Associate for Congregations Report
The Rev. Dr. Timothy Coombs
Silver Bay Presbytery Meeting, June 4, 2016
Many of you know that during the Advent season I tell Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol from heart. Yes, I don the Victorian garb and use lots of voices and it’s all great fun. I’m sure that you know that the main character is one Ebenezer Scrooge, who Dickens’ describes as a “…a tight fisted, hand to the grindstone, Scrooge! A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, secret, and self-contained, an as solitary as an oyster.” Or perhaps you prefer Mrs. Crachit’s assessment played by the infamous Miss Piggy in the Muppet Christmas Carol, “I know that on the blessed day of Christmas we should drink a toast to Mr. Scrooge, even thought he is odious, stingy, wicked, and unfeeling, and badly dressed…”
One of the important points of the story from Dickens’ perspective is that even someone like Ebenezer Scrooge is capable of repentance and change. More than simply than the schmaltzy story of Christmas, which we have made it, A Christmas Carol is saying that even the most hardened among us can be motivated to change if we can get outside ourselves and get a balcony view of our life. It is this perspective that leads Scrooge to decide to make a change in the way he conducts his life.
So why am I telling you about a story of Christmas when we are about to embark on summer? The reason has to do with the ghosts who visit Scrooge in the story. What the ghosts do is essentially serve as Scrooge’s life coach. The ghosts don’t lecture Scrooge. They don’t advise him, or even tell him what to do. They are simply companions along his visions. The ghosts help clarify significant moments of his life, so that Scrooge can make his own decision about what to do about his life. This is what coaching is all about. The coach seeks to walk with and guide individuals or churches as they seek to discover first whether need to change, and second how to go about it.
According to the book Co-Active Coaching1, which is becoming one the “Bibles” of the movement, one of the basic premises of the coaching relationship is that people are “naturally creative, resourceful and whole.”2 People are “capable of finding answers, capable of choosing, capable of taking action, capable of recovering when things don’t go was planned, and, especially, capable of learning.”
To me, the keyword in the premise is “naturally.” We have in us the innate ability to transform ourselves. You may ask, “We do?” Yes, we do. Consider children. They are “naturally creative, resourceful and whole.” Unfortunately, something happens to us as we become adults to squelch this innate ability. But I am here to tell you in the words of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, “it’s not death yet. (It’s) only resting.” Dormant, if you will. We allowed it to get beat down by the forces of the world who taught us to say “can’t.” Well, coaches help to find and revive this trait in us.
Coaching seeks to enable our motivation by moving us forward. The coach is not satisfied with responses like, “I couldn’t do that” or “That’s too hard.” To those statements, a coach will ask, “How do you know?” “is there another way?” or “What’s the alternative?”
Coaching is not interested in dredging up the client’s past as a therapist might. Instead, a coach will help a person discover his or her potential by moving forward into success experience.
Coaches are not consultants either. Consultants are “experts” in some field who study the situation and context, devise a plan on how the client should move forward, then leave to engage their next client. A coach does not claim to be an expert at anything, except for perhaps “coaching. The coach realizes and assumes that no one knows more about yourself or your situation than, deep down inside, you do, and therefore seeks to help you discover what you don’t know what know about self and where God is calling you. The coach is there to help you identify where you want to go; help clarify a plan to follow; and to walk with you as a way of building in accountability.
My orientation is not so much with individuals but with congregations. So I ask, “our congregations ‘naturally creative, resourceful and whole?’” Well, if they consist of people who are, then that potential is there. Of course, no congregation is perfect. Consider for a moment which of the following descriptors, “creative, resourceful, or whole,” you believe to be your congregation’s strength. Which is your greatest area of needed growth?
Congregational coaching seeks to bring a group of representative leaders together to discover and plan for a new path forward for the church. It does take a little more time than working with a single individual as people in group come with different understandings, motivations, biases, and differing levels of creativity, resourcefulness, and wholeness. Even so, it can be done.
The coaching process with a group usually takes three to four sessions. Typically, the first session is the feeling out and discovery meeting. In this session people are being oriented to what coaching is all about. The second session I like to describe the “pulling teeth” experience, as the group wants to identify something concrete, but getting a group on the same page is often like… You guessed it. The third session is typically the time when the group has that “A-ha” moment, when the vision they’ve been struggling to describe becomes clear. The fourth session is the time to develop a plan of action.
Congregational coaching seeks to hold up a mirror before the group and help them recognize who you they are now, and then ask what is God calling you to be. The coach and the group then devise a way forward. And this is important: The coach continues to talk with the team to ask “how is it going?”, “are you ready for the next step?”, “what adjustments are needed?”, etc.
Can a congregation do all this without a coach? Perhaps, but why would you want to do so. It is much easier with a coach. A congregation is less likely to get off track than without one. Consider this graphic from Healthy Congregations3:
The graph show six needed ingredients for a successful campaign. Reading across the top row; if a congregation or team has trust among the members, a vision of what is to be done, the necessary skills to accomplish the task, the resources needed, and the incentive to do it, plus an action plan; the group will most likely be successful. If, however, anyone of these six components is missing or lacking, (marked by an “X”), a likely result will be sabotage if Trust is missing, confusion if vision is missing, and so on.
A congregational coach can help the team develop strategies and plans to help remedy or compensate for these shortfalls that often lead to not just a failure experience, but in long run, demotivate the congregation.
This fall Albany Presbytery will be inviting six or more congregations into the Pneumatrix process. Pneumatrix is a pilot program in the PCUSA which seeks to do a thorough assessment of your church and its surrounding community. The assessment tool will examine finances, culture, building and usage, program, and mission. Once this is done the congregation will interpret the results with a coach, who will strategize a new way forward for the congregation.
We are very excited about this opportunity and over the summer we will be seeking out churches who wish to engage the Pneumatrix process and coaches who will be trained to work with and guide the congregations for a year. Please consider whether your church is being called into this process and/or whether you may be called to become a coach to one of our presbytery’s churches.
1 Co-Active Coaching: Changing Business, 3rd edition,Transforming Lives, Kimsey-House, Henry, Kimsey-House, Karen, Sandahl, Phillip, and Whitworth, Laura, (Nicholas Brealey Publishing: Boston), 2011.
2 ibid, p. 3
3 From the Healthy Congregations Slideshow: Managing Transitions.
Tim Coombs is the Associate for Congregations of Albany Presbytery and also serves as co-pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Scotia, NY. Besides his work for the church, Tim is a storyteller, biker, guitar player, and intern to his cat, Sharpie. You can reach Tim at: [email protected].