to emerge. When I finished, I was able to condense the needs I had discovered into five basic categories. Over time the accuracy of my discoveries has been confirmed again and again by people coming from a wide variety of contexts. Here are the five categories:

  1. Personal insecurity
  2. Deep wounds and hurts from the past
  3. Confusion about leadership
  4. Inadequate professional and basic life skills
  5. Emotional disconnection

In light of these realities, is it any wonder that so many pastors are ill equipped to lead their churches through the process of confession and reconciliation? If we are unable to deal with our own issues, how can we expect to lead the church of Christ? I asked myself: What can I, as district superintendent, do to help my pastors resolve their own inner conflicts and, in turn, address the conflicted situations in their own ministry context?

Due to the personal nature of the hindrances to pastoral effectiveness, I felt the only solution was to find a personalized system of intervention. Herein lies my commitment to coaching, with spiritual direction as the main component.

I believe the solution is to follow Jesus’ model. We must be incarnational, leaving our comfort zones and learning to identify with the pain of others. Writes Ruth Haley Barton, a leader in spiritual formation: “The best thing any of us have to bring to leadership is not our preaching, our education, our strategic thinking or our pastoral skills—as important as those are. The best thing we bring to leadership is our own transforming selves and the inner authority that comes from our own life and practice. As Jesus says in John 3, ‘We speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen.’”

We have chosen “LIFE on life” as a title for this coaching initiative, defined as follows:

Coaching is participating, as a member of Christ’s Body, in the work God is doing in the life of another believer; it is joining the other person’s journey (as a fellow pilgrim, not as an expert who “tells” the other what to do) to assist in “calling forth” all that God has made him/her to be.

We distinguish coaching in the church as something beyond the performance-based approach common to the corporate world. The kind of coaching required for disciplemaking must have spiritual formation as its foundation. Spiritual formation “is the process by which our appetite to know God becomes stronger than all other appetites, such that our interior world comes to reflect the interior world of Jesus Christ” (Larry Crabb).

Disciples cannot be mass produced; they are made one by one. As obvious as this seems, it is not typical of how the church has gone about the task of making disciples. We have relied almost exclusively on Sunday school classes, Bible studies and small groups, with limited results. Statistics cited at the Alliance General Council 2009 clearly indicate that the level of commitment to Christ among American churchgoers is weakening more and more. It’s time to change our tactics, and I am convinced that coaching relationships concentrating on spiritual health is one way to address the need. As a start, we are offering training in “LIFE on life” coaching to key leaders—wise, mature people who will serve as “sacred companions.” This is not a “quick fix.” It will take time. Lasting spiritual change is incremental and takes place over an extended period with others in the Body of Christ.

The cross stands as our example. “Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (John 20:21, 22). He calls us to go forth and live among people—to live invitational lives of attractive righteousness, holiness, redemption and wisdom made possible through His life in us. We are called to be reconcilers, not conflict avoiders. Denial will get us nowhere. We need spiritual healing, but the journey toward it is not intended to be a solitary one.

“And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Tim. 2:2).

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