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

Striking Gold in Yellowknife

Written by: on January 16, 2024

Reading “Mining for Gold” by Tom Camacho came fresh on the heels of a recent visit to Yellowknife, a small Canadian city in the Northwest Territories synonymous with the gold rush of the 1930s. Even though the goldmines have been closed for some time, there is still a vibrant and eclectic community of approximately 20,000 people living there for various reasons. Diamond mining and tourism are the new rush. What intrigued me most, though, was our pastor and his family who had relocated from a city in Canada and have lived in this harsh environment for seven years.

Camacho writes, “This book is written to help in this process of identifying, moulding and shaping thriving Kingdom leaders.”[1] His primary metaphor is that of mining for gold in the lives of people, leaders in particular, and learning to partner with God in his refinement of them.

Upon meeting pastor Steve, I knew I had struck gold in Yellowknife. His hair was permanently unruly from wearing a camouflaged toque (wool cap) and he always wore locally made mucklucks (fur boots). He fit my image of a person from the north. He seamlessly spoke about church life, NWT politics, the indigenous Dene people, and the history of the town. Steve is as community-connected as they come, and he tours us around town with insight into every current Yellowknife issue. In every subdivision lives a good friend, or a life he’s connected with, a place that he frequents. Steve is a captivating storyteller, spinning tales of the north and about fascinating characters who would be considered misfits in most places. One of them is a northern “king” who builds a snow castle every year and is referred to as “Your Majesty” by residents but whose real name is Tony.  “Yellowknife is the best and most interesting place I’ve ever lived”, he proclaimed into the frigid air with an unfettered enthusiasm that is rarely heard. The North has penetrated Steve’s bones and has become a part of his psyche. With all that’s transpired in the past few years and the challenge of living in the North, I thought he would tell me he wanted out.

The church Steve serves is resilient and hardy. It’s not big by our standards and unlikely to grow much bigger due to a constantly revolving door of short-term residents who often go north hoping to strike it rich or who are running away from something. But the church is standing firm, bearing witness to Jesus, and reaching forward into a post-covid, uncertain economic, and politically complex environment. Leading a church in this context resembles navigating whiteout conditions on an ice road. Like living here, pastoring here is not for the timid, and for all the effort Steve will likely never be in the limelight. I found it quite intriguing that he and his family would want to move into this unforgiving environment and stay here for as long as they possibly could to see the church become a transforming influence in the community of Yellowknife and other Northern communities.

Steve is exactly the kind of person who I want to help thrive and who would benefit from the leader development model that Camacho is proposing in “Mining for Gold”. When I read this book, it reminded me as well of the uniqueness of each of the 500 licensed workers that I work with in my role as Director of Leader Development in The Western Canadian District of The Alliance Canada.

His model, easily remembered, is based on the acronym GOLD.

G – Gold is everywhere. Leaders, like Steve, are like gold that is being refined by God and they are spread out throughout our district in Alberta and Yellowknife.

O – Open your eyes to see it. It’s everywhere, even in unlikely people who devote their lives to serving the church in hard, unwelcome, and remote places. A leader like Steve is remote and could quite easily be overlooked. Through prayer and learning to see what God is seeing in people, we will never have a shortage of work.

L – Learn the skills to draw it out. The skills of leadership coaching are invaluable because they provide the leader with clarity and a simple plan of action in a world of complexity. Coaching is about the person being coached and provides them with the agency to act and accountability for the action. Steve has unique challenges in his location. A solution from our head office in the South will not be contextualized or personalized. Coaching Steve about what matters most to him is by far the best approach for development.

D – Develop leaders continuously. We need to become intentional about leader development and make it a high priority. Developing a system to engage leaders like Steve, who live remotely, is important. [2]

There were several principles in the book that most resonated with me:

First, the desire to see leaders thrive resonates with my desire to see every person experience Jesus promise of life to full in John 10.10.  I want to see leaders like Steve in Yellowknife thrive, not just survive, as they learn to discover and participate with God’s refining work in their lives. [3]

Secondly, I loved his emphasis on partnering with the work of the Holy Spirit in a leader’s life. This model of leadership is Spirit-dependent rather than dependent on our ingenuity or charisma. He writes, “When we see people by the Spirit, the way God sees them, powerful things can happen. God can show us the gold inside people, and then teach us the skills to draw out that gold and help them cooperate with what he is doing.”[4]

