What does every church leader need in the 21st century? Perhaps you gave the standard Sunday school response: Jesus! Well, that is certainly true. Since we are imbibing some more Gospel Goodness, you may have thought I was going to wrestle you to the ground and pin you until you cried “GOSPEL!” You wouldn’t be far off. Authors Scott Thomas and Tom Wood lead off with this simple and succinct conviction:
Every church leader needs a coach. Every church leader needs to be coaching other leaders.
I’m inclined to agree with them. For church leaders, a relationship with Christ is a given. If they have not believed the good news about Jesus, received His free justification, and do not have the Holy Spirit living in them, then they have no business leading members of the Body of Christ, at all. And, they probably would never pick up a copy of Gospel Coach: Shepherding Leaders to Glorify God in the first place.
I first heard about this book and the training toward certification at a church planting boot camp. To be honest, when I saw gospel coach in the lineup of topics, I was not thrilled. I mean, when you attend any sort of leadership training you can expect some coaching talk and this was, after all, a gospel-centered event. I figured it was the standard fare. I was at this event — I was all in for the nuts and bolts of replanting our existing church, learning from the experience of other established churches doing the same thing, and getting some fresh insights into how to be more missional and intentional. Yeah, I was a bit jaded and, after all, I’d been a bi-vocational pastor for over 20 years without any mentoring and coaching at all (pastor fail). But, my toes were right there on the edge, ready to dive right into all the other cutting edge church-planting tools and strategies! Don’t I feel silly now!
When Scott Thomas began speaking, a dramatic sort of jolting took place: I felt like I was jerked forward about 5 rows with his fist around my collar. He said something dear to me that I never anticipated hearing, in my lifetime, in a conference by and for pastors. He was not talking about the top-down accountability sort of arrangement between pastors I had seen abused in the 1980’s or the motivational life coach models of the 1990’s, but a relationship he described as a gospel friendship. When I heard those two words, connected, I was ready to listen. Later, I would purchase a copy, after reading the PDF handout, pre-publication version. Then, I flew up to Oregon to attend Gospel Coach training and pass through the certification process in 2011 (evidently, I was the first person certified).
So a Gospel Coach is not only a mentor, but also a friend who invites leaders into:
an intentional relationship to skillfully care for others with four ancient shepherding principles: 1) Know the sheep, 2) Feed the sheep, 3) Lead the sheep, and 4) Protect the sheep. A Gospel Coach inquires about the personal, spiritual, and missional aspects of a ministry leader’s life in a loving, yet focused manner. But, the Gospel Coach also probes the church leader for compulsive unbelief or selfish motivation, or disobedience and sin, and leads the ministry leader back to the Gospel, through repentance and faith… The Gospel Coach doesn’t sit passively awaiting an invitation to educate and evaluate. He gets to know the life of the disciple-leader, feeds him appropriate truth, leads him to progress in his calling by God, and then protects him through encouragement and rebuke… to produce Gospel transformation, healthy leaders, and theologically-rich churches reproducing for the glory of God and the good of the mission of Jesus Christ. If the Gospel is not at work in the life of the church leaders, then it is highly unlikely it will be at work in the life of the church.
So, that’s it in a nutshell. The book gives you the rationale behind gospel coaching, built upon the foundation of the Scriptures and wrapped around a framework of sound Biblical doctrine and the accumulated wisdom of experienced leaders. Although the training, in my opinion, is truly indispensable, the book does go into quite a bit of detail about the actual coaching session and provides appendices with all sorts of helpful resources.
So, why did the words gospel friendship grab my attention and why do I find myself agreeing with Thomas and Wood about the important role of a coach in the life of a church leader? Scott Thomas relates how he was compelled to do something to help the church avert the tragic circumstances he personally witnessed in the lives of pastors, who had come to a point where they felt depressed, isolated, and without a friend in their ministry. In more than one case, these leaders “despaired even of life.”
My mind goes back 30 years and I remember walking across the parking lot with a pastor after attending a men’s Bible study at a local restaurant. We were both young and, even though he was only 4 years older, I looked up to him and respected him. I don’t remember what the group discussed that morning, but when we stopped at our cars, he looked at me and tears welled up in his eyes. He said in a soft, quivering voice, “Bo, I don’t have any friends.” Time would bear him out on that and he passed through decades of struggle and sorrow in his ministry. He needed a gospel friend, to coach him. And, I could have used a coach, a gospel friend, a skillful coach to probe me and gospel me, through a number of trying periods in my own ministry.
If you’re a leader and you don’t have a gospel coach, seek one out. If you are a leader and you’re not coaching someone, you may not be a leader at all. If you don’t feel confident or qualified, Gospel Coach would be a great place to start. If you’d like to chat, contact me here.
Other resources and more thorough reviews of the book can be found here: