Having a Coach Helps When Demands of Ministry Grow

Michael-Helms-photo_2by Michael Helms, Senior Pastor, FBC, Jefferson, GA

I know an 83-year-old tennis player who has one arm and a bit of a belly.  He doesn't run well anymore.  But if I'm choosing a partner for doubles, I'm choosing Jack.  Jack knows more about the game of tennis than anyone I know.  He doesn't beat himself.  He's the master of winning shots and forcing his opponent to make mistakes.  Did I mention that Jack usually wins?

As a player, Jack knows his weaknesses and has learned how to overcome them.  As a coach, Jack learns his players' weaknesses, and helps them overcome those to become better players.  Though Jack is an excellent player, he's even better as a coach.

I have been athletic enough through the years that what I didn't know about tennis in terms of gamesmanship, I could make up for with athletic ability.   As I approach age 50, those days are long gone.  In my work as a pastor, it's just the opposite.  It's not what I don't know that usually gets me in trouble; it's what I do know.

I'm approaching the 25-year milestone of full-time Christian ministry.  I haven't seen it all.  I haven't experienced it all, but I know my way around pulpits, hospitals, studies, funerals, weddings, deacons' meetings, potluck suppers, and Vacation Bible Schools.  And that's just the problem.  Familiarity breeds a kind of "smugness," an overconfidence that's bound to create problems.

Have you ever noticed that you can't tell much to a person who knows everything?  I have learned a lot in 25 years of ministry, but I don't know it all.  In fact, the longer I spend in ministry, the more I understand why the Apostle Paul said, "We see through a glass, darkly."

What I have concluded is that when we find a wise soul who will sit and share our journey, someone who will coach us through some difficult stretches, listen for where we find joy and steer us towards more of that, not only are we better for it, but so are those to whom we minister.

Two members of my staff, Rev. Justin Safely and Rev. Erica Cooper, both graduates from McAfee School of Theology, are part of the Transition in Ministry Program through the Center for Teaching Churches.  I noticed how they looked forward to their conversations with their coaches each month.  They received needed affirmation, and additional confidence for decisions they were making.  They found a place in which to voice frustrations, ask questions, and report accomplishments.  Their coaches knew the right questions to ask them, which is a coach's most important tool.

After watching the benefits that coaching brought Erica and Justin, I found a coach of my own.  "Pride goes before destruction," says Proverbs 16:18.  Why be too proud to ask for help?  I realize that having a coach will not keep me from making mistakes.  However, I hope that my coach will recognize some of my weaknesses and help me overcome them.  I hope he can keep me from making some of those unforced errors.  I hope he can help me with my service and my gamesmanship.

After our time together I return to my parish encouraged, wiser, and better prepared to meet the demands that are placed on me as a pastor.  It seems that the demands only grow as the years go by.  I think I need a coach now as much as I did when I started ministry.  What about you?