At New Church Ministry, a coach is a partner who comes alongside a pastor as they plant or start a new church here in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). They don’t tell pastors what to do and what not to do. Instead, they assist pastors in fulfilling their ministry’s vision, mission, and values.

“A coach elicits from a pastor what it is that they want to accomplish, but also serves as an accountability partner,” says Rev. Dr. Joi Robinson, Associate Minister of New Church Ministry, “someone the pastor can check in with, someone they can vent to while still focusing on the goals for the ministry.”

Each time a pastor connects with their coach, (once a month, for one hour), each session is confidential. That way, a relationship of mutual respect and trust is formed. 

“Sometimes things don’t go as the pastor had planned,” Joi points out. “And so, the coach helps the pastor reassess, and sometimes refocus to determine new priorities and action steps.” 

Many sessions take place over the phone, and Zoom is now an available option. But no matter how a coach chooses to communicate with a new church pastor, the most important skills they must practice are precise listening and strategic questioning.

In fact, you don’t even have to be a pastor in order to be a coach. Those who are pastors as well as coaches have to work extra hard to guide the new church pastor to her/his own decisions rather than simply provide suggestions based on their own pastoral experiences. All coaches are trained in the skills and processes of coaching during an initial 16-hour Coaching Academy.

However, this year’s Coaching Academy was history-making.

Hosted by Rev. Dr. Robinson from May 27 to May 29, this was the first time that the Coaching Academy went virtual! Using Zoom, 13 coaches from across the country had an opportunity to learn the next level of coaching for New Church Ministry – Group Coaching. Now, instead of only coaching the lead pastor, our coaches will include the Core Team as well. This year’s Virtual Coaching Academy was an opportunity for both veteran and novice coaches to expand their coaching skills and competencies for the purpose of supporting a newly starting congregation.,

Prior to this first virtual Coaching Academy, new coaches attended four Online Coaching  Sessions from November 2019 to February 2020. The November and December sessions were conducted by John Mocko – Professional Coach with International Coach Federation, ELCA Coach Trainer, ICF Mentor Coach and a CoachNet Global Trainer who has been coaching since 2006.

The January and February 2020 Online Coaching Sessions and the 2020 Virtual Coaching Academy were conducted by Rev. Gregg Carlson, Director of Coaching and Contracted Services at Convergence US. During the Virtual Academy, Rev. Carlson prepared a Pre-Academy Preparation Video that reviewed everything that had been taught in the Online Training Sessions. After watching this video, each novice coach applied the information they had learned by participating in a recorded Zoom Practice Coaching Session in which Joi played the role of a new pastor – and each coach applied their newly learned skills to coach her. These recorded practice sessions were shared with Rev. Carlson, who then provided written feedback to all of the participants.

“Most of the coaches received their feedback before the Academy began. That provided them with a reference point as they prepared to learn new information and skills related to Group Coaching,” shares Joi. 

Practice really was key to the event.

Participants practice their coaching skills in one of the Breakout Rooms.

On the first day, attendees watched a recording of another role-play interaction, this time between Gregg and Terrell L McTyer, Minister of New Church Strategies – with Gregg as the coach and Terrell as the new church pastor. After observing and discussing what they saw, coaches were divided into Breakout Rooms on Zoom, where small groups of three played different roles in a given scenario (that of a pastor, coach, and observer), using the skills they had been taught. While these skills included asking the kinds of questions that help new church leaders make action steps to answer God’s call, they also included cultural competency. Keeping church leaders accountable to the mission, vision and values of their ministry may vary according to cultures, but Joi reminded coaches to be attentive to cultural differences while still helping pastors follow the action plans they have set for their ministries.

Participants play the roles of pastor, coach, and observer in Breakout Room #1.

“[Disciples] speak in dozens of different languages, and have just as many cultures,” Joi points out. “One of the things that we were talking about was, ‘how do you present things to people to get them to think, and to get them to move in the direction that they say that they want to move in, without you telling them how to do that?’” 

The second and third days had live coaching sessions, where group coaching was introduced.

Coaches learned about “The Nine Roles of a Coach in Team or Group Coaching” and then practiced these roles in small groups of four – one as lead pastor, two core team members and the coach – rotating between the various roles.

“The veteran coaches – who’ve already been coaching – brought up real-life issues to address,” recalls Joi. “Although the new coaches hadn’t yet coached anyone, they anticipated possible areas of concern which provided rich problem-solving discussions.”

The third and final day, continued with more practice sessions and culminated with Terrell presenting a powerful Commissioning Service and Closing Communion.  

Terrell presents the Closing Ceremony to all the participants.

The lessons learned at New Church Ministry’s first Virtual Coaching Academy have proven to be valuable in other areas of the lives of its participants, especially when so many of their communities are currently struggling with various systemic issues that are targeting their most vulnerable members. 

“[Coaching] has made me aware that there is always a solution to conflicts,” reflected one participant. “It has opened my eyes to the possibility of growing even in the midst of challenging scenarios.” 

“The Coaching Academy has positively influenced my ministry since I have learned techniques to use not only with my projects, but with my congregation,” reflected another.

New Church Ministry seeks to provide coaches for our new church pastors from at least 12 different languages. So if you, or someone you know, has a heart to serve God through the Coaching Ministry, please contact Joi Robinson at We are especially in need of Haitian Creole, Chuukese, or Korean-speaking coaches.

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