Moving coaching from concept to concrete

Dan Carlson

District Executive Minister, Converge North Central

Point Magazine // Summer 2017

Ever since I got on board with our Converge pastor coaches training, taught by Converge Church Strengthening director Bruce Hopler, I’ve received the kind of emails every district executive minister loves to find in his inbox. Like this:  

Thank you, Dan and Bruce. I honestly feel this coaching experience is the equivalent of my leadership classes in seminary — all those classes and books jammed into practical 90-minute Zoom call sessions each month. I love it! It has been life-giving for me, my staff and our leadership team.

A Converge North Central pastor

He’s referring to the training he received to be a pastor’s coach — helping pastors with their spiritual, ministry and personal life and holding them accountable. When I first learned of coach training, I knew it was something the North Central district needed to do.  

Developing a plan to reach our goal  

At an executive ministers team meeting in September 2015, Bruce talked about our Converge goal: Every pastor have a coach and be a coach. I’m an early adopter, so I immediately told him, “I want in.” This opportunity brought clarity to what I had been thinking — many of our Converge North Central churches and their congregations want to grow in their ministry impact. I also saw that if we wanted every pastor in our district to have a coach and be a coach, we had to train coaches. To do this, we needed a plan.  

Bruce and I talked over the phone for the next three months, exploring collaboration. Then at our North Central office February 17-19, 2016, our Church Expansion and Growth director Joel Nelson and I met with him. We put together a plan with the goal that each prospective coach commit to being coached and to training one to three other pastors to coach. As a foundation for our training, we used the six vital signs identified by the Close the Backdoor Task Force:

  • Spiritual formation (healthy pastors)
  • Biblical visioneering (discerning where God is leading)
  • Effective strategies (church systems)
  • Leadership culture
  • Expansion beyond themselves
  • Supportive networks  

Jerry and Steve Dahl of Strategic Team-Makers helped us select assessment tools to enable pastors to understand their individual gifting and calling. We scheduled monthly Zoom calls (video conferencing) and two retreats and determined the cost of training per individual. This allowed each church/pastor personal investment in the process and covered the costs of materials, assessments, retreats, etc. It also provided personal accountability and follow-through on their investment.  

May 1, 2016, I sent an invitation to 55 North Central pastors and in June followed up with an initial Zoom call to describe our purpose and process and ask the pastors to participate. Thirty-four said yes. Of these, two declined for personal reasons. Joel and I developed four cohorts from among the responses so that our monthly 90-minute Zoom calls would occur in groups of 7-12 pastors.  

Implementing our plan  

We began Zoom calls in August 2016. To cover the four cohorts, we made two 90-minute calls each on Tuesdays and Thursdays. In each call, I reviewed what we had already covered about the training and set the stage for the logistics and direction of upcoming calls and retreats. Bruce introduced and taught the ministry tools on supportive networks. Joel Nelson presented the assessment tools and facilitated assessment team leaders Marlan Mincks and Steve Dahl.  

September 19-20, 35 Minnesota and Iowa pastors participated in the first Coaching Cohort Retreat, held at our Trout Lake Camps in Pine River, Minnesota. Bruce and I taught coaching principles and demonstrated ministry tools for church leaders, focusing on spiritual formation and biblical visioning.  

A participant said, “I went away [from the retreat] very refreshed and greatly encouraged by the new tools and cohort discussion around the table. The personality test discussion was also very helpful ... liberating.” 

Another said, “These are great tools and notes to have in our hands. I can confidently say we have been blessed tremendously through this coaching, and many under our leadership are being blessed by extension. A huge win for the kingdom!”  

After the retreat, Bruce and I led Zoom calls for North Central in October, November and January. We further discussed biblical visioneering and strategic thinking.  

Twenty-seven of the 34 Converge North Central pastors who were committed to coaching participated in a second coaches training retreat, at Pine Lake Camp, Eldora, Iowa, February 27-28. On day one, they reviewed case studies from their churches, using coaching tools and skills to respond to the scenarios they presented. On day two, Bruce introduced new coaching tools for leader mentoring and discussed the seven vital signs of a healthy church.  

Pastor Brian Haynes of First Baptist Church, Roseau, Minnesota, wrote to me: “Dan, thank you for being an early adopter. The coaching is a huge help to me and is giving me the confidence and courage to lead FBC. I consider it a blessing to be doing God’s kingdom work in Converge North Central.”  

Our Zoom calls with Bruce on April 4 and 6 and May 2 and 4 wrapped up his involvement in this initial training process with discussion of leader mentoring and of expanding beyond.  

Where do we go from here?  

More pastors in our district want to become part of our coaches training. One said, “I read about it in Point magazine. It said to contact your district executive minister, so I’m reaching out about this.” I immediately connected him with coaches in his area. Because of this positive response, we are considering asking the pastors who were already trained to re-up for monthly Zoom calls with their cohorts to share their coaching experiences. In addition, Bruce and I will share a new tool quarterly with groups that choose to continue. We also will offer a second district coaches training experience to develop more coaches.  

Our model worked very well. I’m very grateful for this opportunity to live out our Converge value: Better Together.  

Partnering with Bruce profoundly impacted our pastors and our North Central region. The growth our participating pastors and leaders experienced has positively infected their churches. They learned new tools, formed relationships within their cohorts, bounced ideas off one another and challenged each another to grow. We’ve become better connected to hold one another accountable in personal leadership growth, church discipleship and commitment to making an impact in our communities and beyond.  

Last November 2, Bruce launched the coaches training process with eight selected churches in the Converge Northwest district. I know they and other districts will benefit as we did from this learning experience. I look forward to continuing our Church Strengthening ministry.  

To learn how you can receive coaching or train to become a pastor-coach, contact your district office.

Dan Carlson, District Executive Minister, Converge North Central

Dan Carlson has served as the Converge North Central district executive minister since February 2008. Contact him about joining Converge, confidential pastoral matters or if you need mediation for your church.

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