Research studies on pastors have shown alarming rates of anxiety, depression, marriage problems, compulsive behavior, and burnout.
An analysis of pastor stress studies connects pastors’ stress overload with not having close friends, not taking a Sabbath day, only studying the Bible to give sermons, and neglecting exercise.
Pastors and ministry leaders can avoid burnout and thrive in ministry through practicing soul care and relationally healthy leadership. Pastoral coaches and spiritual directors provide invaluable support in these areas.
At Soul Shepherding, we want to help you connect with a coach to meet your needs.
Here I provide an introduction to pastor coaching, outline 4 steps in the coaching process, and suggest 16 best coaching questions.
What is Pastor Coaching?
Pastor coaching is a series of confidential conversations between a pastor (or ministry leader) and a Christian coach, focused on improving the pastor’s leadership, ministry skills, relationship with God, or soul care.
Different types of coaches can include life coaches, leadership coaches, and spiritual formation coaches. Informal coaching may also be provided by a spiritual director, pastor mentor, or counselor. As a pastor, it will be especially helpful to you to find a coach who is a pastor, or who specializes in working with pastors.
The coaching sessions may be in person, by phone, or online and typically occur weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly for 45-minutes per session.
Coaching may be conducted on a short-term basis, but is most effective when it’s continued for at least six months. Many clients continue working with their coach for several years.
Four Types of Coaching for Pastors and Ministry Leaders
To find a coach that fits your needs, it’s important to differentiate between some different types of help that pastors and leaders can seek. Below, I address four of these.
Coaching for pastors focuses on reaching current and future goals in Christian leadership and ministry. The coach’s perspective is that all the answers are found within the client and their relationship with God. The coach comes alongside to offer insightful questions that help the pastor discern the Lord’s leading and next steps.
Mentoring is a type of leadership training that’s offered by someone in your field of work or ministry. You may find a mentor locally or remotely in an area of interest to you who may or may not have formal coaching training.
Spiritual direction is also valuable for pastors and other shepherds to be more effective in their leadership, but views that goal as secondary to improving your relationship with God through empathy, discernment, spiritual disciplines, and prayer.
Counseling may overlap with coaching but is focused on overcoming past psychological problems and improving mental, emotional, and relational health. If counseling is needed, it is important to take this step first so that past issues are addressed before looking to future goals.
Coaching in the Bible
You may not have thought about coaching in the Bible. But, there are many examples in Scripture of one leader guiding or mentoring another in ways similar to what coaches do for pastors and others today.
Here are just a few examples of coaching in the Bible:
- Jethro taught Moses to delegate his leadership responsibilities. (Exodus 18:13-26)
- Ahithophel gave leadership counsel to King David. (1 Chron. 27:33)
- Naomi guided Ruth in her relationship. (Ruth 3:1-6)
- Elizabeth mentored Mary to become mother to the Messiah. (Luke 1:39-45)
- Jesus sent pairs of disciples out for ministry training. (Luke 9:1-2; 10:1-2)
- Paul gave church planting coaching to Timothy. (1 Tim. 3:1-7; 2 Tim. 2:1-7)
Peter calls Jesus the “shepherd of our souls” and says that his leaders are “under shepherds” (1 Peter 2:25, 5:1-4). This illustrates Jesus’ role as Lead Coach in the relationship between a Christian client and coach.
It takes more than quoting Bible verses for coaching to be Biblical. Indeed, an excellent coach would never merely tack a Bible verse onto your experience and call it good.
Coaching conversations are sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit and foundationally rooted in the truth of Scripture.
4 Steps in Pastor Coaching Sessions
What is a coaching session like? What is the flow of a coaching conversation? Of course, there are wide differences between coaches and networks of coaches.
Here are the four key aspects of coaching conversations:
1. Setting the Agenda
Foundational to any coaching conversation is what the client would like to achieve as the outcome of the conversation.
2. Attentive Listening/Dialogue:
The coach’s greatest skill is to listen carefully and empathetically to the pastor or leader, keeping a bird’s-eye view of any particular circumstance to discern any deeper issues that may be causing obstacles. They ask open questions to invite the client to think differently about their goals and obstacles.
3. Charting the Journey:
The coach helps the client to identify the steps needed to bridge the gap between where they currently are and the goal that they want to reach.
4. Identifying Supports:
With the coach’s encouragement, the client is prompted to identify the resources they have available to meet their goals.
16 Best Coaching Questions for Pastors and Leaders
The success of your coaching experience depends a lot on the questions that you and your coach discuss. Here are some of the best coaching questions for pastors and other ministry leaders.
- What do you want to accomplish in coaching?
- Have you worked with a coach before? Spiritual director? Counselor? What was most helpful? What did not go as well as you hoped?
- What do you need help with today?
- How are you feeling in your work or relationship?
- How are you feeling in your relationship with God? What helps you feel closer to God?
- How is it going for you with setting limits on your work in order to care for your soul?
- How are you feeling about your family relationships?
- What would you do if you were not afraid to fail? If money were no consideration?
- What is the best contribution you can make to serve God, help people, grow your church/ministry, or leave a legacy?
- What is something you should stop doing because it’s not fruitful? What makes it hard for you to stop doing that?
- How do you feel about your church’s or organization’s mission statement?
- What problem or conflict on your team or in a significant relationship are you avoiding?
- What do you sense God saying to you about your leadership or ministry?
- If you could change just one thing about your life or work right now, what would it be?
- What was most helpful to you about this coaching session?
- How are you feeling about the coaching work you’re doing with me?
Do you feel it would be helpful to talk openly with someone about any of these issues?
If you choose to pursue pastor coaching, consider using a question that stands out to you from this list as the starting point for your discussions.
Soul Shepherding Pastor Coaching
At Soul Shepherding, we offer coaching for pastors and ministry leaders. Our coaching conversations include many of the aspects of the coaching conversations highlighted above.
But there are some unique features of the pastor coaching offered by Soul Shepherding coaches and spiritual directors. These include:
- Empathy and affirmation
Your coach specializes in offering empathy for your emotions, desires, struggles, and needs. This helps you to understand yourself better, experience God’s grace, and gain encouragement for your growth personally and in ministry.
The Spirit of Jesus is at the center of your coaching conversations. Your coach listens prayerfully and will offer to pray for you in session to help you experience God’s presence, grace, wisdom, and power.
- Practicing new skills
To learn and grow, it’s important to work on your goals between coaching sessions. Your coach can recommend resources for you, including those from Soul Shepherding’s vault of tools for self-awareness, soul care, healthy relationships, skills for ministry, and effective leadership.
Find a Coach
You can find a coach in the Soul Shepherding network. This Christian network includes a directory of leadership coaches, Sabbatical coaches, and Sr. Spiritual Directors. Many of these coaches are experienced pastors, others are missionaries, ministry leaders, and counselors.