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Missional Coaching: An Overview

1. What is Coaching? 

There are a number of processes used across the church to enable leader development and project support. Amongst these there are three that consistently stand out above the rest: consultingmentoring and coaching. These terms are often used interchangeably and a fourth term, accompaniment, is also used by many, either to describe the most non-directive approach or as a general term that can cover all three! However, we think that there are important differences between the processes and, although all may not accept our definitions, we prefer to use the terms in the following way

2. Task-Centred Coaching 

Consultancy is a process that concentrates primarily on a task. Be that a mission initiative, planting a fresh expression or implementing changes across the church, a consultant’s job is to enter into that situation from outside and bring their expertise and wider perspective for the purpose of helping to bring the task to fruition.

Person-Centred Mentoring 

Mentoring is a term used by different people to describe a variety of methods and aims, some of which overlap with spiritual direction. But we see it most helpfully referring to what is usually a long-term a process that concentrates primarily on the development of a person. This would therefore be focused on their personal walk with Jesus, the growth of their faith and how they live it, as well as how they develop as a leader. In this view, a mentor is there to encourage and affirm; to challenge and hold accountable; for the development of the soul, character, gifts and skills of the mentee. Mentoring usually has a high value on non-directive processes involving reflective learning for greatest ownership by the mentee.

Calling-Centred Coaching 

Coaching (also sometimes used interchangeably with mentoring) we prefer to see as a process that applies when both task and person are involved. Put together, these two elements collectively give a sense of calling, where the task and the person set aside to carry it out, are intertwined and it is impossible to listen to God about the one without also hearing about the other. A common example of this would be any level of leadership. The leader and what they are leading are inseparable from one another as God always uses one to enforce and grow the other.

Given that mentoring, as we are using the term, is more specifically for the growth of a person regardless of task, when thinking about developing missional projects or fresh expressions we are generally left with two considerations: i) bring in consultants to offer their expertise and perspective; or ii) invite in a coach to take the leader through a process of development that will be worked out through the exercise of their ministry. Both are important and not exclusive of one another in any way. In fact, they can work well together.

To see where the differences in the two approaches come, consider the world of sport for a moment. In any given sport there are a number of people that surround the athletes and team players, but the two that we are most familiar with in terms of inputting on a sports person’s performance are their coach, who takes them through a process of development on a one to one level, and the sports pundits, who comment and advise out of their own expertise and independent perspective.

Clearly an athlete will gain very different benefits from each. From the pundit – in some ways the equivalent of a consultant (though as a rule an uninvited one!) - they will get a level of immediate honesty that won’t take into consideration any emotional response. This can be very healthy and offers much needed reality checks. A pundit also draws from experience and extra knowledge gained from watching how one athlete stands up against another, and the trends over time. Furthermore, a pundit has an external, detached view and works in response to situations observed.

A coach on the other hand is on the inside and isn’t limited to response, but can also direct. They can help the athlete not only to learn from their past successes and mistakes, but also to be driven by their goals and potential. The sports coach knows only too well the importance not only of technique, talent and skills but also personality, attitude and confidence. To further build on this the coach develops an intimate knowledge of the athlete – what will motivate them, their aspirations, their priorities and so on. They are able to take the athlete through a process based on an understanding of what will challenge without hurting, what will motivate without daunting, what will stretch without breaking.

The coach sees the daily ups and downs, how the athlete responds from determination or frustration, and then is able to tailor their coaching to turn this to the athlete’s advantage. And not only do they do this, but they hold them accountable for their progress, making the relationship between coach and athlete paramount – each is dependent on the progress of the other.

Taking this back to the world of missional church and fresh expressions, we might draw the following differences between coaching and consultancy, as seen in the table.


Coaching                                Consultancy



Fixed series of sessions



Problem / issue focused

Person & task


Process / task focused



Information based

Action & review


Detached & theoretical



Little or none



Why coach missional leaders? 

