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Coaching Skills Transformed a Ministry (Mine!)

Intentionally living out a few basic coaching principles changed the way I do just about everything…the way I preach, train, converse and even relate to others.

What are these transforming principles? You can skip to the end of this article to find out, but I think you will appreciate a little of the back-story…

At 54 years of age, my husband and I were co-leading an active young church we founded in Barcelona–kind of a merger between Youth With a Mission (YWAM), King’s Kids International (KKI) and the traditional understanding of church. Each summer our attendance dropped dramatically because so many left on short-term missions around the world. We developed a creative space, tailoring innovative outreach expressions around individual gifting and age groups. For example, I remember a young man walking into our outreach center inquiring about drum lessons. Without a blink, I told him, “Yes, we give lessons!”…and then running to the phone to find a drummer! Small groups, hospital visitation, Sunday School outreach…90% of the church staffed some sort of volunteer ministry and 70% of attenders aged under 35. With a knack for connecting people to ministry opportunities, I was on top of my game. It was crazy but exciting and history-changing.

As the church’s seventh anniversary approached, explosive growth seemed just over the horizon. Unfortunately, the opposite happened. One at a time, then later groups of three to five leaders began leaving our church and accusing me of “not understanding God’s grace,” “never being able to change,” and being “too controlling.” I was shocked, confused and a little bit angry. It was not unusual for ministries like ours to “multiply by dividing,” but not in my watch!

Going to my knees, I cried out. “God, what is the root of this divisiveness?” He quickly responded: “You!Youare the common denominator.”

What??? No, He must be texting the wrong cell number! After all, I’m the one trying to fix this! How could I possibly be the problem and not the solution?”

When God didn’t bother to respond to my arguments, I figured I must need more training in how to work with saved but “unsanctified” church attenders. YWAM’s annual EQUIP training conference for campus leaders was just a few months away. I signed up for the maximum number of workshops possible! Conflict resolution, co-ordinating events, strategic conversations, working with difficult people, original design…I needed help! Surely one or more of these sessions led by peers and experts could restore confidence and reinstate my ministry!

On opening night, the host stood before the 200 participants and explained God had spoken and this conference would be different. We could only choose 2 workshops so we wouldn’t go home with just good ideas but actually have the chance to practice skills learned. My first crisis! Which two workshops would revolutionise my leadership and put me once again in God’s favor? “Life-Coaching Skills”? That was new. I signed up.

After an hour, I knew I had made a mistake. The trainer was Swiss and systematic. The material was interesting. But when they started demonstrating actual coaching techniques, treating real issues with fellow students in the seminar, I was out of my comfort zone. The one-on-one sessions made me nervous. I preferred groups. Sitting face-to-face, the coach asked the student, “What would you like to talk about?”

That’s definitely not how to conduct a team meeting! I fumed. Conversations should be focused around time-lines and productivity. Open topic, relational, “shoot the breeze”, and hang-out times didn’t seem efficient. The demo continued. The YWAM leader “client” shared that his team wasn’t satisfied by the pastoral care they received. He needed a plan to better serve them.

This was my chance!. With 30 years experience leading teams, I could tell him what to do in five minutes and we could get on with learning something useful. I raised my hand to offer advice but was politely quieted. Next came a brief prayer time before going further. In that still moment, I received a prophetic word that would surely help this struggling young leader. Again I raised my hand and again was shushed. “Coaching is not a forum to give advice nor for the coach to give a prophetic word. It’s all about the client and discovering what they are hearing from God.” our instructor explained. My ministry gift was being shut down.

At the first break, I approached the trainer. “I can see you have prepared well for this class, and although interesting, it’s not for me. Can I move to a different class?”

–“May I ask what you are looking for?” queried the trainer.

–“I was recently accused of not understanding the grace of God. I’m quite sure the person who said that is wrong, but I’m here to discover how God’s grace works in others.”

The trainer paused and then asked with a sparkle in his eye,

–“Patti, do you believe God speaks to people?”

–“Yes! But, honestly, there was no place in the paradigm to share what God was telling me at all.”

–“Do you believe God speaks to others besides you?”

–“Yes, but that’s the problem.” I ventured. “The others don’t understand what God is saying to them.”

–“Do you believe God can speak to others and make Himself understood, without it passing through your filter?”

–“The Bible is very clear when it says that every word of God should have 3 witnesses. God is using me as one of those witnesses!”

Without knowing, I had been ambushed by the power of a good question. While I stumbled over words of apology for my last answer, and tried to cover up my prideful heart, the coach was smiling. Gently he reached out to me. “Patti, may I challenge you to practice the things you’re learning in this class right now, during the conference? I can guarantee you will begin to see God’s grace at work in others in ways you have never imagined.” My complete shame over the previous conversation obligated me to give it a try.

The next days were a roller-coaster of emotions for me. At mealtimes and in the hallways between sessions, I attempted some of the conversational tools learned in the workshop. Younger participants half my age were asking, “When can we meet again and talk more?” Others were going deeper, hearing from God, finding answers. All that was exhilarating. But the fact that I could only ask questions and listen attentively, not give advice or share what I would do, was difficult and convicting. My leadership paradigm was fundamentally to rescue! My “saviour complex” was constantly intervening so young leaders could avoid hard learning situations thus depriving them of experiencing God’s divine intervention. I wasn’t trusting them or God in them to solve their own problems!

Upon returning home, my husband immediately noticed a difference. Instead of a complaining, corrective wife, he encountered a listening partner willing to accompany him and identify God’s grace together. When team members came with questions or problems, I was more interested in what God was speaking to them and how they were learning through the difficulty than in sharing my stories. Young leaders gained confidence and felt empowered in our conversations to take on new responsibilities and step out of their comfort zones. Incorporating coaching practices created a culture of honor among team members. Transformations occurred in the lives of many, and now God was getting the credit! Ministry was becoming fun again!

There are many conversational patterns we use in ministry: Among them counselling, mentoring, and teaching. All are valid and important.

In contrast, when we talk about coaching, my stumbling story illustrates three basic principles distinct from these other means of helping:

1) Change comes as a result of finding someone’s motivation vs. feeding them more information.

2) Coaching is based on a relationship of influence vs. authority.

3) People really can solve their own problems.

Tony Stoltzfus in Leadership Coaching defines coaching as a “discipline of believing in people.” Truly believing in the capacity of others to solve their own problems and understanding that motivation from within is more powerful than solutions imposed from without relieves you of temptation to interfere in God’s process of shaping and maturing that leader. A coaching approach efficiently puts God back on the throne and releases His creativity, love, and patience in the lives of those you serve. He doesn’t always need our help to accomplish His purposes. But He does invite us to come alongside and observe His handiwork.

Coaching skills are an effective tool to help others lean into their process and identify how God’s grace is already working in their own lives.

Patti Clewett – 2021

Patti Clewett and her husband Curtis have been involved in church ministry and YWAM roles for over 40 years. She has been involved in coaching for the last 9 years after discovering what a difference coaching skills and training style makes in all relationships. She has been doing Cyber Cells (online bible studies) and Tele classes for the last 4 years and group coaching and mentoring have become her new love.

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