When this year began, I was fretting over what to do with my continuing education this year. For those who don’t know, part of my compensation package includes 2-weeks of study leave for continuing education plus an $1000 budget. One thing that I committed to at the end of last year was to engage in a monthly clergy group at the Pastoral Institute. Because it’s facilitated and an intentional kind of group, there is a fee associated, plus the monthly meetings.

Beyond that, I was unsure what I wanted to do with my time to foster my own professional and spiritual growth. I knew that I didn’t want to be one of those unhealthy priests who doesn’t take the time allotted to them, which helps no one and only encourages stagnation. One of the facilitators of my clergy group suggested jumping on to a “coaching” series over the next year. Now, I’m not really that into sports, so I was a bit confused about the offer.

Of course, he wasn’t talking about sports coaching, but coaching as an intentional, supportive conversation between a coach and a “coachee” where you seek out the potential of the coachee and help them achieve their goals of a preferred future. This is a method that has been practiced in the corporate world for years and is growing among the religious sector. This program also takes place at the Pastoral Institute, which is such a fantastic resource for pastoral counseling and leadership development.

Coaching is different from therapy or counseling. In a counseling relationship, a person goes to seek some information, some guidance, or some healing from the “expert” counselor. The counselor imparts new understanding to the one being counseled. Counseling and therapy seek to get at the past, and often the negative baggage of the past, in order learn why we act the way we do. I am highly supportive of counseling and therapy, as it is needed to overcome painful things and experience healing. I have also been a recipient of excellent therapy at times in my life, and know it’s benefits. So I’m not knocking counseling or therapy, but drawing a distinction between it and coaching.

Coaching is also different from mentoring, where a novice goes to the mentor in search of experience and wisdom to be better at his/her job or life. This also is an important process as well in many circumstances, but this is not what I mean by coaching.

Instead of the common thought of a sports coach, the word “coach” originally referred to a mode of transportation, like a stagecoach. In order to get to where you want to go, you needed a stagecoach to get you there. The coaching I’m exploring is the same way. In coaching, the coachee is the expert. We all have an amazing amount of resources and potential within us to achieve our dreams. However, we rarely get an opportunity to tap into those resources on our own. With a coach, you share in a holy conversation where the coach listens, encourages, asks powerful questions, responds, and negotiates a plan of action with the coachee. The answers and direction tend to come out of the imagination and mouth of the coachee.

Who needs coaching? Anyone who is trying to make an important decision, anyone who is having a spiritual crisis, anyone who is having trouble moving forward with something, the possibilities are endless. Anything that needs to be talked through can happen in coaching. The point is to move the coachee toward a preferred future on whatever the coachee wants to talk about. The coach doesn’t set the agenda, the person being coached does.

It’s a new approach which involves some common pastor care skills, but pushes them in new and exciting ways. I think the process will help me to grow as a pastor, a leader, and an equipper of leaders. Yesterday’s training was the first of four over the next year. The sessions are in April, July, and October. So instead of taking a week off for continuing education, I’ll be able to do it in chunks over the year. Plus, most of my previous continuing education experiences had me traveling far for conferences and retreats. This one is right down the road in Columbus, which is perfect considering my family responsibilities with a new baby almost here. I am required to get my own coach, and to spend some time intentionally coaching others. There’s also some great reading to be done on this. After this year, I will be a certified professional coach, and may have the opportunity to continue to have more professional training through the International Coach Federation. The other great thing about coaching is that it can be done over the phone or computer, so it’s a very flexible process for the coach and coachee.

So I’m at the beginning of this process, and am thankful for a direction in my pastoral development. I see this approach as being extremely beneficial to St. Nicholas in enhancing my abilities to help our congregation reach their individual dreams and community vision. So keep me in your prayers as I continue on this journey. If you have any questions about it, don’t hesitate to ask!