When we use the word coach, the first thing that might come to mind is the person in a nice suit on the sidelines of a college hoops or NBA game. These coaches are stars who lead and direct the training, workout and game plan for their team. There is a rich relationship between a coach and her or his players as individuals and as a team. It is a very interactive relationship but with clear boundaries. The coach might hold the ball from time to time, but never in the game. The players work the game on the court while the coach watches and interacts from the sidelines.
The best church coaches are people who work with a local church or denominational team in such a way that they are able to understand the spiritual gifts, discipleship experiences, and the general and unique calling from Christ that are activated in the members of the team. It is God who has defined the roles necessary for building up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4). It is Jesus who is already at work in the community mission field to which the church team is being led. Jesus knows the plays. They are familiar behaviors to any student of the New Testament gospels. It is pretty simple, really: The body of Christ, the church, is the body of people in a community who are behaving like Jesus behaves, speaking like Jesus speaks, healing like Jesus heals, loving like Jesus loves, believing like Jesus believes.
So why do we need a coach from outside our system to help us?
The coach on a basketball team rarely is an active player on the team they coach. There are good reasons for this. The coach knows the skills, the gifts of the players, the role each of the five players need to fulfill, they know the strategies for each stage of the game and they pay attention to the time. The coach doesn’t have to fulfill one of the on-court roles, so she is free to concentrate on the balance of the team and offer a word of encouragement here, a redirection there, a reminder now and a time out a little later. That is exactly what an outside professional coach brings to a local church team, a pastor or a denominational leader. The coach notices the balance of the five-fold roles of the Spirit that are necessary for equipping the saints for the work of ministry and building up the body of Christ. The coach offers a reminder here and a word of encouragement there to help a team keep or recover its balance. The coach is aware of what time it is (Kairos time!) and helps the team orient their work to the particular needs of this precious, present God-moment.
The coach reminds the team which game they are playing, what the rules and boundaries are and who the opposing team might be. The successful church down the street is not our competition, they are our allies! The people in the pews are not the audience, they are the players and God is the audience (along with a watching world longing for its redemption). The activities of our church are not the game. The game starts when we walk out the doors of the church into the stadium of work, school, recreation and relationship. A coach is able to fulfill their role because she or he is on the sidelines for your game rather than caught up in doing the daily tasks of church in your setting.
The coach can offer training where it is needed to align the team more closely to the behaviors of Jesus. But that training won’t be just information sharing. Most everyone on your team has read the gospels and can tell the stories of Jesus. What a coach does is rehearse those Jesus behaviors in training and then walk with you through a process of accountability that allow those behaviors to become the habits of your team’s hearts and hands.
The coach brings personal expertise and wisdom, but more importantly, the coach helps the team discover and reveal its own considerable expertise and wisdom. The coach helps the team discern their divine purpose and mission that, when fulfilled, is the sign and symbol of the redemptive victory that is found in Christ.
No one who watches a basketball team thinks, “They are so good they don’t need a coach.” On the contrary, we often wish our favored team would listen to the coach more closely. The coach is a professional and is paid for her or his work. Yet they are a bargain at the same time. Any five people can play a game of pick up basketball on a court and have some fun. But with a coach, the same five people can become champions.