03 October 2023

Transformative Support Through Coaching

“The amount of complexity leaders have to deal with is increasing dramatically, across sectors and across all levels of leadership.”[1]

The world is unpredictable and we need to be aware that just because certain styles of leadership, tools and techniques have worked in the past, they may not continue to work in the future. Most would agree that we live and lead in a fast-paced and increasingly complex context.  In this complex domain there are too many moving parts for any sense of predictability.

While daunting, navigating this complexity is not impossible – there are patterns and opportunities which emerge. However, leaders do need support in this unchartered territory - that’s where a coach can be useful. Studies in the corporate world recognise the effectiveness of coaching:

“As a targeted form of professional development, coaches empower clients to identify resources, find meaning and purpose in work, and align their skills to enhance job performance. In a context where workers are rethinking their professional goals, coaches can also help clients align motivation with action. Together, coaching has wide-reaching benefits for individuals and organizations.” [2]

Leaders in Christian ministry contexts across Aotearoa face these same challenges – in this increasingly multi-cultural and rapidly changing landscape, many of us are leading through territory that we were not prepared for. It seems we need superpowers to cope with the demands of leading a faith community today. We are tempted by tools and techniques that have worked in other contexts and struggle to understand why they don’t work for us. 

If we are looking for a ‘silver bullet’ – the bad news is that I don’t think there is one… there will be as many answers as there are contexts – but I believe coaching, which supports leadership growth and development, and wellness in ministry, is a very positive start. At the same time, we hope and trust that God is with us to equip us with all we need to shepherd and build God’s Church in this season. 

CfCL recognizes the need to foster resilience in mature leaders and support the leadership and personal development and spiritual health of younger leaders.

In response to this challenge, CfCL is equipping experienced Christian leaders from the ministry ‘trenches’ with coaching skills. We then offer them back to the Church as fellow travellers who are better equipped to support other leaders though this complex terrain. Research into what makes for  resilient leadership shows that resilience is less about being rugged, tough or vigorous, and has more to do with external supports. CfCL coaches offer prayerful, practical, and potentially transformative, leadership support. 

“Coaches can act as guides to the new language and culture of complexity that, for most leaders, is a foreign country. There are many subtle but important shifts in focus and approach that we can take to help leaders to make a different kind of sense of their complex world and to take a different kind of action.”[3]

CfCL Coaches are experienced leaders who commit to walking alongside coachees with the posture of a critically engaged, proactive, and prayerful collaborator in the Gospel. Coaches look for signs of spiritual, personal, and ministry growth and development. They create ‘balcony’ spaces so coachees can rise above pressing ministry demands to take stock and evaluate their ministry, refresh their vision, celebrate progress, and strengthen their resolve in challenging times. Drawing on their own leadership experiences, but not limited to them, coaches facilitate and resource learning and context-sensitive problem solving without prescribing outcomes or decisions. [4]

CfCL coaches are committed to cultivating greater awareness, conviction, and competence in the leaders we coach: 

  • Awareness: CfCL coaches work with the coachee towards an ever-deeper awareness of God, of self, and others by asking questions that enable more critical engagement with the particularities of their context. 
  • Conviction: CfCL coaches support coachees to find greater clarity and conviction about both their vocation and their vision for ministry.
  • Competence: CfCL coaches leverage coachee awareness, conviction, and fresh insights toward greater competence in mutually agreed goals.

The CfCL coaching posture is grounded in adult learning principles. Self-direction and self-evaluation are essential aspects of adult learning. Coaches support coachees to identify their own needs and take responsibility for their own growth and wellbeing. Adults learn best through ‘just in time learning’ relevant to their current needs and priorities. CfCL coaches are learning-focussed; they partner with the coachee to identify what’s needed “in the moment.”  Adults also need internal motivation.   Coaching guides leaders to reflect on their internal motivators and remove barriers that get in the way of them achieving their goals and growth.[5]

You might be wondering makes CfCL Coaching distinct from Professional or Ministry Supervision. While there are definite cross-overs, Supervision is more like “looking in the rear vision mirror” and reflecting on actions and situations to learn from them and support safe practice. CfCL coaching reflects back in order to move forward – and is more ‘energetically’ development focussed. CfCL coaches have significant ministry experience – they are ‘one of us’ and understand the complexity of leadership in this space.

As I reflect on my over 40 years in ministry, knowing what I do now about coaching, I am sure that I would have been healthier, more resilient and had greater capacity if I had had a coach! This season of working with CfCL coaches is a ministry ‘convergence’ time as we begin to see one of the many strategies needed enacted for the flourishing and faithfulness of leaders of the Church in Aotearoa.

Christine Harding
Senior Coach
Laidlaw Centre for Church Leadership

[1] “Coaching for an Increasingly Complex World: A Cultivating Leadership Whitepaper.” September 2015, Jennifer Garvey Berger and Catherine Fitzgerald. Pg 1. 
[2] https://thoughtleadership.org/ellen-van-oosten-considers-ways-to-measure-coaching-effectiveness-through-outcomes-for-the-workplace/. Accessed 9/9/21.
[3]  “Coaching for an Increasingly Complex World: A Cultivating Leadership Whitepaper.” September 2015, Jennifer Garvey Berger and Catherine Fitzgerald. Pg 7.
[4] CFCL definition of coaching: “A proactive conversation which is focussed, sustained and purposeful. Coaches prompt reflection and are non-directive – solutions come from the coachee.”
[5] Adult Learning Principles taken from “Professional Supervision: A Process of Reflection on Ministry Experience.” The Uniting Church in Australia Ministerial Education Commission 2011.