Now that we have looked at the basics of what coaching is, let us conclude by considering why it is so important. Missional church leadership and ‘leadership for change’ is a highly demanding, complex and practical enterprise and those of us involved need all the help we can get. More than that, we need to receive the help in a form that enables us to learn as effectively as possible through the process, as well as to implement the ‘change process’ or ‘project’ as successfully as possible. Coaching is one of the best ways to learn whilst being helped to lead missional church and here are four common reasons why:

1. Need to know: it can be tempting right from the start of a project for missional leaders to search for all the information they can to inform every possible step they might have too take. But doing so invariably leaves people overloaded and not well placed to access what they need when they need it. The most effective help in a long and complex process is to discover mainly the principles that shape the application of the next phase. Coaching accompanies the process of the project and addresses only the immediate presenting issues enabling them to have full attention.

2. Experience ahead of input: like need to know, it is clear that the motivation to learn (and consequently the best retention and integration of principles) is when you are ‘hungry’ to gain the knowledge. And this is usually because you are stretched by the immediate practical challenge of new experiences. The coach can draw alongside the leader at intervals during the development of the missional church process precisely when this motivational impetus is at work, so that insights and reflections have maximum chance of effecting action and change.

3. Show and tell: If we are to get the most effective help for implementation, and at the same time to learn and grow, then demonstration as well as information is powerful. Good coaching illustrates in the immediate practical context and mission challenge, how principles work. Academic training tends to follow the order orientate, equip, (only then) involve. Whereas the process of supporting, developing the training practitioners through coaching, follows the orderorientate, involve, equip (as you go).

4. Non-formal learning: Coaching forms part of what can collectively be called non-formal learning processes. These are exactly the most appropriate forms of learning for a practical undertaking and particularly for one that requires exploration of something new rather than copying what already exists. Apprenticeship is the most characteristic non-formal learning process and coaching has similar characteristics. The diagram below depicts how non-formal learning works alongside the two other learning processes of formal and socialisation learning. Coaching is non-formal learning that involves intentional processes, earthed in practicalities and opening up non-traditional outcomes.



3. Some Basic Principles

Where is your main focus? 

With these differences in approach there are also different aspects that form the main focus. In seeking to come alongside to help in missional church contexts there are two potential main objectives. The first is to help to make the missional church enterprise as effective as possible. As we have already explored, this would fall more in the territory of the consultant.

The second is to help the person become the most effective missional church leader possible, thereby increasing the effectiveness and fruit of the fresh expression or mission initiative as a consequence. This should always be a significant focus of the coach. Whilst always keeping the task in mind, the person is often the starting point and the measure.

Obviously one needs to have both goals in mind and we are certainly not setting one against the other. But being conscious of your emphasis as a coach will make a tremendous difference to your style and approach… as well as to the outcome. Here is a scale that can be used to help coaches to address where their main focus is: 


The Project v Person Scale


1         2         3         4         5         6         7         8         9         10

Helping the Project                 Helping the Person 


As you begin to coach your missional leaders, have this scale in mind and after a session check yourself against it in terms of where your focus tends to be, and where you would like it to be. Repeat this task as the coaching relationship develops to see whether you are getting closer or veering further away from your desired score and focus. As a general guide, a coach wants to keep their score above five.


At this point it may also be helpful to consider the focus of the coachee, as it is both different from the coach but crucially also informs so much of whether the person or the task is being engaged in the coaching at any one time. Here, we could draw a scale between ‘Awareness’ and ‘Responsibility’. On the one side there is the need for the missional leader to engage in self-assessment and clarification of their context, and on the other is the need for the coachee to explore and understand what they need to do to move forwards. The coaching process will always be swinging between these two, depending on where the coachee needs to be focusing.

Who will do the Coaching/ Mentoring? 

This is a good moment to take a step back and ask, ‘Who will do the coaching?’  As we answer this question we quickly recognise that those coming forward to meet the need will already bring different experience and skills in the two key fields of coaching and of mission. These differences will directly affect the priorities for their training and equipping. Clearly these will be determined by the need to fill in the gaps where skills and experience are weak or absent, or merely to complement and refresh stronger areas. The matrix on the next page (produced by Pete Pillinger) helpfully highlights the possible range of strengths of experience, against weaker areas to be addressed.