Thirdly, the coach approach to leadership is a profound leadership shift. Most leaders are experts and want to share their expertise with others by offering advice. We are trained to influence people through preaching, inspiring, encouraging and developing strategies. While these are valuable, the coach approach requires a different mindset, skillset, and process. The coach approach puts the person being coached in the driver’s seat. The role of the coach is to listen deeply and ask great questions that help draw out the gold that is already inside the person. He writes, “In Coaching Leadership, we don’t solve leader’s issues for them or tell them what they need to do next. If we do our part well, leaders feel they are in charge and they choose the path that is best for them.”[5] I felt that this segment of the book was just scratching the surface and could have been a bit stronger. This will likely be the greatest mindset shift for leaders. For the uninitiated, it would have been helpful to delve a bit deeper into coaching skills and a process for coaching.

Finally, the warning in the book is to treasure and steward people rather than use them for our purposes.[6] I think we need to be reminded of this fact regularly as we seek to develop the people around us. They belong to God, and we are there to simply steward his work in their lives. What a privilege we have!

Overall, the content in this book is gold, and I will use this as I work with a leader development team to nurture a system for peer-to-peer coaching for our 500+ licensed workers. I will draw deeply on the wisdom found in Camacho’s book.

[1] Tom Camacho, Mining for Gold: Developing Kingdom Leaders through Coaching, First published (Nottingham: IVP, 2019), 4.

[2] Camacho, 5.

[3] Camacho, 93–94.

[4] Camacho, 27.

[5] Camacho, 63.

[6] Camacho, 83.

About the Author

Graham English

I was born in Cape Town, South Africa 30 minutes from Table Mountain, the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean. My family immigrated to Vancouver, Canada where I spent my teen years, met Wendy, and got married. We now live on the Canadian prairies in northern Alberta. I think God has a sense of humour. I'm a follower of Jesus, work in leadership and church development, love my family and walk a lot.

10 responses to “Striking Gold in Yellowknife”

  1. mm Ryan Thorson says:

    Wow Graham what an awesome story. Thanks for sharing about Steve! As a local church pastor, he inspires me to continue to love the people and place where I’ve been put and to mine for gold in the relationships in this special and unique community!

    I also appreciate that reminder to continue be developing leaders. As you’ve worked with those in your district, how do you begin to identify the ways in which people can be developed? What do you do when you reach sticky points like discouragement, blind spots or unhealth that the leaders don’t want to face into?

    Thanks again for your thoughtful post!

    • Graham English says:

      Thanks for reading and responding, Ryan. To try to answer your question. We use a peer-to-peer, group coaching model that uses the acronym GROW. GOAL, REALITY, OPPORTUNITY/OPTIONS and WAY FORWARD. The coachee sets the agenda and is coached on what they bring to the group. So, there is no pressure. However, the coaching process of inquiry typically unearths some of these sticking points, unhealthy practices etc. We have had a significant focus in the past on renewal and soul health so people are fairly aware and conversant. However, as you know, we can’t force people to go where they don’t want to go but we help point them to the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
      The first question you asked was about identifying people that want to be developed. Realistically, we’ve been tapping people on the shoulder who want to grow. This is purely based on relationships. However, we are moving toward pretty open systems, so that if someone wants to be involved in our networks or peer coaching circles they will be able to step in fairly easily. We’re not quite there, but that’s the plan.

  2. Adam Cheney says:

    People said we were crazy for moving all the way north to Minnesota and enduring the long winters here. As I sit here and type with a blanket on my lap, a cup of warm coffee and a space heater roaring next to me, I can’t even imagine traveling another 2000 miles north to a place that is closer to the Arctic circle than a Costco. I appreciate your understanding of his problems being local problems and not pertinent to the local office. When I lived in a small village in Kenya, we had churches in California try telling us how we should do ministry. It was simply silly and misinformed. I do wonder though with such a distance between you and Steve how you will be able to coach him? Do you meet on zoom with your people regularly? Frequent visits? In your opinion, how often do you think coaching sessions should be done?

    • Graham English says:

      Hi Adam,
      We are in the early days we are developing “peer-peer” coaching groups that meet monthly to connect…learn…coach. We train facilitators and equip the group with a coach approach and materials. Groups meet online or in person. We also have larger affinity-based networks for various groups (small church, worship pastors, youth pastors etc.) These meet for a couple of times a year to share resources and develop relationships.

