Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Knowing Yourself and Helping Others Live Out of Identity and Strengths

Written by: on January 17, 2024

Coaching has been a part of my story for more than two decades. For context, it was while I was still a young 30-something church planter that I had the privilege of being certified as a coach within my denomination, The Evangelical Missionary Church of Canada (EMCC) [1]. Early on in my pastoral work, I frustrated a lot of people because I would often offer questions rather than easy answers. As I learned the coaching approach, I could see how it resonated with my modus operandi. I was invited onto the team tasked with developing our coaching training in 2002, blending coaching for performance with spiritual, transformational elements. If we (the EMCC) wanted to have churches follow Jesus on mission in their context, we needed the leadership to be part of coaching cultures, empowering others to live in accordance with God’s mission and purpose.

And for that, our denominational leadership overhauled the denominational structure away from a Superintendent model, to a Denominational Coaching model. That was my role from 2004 to 2017. The coaching models of support, and the coaching training for pastors and lay leaders continues to be used in the EMCC to this day.

So when I read books on coaching, I am looking with intense curiosity on what can strengthen my already-loved-and-embraced foundation. Rather than experiencing an entire volume of new material, I found in Tom Comacho’s “Mining For Gold” a beautiful, still-profound connection in his work: coaching others towards a life of flourishing must come from being guided that way ourselves. Having found the nuggets of wisdom and purpose by listening to the Holy Spirit[2], we can more-easily resist (although the temptation is always there) the urge to take the Holy Spirit’s job in the life of those we come alongside of. I confess, as a pastor myself, and having worked with hundreds of pastors, the ledger weighs heavier on being “tellers” than “coaches”. What would it look like if we as spiritual leaders were known as the strongest, most thoughtful question-askers?

So, first, this book guides me again to a deeper experience of knowing myself. In every season, I need coaching to find the gold in my own life and ministry, which will always be aligned to my true identity and purpose[3]. And then, as I think about coaching in my leadership, I can support the same for them, and try to be a useful agent in seeing it come to fruition.

Let’s become known as Spirit-directed question-askers, and watch what God will reveal.

  1. “Learn To Coach”  accessed January 17, 2024, https://www.emcc.ca/can-we-help/leaders/learn-to-coach/.
  2. Tom Camacho. 2019. Mining for Gold : Developing Kingdom Leaders Through Coaching. London: IVP, 57.
  3. Ibid., 50.

About the Author


Joel Zantingh

Joel Zantingh serves as the Canadian Coordinator of the World Evangelical Alliance's Peace and Reconciliation Network, and as Director of Engagement with Lausanne Movement Canada. He has served in local and national roles within the Evangelical Missionary Church of Canada, and led their global mission arm. He has experience teaching in formal and informal settings with Bible college students and leaders from various cultures and generations. Joel and Christie are parents to adult children, as well as grandparents. They reside in Guelph, Ont., situated on the treaty lands and territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit, and home to many past, present and future First Nations peoples, including the Anishinnabe and Hodinöhsö:ni'.

13 responses to “Knowing Yourself and Helping Others Live Out of Identity and Strengths”

  1. Graham English says:

    Joel, I can appreciate the statement that you made, ” I frustrated a lot of people because I would often offer questions rather than easy answers.” I often have leaders say to me, “just tell me what to do”. I tend to lean more toward a coach approach rather than being directive, although the latter is more congruent with my personality. There are obviously times when we need to mentor or share wisdom with people rather than coach them. How do you discern when to coach and when to offer advice/wisdom to a leader?

    • Graham (& @Christy Liner). This is a common dilemma. Coaching is not everything, but it is often under-utilized. The classic illustration is that if a house is on fire, it is not the time to explore options — act quickly.

      Also, in the course of considering one’s own options, it is acceptable after giving them a chance to consider what they could do, to ask, would you like me to offer a possibility? This ensures that empowerment remains intact. They might or might not take your wisdom or ask for advice or counsel, but you have put that decision clearly in their court.

      Hope these ideas land with you in the situations you are thinking of. Peace.

  2. Christy Liner says:

    Great post Joel!

    I love the coaching model, and have both benefited as a recipient and seen fruit in playing the coaching role.

    However, I’ve also been wrestling with some downsides and would love to hear your thoughts. Aren’t there times when coaching just won’t be sufficient? Aren’t there situations where people can’t come to the insights on their own if they are lacking in certain strengths like problem solving, strategic thinking, etc.

    I’ve seen some ways in which coaching works beautifully. I love asking questions that help people discern the Holy Spirit’s prompting. But there are also areas in which people lack wisdom and seem to need direct counsel.

