Steve Elliott is president of Church Assistance Ministry, an organization providing training and coaching to church leadership. Since 1971, Steve has served as a pastor, church planter, Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA) district superintendent, church planting director and missionary.
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Be sure to watch Part 1 of this series with Steve Elliott.
Mike Feazell: Thanks for being with us again.
Steve Elliot: It’s great to be here, Mike. I thank you for the opportunity.
MF: Today we want to talk about coaching again. Let’s set the stage a little bit by getting into what you call the “five Rs.”
SE: Okay. The coaching relationship is a relationship in which I want to draw out of the...
MF: Relationship being the first R.
SE: It is the first R. I want to draw out the potential that is within the other person. When we have a coaching meeting — that is, once a month we plan for a specific time when we’re going to be together for coaching — not for fellowship alone and not for any other purpose, talking about last week’s game or whatever. We’re going to be coaching during that hour about your ministry and how to move forward in your ministry.
MF: Now to back up and just be a devil’s advocate as we proceed, why does somebody even want to approach you about coaching? Let’s say I’m a pastor or a ministry leader...what usually would compel me to call Steve Elliot?
SE: Being frustrated at various levels of the ministry. Not seeing things happen the way you dreamed they would, the way they promised you when you were in school or whatever, and that which you are called to doesn’t seem to be happening.
MF: Some of the people who contact you, are they often on their last leg just before throwing in the hat? Or just at some...getting close to the cliff?
SE: Sometimes. But more often, it’s not that desperate yet. There’s just a healthy dissatisfaction with lack of growth, or lack of impact in lives, or lack of reaching new people, or whatever. Once people are made aware that there are people like us out there, some of them are likely to ask for that kind of help. So when we get together on a given month — let’s say it’s January, and we have been meeting monthly leading up to January. Here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to follow a kind of a process so that I include these five things, and they’re all Rs.
The first one is relate. When we get together, we want to be friends, as well as a coach and somebody being coached. I want to know this person on a more personal level, so we’ll spend some time talking about the issues that are important in terms of family life, home life, marriage life, kids, et cetera, hobbies and interests and so forth. It’s a nice way to begin the process. It’s a little less intense, usually. (Sometimes that becomes the most intense because of whatever’s going on, and we’ll spend a lot of time on that.) But at least I want to spend some time just catching up with life. He can catch up with my life as well as my catching up with him, and including in that some prayer for those issues or situations and so forth. So, relate.
The second R is reflect. Here’s where we’ll probably move into discussing mostly the ministry that this person is leading. What I will ask the person to do in the reflect phase of the meeting is to tell me what happened in the, let’s say, three major initiatives that he said that he had to do this last month. Three things that were important to move the ministry along toward the fulfillment of the vision that God has placed in him and the other leaders of the church. Here are three things I need to do, and we talked a little bit about how he was going to approach them last time. So I’ll ask him, “How did it go with the recruitment of a leader for your children’s ministry? Tell me how that process went.” Or I’ll say, “You said that you were going to be working on a curriculum for the senior high school young people and you wanted to make sure that there was some comprehensive teaching plan or whatever. How did it go in working on that?”
So he will review what the last month was like. Some successes...and if there’s a success and something happened where God met him and they were really able to be effective, we’ll have a little celebration time. I want to focus on celebrating the victories, the successes, the advances. Because very often, when you’re in this kind of relationship, the focus is on the negative stuff. You can get discouraged if that’s all you talk about. So I want to make sure that we give God praise and celebrate together as two people the successes.
MF: As we talk about these things, what is the difference between having a trained coach go through these things with you as opposed to just talking it over with your wife or a fellow pastor or a trusted friend?
SE: Usually a coach is knowledgeable about what you’re trying to accomplish. It may not be something that he does as his primary ministry, but he understands what it is you’re seeking to do. He knows how to ask the questions that will cause you to think through evaluation in the reflection phase, or when you move on to the refocusing to ask the questions that will help you think through a pathway for the development of the next phase of ministry, moving toward the next objective. He will ask the questions that will help you know what you’re going to do, so that by the end of this meeting, you have a plan that has come together. It may not be a plan that will work perfectly, but it’s better than having no plan at all and just hoping that things are going to fall into place and hoping that right person is going to show up on our doorstep or hoping that finally people are going to understand the significance of the incarnation of Jesus Christ.
I want to take steps that will ensure that some of this will take place. So I’m helping that person by asking these questions. He or she develops a plan, develops a plan for the next month. What are the things that you need to do this month that if you don’t do them, you won’t be moving forward toward the fulfillment of the vision that God has given you?
MF: Now let’s take it one more step. Why would I need to go to a coach and have him ask me these questions? What is advantageous about that, more than me having a well-crafted set of questions I get from somebody that I ask myself once a month?
