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Pastor Coaching 101: What it is — and what it looks in practice

By Shawn Lovejoy

Seminary didn’t prepare us for this.

Personnel issues. Hiring. Alignment. Firing. Culture. Vision. Systems. Multiple staff. Multiple campuses. Leadership development. Dealing with growth. Spurring new growth. Financial management. And that doesn’t even cover it all!

The ministry world today is so complex.


Shawn Lovejoy

Shawn Lovejoy

PastorCoachingGood news! There are more resources available to us than ever before. The Web has made it possible to download a complete online video course on virtually any subject, in a matter of moments.

At the end of the day, however, we leaders still need a place where we can talk through the things that keep us up at night.

  • What do we do with our worship leader? (It’s always a worship leader, right?)
  • Should we build a new building or start a campus? 
  • Should we give them more time or let them go? Should we go talk to them? If so, how should the conversation start? How should it end? 
  • How can I grow my leadership? 
  • How can I change the way I lead? 
  • How do we take our team to the next level?

Now that we know what needs to be done, how can we ensure we do it the right way? (Because if we do the right thing the wrong way, we get the same results.)

In the meantime, Sunday is always coming. Every week is relentless. We are often overextended and over-committed.

There’s not a lot of time to invest in extra relationships, much less in consulting or coaching.

Yet, the No. 1 mistake I see pastors make is isolation.

The bottom line? We need help

Our schedules tend to put relationship on the back burner. However, when we get isolated, we become more vulnerable. When we get isolated, we stop learning from others. When we stop learning, we stop growing. When we stop growing, sooner or later the church will stop growing.

For many of us, the reason our ministry isn’t growing is simple: we’re not growing.

We’ve read the books. We’ve downloaded the content. What’s still missing? Relationship.

This is why I believe every leader needs a coach.

What is coaching?

“Coaching” has become a buzzword — not only in corporate circles, but now in the ministry world. But what exactly is coaching, and why does a pastor need it?

Think about it: coaching has historically been relegated to athletics. Think about what coaches do — they work to help individuals and teams win. They not only help draw a picture of success, but detail a process to help take people there. Coaches work to bring out the best in people, always pushing them to excel. They encourage, admonish, correct and consult on the right mind-set and fundamentals players need in order to win. The best coaches know how to watch a player play, and then offer constructive criticism and motivation along the way to help that player seize all his or her God-given ability.

In the same way, every leader needs someone to come alongside them and watch them “play” — correcting and motivating them along the way to squeeze out all their God-given ability.

Ok hand with coach and megaphone on thumbCoaching is not just content; with the tips of our fingers, we can read and download content.

What’s missing? Relationship.

To win, I believe we all need to know and be known. We need a safe place to talk through our personal and leadership issues. Sometimes we need permission.

Sometimes we have a sense of what needs to be done; we just need to hear someone say, “You’re not crazy for thinking that. Go for it!”
Other times, we need to hear someone say: “Whatever you do, don’t do that.”

How is a coach able to offer that kind of perspective? Simple.

Guess what most coaches have in common? They were once players. They’ve been in the trenches and on the frontlines before. They’ve been there, done that, gotten the T-shirt — and often have the scars to prove it.

Why wouldn’t we want to learn from someone else’s pain instead of having to learn everything the most painful way: ourselves?

So, go. Get a coach! Ask them to watch you play.

Being coached isn’t always easy, and the process can be grueling. The scoreboard, however, will often prove it’s been worth it.


Shawn Lovejoy is founder & CEO of CourageToLead.com, where he and his team coach leaders, pastors pastors, and helps them all conquer what keeps them up at night. Previously, Lovejoy served as founding and lead pastor of Mountain Lake Church in Cumming, GA, and directional leader of churchplanters.com and the annual Velocity Conference. He has written several books, including The Measure of Our Success: An Impassioned Plea to Pastors (Baker Books, 2012) and Be Mean About the Vision: Preserving and Protecting What Matters (Thomas Nelson, 2016).

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