Coaches For Pastors: An Index Of The Identity Of American Culture And Evangelicalism

There are real world problems in ministry but they are better addressed on our knees than on a conference call with a high-priced consultant.

The business model seems attractive but success in ministry is not defined by buildings, bodies, and budgets. Our Lord said “my kingdom is not of this world.” He did not call legions of angels to deliver him because he was called to die. There is a corollary with ministry. It is a kind of daily death. Sometimes, in the history of the church and in too many parts of the world today “success” in ministry means martyrdom for the sake of the gospel. No consultant can organize the mysterious working of the Holy Spirit through the foolishness of gospel preaching and the administration of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

 

With the stench of decades of sweat fixed permanently in the air, its tile floor, and its fan-shaped basketball hoops mounted to the brick wall—the only protection against which being a thin, worn wrestling mat—the Community Center was the epitome of an old-school gym. Besides the hoops, there were two other fixtures: the janitor and I, whom I can still see clearly. He was also my first basketball coach. He he seemed to know what he was doing. He handled the ball well and he could shoot. He would play 3 on 3 with us and gave us advice. When he told this 8-year old that it was important to eat my Wheaties every day, I walked the 1.5 mile trip from the gym to home, thence to Louie’s Market to buy a box of Wheaties, and back home again whereupon I began eating a bowl of Wheaties daily for a year. My second coach was some kid’s dad.

My third coach, and one who made an impression, was Mr Hudgens (pictured above), a former semi-pro basketball player. He recruited a community-league team (we practiced at school but played at the Kellom Gym on Saturdays). I played for him for two years. He ran us until we nearly passed out. He made us do finger-tip push ups. We practiced for hours at a time. He made me choose between my paper route and basketball. He also sat me on the bench, where I belonged. There were no participation trophies back then, except for making the team. We lost most of our games the first season but the second season he found some big guys and we were good. We had one of the best point guards I ever saw, Tony Jackson. Even as a 7th grader he could score against the high school players who sometimes scrimmaged with us. He averaged 30 points a game one season. Coach taught us the basics and how to compete.

Over the years in basketball I had a number of coaches. There were coaches at camps and coaches during the season. Those coaches helped to shape me as a teacher. One of my more important functions as a teacher is to coach students, to encourage them, and to give them the opportunity to grow. I certainly understand the value of coaches and coaching. Indeed, over the years, I’ve coached a few basketball teams. Nevertheless, despite years of experience with coaches and coaching I was puzzled when I first learned about the phenomenon of the “pastoral coach.” These are (sometimes) high-priced professional consultants whom pastors or congregations hire to advise pastors on how to “succeed” in ministry. I think the rise of the “pastoral coach” reveals three things about the nature of late-modern evangelical church life.

First, that there is a demand for pastoral coaches and that pastors and congregations feel the need to hire consultants says something about the degree to which ministry has become professionalized. Please do not misunderstand. This is not a plea for more amateurism in the life of the church. Rather, we should be troubled by the ease with which pastors  borrow from 20th-century business models.

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