How Coaching Improves Your Relationships and Results as Clergy

How Coaching Improves Your Relationships and Results as Clergy

Most are familiar with the definitions of coaching in the context of athletic and business settings. In those worlds, coaching focuses on something both have in common – a bottom line.

Sports and business are goal-driven. They rely on clear outcomes that indicate whether people are succeeding or failing. There are measurements that can be relied upon to indicate where an individual or team needs to improve or change direction to meet a set goal.

In ministry, the picture is different. There are fewer markers that clearly define success or failure. In fact, most pastors don’t like words or terms that connote a measurement for effectiveness.

But what is “effective in ministry?” many ask. “Was Jesus considered effective?”


With that question, critiques can be deflected and ignored.

But there are real dilemmas embedded in questions about ministerial effectiveness.

How can one measure the time spent with a dying parishioner, a meeting about the annual spring fundraiser, the ecumenical gathering to discuss the public education in the neighborhood and how that affects the youth of their congregations and communities?

What is effective?

Showing up?

Seeing something done?

How does a pastor balance effectiveness against faithfulness?

The quest for results is often tied to numbers – measurable statistics that look at attendance, membership, giving, capital campaigns, and Sunday school enrollment.

There is nothing wrong with those numbers being part of the equation. But those results are only part of the picture, and there are good reasons for pastors to resist benchmarks as their primary standard.


In his article, “Pastors and Managers,” Scott Ebin contrasts corporate managers and pastors.

As an executive coach, Ebin sees corporate leaders at close range.

As an active lay leader in his church, he has observed pastors. He identifies two central skills for leadership – relationships and results.

Managers know how to get results – and often need help developing relationships. Pastors, in Ebin’s view, major in relationships, and are less comfortable or skilled in working for results. He writes,

“A well-grounded approach to achieving results combined with a sincere relational orientation is the foundation of healthy business and healthy congregations.” (Congregations, Sept./Oct. 2001, p.23)

The work of coaching helps pastors and leaders claim their vision along with crafting strategies to live it. The work happens in the coaching conversations that are meaningful and focused on the outcomes the leader identifies.


What makes results meaningful is when they are linked to a set of overall goals and objectives or, in more theological language, a vision and a plan to live that vision.

The prophet Habakkuk said, “Without a vision, the people perish” and he might have added, “Without a vision, the leader perishes too.”

Coaching work helps a leader strengthen both relationships and the results.


For additional information on coaching programs at Columbia Seminary, visit HERE.

Laurie J Ferguson is a Presbyterian minister, licensed clinical psychologist, and a coach credentialed by the International Coaching Federation (ICF) as a Professional Certified Coach (PCC). As the Senior Research Fellow for Coaching and Director of the Residential Coaching Program at Auburn Seminary, Dr. Ferguson trained and coached church leaders and supervised coaches for over eighteen years. In 2006 Dr. Ferguson created a coaching skills curriculum and used it to train leaders from more than twenty-five Presbyterian judicatories and in national PC(USA) groups. She also conducts workshops on using coaching skills in congregations and judicatories.

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