Lutherans in Minnesota

Clergy can benefit from the experience of others

Fairview program intentionally matches seasoned and novice pastors

For the past decade, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) pastors
in the metro area have been able to enlist experienced, skilled pastors as
“coaches” to assist them in sharpening their leadership skills and handling
difficult challenges.

Now, based on its experience in the last two years in the Minneapolis Area
Synod, the Clergy Coaches program expects to narrow its focus and
concentrate on helping pastors who are taking a new call. It also hopes to
extend its reach statewide.

Leaders of the program say they have learned that while coaching can be
helpful at any time, “it may be particularly valuable in times of transition,
such as beginning a new call.”

Clergy Coaches was launched as the result of conversations between two
friends — Dr. Allan Nohre, then president of Corporate Coach U, a popular
resource for top level business executives, and Mark Anderson, then director
of Fairview Health Services’ ministerial health and leadership resources
program.

Nohre had a background in hospital chaplaincy and hospital administration
prior to taking the Corporate Coach U job. He and Anderson wondered
whether the coaching model widely used in the corporate world could be
adapted to benefit members of the clergy.

In a nutshell, that would mean helping pastors discover their own solutions to
complex leadership issues by talking with a coach skilled in careful listening
and asking helpful questions.

The Twin Cities-based Clergy Coaches organization began under the joint
sponsorship of Fairview and Lutheran Social Service (LSS), and in 2000 it
contracted with Nohre to assist in developing the coaching resource. Some 22
skilled, experienced pastors agreed to serve as coaches and received special
training.

The resource was made available to pastors in the ELCA’s Minneapolis and St.
Paul Area Synods and the Southeastern Minnesota Synod. The Southwestern
Minnesota Synod joined the group later.

Pastors who sign up for coaching arrange for a series of twelve 30-minute
phone conversations with their mentor, generally at the rate of two or three a
month. The cost for 12 sessions is $600. Scholarships of $200 are given to
pastors who are taking a new call and to those who can’t afford the full cost.
A discount of $200 is also available to pastors serving congregations that
belong to the Fairview Association.

The Rev. John Martinson, who succeeded Mark Anderson as head of the
ministerial health program at Fairview and has directed Clergy Coaches from
the start, believes parish ministry “is as challenging a leadership position as
there is.”

Clergy Coaches “is a resource for the very best leaders to maximize their
leadership potential,” he said. It is not for pastors who are in the midst of a
crisis of some sort.

Martinson acknowledges that the number of pastors who have gone through
the coaching program is rather small — 70 since its inception nine years ago.
Nine pastors are currently working with a coach.

As a result Clergy Coaches has been testing for two years an approach of
intensified recruiting aimed at pastors taking new calls in the Minneapolis
Area Synod. A series of three letters in which the synod “strongly urges” use
of a clergy coach has been sent to congregations in the process of calling a
new pastor.

The first letter is sent to the church council, followed by one to the call
committee when it is formed, and, finally, one to the pastor who accepts the
call.

In addition to the general $200 scholarship given to all pastors taking a new
call, another $200 discount is given to new pastors coming into the
Minneapolis Area Synod. And if the pastor is a new seminary graduate,
another $200 is subtracted from the coaching fee, reducing it to zero.
Of 23 pastors who accepted calls in the Minneapolis synod in 2008,
Martinson reported, six have been paired with coaches.

With this experience in one synod in mind, Martinson said, Clergy Coaches is
hopeful that funds will be available to award $200 scholarships to all pastors
taking a new call anywhere in Minnesota in 2009. Both sponsors, Fairview
and LSS, have operations throughout the state, the director pointed out.
Fairview contributes $5,000 to the budget of Clergy Coaches annually, in
addition to Martinson’s time. LSS donates the time of Ginger Fish, the
administrative assistant, and provides space for meetings, including those of
the seven-member advisory board.

Those who have been involved in the coaching relationship speak highly of
its benefits.

The Rev. Kent Claussen Gubrud, pastor of Christus Victor Lutheran Church in
Apple Valley, was a recipient of coaching assistance. “The most hopeful
aspect was having someone listen and understand the challenges I am facing
and offering insights and asking questions out of their experience,” he said. “I
had my goals and strategies challenged, validated, and clarified.”

The Rev. Darrold H. Beekmann, a former parish pastor, seminary president,
and retired bishop of the ELCA’s Southwestern Minnesota Synod, is one of 15
experienced parish pastors currently serving as coaches for Clergy Coaches.
Beekmann said he finds the coaching model “uniquely helpful” for three
reasons: Agendas are set by the person being coached; the model is very
simple and direct; and “it helps bring clear focus to the ministry situation and
to the gifts and resources the person being coached brings to that ministry.”

Beekmann added: “I find myself energized by reflecting with others about
their ministry. Although I think I bring good experience and insight to these
discussions, I often find myself wishing I could return to some of my own
ministry settings and apply things I have learned from these sessions.”
For more information about this mentoring program, visit
www.clergycoaches.org.