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Lutheran pastors help one another improve skills

The Rev. Harris Lee does some clergy coaching.

The Rev. Harris Lee does some clergy coaching.

“Clergy Coaching” helps good leaders become even better

Clergy Coaches, a program of peer coaching that assists pastors in defining their goals for pastoral leadership and ministry, completes its pilot phase in three Minnesota synods of the ELCA in 2002. The group’s advisory board hopes to attract funding to enable it to expand into other Minnesota synods, plus several in Wisconsin, Iowa, North and South Dakota.
Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota (LSSM) and Fair-view Ministerial Health (FMH), Minneapolis, have co-sponsored the program with three ELCA synods: Minneapolis Area, St. Paul Area and Southeast Minnesota. Funding during the pilot phase of Clergy Coaches came from the former Lutheran Brotherhood Foundation and from Wheat Ridge Foundation.
“It’s a good partnership between social ministry organizations and the church,” says Mark Stutrud, LSSM vice president of children and family services. “We’re matching our gifts well. None of the separate agencies could do it on their own.”
The Rev. John Martinson is supervisor of Fairview Ministe-rial Health Systems and co-director of church relations for FMH. He says, “The magic of this program is identifying very good pastors with extensive and healthy experience in ministry, then providing baseline training in coaching and offering ongoing support [for the coaches].
“The coaches have had a full ministry. They’re involved in this in order to give back to the church. As a result, we’re able to provide the program economically. Coaches are trained for a two-to-three-year tenure and will continue to come together three times a year while in service. They receive an honorarium for their coaching.”
Pastors who receive coaching set the agenda, Martinson explains. “A pastor might say, ‘This is a resource I can use to enhance my effectiveness.’ He or she will tell the coach, ‘Here’s what I’m working on; here’s where I’m struggling,’ or ‘Here is where I’d like to grow.’
“This is not therapy, not for a pastor in crisis. We want to frame it as continuing education, yet it focuses on the [receiving] pastor’s own goals more so than would be possible in conventional continuing education. The coaching relationship is collegial.”
Clergy Coaches defines an episode of coaching as 18 sessions over a 6-12-month period. Typical sessions are conducted by telephone, keeping the program feasible in a church body that is largely suburban and rural. An initial face-to-face meeting is an option but not required.
Confidentiality is assured if that is what the pastor being coached requests, according to Martinson. “A coach will not discuss the content or who is being coached. At the same time, many pastors engage in the program with the blessing and knowledge of the congregation.”
A pastor may request a specific coach and may interview any of the coaches. Twenty coaches are trained, and 17 pastors have been receiving coaching during the pilot phase.
The idea for Clergy Coaches arose about three years ago in conversations between LSSM and FMH, exploring the possibility of customizing coaching principles to the calling of clergy. “I like the model,” Stutrud says. “It is powerful, yet sustainable at reasonable cost. From evaluations we’ve re-ceived, it is having a great deal of impact.”
A Minneapolis Area Synod pastor wrote, “It helped that my coach had been a senior pastor in a similar sized congregation and had faced similar issues. Accountability with timelines was also very important. My coach was great!”
Said a Saint Paul Area Synod pastor, “The most valuable aspect of my coaching experience was discovering a new way of defining my role as a senior pastor. Specifically, I learned to use the gifts that I have to carry out my role rather than trying to imitate a different style less suited to my gifts.”
Pastors may come to the program through self-referral or at the suggestion of a bishop. Cost of an 18-session episode is $500, with $300 paid by the synod and the pastor or congregation paying $200.