This book majors on the bottom two squares of the matrix

It is important to recognise that this book deals with the generic principles of coaching and mentoring and applies them to missional leaders and pioneers. Hence these chapters particularly address the needs of those represented by the two squares at the bottom of the diagram with low knowledge and experience in these areas. However, they should also support, refresh and extend those in the top two squares.

Ideally those coaching missional pioneers and fresh expressions planters, should have first had experience of both these ministries and be familiar with training for pioneers such as mission shaped ministry. They should also be regularly updating themselves with the latest good practice in pioneering mission. And one of the best ways is to be a regular visitor and fully conversant with the content of the Fresh Expressions knowledge bank, Share, which can be accessed at www.sharetheguide.org. The appendix to Coaching for Missional Leadership also provides a brief outline of some of the key areas to be familiar with in pioneering mission.



  What gives a coach authority? 

It can be important at the start of the coaching process to understand where the coach’s authority is drawn from, as this too will influence how the coaching relationship develops and what form it takes. CRM have helpfully identified four sources of a coach’s authority. It is quite possible for a missional leader to identify more than one, even all four of these in the coach they invite, but it is likely that one will be the primary reason for a coach being chosen. The four possible sources are:


1. Positional authority: The coach is appointed based on the role they perform in relation to the missional leader. They may be the person with some direct ‘line manager’ type of authority over them, or such a ‘line manager’ may have brought them in. The danger here is that the coach could instruct or limit the missional leader according to his or her own agenda. It can also stifle the depth of accountability if missional pioneers feel they can’t explore things they don’t think they do well. On the other hand, the relationship is likely to be less occasional and more naturally a shared journey. The more that institutional authority plays a part in a coaching relationship, the harder the coach will have to work to avoid this altering the coaching dynamic. The process can still be extremely fruitful but it is unlikely to deliver all that a good independent coach could bring

2. Expertise-based authority: In this case the coach is invited, based on the missional leader identifying them as having the key experience and expertise that can unlock their potential. This carries with it the benefit that the coach is immediately perceived as helpful, and the coachee will be very open to working through any question they are asked. There is, however, a danger of the coachee too easily tending to ask, ‘What should I do?’ and wanting to be spoon-fed.

3. Spiritual authority: Here the coach is recognised for their maturity, wisdom and discernment. Where in ‘positional authority’ the authority is given partly by structure and circumstance, and in ‘expertise-based authority’ it is given partly from acquired experience, in this case the authority relates more to character and God-given qualities and spiritual gifts that have been identified (although God is also involved in the other forms of authority). This form of authority has the potential for speaking powerfully into difficult situations. But care is needed to avoid any potential for spiritual pride or spiritual over-emphasis. This can also lead to excessive influence and the ‘What should I do?’ question again needs to be guarded against.

4. Relational authority: In this last case, the coaching relationship is based on an existing valued relationship. And it is likely that at least one of the previous three authority sources have contributed to the missional leader identifying their chosen coach. This authority is given by the pioneer based on existing trust, but this must also be confirmed in the practicalities of the new coaching process. The strength of this relationship lies in the certainty of the coachee that the coach believes in them, but it must be recognised that this is still an authority that develops over time, so being able to discern how well the level of trust is growing is vital for the coach not to overreach themselves too early.

So what are the basics? 

When calling is the main issue, coaching is the process that can best help both the missional leader and the initiative they lead. The different layers involved in this dynamic process of coaching are explored in detail in Coaching for Missional Leadership. To get us started, though, let’s consider some of the main points we have made so far in closer detail...

1. Coaching is a Relationship: From the outset the coach needs to recognise that their relationship with the coachee is an entity in itself. For coaching to be effective it relies on the strength of this relationship between the coach and the missional leader. Although there is a focus on task, as mentioned before, it is always in the context of the person and it is essential that the needs and ‘speed of progress’ of the person are a high priority of discernment for the coach.

It is also important to recognize that in entering into a coaching relationship, the coach becomes a part of the story of the fresh expression involved. The effectiveness of the coach impacts the effectiveness of the missional leader, which in turn impacts the effectiveness of the fresh expression. This means that the relationship between coach and leader needs to be very strong - with a high degree of trust in the coach’s discernment and wisdom from the leader, and a high degree of belief in the leader’s vision and heart from the coach. 

