An out-of-control blaze. A hose flopping around because of the high volume and velocity of the water running through it. A pool so deep that sunlight barely filters through. Dozens of dinner plates spinning precariously. These are just a few of the ways new coachees describe the ministry life. Expectations – internal and external, stated and unstated, real and presumed – make it seem impossible to meet all the demands. Pastors are intelligent, gifted, and called, but they are uncertain how to tackle what seems like a Sisyphean vocation.
That’s why I have put together a new coaching package around helping pastors focus their leadership. Through an initial assessment,* 5 one-hour coaching sessions, and a resource list that I will customize for each coachee’s needs, we will tackle the following:
- Sharpening a sense of purpose in ministry. We’ll consider how the assessment results highlight the best uses of your energy, pinpoint areas of strength and high engagement, and work toward a personal statement of purpose in ministry.
- Setting clear, contextual goals for your pastoral leadership. We’ll identify how you want to show up as a minister, think through how your statement of purpose can help you prioritize your work, and concentrate on the aspects of your professional and personal lives are within your influence and control.
- Designing organic strategies for reaching those goals. Taking the goals you named separately and as a whole, we’ll create action plans and benchmarks.
- Stocking your toolkit for proactive and responsive time management. Based on your personality, goals, and challenges, we’ll come up with ways to plan ahead good uses of your time and to adapt when inevitable pastoral emergencies arise.
The cost for this package is $550 ($425 for members/alumnae of YCWI, $225 for seminarians or ministers between positions).
If the opening paragraph of this post and the proposed four-pronged approach to combatting overwhelm resonate with you, I invite you to set up a free exploratory call about coaching. The church needs your focused, eager leadership!
*The Core Values Index is a 10-minute assessment that helps takers gain awareness of comfort zones, decision-making and conflict styles, areas of struggle, means of improving relationships, and ways to make the biggest impact.
I recently celebrated five years as a coach. I have felt more creative, productive, and impactful doing this work than at any other time in my ministry. I love what I do, and I want to get better at it every day. That’s why I follow a five-pronged approach to my professional development:
I learn about coaching. Each month I attend – at minimum – two hours of continuing education online in the form of learning labs and webinars. I listen to a coaching podcast weekly, and I read books about coaching. Once or twice per year I take a 16-hour training around a particular aspect of coaching. These learning opportunities help me expand my understanding of coaching.
I watch coaching. A couple of the organizations I’m affiliated with occasionally offer live demonstrations by master coaches. I tune in to see how those who have been in the field longer than me facilitate new awareness in their clients. These demos give me a picture of excellence in coaching to strive toward.
I coach. I can’t grow in my ministry – and what would be the point? – if I don’t actually coach! And so I do, happily, four days per week. After each session, I sit and reflect for a few minutes on what went well and in what areas I’d like to improve. These coaching sessions and post-call analyses allow me to inhabit the role of a coach better.
I seek feedback about my coaching. At the end of every first session, I ask new coachees what about my approach was helpful and what I can do on the next call to be more helpful. I emphasize that feedback is welcome throughout the coaching relationship, since my goal is to support coachees in reaching their hoped-for results. I have also created a form for those whose coaching packages have concluded to evaluate the process, my competence, and my adaptability. This feedback gives me other perspectives on my coaching, pointing me to areas that need additional attention.
I get coached. I believe in the coaching process, which necessarily means that I pursue coaching for myself. I meet several times per year with a mentor coach who helps me work through challenges in my role as a coach and as the sole proprietor of a coaching practice. Being coached helps me put myself in the shoes of my coachees and remember what it’s like to be the one bringing the agenda, with all the excitement and hesitancy that entails.
I strive to be the best possible coach so that I can fulfill my call faithfully and serve my coachees well. I pursue professional development eagerly so that I can meet both of these goals and thereby promote well-being in clergy and the congregations they lead.
Photo by Nikola Jovanovic on Unsplash.
This memory popped up on my Facebook feed last week:
Five years ago I was just starting out as a coach. I hadn’t planned on this path, though I’d thought I might pursue training somewhere down the line. But in 2013 the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship wanted to prepare twenty or so ministers to work with congregations – and more specifically, their pastors – in the new Dawnings visioning process, and I couldn’t pass up that kind of professional development opportunity.
At first I coached because it fit my interests and my vocational circumstances. I had personally benefitted from being coached. I am endlessly curious, to the point that my husband gets irritated by all my questions. I love resourcing and encouraging fellow clergy. And I could see immediate use for my new skills in my congregational ministry setting.
It wasn’t long, however, before I began to think bigger. The training CBF paid for put me halfway toward the number of hours I needed for an International Coach Federation credential, and it seemed like a no-brainer to take that additional step. An appointment change seemed imminent for my United Methodist clergy spouse, so I needed to make my ministry portable. My son was young, and I wanted control of my schedule so that I could spend as much time with him as possible. And I relished hearing pastors understand themselves and their circumstances better, find hope in the midst of trouble, and strategize ways to meet goals and overcome challenges. So in the summer of 2015, coaching became my primary means of fulfilling my call.
Since then I have added to my coaching by publishing resources, leading retreats and workshops, posting weekly reflection prompts, and continuing to seek out professional development outlets for myself. I find joy in each of these ministry manifestations, and I am more excited to come to work every day than I ever have been.
Now, five years in and going strong, I would like to pause and express gratitude for my coaching mentors, all the clients I have worked with, and every person who has read my blog, downloaded one of my resources, or participated in a learning space I facilitated. Your trust in me and your willingness to teach me through your creativity and courage mean more than I can express. Here’s to another five years of growing in ministry together!
