Partnering With Today's Leaders for Tomorrow's Success

Two recent experiences have caused me to reflect a bit on the coaching and mentoring phenomena. There’s no doubt that coaching and being coached has become so common that they are the “in thing” these days.

Coaching and Mentoring in North America

I just spent three days on retreat with the staff of a church dealing with a variety of ministry issues related to growing past their current plateau of 1,200 in worship attendance. At one point we were reviewing the hot trends in the church of North America over the past 70 years. Among other things we talked about the centralization of denominations, the Christian education (Big Sunday Schools) era, the Jesus movement, the rediscovery of worship, and the ensuing worship wars. We noted today’s trends of church planting, community engagement, multi-venue, multi-site, coaching, and mentoring.

We noted that each hot trend had a life span of about 30 years. We talked about how some of the hot trends were nothing more than fads while others have had a more lasting impact on the church even though they can no longer be considered one of today’s “in things.” One staff member asked me if I thought coaching and mentoring were just another fad. While answering I was recalling my recent experience in Latvia.

Coaching and Mentoring in Latvia

While teaching at the Baltic Pastoral Institute in Riga, Gwyn and I visited the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia. It was a sad, sobering, and humbling experience. Latvia has experienced only 48 years of freedom since the 600’s. They were free and self-governed for 22 years between World War I and World War II. They have now been free and self-governed for 26 years since the fall of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

During “the Soviet years,” as they call their most recent occupation, the government was totalitarian, atheistic, and it persecuted the church. There were faithful followers of Jesus and a few heroes of the faith during those years. I especially enjoyed the story of one church that resisted the government’s attempt to take over their church property. The officials threatened to send all the elders to Siberia. They responded, “You’ve sent us all there before and we are not afraid to go back.”

It is safe to say, however, that the church did not flourish during that era. In addition, the Soviet system was not conducive to producing leaders. The government demanded obedience and submissiveness. Leaders were persecuted into submission, sent to jail or Siberia or killed. People with natural leadership skills were not allowed to develop or exercise those skills.

In spite of this history, some of the most insightful, strategic, and effective leaders I know are young leaders in Latvia. God has gifted them for leadership. They are honing their leadership skills in every way they can. What they are lacking and hungering for are experienced church leaders to serve as role models for them. They desperately need and want to be coached and mentored by people who have led churches for decades and learned along the way.

In Latvia, coaching and mentoring are not faddish things at all. Coaches and mentors are life-giving, wisdom-sharing, role models for emerging leaders throughout the country.

Coaching and Mentoring in the Bible

I believe the current coaching and mentoring phenomena is not merely a North American church craze because it is so international. It’s not just Latvia. In restricted countries like Vietnam, training of house church pastors and other Christian leaders happens primarily through coaching and mentoring. I have personally had the privilege of coaching leaders in numerous international locations such as Thailand, Romania, and Latvia. But the primary reason I believe coaching and mentoring is far more than a fad, is because we find them in the Bible.

While the words, “coaching” or “mentoring” are not found in Scripture, the concepts certainly are! Timothy had his Paul. Paul was both a coach and mentor to young Timothy. John Mark had his Barnabas. His original name was Joses, but the apostles gave him the name Barnabas, which meant, “Son of Encouragement” (Acts 4:36). It would be great if every coach or mentor were known as a son or daughter of encouragement. Encouraging people through tough times, encouraging them to grow is the very essence of the art.

The ultimate coach and mentor of course was Jesus. He chose twelve men. He called them to follow him. He brought them with him as he went about his ministry. He answered their questions. He drew lessons from the everyday life they were sharing, “Behold, the lilies of the field....” He may have preached to the crowds, but he developed leaders through coaching and mentoring.

Concluding Thoughts

Coaching and mentoring are most certainly an international tidal wave today. But they are not merely a fad. Throughout the history of the church, great leaders have had their mentors. Martin Luther had Johann von Staupitz who coached Luther through a critical period in his life. Martin Luther himself said, "If it had not been for Dr. Staupitz, I should have sunk in hell.”

What do Billy Graham, Richard Halverson (Senate Chaplain), Jim Rayburn (Founder of Young Life), Bill and Vonette Breight have in common? They were all mentored by the same person, Henrietta Mears. Billy Graham wrote about her, “I doubt if any other woman outside my wife and mother has had such a marked influence on my life.”

Jesus was the ultimate coach and mentor. This is just one more way that I want to be more like Jesus. So who’s your coach? And who are you coaching? Don’t join a fad. But, by all means, imitate Jesus!

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