Since May, I’ve been talking with a coach each month. Since June, my wife has been fighting a myriad of health problems that have consumed us.
I entered into the coaching relationship intending to gain perspective and assistance in leading forward in the church I pastor—an historic church (it predates Abraham Lincoln’s presidency!) in the heart of California Gold Country. Since moving to this beautiful area a little over three years ago, I’ve come to realize how hard it is to be new here: in one gathering of parents of high schoolers, one parent introduce herself by saying, “we’ve only lived here three generations.” In fact, as one who has moved often throughout my life, I can say with great confidence that this is the hardest area to be new that I have ever lived in. And I know people who have lived here for fifteen or twenty years who still feel new.
Another realization I had shortly after becoming pastor: never before in my life have I even been part of a church with only one pastor and with fewer than sixty people—much less a church that is 80% over age 65. To say it’s been hard is an understatement. And don’t even get me started on the added challenges of the past eighteen months.
Back to coaching. Since early July my coach, formerly a pastor and church planter for thirty years, has started our phone calls with a question: How’s your wife? Answering that question—and airing all the difficulties and sorrows of her health and its impact on me, our family, and leadership—has consumed our calls. And in that, my coach has consoled, commiserated, and encouraged. It’s been good, but it hasn’t been what I would call “strategic.” It hasn’t helped me navigate the challenges of leading this church.
Or has it? Today I shared some of these thoughts. I said that as my wife’s health has stabilized and improved recently, it’s probably time to get into the real coaching. My coach heard my gratitude for the encouragement and he heard my desire to begin thinking strategically again. We made a start in that.
And somewhere in the conversation a light went on. I realized that maybe the listening, caring, and encouraging was just what I needed in order to stay in the leadership game over these past few difficult months. Maybe I didn’t need someone asking me about a strategic plan or Fall Kickoff or how to better care for a bunch of comfortable older women in church. Maybe the encouragement was strategic.
I’m not as natural an encourager as some are, as my coach is. But maybe there’s a lesson I can learn as I try to lead my church forward into new ways of thinking and being: encouragement is strategic.