I have army-crawled toward vacation many times, so mentally and physically depleted that I wasn’t sure I’d cross the threshold before I collapsed from exhaustion. Those were hard starts to time away. They involved at least a couple of days to decompress and to get some semblance of energy back before I could really enjoy my respite. Then there was the anticipatory grief of re-entering “real life,” which cut short my fun on the back end and made me already start pining for my next vacation. This pattern held whether I was in a call I loved or one that made me want to hide under the covers.
Our beach trip three weeks ago was different. Beforehand, I had picked up several new coaching clients that I was eager to get started with. I had some projects I was looking forward to. I was feeling creative in my writing and planning. I was far from depleted. Still, I was glad to listen to crashing waves and spend concentrated time with my family. And I was ready to come back to work afterward.
This easy entry to and exit from time off is what I hope for you so that you can truly enjoy your hard-earned breaks, whether you have a grand adventure planned or intend to hole up at home with a stack of novels. Here are some coaching questions to help you work toward this reality:
- What must be taken care of before your mind can let go of work?
- Which of these tasks belong only to you, and which can others take on?
- How far out from vacation do you need to start tackling your list to give yourself enough time, pacing yourself so that you don’t start your time off in recovery mode?
- How will you give yourself grace if all the to-dos aren’t completed before your break?
- How might you ritualize closing up shop so that your heart and mind grasp that you are on respite?
- How will you acknowledge and then let go of work concerns as they (naturally) come to mind during your time away?
- How can you celebrate the end of your vacation and reorient toward work so that you are ready to get back to it?
- What will help you remember that you don’t have to do all the things on the first day you return to the office?
May your vacations be restful and rejuvenating. The church and world need you – particularly in this cultural and political moment – to be at your best.
I am someone who dreams pretty intensely. Maybe it’s because I have a hard time turning off my mind at night. Or it could be that the podcast I have to listen to in order to quiet my brain plants wild notions in my head. Neither explanation accounts for a very detailed conversation I had last night with Nick Saban, who sought out my advice because his board chair was unwilling or unable to innovate. Luckily for Saban, my freshman roommate wandered by, and a couple of Tennessee grads tag-teamed a leadership strategy for the most powerful man in college football. (See what I mean? Vivid. And weird.)
Occasionally, though, I dream the seed of an actionable idea. Such was the case recently when I sleep-designed a resource for ministers. This weekly calendar with reflection prompts is aimed at bringing more intentionality to our lives. Each day has morning and evening coaching questions. In between, the days are divided into three blocks of time. Those blocks can be used to list appointments, to divvy up tasks, or to designate work and leisure time. (In the units of time approach, every day has three units: morning, afternoon, and evening. Full-time work is 10-12 units per week. Subscribers to this method usually recommend booking no more than 2-3 evening work commitments and taking 3-6 blocks off in a row for full rejuvenation per week.)
Below you will find a JPEG of this weekly calendar. Here is an 8.5 x 11″ grayscale PDF. I welcome you to download, print, use this resource. You are also encouraged to share it with others who might benefit.
In five years of coaching, I’ve noticed a trend. The clergywomen I work with are enormously talented, innovative, and committed. They’ve got grit. But over time, ministry takes its toll. We’re supposed to shepherd our people as the world becomes both more connected and fractious, as expectations for clergy grow but respect for ministers ebbs, as technology makes us reachable at all times by members with wide-ranging definitions of “pastoral emergency,” and as the bar for active church involvement keeps dropping. These difficulties are compounded by the realities of being a woman in ministry, as we shatter the stained glass ceiling only to find ourselves teetering on the stained glass cliff.
I believe from the unruly hairs on my head all the way down to my kid-sized toes that the church needs what women clergy have to offer in order to respond to the world as we now know it and remain faithful to the gospel. So we must cultivate perhaps the most underrated but necessary trait of a pastoral leader – resilience. Resilience is what keeps us plugging along in dedication to our call when we’d rather binge-watch Netflix and eat our feelings. In the fall I will be offering a three-part course covering three areas key to this strength of spirit: leading with authenticity, dealing with feedback, and tending to joy. Participants will come away with a clearer understanding of their specific call and leadership style, a plan for setting up helpful feedback systems and learning from criticism, and a strategy for ongoing self-care, thereby preparing themselves to thrive in ministry rather than endure constant frustration and eventual burnout.
This professional development opportunity will offer four means of learning: teaching content, group coaching, wisdom-sharing among the participants, and individual coaching. This will be the first time I’ve included individual coaching with this course, and I believe it will help participants further customize and apply resilience strategies in their contexts. These three one-hour calls can be scheduled at each participant’s convenience.
If your energy for ministry is flagging in the face of so many difficulties, if you’re starting to wonder how long you can hang in (and whether you even want to try), I encourage you to consider this course. Signup is here, and there is a discount of $25 off the listed price of $275 if you register by August 10. The church as a whole and your congregation in particular need your gifts and your voice. Make sure you’re able to offer them for a long time to come.
“What are you taking away from this conversation?” “Hope.”
The coaching calls that end this way are my fuel. Many clergywomen pastor through difficulties that can be traced back to the glass cliff, sexism in general, or the anxiety that often flares up in congregations. They minister with creativity, authenticity, grace, and power.
Still, even these fierce women run up on situations that are tough to unknot without a conversation partner. Because they live with these realities every day, they need help zooming out from minutiae, sorting through complex dynamics, and determining what their roles are in particular scenarios. In short, they need someone to draw them out of their overwhelm.
It is a joy and privilege when I get to help my coachees see situations from new angles, consider how they want to show up and what it will take to do that, strategize next steps, and realize the value of what they are already doing. This is what hope is – not wishful thinking, but the ability to see a clear way forward that had previously been obscured. This is the essence of what I work to offer my coaches.
Fantastic clergywomen, thank you for letting me be in your orbit. You give me hope.
Photo by Gabriel Sanchez on Unsplash.