What follows is an interview with a friend of the ministry, Craig Glassock of VineGrowers. In the interview we define coaching, talk about its importance for church ministry, and share a simple method to follow when coaching.
Kevin Halloran: Can you briefly tell us who you are and what VineGrowers is all about?
Craig Glassock: My name is Craig Glassock, and I’m the director with VineGrowers, which is a ministry based in Sydney, Australia.
Our mission is growing disciples and growing the gospel. We’re trying to help churches to develop a culture of disciple-making disciples.
Looking at everything that happens in churches – all the ministry structures and trellises and the people—how can we get that all geared toward disciple-making, so that the normal life of the Christian is as a prayerful proclaimer of the Word? That’s what we’re about.
KH: Can you define coaching for us? Specifically as it relates to different activities such as mentoring or counseling, etc.
CG: Coaching in its simplest form is about helping a person develop and grow. Whenever we coach someone, that’s what we’re trying to do. That can be contrasted with things like counseling, consulting, and mentoring. The type of coaching that I do, which is working with pastors and church leaders, is overlapping in some of those areas. (Although, we try not to delve into the counseling side of things too much.)
If you think about a quadrant with asking questions being at the northern point and giving advice being at the southern point, analyzing problems on the west and creating solutions being in the east, coaching kind of sits in the asking questions/creating solutions quadrant. We’re trying to help people find the answers and unveil the answers for themselves.
In Christian coaching we’re trying to do that within a Christian framework, a biblical framework. That’s where there’s overlap with consultancy or with teaching or mentoring as well. I’m always very careful about differentiating the modes too much. Because you typically end up offending someone somewhat, but counseling tends to be about analyzing problems and problem solving: What’s happened to us in the past? How can we move through that, work through that?
Mentoring tends to be hierarchical, one expert talking to someone who doesn’t have as much expertise. Consultancy would tend to be something like going in, finding what the problem is, and solving it, and then leaving again.
It might be something like in the business world: A company gets a supply chain consultant in, looks at what’s going on, he offers suggestions, and then leaves. It’s a different kind of mode to coaching. Coaching tends to ask questions, dig and explore, and try to help people to find solutions and to be quick to be able to move forward into the future.
KH: Craig, why is coaching so valuable in ministry, and in what situations might a pastor or church leader find themselves with an opportunity to coach?
CG: I think it’s valuable in ministry because we’re sinful people and our flesh is at war with the Spirit. We all need people to help us. We need people to teach us to apply God’s word to our lives, to teach, rebuke, correct, and train us in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16–17). We also need people to listen to us, to ask the right questions, to understand, to find out what makes us tick.
How is it valuable in ministry? I think it’s valuable in just about every level of ministry. I’ll talk about some structures or trellises where it might be useful, but I guess it’s important to think about what we’re coaching people in. I’m a product of the ministry of Colin Marshall and Phillip Jensen and others who for a long time talked about three Cs (which I know you’re familiar with): character, conviction, and competence—they’re the things we want to see people grow in and churches grow in.
We want people to grow in godly character and grow like Christ. Romans 12:2 says to stop conforming to the patterns of the world, be transformed by the renewing of our minds, so we know what God’s will is. None of us drift towards holiness. So, we need coaching; we need help to do that. That takes intentionality. I think that there’s a real gap. Some churches are doing it really well, but broadly speaking, in our churches there’s a real gap in coaching people to develop in character.
A few of us have maintained great spiritual disciplines throughout our lives. Spiritual disciplines are important. We don’t want to drift toward legalism, but how can we coach people to implement the basic spiritual disciplines of reading, and prayer, and proclaiming the Word in their lives? We want people to see what’s worked in the past for them when they’ve been doing that well, what hasn’t, and how we can move them toward that.
In terms of convictions, what are we actually believing, and how are we living those convictions? One example of this is that we’re encouraged to meet together regularly, as Hebrews 10 says, to consider how we might spur each other on to love and good deeds. If we take that seriously, then we’ll prepare for church, prepare to learn, prepare to think about who we can encourage.
Use the B-E-L-L principle: Be Early and Leave Late. We want to coach people so that their convictions shape their practice. That’s a role for small group leaders and others: to coach their people to have their convictions shape their practice of church.
But also competence, which is the third C. When we talk about competency, we’re talking about ministry skills, which is anything from leading a service on Sunday, to preaching, to reading the Bible with a non-believer, knowing how to evangelize, knowing how to lead a small group, and on and on it goes. I think coaching is applicable at about every level of ministry structure.
