For most of my life, the title “pastor” defined me. Bro. Bill. That was me.
Church came easy for me. Time and space, expectations and rewards were clear. Doing church was the rhythm of my life.
I pastored the same community for thirty-two years. My wife and I raised our three boys to love church. I loved it. I wouldn’t trade those memories or that particular group of people for anything.
Now my title’s “coach.” I’ve retired from pastoral ministry and am embracing a new calling as a coach and consultant.
There’s uncertainty about the new territory, but there’s familiarity too. Here are three things I recognize.
I still have a place to stand.
In Pastor, A Reader for Ordained Ministry, Will Willimon describes the pastor as a representative person. She or he walks the road between heaven and humanity, representing God to humanity, and humanity to God, and serving each in the other’s name.
When I think about the many hats I wore as pastor, it’s overwhelming. The “skill set” required is complex; the task is never ending. But it’s also exhilarating.
Bill Hybels says, “There’s nothing like the church when the church gets it right.” At her best, the church offers the pastor the place to proclaim the Good News, to lead God’s people, and to participate in the transformation of people’s lives.
This is still true for coaching.
A coach stands alongside individuals and organizations to provide the same — positive support, feedback and accountability.
I always considered myself a pastor-coach. It is sheer joy to see the good in someone, to participate as a team pulling in the same direction, to lead a congregation to live up to its calling and to accomplish shared goals. To stand with others as they move from where they are to where they dream to be is energizing. To stand with others as they realize what God created them to be is holy.
I still have people to walk with.
Frederick Buechner says true Christianity finds itself in the flesh and blood of real life, in our life stories. This may be the greatest blessing of a healthy pastor-church relationship.
When you pastor the same community for more than three decades, you feel the joy of true Christianity. My family and I built a life within a particular community. We were accountable to them. We laughed and cried, played and worked, worshiped and served, celebrated and mourned together. We enjoyed the simple things and worked our way through challenges along the way. We came alongside one another as friends and neighbors. We were Christ to one another.
I’m finding the same possibilities are available as coach—walking alongside real people with great potential.
In 2009 I contracted with a “coach” to work on some personal and professional goals. I needed encouragement and time to refocus. We met every month at a common table. I did most of the talking, the “coach” did most of the listening—sprinkling in timely and incisive questions, holding me accountable.
That one-to-one relationship set me on a path to coaching certification. As a coach I come alongside others meeting them where they are and walking with them to where they want to be.
I still have room to grow.
Looking back, there’s no counting the mistakes that I made as pastor. Confronted in the hallway right before worship, caught off guard in a committee meeting or simply at a loss as to what to say in the face of adversity, there is always more to learn and more to do as the pastor.
There’s also no counting the joys. As pastor, I saw indescribable hope shared at bedsides and funerals. I witnessed God’s unfailing love show up at marriages, births and emergency rooms. I participated in spirit-led worship that will not easily be forgotten.
Pastoring can be debilitating and uplifting, but mostly I found both instances as opportunities for growth. Both keep your heart pounding and life worth living!
Whether it’s mastering the process, asking insightful questions or keeping someone accountable—I have much to learn as a coach. But I look forward to it. For each session bears the capacity and the hope that God will show up yet again.
Coaching is a powerful resource for helping individuals, organizations and church
congregations realize their fullest potential. It’s about empowering others and enabling them to define their dreams and accomplish their goals.
Life, for me, is now different, but at the heart of what I do, it feels so much the same.