To be successful, church planters need both a mentor and a coach.
Like our favorite recipe of grandma’s, when we discover the “secret ingredient” that sets something apart, we want to replicate it. We want to mass reproduce it and transport it around the world. Unfortunately, not everyone is going to appreciate the recipe as much as we do.
The same is true for church planting strategies. Strategies are context specific. What works great in one place might not work at all in another. To avoid failure, the church planter should have a mentor who is ideally a native of the area where the new church will be located, and have a coach who is helpful for general strategy and direction.
When looking into getting a mentor, church planters should consider these three factors:
1. A mentor is someone who has been where you want to go and willing to help you get there. A mentor needs to be there when the disappointments knock the wind out of the planter. A mentor labors in the trenches with the planter. When I planted my first church, I was in Alabama, and my mentor was in the Northeast. He was a wonderful man of God but knew very little about my day-to-day activities or the culture in which I was planting.
2. A mentor relationship is like that of the rabbi’s relationship with the students in Jewish culture. There was a saying in the Jewish culture, “May you be covered in the dust of your rabbi.” There was no higher compliment to a student than to follow so closely with his rabbi that they shared the same dirt. The relationship between the planter and the mentor should be almost this close. The mentor is as much a spiritual mentor as they are a mentor for church planting. The mentor asks tough, penetrating and deeply personal questions of the planter (exceptions would be sexual- or financial-based questions). For this reason, the spiritual growth that arises from this mentor/mentee relationship reaps incalculable rewards for the planter.
3. The mentor can help the planter evaluate discipleship strategies not only for the planter, but for the new church. The strength of new churches is they are necessarily evangelistic. However, the planter must be as intentional about a discipleship strategy as they are the evangelism strategy. Those who are reached by a new church tend to be those who are in need of much healing. They often desire connection to God but have a distrust of the institutional church. Many have hit rock bottom and God is their last desperate attempt at life. Without a clear discipleship plan, which is obviously biblically based and contextualized, the church is pointless and rudderless. The goal of church planting is not just to grow the church by drawing a crowd. The Great Commission is both evangelistic and disciple-making.
When looking into getting a coach, church planters should be aware that:
1. A coach is someone who has expertise in a particular area and can offer guidance. A coach can be a sounding board as the planter fleshes out strategies and provide a high-altitude view of the planter’s efforts on the ground.
2. The coach is focused on the health of the church plant. The coach must have credibility and, to an extent, places their own credibility on the line. While not a mentor, the coach needs to be someone the planter trusts. I have known high-capacity leaders and quality coaches who do not mesh. The coach will be conversant with the mentor, but the relationship between mentor and mentee will remain confidential.
3. The coach is primarily focused on evaluating the specifics of the plan. Because the mentor is involved in the trenches with the planter, it is important to have someone else on the team who can see things objectively. The coach can evaluate outreach and discipleship strategies, and help identify blind spots. The coach asks strategic questions to cause more reflection and analysis from the planter. Almost 85-90% of the coach’s job is to ask questions, not give advice.
Pastoring can be lonely, church planting even more so. One of the biggest mistakes church planters make is choosing not to have a coach and a mentor. It is not an exaggeration to say having both a coach and a mentor could save your family and your ministry.
Jeffery D. Skinner is director of Coached DOT Academy Training