Clergy Coaching when History Knocks on Our Door

Photo by vnwayne fan, Unsplash

At the conclusion of Naomi Klein’s book This Changes Everything, she asks a friend what she should ask a world leader she would be meeting. The friend said, “Ask him: History knocked on your door; did you answer?” Klein concludes, “That’s a good question for all of us.”

In this uncertain time, in whatever capacity we serve as religious leaders, we can hear history’s “knocks” in the feelings of uncertainty, despair, and overwhelm we experience in the institutions we serve.

An uncertain economy leads to unpredictable giving patterns. Our constituents feel despair about civic leaders’ response to a growing list of current crises, including the coronavirus, government impasse, the income gap, or the climate emergency. Those we serve feel overwhelmed by impact of all this on themselves, their families and friends, their congregation—and their faith.

Let’s face it: as leaders, we also feel despair, uncertainty, and overwhelm. We sometimes suppose that being a leader means that we have to show that we are above it all. The truth is, whatever impacts those we serve impacts us as well.

Coaching for new skills and capacities

History is knocking. We find ourselves calling on skills and capacities of heart and spirit that we never imagined we would need when we “signed up” as religious leaders. In these anxious times, I have reflected on my own work in the light of “history knocking.”

This has led me to renew and deepen my practice as a clergy coach. Clearly, clergy want generative opportunities to hone their practice, to craft new responses to what currently exists and also to what is emerging in our ministries.

Clergy crave a “holding environment” to explore the challenges and the aspirations of their call. Clergy need the mutual accountability that can occur in coaching, clergy groups, and other opportunities for learning and support with colleagues.

Clergy coaching is a discipline that focuses on helping clergy leaders cope with, endure, and move through challenges. Skillful coaching opens up new perspectives and helps clergy to develop practices that can lead to new, sometimes transformative results.

But in this time—in the religious and the wider world—is it enough to just get by, to muddle through the challenges we face? Is the support and the challenges that others can offer us enough? That’s what I’ve been wondering.

Going to the Edge

Clergy coaching and clergy groups require that we risk going to the edge of our own knowing. We need to cultivate resilience that allows us not to wither, but to stand firmly alongside those who respond to our world’s cries.

Where previously we were concerned about the silos that inhibit creative collaboration in our congregation, now we need to be concerned about living in a siloed world.

How can we find our way beyond the isolation that diminishes the religious voice when what we need is more Spirit, a global ethic, practical engagement, and ever greater compassion?

Our focus as clergy leaders will always be on the primary tasks of leading and serving in our ministry settings. Clergy need the “green room” that coaching can provide: a place to step offstage to consider what we don’t know, what we are aiming toward, and how we are being called—kicking and sometimes screaming—into the next steps of our ministry.

Our time calls us toward a larger stage. Many of us are already preparing to think and act more expansively as religious leaders moving beyond our typical silos to engage in partnerships across organizations and beyond the walls of buildings. We are connecting in new ways “virtually” and finding new ways to make new vital connections with those we aim to serve.

I have a new question to ask in my coaching with clergy: History is knocking at the door. As religious leaders, how will we respond?

If you are interested in coaching, please contact one of us using the contact form on the Congregational Consultants website.

Lawrence Peers partners with religious organizations and leaders across many faith traditions to help them lead from a sense of purpose and innovate by aligning strategy and spirit. He draws from a rich array of methodologies as he facilitates whole systems, participatory strategic planning, staff team coaching, clergy coaching, and retreats. Larry joins the Congregational Consulting Group and some of his former consultant colleagues from the Alban Institute after four years as director of the Pastoral Excellence Network.