2. Coaching is a Process: Coaching is an intentional process. The key dynamic of the relationship between coach and missional leader is that it is a shared journey. There needs to be an understanding that as in all journeys, the destination is not the be all and end all – the process of getting there is just as important.

There are different ways of expressing this process, but the one we have used often with the greatest success is the Discipleship Square, which was developed as a part of LifeShapes by Mike Breen[1]. The diagram on the next page illustrates the process that we all go through when we are called to a new and challenging role such as missional church leadership.  There are typically four stages we go through and the help or leadership we need changes as we progress round the square from D1 (discipleship stage 1) to D4 (discipleship stage 4).

As you will see, the first stage is one of high enthusiasm, keenness to explore new territory, filled with hopes and excitement for what might happen. Typically this might be expressed by high enthusiasm, low competence. At this stage it doesn’t matter if people don’t know what they are doing – enthusiasm will drive them and it is enough that the leader knows what they are doing (or so people might assume!). In response to this a classical or directive style of leadership is needed. Vision must be communicated well and often, and the leader can adopt a ‘come follow me’ message.  

The second stage comes when time and experience of the journey has eroded the enthusiasm to leave the cold hard facts of the situation. A person or team may still be low on competence, but now they know it! So the result is low enthusiasm and low competence. In response to this stage the leader needs to adopt a more personal approach, drawing closer alongside the people/team, encouraging them to stay focused on the vision, drawing faith from the call and helping them to see where God is growing them. It is during this second stage (or D2) that the coaching style is what best helps a leader or team to progress. The temptation is so often to give up or re-negotiate the vision whilst in D2. It seems too hard and can feel like it was a bad idea all along. However, it is an essential part of the growing process and you need to go through this if the next stage is to be reached.

The corner begins to be turned when experience builds into the development of both skills and understanding. This D3 stage can be expressed as growing enthusiasm, growing competence – leading to the team beginning to see the first fruits of their labour and wanting to be more actively involved as they begin to believe again that they are on the right track. The best leadership style to adopt here is to be more consultative and consensus driven – working very much as a team of equals and involving the whole team in each part of the leadership process.

Finally, entering stage D4 the skills and experience become such that the team are able to step into being the leaders themselves. They have reached high enthusiasm, high competence and the time has come to hand the work over to them fully. This releases the leader to look for the next phase of their calling and it successfully multiplies what God is doing, so that now there is the potential for two or more teams where there was only one. The leadership style for D4 is one of delegating and releasing.


For a coach coming alongside a pioneer team leader an understanding of this four-stage process should help in two ways. First, as an ‘outside’ coach with this process in mind, you can observe and be sensitively appropriate to the person’s progress from initial high enthusiasm but low experience and high confidence but low competence, through to very low confidence, before confidence and competence build into D3 and D4. Recognising these stages of your coachee’s journey will help you interpret the dynamics to them.

Secondly, whilst accompaniment is helpful throughout this process, there is a sense in which the relationship of coach to coachee and the style of support will vary over time to mirror the styles of each phase for the pioneer leader. Whilst the coach may never fully adopt the directive style appropriate to a leader in D1, he/she should be sensitive to this progression and adjust his/her approach accordingly, moving to a lighter and lighter touch as the leader grows in confidence and competence through the process/project.  Learning to discern where the leader is up to in this progression is a key skill for the coach to acquire.


3. Coaching relies on Feedback: The coaching relationship relies on space being given for the missional leader to reflect on the conclusions and action from previous coaching sessions and to give honest feedback. There also needs to be permission given for the coach to give honest feedback of their observations and perspective on how the calling and project are progressing.

4. Coaching values Accountability: Right at the heart of this coaching relationship and process is a high value of accountability. Coaching is not meant to be a series of disconnected observations or problem-solving. Issues will be revisited, challenges followed up and victories built on.