There are many very competent pastors, but coaching can be very helpful to them considering the burdens, the responsibilities, the diversity of skills that’s not just required but expected these days of pastors, particularly the solo pastor who has a huge diversity of responsibility. Pastors need help with that. They need someone to listen. They need someone to help them develop in those skills. They benefit from outside support. I think a lot of pastors just benefit from a listening ear. Someone they can share with. This is beneficial across other ministry structures, if there’s a lay person leading the Sunday service or praying or welcoming, for ushers, Sunday School, leaders, and on and on it goes.
We need to coach people to develop. We want to help them grow in those areas so that we are growing and building a disciple-making culture. When we think someone’s got potential, we should say, “You can lead the service” or “You can pray.” We might help them grow by getting them training and shape and structure, and then help them develop in those things, knowing they’ll make mistakes. We’re selling them short, essentially if we don’t do that. We need to coach people at every level.
I think that the big thing—and this is a growing movement in the States, I’ve noticed—is coaching small group leaders. It’s such a vital ministry for those who have small groups or adult Bible fellowship (adult Sunday School). How can we coach and develop our leaders to be equippers of others, to be disciple-making disciples, more than just facilitating a group? That takes coaching.
Leaders need to know how to lead a meeting, how to interpret Scripture, how to keep meetings on track, how to manage prayer, how to drive our people to have those deep convictions and develop character and competence. If we don’t, it’s like teaching a kid how to hit a baseball and then saying, “Alright, I think you’ve got potential to hit a baseball. Off you go. We’ll see you in a couple of years and see how it’s going.” We need more regular input for our small group leaders. And that is really challenging, particularly for solo pastors. They’ve got so many things on their plate.
If someone is ready to lead a small group, then I think 99 out of 100 of them can be trained to help people grow and change with a simple coaching framework and some simple coaching questions. I think coaching can be learned by lay leaders. It’s really important across all our trellises so we grow that disciple-making culture that we’re talking about.
KH: I noticed when you were with WordPartners at our staff training, you asked a lot of really good questions. How did you get so good at asking questions, and what is your goal in asking questions? [Note: This “asking good questions” is different from the hermeneutical principle WordPartners uses with the same name.]
CG: Naturally, I’m interested in people. I think that’s the way I’ve been put together—just the way God’s made me. My dad actually was a great asker of questions, very interested in people. I’ve had some good models. I think our Lord was a pretty good model in terms of asking questions as well. He asked hundreds of questions in the gospels—drawing people out, helping them to learn, challenging them, pointing them towards God. He kind of used questions as a scalpel to get to the heart of what was happening in people’s hearts and to challenge them to help them to see things they may not have seen if it was more didactic or if it was downloading. Even in the Sermon on the Mount, he asked questions—rhetorical questions, but questions to get people to think and to learn. Proverbs 20 says, “The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out.” It’s really important that we ask questions. In terms of what I’m trying to achieve, it’s trying to build up a mental picture, a jigsaw puzzle. How do these pieces of understanding someone come together? I try to do that in conversation. Coaching is a natural extension of that. The coaching questions are intentionally different. Like I said before, we are trying to equip people to find solutions to their problems, and that often requires a lot of digging and a lot of probing to find out what’s at the heart of the issue for them. How we can actually help them move forward? Asking questions takes a lot of practice, a lot of failure, a lot of asking the wrong questions to find out the right questions—just a general curiosity as well, wanting to understand people, wanting to know what makes them tick and how we can help them move forward.
KH: One aspect of asking good questions is listening well to the person speaking. What are some things a coach should listen for so he can best direct the conversation moving forward?
CG: Listening is vital. James instructs us to be quick to listen and slow to speak. It’s obviously vital as a coach—vital in ministry in general. We can’t understand people if we’re not asking questions. We seek to know what makes them tick and what drives them. What makes them struggle? I think this is a great challenge. Listening can be a great challenge.
Pastors and other are trained to teach. We’re trained to have the answers, to be the expert. So, it can be a great challenge to sit back and listen and dig. But it actually gives us a great opportunity to teach and be more precise in trying to help someone. I think one of the reasons we need to listen carefully is that often when you’re coaching someone, what might seem to be a side issue for them is really at the heart of what’s going on. I can think of an issue a little while ago when someone I was coaching had just mentioned on the side that they had a little issue with an elder. It wasn’t anything major, but it was actually at the heart of their ministry and how they are operating as a pastor. That was the perfect example of how they were living out their ministry. So, what might seem small to someone can actually be a big thing.
