Receiving the gift of clergy coaching

Posted Dec 18, 2014 | Pastoral Excellence Network


By Lawrence Peers

Lawrence Peers“We usually think of giving as more important than receiving.… Only by accepting each other’s pain and vulnerability can human strength grow between us.” –Mark Nepo

At the recent Pastoral Excellence Network clergy coaching training, I facilitated a discussion among three panelists who have been involved in clergy coaching. Here is a summary of this discussion:

Why do you think that clergy coaching is important, and what is a perspective that guides your approach to clergy coaching?

1. Coaching is a primary way to create a culture of ministry that is shaped by vulnerability, intimacy, trust, and accountability to one another.
2. Every single week is a buzz of activity, and there is never anytime to really stop, to plan, and to think. So, for me, coaching is the only time that I can think strategically.
3. In coaching you create a container in which potential is released. Pastors are in a change-agent position—which means that they can be pivot people in their congregations and their community. Coaching allows us to take risks, knowing that there is a coach who can be by your side.

What wisdom do you have to offer to the new or the experienced clergy coach?

1. The thing I’ve learned and learned again is to hammer out at the beginning of the session what it is that the person really wants to focus on. Make sure you ask the question: “What would be the most helpful for us to talk today?”
2. Unlike spiritual direction or pastoral counseling, in coaching you get to be more directive than you can often be in your pastoral setting. Coaching is a place where the sacred can happen all the time. Trust that you have what it takes to be a good coach.
3. Coaching is a strength-based modality. You are always looking for people’s strengths. Most people come to coaching because they have a problem. In coaching, the more you can stay with the person and their strengths, the more the problem moves itself along.

Given the enormous changes in the world at large and the religious world, what is it that coaching has to offer?

1. The landscape is not the same as when I was ordained. When we are coached, we are brainstorming, thinking of what new things can emerge. Coaching is a learning relationship. You have a thought partner. It is about being able to face the adaptive challenges and move with the Spirit.
2. The world is changing so fast, and we do not know how to navigate this crazy, changing world. We have to look at new ways of learning and new ways of being. Coaching reminds us that we do not need to be alone. In coaching we are always being presented with new frameworks. Coaching provides new hope. What is more important for clergy than to have an ongoing touchstone of hope?
3. One of the big opportunities of coaching is the possibility to multiply the practice of coaching throughout the denomination. In the Reformed Church in America, we are preparing pastors who can do coaching, and we are increasing the number of people who are being coached—even in the pews. This can create a wave of effectiveness that can move through the congregations.

This panel discussion was held with Laura Ferguson of Auburn Seminary Clergy Coaching Training, Don Southworth of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers’ Association, and Steve Sayer, a Reformed Church in America pastor and clergy coach.

Lawrence Peers is the director of learning of the Pastoral Excellence Network at Christian Theological Seminary.

The Pastoral Excellence Network at CTS seeks to connect and nurture groups for clergy at all stages of ministry. To request permission to repost this content, please contact



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