USMB coaches provide relational approach to ministry


New coaching team adds value to healthy church game plan

by Myra Holmes

The logic is simple: Good coaching leads to a winning team. So in an effort to build a winning team, USMB and Mission USA are offering a new resource for pastors and leaders.

“If we can truly help our pastors—help them to be healthier, help them to achieve their dreams and their goals and the vision God has given them—our churches are going to be healthier,” says Don Morris, director of Mission USA, the church health and church planting arm of USMB.

LEAD Coaching will offer personal, one-on-one coaching to equip leaders and help them achieve their goals. Jeff Nikkel, pastor of Trailhead Church, Centennial, Colo., will serve as “head coach.”

Mission USA’s church health program already includes a number of resources to enhance the ministry capacity of local churches, like LEAD ONE, daylong regional events for leadership education and development, and LEAD Labs, one- to two-hour church growth seminars for leadership teams.

“Hopefully, we’re putting together a package of leadership tools that can really make a difference for our pastors,” Morris says, adding that the personal element of coaching will add the most value of all.

Coaching isn’t a new concept. Businesses and ministries alike are increasingly turning to this one-on-one, goal-oriented model to equip leaders and achieve goals.

Both Nikkel and Morris tend to define coaching by what it is not. It is not counseling, which aims to root out and heal past brokenness. It is not mentoring, in which a leader takes a beginner under wing. Nor is it consulting, in which an expert gives advice or lists next steps to success.

While coaching can include aspects of all these, a good coach is first a listener, who asks the right questions—sometimes the tough questions—to help evaluate and refine goals, then provides accountability to help achieve those goals.

“Essentially, coaching is a kind of relational approach to ministry that is ideal for growth and life transformation,” Nikkel says.

In a typical coaching relationship, coach and client meet every other week to discuss progress and set new action steps. Mission USA has chosen Ministry Coaching International (MCI) as the model for LEAD Coaching. MCI was established in 2000 specifically to serve ministry leaders using a system that Morris calls “very proven, very effective.”

The MCI system focuses on “The Core Four”: personal life plan, ministry vision, ministry plan and priority management. “We believe sustainable progress toward life and leadership excellence can be had with focused and non-deviating commitment in these four areas,” says the MCI website.

LEAD Coaching will offer a fifth component: soul care. “Soul care is just caring for the heart and soul of the client,” Nikkel says, “reminding them who they are in Jesus, constantly pointing them back to Jesus.”

Accordingly, LEAD Coaching sessions will be extended from MCI’s 30-45 minutes to up to an hour to allow time to discuss heart issues. Morris says that, because of the weight of high visibility and high expectations, many pastors and church leaders simply don’t have someone they can talk to about those deeper concerns or dreams.

“That’s part of living in the fish bowl,” he says.

Both Nikkel and Morris have experienced coaching firsthand: Morris has been coached through MCI for about a year. Nikkel has experience both as a client and as a coach.

“I’ve found it really life-giving,” he says.

Chad Stoner, church planting pastor of Stony Brook Church, Millard, Neb., has been coached by Nikkel. In the Central District Conference, where Stony Brook is located, care for the church planter is a must; coaching is required at least during the first stages of planting. Through several recommendations, Stoner was matched with Nikkel, and they’ve been working together as coach and client for 1 ½ to two years.

“Jeff has been a great gift to me,” Stoner says. Coaching has helped Stoner understand his own heart, sometimes bringing to light a disconnect between what he says is priority and his actions. “That’s hard,” Stoner admits, but also necessary. “It’s from the heart that our whole ministry springs. If the heart is not well, the ministry will suffer,” he says.

Furthermore, Stoner says the Stony Brook congregation has benefited from his coaching. He has become calmer, more focused on what’s important and more able to “pour out” for his congregation.

“When I’m not consumed with the wrong stuff, I have love to give,” Stoner says.

Nikkel and Morris believe that, indeed, congregations will benefit as their leaders take advantage of this resource. Morris says, “Our churches are hopefully going to experience so much more as our pastors are healthier.” He hopes that the value will be so obvious that churches will invest in coaching on behalf of their pastor.

“Churches are the front lines of ministry,” Nikkel says. “We’ve got to equip the ones on the front lines. What better way than to care for the pastors?”

As head coach, Nikkel will shape and coordinate LEAD Coaching, oversee assessment and training of coaches and help match coaches with those who wish to be coached. He will also coach up to eight clients, more than will be expected of other trained coaches.

The Trailhead Church leadership is releasing Nikkel one day per week to invest in coaching. Nikkel says the agreement fits well with Trailhead’s desire to give away a greater percentage of offerings—which could be accomplished by a reduction in pastoral salary—and overlaps with an increasing interest at Trailhead in a one-on-one discipleship model similar to coaching.

In addition to Nikkel, six other USMB leaders have been trained through MCI as coaches: Ed Boschman, USMB executive director; Don Morris, Mission USA; Rick Eshbaugh, pastor at Harvey (ND) MB Church; Terry Hunt, district minister for North Carolina District Conference; Aaron Hernandez, pastor of La Grulla MB Church, Grulla, Texas; and Gary Wall, district minister for Pacific District Conference.

Coaching is offered to USMB pastors and leaders at a significantly reduced rate; limited scholarships are available. USMB and district staff will not receive remuneration for coaching; those fees will feed a fund for training and scholarships. Nikkel and non-staff coaches will receive remuneration.

Because it’s prudent for coaches to be the same gender as the client, USMB is working toward training female coaches so that female leaders may also benefit from this resource.

Chad Stoner says hesitant leaders shouldn’t let fear stand in the way. “I would encourage pastors and church planters to consider this opportunity to have someone step in and walk with them in this unique way,” he says. “There’s the possibility for healing and transformation of heart.”

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