SE: Relationship. It’s somebody who cares about you and is committed to you and who is asking questions based upon knowledge and experience. A list of questions is inflexible, written out on a piece of paper. But a coach who knows you, maybe has been working with you for eight months or so, he knows the flow of what’s been happening and so he can ask much better questions than a piece of paper can or a page in a book or something like that. It’s relational. It is somebody who cares about me, which also adds to the dynamic of this. I know that he is on my side and he wants me to succeed. I want to be coached by this guy because he really does have my best interest at heart and he wants the ministry to succeed. That’s why.
MF: So after you’ve talked things over with your wife, trusted friend, or fellow pastor and nothing has really ever improved, and then after you’ve gone through your self-questions yourself and then nothing improves, then finally you say to yourself, “Maybe I need to actually talk to a coach.”
SE: Yes. That may be true.
MF: Isn’t the relational aspect more than just having a relationship? In other words, isn’t that heart and core fundamental to what ministry is all about, is being in relationship so that your coaching experience is springing out of relationship. Isn’t there a sort of amount of modeling going on there in terms of relationship, which is what successful ministry is all about anyway?
SE: Yes. I think that when I do this, say I was doing this for you and you’re seeing advance in your ministry because of the very fact that we spent that hour together and we’re praying for you as well, you learn that you could do this for someone else.
I’m working with a leader of a denomination in the Philippines right now. I coach him long distance. We talk every month on the phone, and so he’s experiencing this. I tell the person, “I’m going to write down the key things that you have said you’re going to be doing, and the key evaluations of your ministry that you give to me and so forth, and next time I come to him and I’m asking him questions...and I’ve got that and I’m asking him about the very things we talked about last time...this guy, for example, in the middle of one of the sessions said, “Wow, I could do that. I could write it down so that next time I see this person I’ll know exactly what’s happening and who’s working with him and so forth, and it will help raise the credibility of my coaching if I remember those things.” So coaching notes help a lot. He’s developing in his skills as well, just because he’s got somebody doing it for him. So even if they don’t go through training, they just might become a coach.
MF: As we’ve talked about before, all the while you’re coaching individuals as well as coaching coaches, you also stay in a coaching relationship where somebody else is coaching you to keep you fresh and thinking.
SE: Yes, that’s exactly right. You’re receiving as well as giving out. You’re advancing while you’re helping other people advance in ministry.
MF: How do you keep it always in a positive framework so that it’s developing creativity and enriching the person rather than focusing on negatives and “here’s what you need to do” and the thinking for them and all that kind of thing?
SE: Number one is that you celebrate the successes and really focus on those. I know pastors. One bad thing can happen during a month and ten wonderful things happen, and when we get together their natural tendency is to tell me what the bad thing is, and the struggle that they’re having with that. Well, I would also like to talk about the ten good things. Because sometimes... if we had a conversation, those things wouldn’t come out unless I asked.
I remember a situation where I had a pastor I was working with, I think it was a church planter. He was really down about these things. One of my questions at that point when we got a “down” conversation going on is, “Can you tell me about something that’s been going good this last month? Something that’s been effective? Something that you’re happy about?” And he said, “Well, there is this new family that’s started attending. The husband came first and then a couple weeks later the wife and kids came. And over the last month they got into a relationship with this other couple, and they led them to Christ, and now the whole family is developing in their relationship with Jesus, they’re all believers, and they’re in a discipleship thing.” But that didn’t come out until I asked the question.
SE: That’s huge! That’s gigantic! That’s four people who are now going to experience Christ through eternity. It’s big. But they don’t come out sometimes unless you ask because those problems just overwhelm and they dominate thinking and keep you from sleeping and all of this, and you can forget about the good stuff. So that helps keep it positive.
The other [strategy to keep things positive] is as they think through the next steps of ministry and they come up with them, they find they have an ability to give leadership that they never knew they had, and that is so positive, and that builds an appropriate confidence in what the Lord can do through them, that maybe they’ve never had or maybe it’s been a discouraging two years or whatever before this. That makes it positive because now there’s effectiveness, there’s success, there’s transformation of lives in their fellowship. What could be more positive?
So it isn’t just saying, “Do this, do that, do that.” In fact, I don’t do much of that at all. It is, “What can you do? Okay, that sounds like a good idea. What are your first three steps that you’ll take? Okay, yeah, I like that.” I’m affirming them if I’m honestly able to. They may think of something that’s really not a good idea and then I’ll say, “Well, what are some other possible ways that you might approach this?” instead of saying, “Boy, that’s a pretty dumb idea. Where did you think of that?” Just ask for other alternatives, and help them hone it in the conversation.
It’s just a positive thing, because to come to the end of this hour of meeting and know what I’m going to do is sure a lot more fun than coming to the end of a meeting confused or discouraged or feeling judged. That’s not very fun at all. But knowing what I’m going to do, that’s freeing. That helps me make decisions about how I’m going to spend my week, what’s going to be on my calendar, what to say “no” to in order that I can accomplish these three things, and knowing that my coach next month is going to ask me, “So, how did it go?” And if I say two things went well and one went bad, he’s not going to jump on me for the bad one.
