I’m tired. It’s the end of the school year for me and my kids, so it is to be expected. But this year it is running deeper and pushing me to examine more closely how I got here. This past Sunday I wrapped up a sermon series on worship and this last one was specifically timed to usher us into the summer: Rest as Worship. The not-so-well-kept secret of preaching pastors is that we are often preaching to ourselves. I revisited Jesus invitation: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” I know that my exhaustion is at least in part due to an ill-fitting yoke. That is, I haven’t been operating out of my “sweet spot”. Perhaps this is the reason that Tom Camacho’s Mining for Gold: Developing Kingdom Leaders Through Coaching had me in tears as I read through it. This isn’t my normal response to my textbooks, but this was a much needed reminder that I too have permission to seek a properly fitted yoke under which to labour. Camacho’s pastoral heart and leadership coaching expertise grows out of his experience in the Vineyard church as well as his experience in athletic and corporate arenas.
Camacho’s model of growing leaders through ‘coaching leadership’ articulated much of how I have been operating as a leader for decades now. It’s the slow work of recognizing the unique gift that each person is and inviting them to let the Spirit reveal to them how they’ve been wired. “Coaching is the process of coming alongside a person or team to help them discover God’s agenda for their life and ministry and then cooperating with the Holy Spirit to see that agenda become a reality.” Unlike models aimed at mass producing leaders, Camacho is about inviting us to remember that in God’s Kingdom “everyone gets to play” . Each person has been created to belong and contribute. “The health of the ministry of a given church requires, as Paul’s body metaphor reminds us, the working together of all its parts.” Coaching leadership then focuses on helping each ‘part’ finding their place of thriving rather than multiplying identical leaders.
To expand the image slightly, it is useful to remember that every Coach is also in the game as a player. “The player/coach is a critical leadership metaphor because it signifies that any coaching offered comes from someone who not only has played many games before but is in the game right now.” One of the gifts of ‘coaching leadership’ is that it holds you accountable because it demands that you lead not merely out of principals, but out of your own dependence on the Holy Spirit and also demands transparency. Just as Rabbi Jesus invited disciples to take on his yoke by living alongside him, so too can we raise up leaders by looking for opportunities to bring them along. Steve Backlund encourages leaders to “look for ways to have others work with you, minister with you, sit in on important meetings with you, travel with you”. What I’ve learned from practicing this is that growing authentic leaders means letting them see you sweat, struggle, pray, breastfeed between services, debrief your failures, change nappies, adjust when someone cancels on you last minute etc. (There is a strong likelihood that Tom and Steve’s experience as a coaching leader is somewhat different than mine.) The beauty of this relational style of formation is that there is opportunity for the leader to find spaces immediately to step in and grow. It also offers a much more holistic picture of what leadership looks like. The leaders who have let me into the mundane moments of their life as well as their ministry moment have had a much more profound impact on me as a leader than any of the polished experts. As a coaching leader, it has also demanded that I too lean into grace—the big expansive version that Camacho talks about. “Grace is…God’s unlimited power available to us for everyday living. Grace allows us to rest and lay back into God’s love. When we understand grace, it is like placing a plant in the sun. The light and warmth of God’s grace transforms us at a cellular level and changes the way we see God, His Word and our mistakes.” To invite someone to bear witness to my weakness is also to allow them to bear witness to the depths of God’s grace.
The picture of each person flourishing out of their unique design, taking their place in the body of Christ as leaders and exemplars in their respective areas is certainly heavenly. There is freedom and joy in such a scenario where the world gets the best out of each person and has space for each one’s gifts. But the reality I’ve walked myself and have felt through others, is there isn’t always room for our authentic, thriving selves. I find that I will do significant work to recognize and embrace my authenticity only to again run into arenas where my gender is an impediment. Or to be unable to find a space to serve in that lines up with my authentic gifting. I’ve mentored multiple burned out leaders who have worked out of their passion for Jesus and people fervently and faithfully. Unfortunately their sexual orientation was not seen as part of their ‘authentic self’ and they were held to constant accountability to the leadership and requested to keep it quiet. Everyone around them was encouraged to be fully authentic, but not them. The exhaustion of trying to fit in meant they could never find ‘thriving’ in the church. Who gets to determine which parts of us are by design? And what about those with crippling mental illness? Or those in a socioeconomic context where they must work to the point of exhaustion and have little hope of ever having the space to reach a point of thriving? I wrestle whether there truly is room for everyone to find a place of thriving, even while I hold on to the hope that there is.
In the exhaustion that comes with these musings, I find comfort again in Camacho’s invitational words on grace. “Grace slowly quiets our anxiety and endless striving. We stop trying to fix ourselves and trust in His grace to bring us into His promises. By the Holy Spirit grace becomes an inner spring of living water. Grace becomes a fountain where we can turn at any moment in any situation and find strength, peace, love and healing. Grace gives us the courage to look under the hood of our life and leadership. With the help of coaching leaders in our lives, we actually make progress towards maturity.”
May we all receive the grace of properly fitted yoke.
1. Matthew 11:28-30 NIV.
2. Tom Camacho, Mining for Gold: Developing Kingdom Leaders through Coaching (S.l.: INTER-VARSITY PRESS, 2019), PDF,28.
3. Bob Logan, Coaching 101 As quoted by Tom Camacho, Mining for Gold: Developing Kingdom Leaders through Coaching (S.l.: INTER-VARSITY PRESS, 2019), PDF, 27
4. Camacho, 58.
5. Emma Percy, What Clergy Do: Especially When It Looks like Nothing (London: SPCK, 2014), Kindle, 12.
6. Paul Sparks, Tim Soren’s and Dwight J. Friedan, The New Parish:How Neighborhood Churches are Transforming Mission, Discipleship and Community. (Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 2014) 179.
7. Steve Backlund, The Culture of Empowerment:How to Champion People. (California: Igniting Hope Ministries, 2016) 33.
8. Camacho, 36.
9. Camacho, 36.