Coaching Case Study: “Transforming Lay Leadership”

Convergence Coach Rev. Annette Flynn

These words from my pastor client as we began our 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 so many pastors, was in “we’ve always done it that way” churches where structures and processes have been in place for decades. He is an 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. The fact that he was working with something rather formless, that the “sky is the limit,” felt frightening and enormous. What was in place was a new church start with a strong core group and finances, and a set of bylaws.

The client’s stated desire for our work together were the following concerns:

  • How to structure the work of ministry -- processes, task teams, how to create these
  • 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. Currently 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
  • What is our identity/who are we?

We began with engagement by discussing how he might go about equipping and engaging already committed leaders and those who do not take initiative. 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 program priorities, 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 capacity to self-organize. I sent my client more thorough explanations of each intervention for his consideration. client set a date for a congregation wide event. He was feeling hope, energy, optimism and 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.”

Coach: “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 congregational event
Coach: “So how did it go?”
Client: “We went from 5% participation to 45% participation!!
Coach: “Wow, that’s incredible! How are you feeling about that?”
Client: “I was hoping for more.”
Coach: “How many were you hoping for?”
Client: “50%.”
Coach: “Hah”

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?

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