We’re just going to work on “What do we do about it?”How do we overcome that? How do we move forward given that that happens?” Because that happens to everybody. All plans don’t work out just like we wish they would. So we give them hope. I think the coaching experience is an experience of transferring hope from one person to another...that a whole lot more effective ministry can happen through their leadership than they ever dreamt.
MF: So coaches are encouragers and hope brewers, and know-it-alls would not make good coaches then.
SE: Know-it-alls are very bad coaches, and should be...
SE: ...well, I don’t know. But anyway, yes, you’ve got that right.
MF: So relate, reflect, and we have three to go.
SE: Okay. Relate, reflect — refocus is working on the next month.
SE: That’s sort of honing and discovering just through conversation. Some people are really verbal processers, and this really helps those kinds of people. That’s what I am. I’m a verbal processor. To have somebody interacting with me as I’m thinking through my plan helps me to do better. That’s what happens during the refocus.
The next is resource, in which I ask the person that I’m coaching, “What resources are you going to need?” Because you have to think through that, you know? “What’s the cost? It is going to require money, and do you have it? Is it going to require the recruitment of somebody to come alongside you to do this, or is it going to require some gaining of knowledge?” At which point I might share with him a book or a chapter in a book that will give him more insight into what he’s working on and that kind of thing. So resources, you know, give him a CD or DVD of something that was insightful about this area so that he can be learning as well. So that’s resources.
The last is review. Review is simply going over what we just had been talking about and making sure that we’re clear on the assignments, the assignments that the person himself probably came up with, but now he’s got these in his mind and he knows these will happen. “So, before next month, you’re going to work on this, you’re going to do this, and you’re going to study that, and so that’s what I’ll be asking you about next time.” Then maybe I have volunteered to introduce him to somebody who is good at a given area of ministry that he’s struggling with. “So my assignment is before next month that I’m going to introduce you to Bill Smith who is going to...I know he’s a great guy and he’ll help you in this area.”
Both of us may have things to do before the next meeting, and we’re just reviewing the things that we’re committing to, and then we set the next meeting in the review section so we know that at such-and-such a time at such-and-such a place we will be meeting again. If we don’t set that, even in an effective coaching relationship, the coaching appointment can be pushed off and the whole thing starts to disintegrate. So we make sure that before we leave, we know when the next one will be.
MF: You can do this one on the phone.
SE: Face-to-face is always better. Being able to read each other’s body language and so forth is always best. But I have a lot of coaching relationships, and I have been coached over the phone, and I coach people over the phone.
MF: Have you ever done it with a video conversation on computers?
SE: Yes. I’ve used Skype and...
MF: Is that better than just a phone call?
SE: Yeah. It’s always better to see each other. It just feels like more of a relationship to me...just having voices, it works, but it’s not as good.
MF: I would think that most people who have thought about this...first of all, I would think a lot of people who are struggling in their ministry, especially pastors, aren’t even aware this kind of thing exists. Then let’s say they are aware it exists and they would be afraid to do it for a couple of reasons. One, they would be afraid that it would be threatening to them, but as we discuss it, it doesn’t sound threatening at all. It seems like it would be scary for that reason. It really isn’t scary at all. It seems like people would probably be afraid that it would put them on the spot and draw out things that they don’t want to talk about, but it’s not really about that. And they would probably be afraid that it would be darn expensive — something they couldn’t possibly afford. But it doesn’t sound like we’re talking about that, either. We’re talking about once a month, and you probably don’t charge...other coaches probably don’t charge thousands of dollars a session, so...
SE: Right. There are environments, business environments and corporate environments where there’s a lot of money in coaching. But in the church, you know, as we’re serving each other, it’s not that way. Coaching is not expensive. There has to be some investment, but, I mean, people who are doing coaching like I’m doing, require some kind of compensation from it, but we’re not looking for a lot of money. It isn’t usually very expensive.
MF: So all the objections that somebody might have probably aren’t really valid and...
SE: If they were aware.
MF: It’s worth a shot, you know? You could try it a couple of times...
SE: That’s right.
MF: But it does sound like it might be at least enjoyable, if nothing else.
SE: Yes. We do training, coaching training, in which we have the participants in the workshop coach each other, out of the blue. Especially the reflect and refocus, we give them experiences of doing that with each other. When they do it in workshops like that, almost always they are thrilled with their little 30-minute experience of reflect and refocus. It’s persuasive at that point, that they want to be involved with coaching and they would like to be coached. So once you get the experience with a coach that’s effective, it’s a very appealing experience, very positive.
MF: And we were just talking about a group session, in which it’s a workshop setting...
SE: Right, but they get off in a corner and two people...
MF: But it gives you a taste of...
SE: Yeah, it gives you a taste of it, yeah.
MF: Steve, as always, it’s a pleasure to get together with you. Thanks for sharing your insights.
SE: It’s a real privilege to be able to spend some time with you.