It’s vital to listen carefully and not stick to a script. When we’re starting out coaching, it might be lay person-to-lay person or a small group leader to someone who is in their small group. We want to try to help them, so we tend to want to stick to the script of questions we should ask. That can actually impede listening. I don’t know if there is any way around that, because we make mistakes when we’re learning anything. We want to try to listen carefully and be prepared to go off in a different direction if you think something is really important. I’m trying to listen to what makes someone tick—What drives them? What motivates them?—just picking up different cues about what’s happening in the church. That can take a lot of digging. It can take time. So, sometimes you might have ninety minutes or two hours for a coaching session. You may need to flex on that to get at the heart of an issue and really help someone.
KH: When you were with our staff, you shared a method called the IGROW method for coaching. Can you give us a two- or three-minute overview of that?
CG: One of the classic coaching methods is the GROW method which stands for:
Experts have added: What’s the Issue up front? (Thus, IGROW.)
I like to use the IGROW method when working with pastors, when it’s appropriate to do that.
What is the issue at hand? What is keeping someone awake at night? What’s on their mind? What’s nagging away that they can’t just let go? So, that’s the issue.
The G is the goal. What is the goal for this coaching session? We have limited time. How can we set a goal that we can actually work towards and try and come up with a resolution or a way forward at the end.
The R stands for reality. We’re trying to use questioning skills to raise their awareness of the current situation. What’s working now? What’s working for them? What’s not working? When is working? How is it working? Digging with questions like, “Tell me some more about that.”
There’s a technique called the A-W-E question: “And what else?” Remembering that is really helpful.
Allow time for the awkward silence.
Often, you need to allow time for people to contemplate, to allow time for the awkward silence, and “What else?” just helps people to dig further and find those solutions. It’s a really important question in coaching.
O in the IGROW method stands for options. You’re trying to help them shift their perspective towards actions and solutions. What options do they have? What are they doing that’s already working? And what else? Also, what are the costs and benefits? So, if they choose to do this thing, or if they choose to use that method or go this direction, what’s going to have to go at the expense of that trade? Help them to see there’s a cost/benefit with options.
Then W stands for the way forward. You’re trying to help them to sit and gain commitment to action steps that you can follow up on with them later. “What are the next steps to take?” “How are you going to move forward?” “How can you keep track of your progress?” “Who will support you in this?” “How confident are you that you’re going to achieve this?” “How committed are you to it?” That’s a scaling question as you’re doing those action steps. Answering “How committed are you?” will actually reveal whether it’s something they really want to put in place.
That’s kind of a broad overview of the IGROW method. In general day-to-day ministry, I think the pastors and lay leaders probably change more using a task-based coaching method. Things like: “What do you think you are doing well?” “What do you think you could do better?” “This is what I see you doing well . . .” “This is what I think we’re able to improve on . . .” and “What’s a way forward with some action steps?” That’s a simple task-based method that people can use in various ministry trellises or structures.
KH: Excellent. We’ve had Colin Marshall from your ministry come and share with our staff before, and you came most recently. There’s a budding friendship between VineGrowers and WordPartners. How would you describe the connection and the friendship between our ministries?
CG: We’ve gotten to know you through various people (through Sean Martin and others). At VineGrowers, as I said before, we’re trying to help grow a culture of disciple-making disciples in the church. We want to see people being prayerful, patient proclaimers of the Word of God in their daily lives, growing in Christlikeness (we say “learning Christ”). We try to help people learn Christ and help others do the same, to evaluate and structure all their trellises around helping people to do that. That’s what we’re on about at VineGrowers. We coach pastors through The Vine Project, which is a five phase book to bring about this disciple-making culture.
You guys are about a movement of the Word, training pastors around the world to be able to preach expository sermons, and more. You’re trying to create a movement of the Word. That was so encouraging for me when I was over with you guys in April. That’s what we’re about as well. We want to see a movement of the Word through all our churches from around the world. A movement of the Word in people’s lives, in their families, in their neighborhoods—and so we feel kindred with WordPartners. We’re working in slightly different ways, but it’s an important friendship for us.
KH: Where can people learn more about about VineGrowers?
CG: They can go to TheVineProject.com. We’ve got a free resource library with hundreds of resources through which you and your church can be disciples who make other disciples. We would love you to join that free library. There’s dozens of videos and interviews and case studies and templates. TheVineProject.com or you can go to The Vine Project Facebook page. We’ve got a page for members who are actually working through The Vine Project, who are trying to build this disciple-making culture in their churches.
The Vine Project book is available through Matthias Media. It’s a follow on from The Trellis and the Vine as many people would know. You guys have talked about The Vine Project before, so to read the book would be great.
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