Pastor and Christian Leadership Resources

The Pastor as Coach

  • Phil Miglioratti National Pastors Prayer Network
  • 2009 25 Feb
The Pastor as Coach
The National Pastor's Prayer Network interviewed Bill Zipp, Professional Coach...

NPPN: Bill, you served as a pastor for 18 years before becoming a professional coach. Why has coaching become so popular in recent business literature?
Bill Zipp: I think because it produces permanent change. Both the business world and the church world have become frustrated with endless seminars and sermons that get people all fired up but leave them no different a mere few weeks later. Coaching, because of its intensity and its focus on getting things done, actually works. 

How is the role and responsibilities of pastoring a congregation similar to those of a coach?
A pastor is called, according to Ephesians 4:11-12, to be an equipper of leaders. This is not a calling to be the one doing the work of ministry, but to be the one motivating and mobilizing others to do the work of ministry. That is exactly what a coach does. In fact, best-selling author Bill Hull suggested 20 years ago before the current coaching boom in The Disciple-Making Pastor that for our modern-day culture the word coach is a better word for what a pastor does than the more agrarian image of a shepherd.  

What are 4 or 5 key coaching principles that have direct application to pastoring? 
Here they are, in this order: Asking Questions, Active Listening, Action Planning, Providing Accountability, and Giving Affirmation. In short, coaching is NOT giving people a weekly pep talk! It is interacting with them as Christ did with his disciples with great, open-ended questions that get people to think on their own and solve their own problems. The coaching process helps people land on specific steps of action they fully own and follow through to completion. As they do, coaching holds them accountable for achieving those actions and provides generous amounts of positive praise along the way.If we believe, truly believe, in the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, and if we believe, truly believe, in the priesthood of every believer, then we will honor those beliefs as we facilitate people to grow, not force them to grow. At the end of the day, I believe this approach results in permanent change. 

Agree or disagree: Pastors should not only employ coaching in their leadership style but they should also train church leaders in coaching techniques. 
Agree, if what you mean by "train" is model. What we do not need is another evangelical flavor of the month to pass through our pews. I think a pastor should start learning coaching skills and use them so others observe them in real time. Coaching is better "caught then taught." A good place to start is a book by Tony Stoltzfus called Leadership Coaching. Tony works exclusively with pastors and Christian leaders and his book is a thoroughly evangelical treatment of the discipline of coaching. I have also written a book called The Business Coaching Toolkit. Please don't be put off by the word "business," I have had many ministry leaders use the content of this book to help them better lead others.  

What do you see as they major obstacles most pastors face when it comes to integrating coaching principles into their ministry.
Most pastors have only been trained in one-directional, declarative means of communication. That is, most pastors are only comfortable communicating truth through preaching and teaching. These are very important tasks, but a pastor must be more than a talking head if the church is going to be vibrant and strong. Especially in the training of leaders, more interactive, two-way communication is needed, and few pastors know how to do this. Fortunately, it is teachable, especially for those who are serious about becoming equipping, disciple-making pastors. 

So... if you were pastoring today, share with us 3 or 4 practical ideas of how you would implement a coaching approach to congregational pastoring.
The first thing that comes to mind is leadership development. The main thesis of Bill Hull's book, The Disciple-Making Pastor, is that a pastor should spend more time with the strong than with the weak so that the strong (not just the pastor) can minister to the weak. Doing this means making leadership development one of a pastor's highest priorities. Leaders are best developed in a collaborative, coaching context, like Jesus did. Remember the words of Mark 3:14? "He appointed twelve—designating them apostles—that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach." In other words "being with" Jesus is what empowered these men to preach, not being in a classroom. A second idea involves learning how to teach the Word in more of an interactive style. This did not come easy to me at first, again, because all I knew as a pastor was one-directional, declarative methodology. But as I learned how to teach in small group settings, creating meaningful discussion and dialogue, I consistently heard comments like, "We enjoy your preaching, but we really like it when you have workshops where we're able to interact with you. We learn so much more!" This is perfect for a Sunday evening service, a mid-week service, a Saturday morning workshop, or a seminar series. Finally, I think every pastor needs to seriously think about being coached themselves. Sadly, most ministry education ends when seminary ends and pastors are on their own for the rest of their life. This is not a good thing! I believe the lack of lifetime learning opportunities has contributed to much of our recent pastoral fallout. A good coach will help a pastor grow "as iron sharpens iron" and can restore vigor and vitality to ministry, not to mention integrity. I have been fortunate over the years, among the many executives and business owners I have coached, to always have a pastor or two working with me as well.

Can you explain how a pastor would approach prayer differently from the coaching model? 
Sermons on prayer are notorious for making people feel guilty for not praying more, but never actually getting people to pray more. Like humility, when can you ever be humble ENOUGH? So too the average person in the pew, convinced they can never pray ENOUGH, give up praying entirely. Jesus just prayed. When his disciples had watched him pray, and saw the amazing results that happened when he did pray, they finally asked, "Teach us to pray." Here's a classic coaching moment, modeling something to such a degree that a person actually asks you to teach them how to do it. That's what we must do with prayer! 

Bill, please write a prayer for pastors who need to incorporate coaching into their life and minstry.
Lord, teach us how to lead with our ears and not just with our mouths. Teach us how to mobilize your church from being consumers of spiritual products and services to being active participants in your kingdom. Keep us from replacing the powerful, inner work of your Holy Spirit to change lives with mere human charisma and teach us how to facilitate real, permanent life change. Teach us, dear Lord, how to make disciples as your Son did while he was on this earth and may we, too, turn the world upside down!


Rev. Phil Miglioratti is a longtime Southern Baptist pastor, and currently the director of the National Pastors Prayer Network and the facilitator of networks for the CPLN. Phil also serves as the managing editor of The Praying Pastor. Visit and the Praying Pastor blogspot.
To learn more about the National Pastor's Prayer Network, click here.
Used with permission.