  3. Diane Tuttle says:

    Graham, What a gift to be able to witness someone living the life that fits them and glorifies God. Your comment toward the end of your blog that the people we are working with belong to God and we are simply there to steward God’s work in their lives is an important realization. Thank you for sharing about someone caring enough about others to live in harsh conditions. It made me question my own needs for creature comfort. Peace.

  4. mm Glyn Barrett says:

    Hi Graham. Love the account of Steve in the cold north. Certainly, this is heroism in ministry. Pursuing the call of God to areas that others may shun due to remoteness, and yet, the Tony’s of this world are the heroes that may be sitting closer to Jesus in Heaven. Thanks for sharing.
    Like you, I loved the emphasis that Camacho made about the Holy Spirit. I’m always trying to listen to the Holy Spirit whenever I find myself in coaching/leadership roles with others. What signs do you look out for when you are listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit in your leadership role, especially in the one one-on-one leadership sessions you run?

    • Graham English says:

      Glyn, I have a conviction that Jesus, through the work of the Spirit, is active long before I show up on the scene. So a regular prayer for me when I meet with leaders is, “Jesus, show me where you are working so that I can get on track with you.” Then I take a listening posture toward the person, the context and the Holy Spirit.
      I typical pay attention to nudges and promptings as I’m in dialogue with the Holy Spirit.
      If I am working with someone on Identity I will listen for WEBS. Wounds…Enemy…Bondage…Sins. Typically, the Spirit will reveal one of these as I ask questions. “Those who are led by the Spirit are the children of God.”. The Spirit leads people to realize their true identity.

      If I’m working with a leader or team on vision/strategy, I use Lencioni’s Six questions in the advantage to help them process this. We will pray and ask the Holy Spirit to lead the process, provide clarity, then look for the fruit of the spirit (love, joy, peace etc) and unity amongst a group that has surrendered to the Holy Spirit as we process this.


      1. Signs of faith and courage in a person or group. Dare I say audacious faith 😉 – Acts. 1.8

      2. Gifts of the Spirit. 1 Cor 12 etc.

      3. I seek revelation for the person or group. Eph 1. 17 “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. “

  5. Nancy Blackman says:

    Interesting timing — the book and your recent visit — I love it!

    It sounds like Steve was showing you the veins of gold of Yellowknife as he became your tour guide, eh? I always love it when someone sees the connection that another person has to their community. It reminded me of my dad who, after retiring, he would frequent different places — the copy shop to get copies made, the pharmacy, grocery store, etc. etc. What I learned later from his connection to all these people was how much they valued him and he, like Steve, was a storyteller.

    When my dad passed, his memorial service was full, many of the people who came to pay respects were those shop owners. I was so touched by that, and walked away thinking, “I want to be more like my dad, leaving my own mark in a community.”

    You mention that Steve is “exactly the kind of person” you want to help through a Camacho-like coaching process, especially since it’s a leadership shift. What are a few questions you could ask Steve that would help him “see” that he does need that shift in order to thrive?

    • Graham English says:

      Thanks for sharing about your dad. He obviously made an impact on many.

      Regarding questions for Steve. I would begin by asking him what he’d like to talk about. Then, rather than looking for immediate solutions, I’d ask him to be curious about the issue before us. I’d say something like, “Before we come up with solutions, could we ask some questions and explore this more deeply?” This question could help shift the conversation from advice-giving to coaching.

  6. Elysse Burns says:

    Graham, I echo the many comments that have come before me in thanking you for sharing this very encouraging story about Steve in Yellowknife. It is inspiring to cross paths with those who share a Holy Spirit-powered love and enthusiasm for the community in which they serve. I see this same love and enthusiasm in my friend and colleague Kari for the people we live among in the Sahara.

    I share your same desire to see people experience a John 10:10 fullness in their lives. This is my constant prayer for the people in North Africa. What a difference it would be if there were thriving, godly leaders in this country.

    You have quite the responsibility in your Director role over 500+ licensed workers. I will continue to pray for you as you work with the leadership development team to nurture these workers. I agree with you, it is such a privilege to partner with God and treasure and steward the people he puts in our lives. It’s GOLD!

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