Life Purpose…

Iron sharpens iron, So one man sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17 (NASB)

Life Purpose Coaching for Lay Leaders

By: Tony Stoltzfus and Wendy Good
Communion Fellowship is a small-town mid-western church with a Sunday attendance of around 120. Begun in the 80’s on a college campus, this younger church is composed almost exclusively of members under 45, and has focused on missions, worship, small groups and leadership development. Members of the congregation had high expectations for being developed as people—they believed that Communion Fellowship was a place to discover God’s purpose for your life and begin to actively fulfill it. Members were ready to serve and to give their lives to something meaningful, but frustrations mounted: somehow it just wasn’t happening for the average lay leader.

Things began to change when several members entered a coach-training program. Wendy Good had been a key part of the congregation’s leadership. The catalyst for a new approach happened when she was about halfway through her own training as a coach.

“There were several young couples I was in touch with that were facing major life decisions. I could see that they were struggling. They didn’t know the right questions to ask—they weren’t making decisions out of a broader perspective of understanding their life purpose. Drawn by her own sense of call to help others find their destiny as well as her church’s mission, Wendy dove in.

The first step was connecting with the three couples individually. By listening, asking some key destiny questions, and helping the couples begin to sort through their decisions, Wendy gave them a taste of what coaching could do. Wendy introduced the idea of forming a coaching group to walk through a structured destiny-discovery process using materials from TLC’s Life Focus track. Because their congregation offered 8-week Wednesday night classes (and child-care was provided!), she proposed meeting on Wednesday nights.

“One thing I learned from that first round was to call it a Practicum, not a class,” Wendy relates. “I wanted them to connect with the idea that they were going to be involved and do some work.” Wendy asked for a 4-hour per week commitment (including the hour and fifteen minutes class time.) Participants would do independent self-discovery exercises, listen to taped input on destiny and meet individually or as couples with the coach during the week. ‘Class’ time would be used for discussion, hands-on discovery exercises and one-on-one interaction with peers.

“That first group (the three couples) did pretty well with keeping the time commitment,” Wendy comments, “but the group I had the second time around did better in part because participants were given complete information up front and asked to sign a coaching covenant as part of the process.”

One obstacle that came up along the way was paying the coach. Even though the church agreed to subsidize a third of the cost, the Life Focus practicum still cost three times what any of the other Wednesday night classes did—a necessity to cover the cost of the coach’s time and the materials. The positive word-of-mouth from the first group helped overcome the cost barrier the second time around.

The first Life Focus practicums at Communion Fellowship covered; dreams and dreambusters, discovering your life purpose, and developing a set of personal values. Wendy plans to add a “Life Focus II” that covers taking what people discover about who they are and developing goals and an action plan to move toward it.

The participants had a great experience: they loved the coaching appointments, and found the time to work together as a group on their own destiny questions invaluable. Often key insights came while listening to another person share something they wanted or were wrestling with. Peer appointments were also cited as important and they had the freedom to do their peer appointments by phone or in person. Many members made significant breakthroughs as a result of the coaching experience. Wendy was especially gratified to see participants turn around and use what they learned for the benefit of others.

Wendy also says, “The practicum gets easier every time I do it. It has been extremely helpful to have the coach’s notes for the exercises—it saves me from doing a bunch of preparation and trying to track what they are all working on.” The exercise format of TLC materials made it easy for Wendy to give assignments, because she could simply hand out a sheet of paper with the exercise and the instructions already made up. This kept the group on the same page and eliminated a lot of questions and logistical headaches.

Their experience with coaching has been successful enough that Communion Fellowship has set out a new leadership development goal: to provide every leader in the church with a coach. Each leader will be coached through the process of discovering and moving toward their call, while team leaders receive ongoing coaching on team-building, pursuing a vision, etc. Wendy is moving into a part-time staff role as a coach, with a charge to provide coaching to the church’s key lay leaders, to continue to do life purpose coaching with the congregation, and to build a team of coaches to widen what the church is able to offer.

Wendy has already begun integrating coaching into the existing leadership structure. “We have a regular leadership meeting, and now every time we meet I give the leaders a question based on one of our core leadership values or principles to reflect on for the next meeting.” Every leader is responsible to think over the question and write something down between meetings. So when the team gets together they are ready for a rousing, productive discussion.

Wendy filled similar leadership roles in her congregation both before and after being trained as a coach. When asked what difference coaching and coach training makes, Wendy replied, “The biggest thing is to have tools to move forward with. I know the procedure now; I know what to do when I come across a growth issue. Before I’d often have an intuitive sense that something was going on, and I’d get frustrated because I couldn’t get at it. Now I know how to deal with what’s going on in me internally, I know how to name the thing (which is so helpful to people) and how to engage it. We have so many people in our church who know where they want to go but don’t know how to get there, and so many who are doing something but don’t know how they do it or how to pass it on. Now I’m able to train those I work with to do what I’m doing.”