    How have you balanced this in your role?

  3. Daren Jaime says:

    Hey Joel! It was great to read of your coaching impact. Also, I appreciate your perspective on asking questions. Giving people to opportunity to think and come up with answers is a great way of helping people find their way. Sadly we have more leaders telling than asking. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Julie O'Hara says:

    Hi Joel, I was intrigued to read about the denominational switch from Superintendent model to a coaching model. I’m curious how the pastors at the time responded initially. In what ways did they embrace and/or resist the change? Perhaps there are insights for me in my relationships as I move further away from telling towards asking.

    • Thanks for drilling down in the culture change acceptance level. What I can tell you is that some pastors and lay leaders did not respond well to coaching, and would have preferred to simply be told what to do, but they were few and far between.

      The majority of pastors felt empowered, dreamed new dreams, and began to find safety in thinking through / praying out loud with a companion about future things. It carried many of them to do things they otherwise would not have done, and the fact that the Denominational leader was no longer their ‘Supervisor’ with pastoral credentials under their power, but was now a peer to assist them in pursuing God’s best for them and their ministry – this produced a lot of life-giving fruitful leadership.

      I’m happy to have a side-bar conversation with you on this as well, Julie. Cheering you on!

  5. mm Kari says:

    Joel, I was not surprised that you have years of coaching experience. I have experienced first hand your excellent listening and questioning skills. What do you think changed most in your life trajectory by learning how to coach from a young age?

    I love your question, “What would it look like if we as spiritual leaders were known as the strongest, most thoughtful question-askers?” It would look like a lot more of Jesus and far less of us– what a great goal! What do you think is the biggest stronghold that is keeping pastors and leaders telling rather than asking?

    • I see what you did here – the coacher has become the coachee!

      For me, my life trajectory changed from a top-down controlling person, towards an equipper of others for their works of service (Eph 4). I struggle with perfectionistic tendencies, which end up lobbing judgement on others, and get expressed in unhealthy anger when others don’t do it the way I want. I cannot imagine if that was my life now. I believe it would have stunted my leadership capacity.

      So, in answer to your second question, I would name control/power-dynamics as one of the strongholds that harbours in leaders in ‘tell mode’. In sharing coaching principles in Latin contexts, Machismo (Strong aggressive masculine pride) is often present and accounted for. Because the pastoral world also skews more male, power issues are at play. But we are all infected by sin’s hold, and can be shackled by being purpose driven or outcome focussed rather than being participants with the Holy Spirit in the development of people. Do I simply want a quick fix? Do I want people to make my programs strong? Or is it more important that they are growing in ways that the Spirit is nudging, regardless of whether it strengthens my programs, etc.? What would you add to this list?

  6. Chad Warren says:

    Joel, with over 20 years of exposure to coaching you have likely encountered a lot of material on the subject. What are the 2-3 books you would most recommend others look at for coaching help?

    • I listened to Tom C’s presentation – this question was posed, and I too recommend Transformissional Coaching!

      I would add some more foundational works that have helped me use Kingdom coaching in secular settings:

      Coaching for Performance Fifth Edition: The Principles and Practice of Coaching and Leadership UPDATED 25TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION https://a.co/d/bjEWcBq

      Tony Stolfzus’ works:
      Leadership Coaching: The Disciplines, Skills, and Heart of a Christian Coach
      Coaching Questions: A Coach’s Guide to Powerful Asking Skills


  7. Elysse Burns says:

    Joel, I appreciate the question you propose: “What would it look like if we as spiritual leaders were known as the strongest, most thoughtful question-askers?” This sounds like material for a book.

    Thank you for sharing about your history and experience with coaching. I completely agree when you say that for churches to follow Jesus on mission, leadership must be part of the coaching culture to empower others. Kari and I were thinking the other day about how we would like to start coaching locals here in North Africa.

    With all your coaching experience, how have you seen it evolve since you started in 2002?

    • Elysse,

      I look at the models I started with as culturally informed by my Western, male, Gen X worldview, and have needed to go off-script more to attend to the predominant interactions I now have with women leaders, with leaders from other cultures, and from the next generations (Millennials and Gen Z). So now, I am asking more questions and learning to allow for more informal coaching rather than formal, more alongside conversations and fewer “formal coaching” appointments. I have moved my formal coaching over to consulting, but take a coaching approach therein. To the rest, I rarely pronounce to people that I am a coach, or that I am coaching them. This works in my Indirect Canadian context, and serves to uphold relationship-first with these other groups. Hope that helps.

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