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Along the Journey  |  

Always Bring Pencils

As part of the Future Church Initiatives for Foothills Presbytery, I work with congregational teams.

As a coach, I walk alongside these groups through a process of discernment by listening with a deep sense of curiosity, asking powerful questions, and helping name next steps.

The Coaching Insitute (TCI) training has been invaluable to my work with these teams.


From the beginning of any coaching relationship with an individual or group, it is important to establish and maintain a coaching agreement.

The International Coaching Federation defines this core competency as partnering “with the client and relevant stakeholders to create clear agreements about the coaching relationship, process, plans and goals. Establishes agreements for the overall coaching engagement as well as those for each coaching session.”


When coaching a congregational team, one of the ways I establish the coaching agreement is through the development of a covenant: a set of mutually agreed-upon rules for creating a safe environment characterized by trust, vulnerability, inclusion, and distributed leadership.


During an initial coaching session with one of our congregational teams, I invited them to engage in the process of covenant-making.  The team began to share ideas, words, and phrases to shape the coaching agreement:







Toward the end of the covenant making, the engineer in the room said, “I have one more to add.”  And after a long pause, he said, “Always bring pencils.”


After we all shared a moment of silence pondering this simple phrase, he continued by saying, “With a pencil, you’re being experimental.  You have the freedom to try something new that may not be successful. You have the ability to erase and adapt what is on the paper.  You can change your mind or try a different approach.”


Since that moment, I have begun to think that coaching is a lot like writing in pencil in the following ways:


  1. The most important part of a pencil is what is inside. One of the core philosophies of coaching is that “…people are, by their very nature, naturally creative, resourceful and whole.”[i]  Great coaching offers the space to help the coachee(s) recognize the answers they have within.
  2. Pencils help one keep an open mind. The coach helps the coachee(s) uncover possibilities by asking open-ended questions.  Coaches are guides who notice, affirm, challenge and ask powerful questions to help the coachee(s) evoke awareness and reach their own confident answers.
  3. Pencils are ideal for rough drafts. Writing in pen suggests a commitment to a point of view or path forward, whereas using a pencil allows room for flexibility to explore possibilities.  It allows you to start in one direction and pivot as you experiment.
  4. With a pencil, you can always erase and start again. Every good pencil has an eraser at the end.  You can erase part of a plan or image to make adjustments as you progress.
  5. Pencils help you become more resilient. Pencil points break, but they can easily be sharpened, which restores them to full functionality.  When well-coached, people solve their own problems, seize their own opportunities, and chart their own futures.


Whether physically or metaphorically, I hope coaches and coachees bring pencils to the coaching session.  As coaches, we often learn things as we coach others.  One thing I learned recently is to always bring pencils!


Interested in learning more about The Coaching Institute at Columbia Theological Seminary? Click here for information on upcoming cohorts.

The Reverend Pressley Neal Cox serves as the Associate for Shared Mission and Ministry for Foothills Presbytery in upstate South Carolina.  She supports leaders by making connections, resourcing, and coaching among the congregations of Foothills Presbytery, the surrounding communities, and across the PCUSA denomination.  Pressley is a graduate of Presbyterian College (BA in Religion/Christian Education), Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary (Master of Arts in Religious Education) and Columbia Theological Seminary (Masters of Divinity). She has served churches in York, SC; Charlotte, NC; and Simpsonville, SC.  Pressley is married to Ben and they have three high schoolers.

[i] Kimsey-House, Henry and Karen; Sandahl, Phillip; Whitworth, Laura. Co-Active Coaching: The Proven Framework for Transformation Conversations at Work and in Life; Fourth Edition. Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2018.

[1] Kimsey-House, Henry and Karen; Sandahl, Phillip; Whitworth, Laura. Co-Active Coaching: The Proven Framework for Transformation Conversations at Work and in Life; Fourth Edition. Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2018.

Along the Journey