Coaching: the need for coaches in missional leadership

March 7, 2018 |

“We’ve all been there. We’ve been working so hard to take our ministry to the next level and it is just not going. The frustration we feel at that time can lead to discouragement, and if it’s not dealt with, it will lead to a missionary leaving the field because they feel like they have nothing to offer.”

This is Susan Querfeld, speaking in front of South America Mission’s leadership team and TEAM’s Latin American leadership. She brings up a diagram of roadways and GPS scenarios.

“When the situation on the mission field changes, the goal of the missionary does not need to change. A coach can help a missionary navigate particular pains or hardships to help them figure out a new route to their goal.”

Heads nod throughout the room; there’s an unspoken shared experience. A calling to ministry overseas is often strong and definitive, but there comes a point where what you felt called to do, or the original intention of the ministry, faces an obstacle. Do you climb over it and continue in the same direction? Do you go around it? Do you divert to a new path? Do you succumb to the feeling of insurmountable futility?

Changes in ministry are never easy. They often involve a sense of loss, or an actual loss of partners and fellow coworkers.

Even abrupt or stark differences in expectations upon arrival to a ministry area can leave cross-cultural missions workers in long periods of doubt and frustration.

But what about when ministry becomes “too much”?

“There are often too many good options, too many different ways to get to where we want to go and how do we choose the right route?” Susan asks. “You came to do church planting, but you wound up spending 80% of your time counseling others. The after-school tutoring, the prison ministry, the discipleship–they’re all good things, but no one person can do them all. How do you decide which one you choose?”

This is why, she argues, we need people with coaching mindsets in missions leadership. It is impossible for ministry area leaders to mentor all of the missionaries who report to them.

Learning how to be a coach can lighten the load for leadership by helping their missionaries problem solve and take ownership of their own goals.

“A coach asks questions based on your gifts, passions, or talents. Or a coach helps you discover those things. They will guide you through determining your angle.”

She differentiates a coach from a mentor in that mentors focus on the present; they talk you through what you’re currently experiencing and either reproduce their own habits and mindsets in you, or they give you advice. Susan defines coaching as an effort to help someone self-discover their path. A series of pertinent, critical questions can lead someone directly out of doubt and into discovery.

If we enter the mission field rigidly, believing we have the answer and with a determination to follow our plan without flexibility, we set ourselves up for failure.

There is a need for humility when entering cross-cultural ministry—an acknowledgement that our own culture, customs, and preferences are not superior or perfect, and that the people we serve have their own rich culture. Likewise, there is a need for humility within ourselves, understanding that we don’t have all the answers and that our plans must adapt to remain viable.

This process of transitioning to a new culture contains many unique challenges, but those challenges don’t inherently mean that it’s an impossible task. A coaching mindset in missional leadership could just be the answer to missionary longevity.

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