I began coaching in 1988 – 30 years ago.

The term coaching was introduced in the early 1980’s in the business arena and re-invented in the ministry world – especially in church planting circles during the late 1980’s. Coaching has evolved from a new idea to a best practice in most ministry networks where leaders are developed, congregations are becoming healthy, and new churches are planted. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to coach leaders to start all kinds of churches and pioneer disciplemaking movements.

Lessons I’ve gleaned:

So far, I’ve focused on the importance of the spiritual (Discern the will of the Father and help those you coach, do the same), relational (Value the other person) and personal (Embrace your unique contribution) foundations of coaching. This week I shift the focus to the interpersonal foundation of the leader or team you coach.

Lesson #4 – You can’t want something for someone else, more than they want it themselves

I love attending The Global Leadership Summit hosted by The Willowcreek Association every August. It is THE gathering of leadership experts from the business (secular) and ministry (sacred) arenas. In fact, in 2008 I invited my son Joel (who was 12 at the time) and my daughter Zoe (at about the same age) a few years later, to share the experience with me. This has become our highlight of the year – bar none. I would encourage you to attend this event with your team next year.

This year we heard Angela Duckworth speak on the topic of “grit” from her research and book entitled “Grit – The Power of Passion and Perseverance”. She is a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and founder of Character Lab, a nonprofit whose mission is to advance the practice of character development. I am taking the idea of grit and relating it to the “commitment level” of a leader.

Duckworth defines “grit” as sustained passion and perseverance for long-term goals. She further explained that passion and perseverance stood out in her research based on responses to the following:


  • I am a hard worker
  • I finish what I start


  • My interests change from year to year
  • It is difficult for me to stay focused on projects more than a couple of months

The good news is that “grit”, according to Duckworth, can be developed.

How does this apply to coaching?

I’ve discovered that when a person has true grit, it is an extremely different experience vs. a person lacking this quality. When the commitment level is commensurate to the task at hand, then the person has the “grit” to succeed. Duckworth said it like this: Skill x Effort = Achievement.  Let me illustrate, with my wife’s experience as a health coach.

When Gina coaches an individual on their journey to health, she asks the person to define their “why” with a question: “Why do you want to lose weight and gain health?” The answers are varied and normally require further reflection to clarify, for instance: “I want to lose weight to be able to touch my toes” – might be the initial response. Upon further reflection, that person may realize the deeper motivation is to be able to play with their grand-children and not be sidelined prematurely. The more Gina helps people unpack their “why” the more they can tap into their intrinsic motivation. The challenge for the health coach (Gina), is managing her expectations.

Let’s circle back around and bring this into a ministry context. Imagine a leader you have coached. The lead pastor/planter/team leader is challenged to change direction at a critical juncture in the development of the church they lead and ask for coaching. It is imperative that you assess their commitment level. This will determine if they are willing and able to make the shift.

A common shift that I have coached leaders through is the place disciplemaking groups play in their church, e.g. will they be a church with small groups or “of” small groups. Many will say “yes” to the latter but do not fully understand the cost organizationally, and to their leadership. The more established the church, the more challenging this shift.

Here is the reason I am explaining this concept of “grit” as it relates to coaching. Once you identify the motivation or “why” a person wants to influence a change along with their level of commitment, you as their coach must not want it more than them. Plain and simple. Once you establish their motivation + commitment, the best way to serve them is to meet them where they are.

If you cross that invisible line and reveal that you actually want “it” more than they do, you have entered the “struggle to be you” zone of coaching. The s2bU zone is when you have lost objectivity and put yourself in the seat of the leader you are coaching. In effect, you are coaching yourself – don’t do this! It is not helpful to the person, it is embarrassing for you, and is the quickest way to unravel a coaching relationship. I know; I have crossed this line before, and these risks are real.

Here is a checklist to keep you from entering the S2bU zone:

Regarding your client:

  1. What does this person want to achieve?
  2. Do they understand what it requires?
  3. How do you assess their commitment level?

Regarding you:

  1. What adjustments do you need to make to adapt to their commitment level?
  2. Do you want this more than them?

Next week I will share another insight that I’ve learned as the Lord has allowed me to partner with leaders who are making a significant contribution to the work of cultivating disciplemaking movements.


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