Honesty and vulnerability are crucial for the shared journey to genuinely reflect what God is doing and saying, and for the coach and missional leader to best be sensitive to God’s leading, encouraging and challenging. This takes us back to the central importance of the relationship... there needs to be a strong sense of commitment and trust to be able to sustain this level of honesty.

A Definition 

Putting these four aspects together, Bob Logan and others have come up with the following definition:


Coaching is intentionally helping someone else perform to their highest potential. It is a helping role to unlock someone’s potential in pursuit of their goals. It is helping people be successful... where success is knowing God’s will for your life and putting it into practice

Coaching is fluid and dynamic. It has the potential to be both structured and yet spontaneous. There is both a recognized procedure for discussion, listening, giving new insight and even action; and also room for the Holy Spirit to break in and change the direction. It is both practical and heart-centred, fuelled by encouragement and challenge.

But keep in mind... 

Yes this is a process that can be applied to anyone in the sense that there is a level of procedure to be followed. However, as we have identified, at the very heart of it this is a relational process. Consequently, we can see that it may not be right to coach anyone or everyone. For the relational strength to shine through, there are a few necessary requirements between the coach and the missional church leader. As you are considering who to coach, ask yourself these questions:


1. Is there some ‘chemistry’ between us? The coaching relationship relies on fruitful two-way dialogue, flexibility from both sides to learn new wisdom and a desire to go on that journey together. It is not just a mechanical system that requires a set number of skills. For the coaching relationship to work there needs to be some chemistry. This is more than respect or trust – conversation and discussion need to come naturally; the people concerned need to understand one another and form a reliance on one another; and there needs to be a mutual sense of excitement about what can be learnt.


2. Do I believe in him/her? The coach must have conviction in what they are doing, and at the heart of this must be the conviction that the leader they are coaching is worth the investment. Coaching is going to involve a lot of time, energy, care and attention, and it is all poured into this one relationship. So you need to be sure that you can really see the potential in the leader and their vision, and that you genuinely want them to succeed and want to be a privileged part of their development.


3. Do I have faith in what they want to do? In the same way as believing in them personally, you need also to believe in what they want to achieve – be that a church plant, fresh expression or mission initiative. It isn’t enough to only invest in the leader. As we have already seen, coaching is built on a relationship with a purpose... it must have both to succeed. It is therefore vital that the coach shares a belief and passion for both the general and specific purpose they will be addressing. Also, coaching inevitably involves lots of investment in the leader’s ministry and the other people involved. Therefore it is important to have a sense that the aims and objectives are something you would want to see grow and flourish.

The three focusses of Missional Church Coaching 

Having established these basics, we can summarize by breaking them down into the following three focuses that coaches need to have in their mind through the process:


The Leader(s): This includes their character, relationships, spiritual development, skills, experience and personal study.


The Project (and team): This includes the vision, any processes and strategy, its growth and fruit, and the ongoing developing relationship between the leader and the rest of the team.


The Coaching Relationship: This distinct entity itself involves modelling multiplication and a culture of release. This means that coaching should also produce a by-product of passing on effective leadership as well as being a leadership style in itself.

As we emphasised earlier, it is really helpful to see the coach-pioneer relationship as an entity in its own right with a life of its own, apart from the pioneer and the project. In this way we can visualize the three elements involved in coaching pioneers as represented in the triangle below and the coach can then regularly review the balanced development of the three elements.


Aims of coaching sessions and visits 

These three focuses, represented in the triangle, will form the themes of each coaching session/visit. Again, this is explored in more detail in Coaching for Missional Leadership.  But what about the overall aims of these sessions/visits? Here are a few suggestions for what the coach will be looking to achieve:


·       A broader/fuller perspective (God’s view!)

·       Observing the leader and the project

·       Pinpointing crucial issues and blockages to success

·       Referencing the appropriate core missional principles as they relate to project and stage

·       Helping them generate creative and original ideas

·       Building a functional relationship to develop the leader

·       Encouraging and raising faith

·       Identifying and understanding key skills

·       Clarifying issues and getting focus

·       Confronting errors and solving problems together

·       Reaching decisions, both for personal development and study, as well as project implementation

·       Praying and listening to God

·       Setting an agreed program of action and study for future review




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