Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Which do your leaders need? Which do you need? A mentor, a coach, a shepherd, a discipler, a consultant?

by John Purcell - Transform

What's the difference, anyway?

One of the great mistakes i keep making in my life is trying to do life by myself, without God and without other people that God puts there for me. There are times when every leader and every organization can benefit from support. Actually, a more Biblical statement would be that we all need support all the time. The question is:  In addition to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, what KIND of support do we need?
I find that there is a great deal of misunderstanding among the above terms, and the great risks of this confusion are these:
  • You may attempt to support one of your leaders and take an approach that doesn't work for them.
  • You may have very different expectations between yourself and someone you want to support or someone you want to support you. The result could be disappointment, disillusionment, lack of growth, and wasted time.
  • You may not know that the very thing you need is available and, as a result, not get the support and help that you could use.

So here is the Transform Glossary of Terms to hopefully clarify this for you once and for all. If you have somewhat different take on some of these descriptions, that's OK. There is not universal agreement. But my hope is that this Glossary will still be extremely helpful to you going forward and encourage you to be more involved with leaders, clarifying your role. i also hope it will give you the freedom to enlist the kind of support for yourself that you need right now and in the future.
Mentor -- Someone who comes alongside you with advice and counsel that comes from their wisdom and experience. Based on this definition, most mentors are more experienced than you in at least one specific area. Therefore, they are often, but not always,  older than you. In many other countries the culture is such that mentors must always be older.
Coach -- Someone who comes alongside you to offer support, encouragement, and accountability to help you grow in one or more areas of your life. A coach takes the primary approach of asking powerful questions to pull out of you what the Holy Spirit and your experiences and wisdom already have put in you, keeping you accountable for your own actions and growth. A coach does not have to have as much knowledge and experience  as you do in any particular area but does need the coaching perspective, which most often comes from coach training.
Shepherd -- This has the widest variation of definitions of all of these terms, which is one reason that churches struggle so much to be successful at "shepherding" their people (they haven't defined what that means for them). I personally use it to mean caring for someone's whole life, as opposed to just their leadership role or growth in a specific area. This could include mentoring, coaching, or discipling.
Discipler -- A person who intentionally invests his life in others to help them grow spiritually. Biblically, the outcome should be a more mature believer who does the same in the life of others (2 Tim 2:2).
Consultant -- Someone who assists an organization, in our context a church or some ministry of a church, by assessing the organization and then advising it on what it should do to be more effective in a specific area or in general.
Organizational Coach -- You may not be familiar with this term, but, after reading the above definitions, you might best understand it as someone who comes alongside to coach the whole organization, as opposed to the pure consultant who "mentors" the organization. So the organizational coach asks questions, draws out of the leaders what they think they should do, helps them put a plan together that they can believe in, and supports them with accountability to follow through.
How do you select what you should offer or obtain for yourself?

I have found that very often a leader or organization truly needs a combination of the above approaches. They may think they want mentoring, for an individual, or consulting for an organization, but the best action steps, most likely to actually be implemented, will come out of a coaching approach. Or they may want coaching, personal or organizational, but along the way they really need to be challenged to consider taking a specific road.
The Gospel
 The most important example of this last point is that we all forget the Gospel all the time. I sure do. And i need someone in my life who has the permission to remind me of that and speak the Gospel truth back into my life. In fact, whichever of these specific roles you are in, your responsibility is to let Christ work through you in the life of the others. "Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, 'out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'"

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