Coaching missionaries and national pastors

by D. J. Mingo

People regularly describe me as a missionary counselor. To be sure, we offer biblical counseling to missionaries and national pastors. But when I say I prefer the term coaching, a disconnect often follows. The simplest way to differentiate between counseling and coaching is to think of counseling as dealing with issues of the past, whereas coaching is the process of preparing and equipping for the future. Sure, it’s a matter of semantics, and such a broad definition leaves room for much overlap, but both resolving the past and preparing for the future require the same thing — a commitment to improving in the present. Professional Christian leadership coaching can be a wonderful tool to help our missionaries discover the Kingdom potential for their lives and ministries.

In Matthew 6:33, Jesus commanded, “Seek first the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness …” When we adhere to these two commands, Christ promises all we need for life, and peace, and the pursuit of purpose becomes ours. Seeking first the Kingdom of God is a bedrock principle of my coaching ministry with missionaries and the people they serve.

WHAT IS PROFESSIONAL CHRISTIAN LEADERSHIP COACHING?

Coaching missionaries and national pastors seeks to help an individual discover God’s best next step for life, family, and ministry. That missionary’s next best step often lies deep within his or her soul. The direction forward is a journey and adventure of the soul. King Solomon, in Proverbs, spoke to this: “Counsel in the heart of man is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out” (Proverbs 20:5).

Heart here represents the soul, the most inner part of a person. Professional Christian coaching seeks to draw out God’s working in a Christian’s soul. The way forward lies in God’s stirring within that person’s heart.

During his short ministry, Jesus asked over 300 questions. There are over 3,000 questions asked in the Bible. An open-ended question is a powerful tool and Jesus often employed this approach to draw out God’s will from the hearts of his listeners. Before Jesus began his parable of the two sons in Matthew 28, he asked, “What do you think?” Rather than tell the crowd what they needed to do, the son of God took his listeners on a journey into their souls with a single question.

MISSIONARY COACHING

Note: Clients must be assured that what is spoken in the coaching session stays in the coaching session. Confidentiality is foundational in coaching. The following example contains general aspects of one of my missionary coaching experiences. This information was reviewed and approved by the missionary and appears here with his permission.

A missionary recently contacted me through Facebook, “I’m struggling to know what’s my next step here,” the young missionary began. Faced with several good choices for his ministry’s future, he asked, “What’s the best way to move forward?” His overgeneralization in those first two questions pointed to the work that lay before us. So we began the coaching process via Skype.

SETTING THE AGENDA

Coaching explores the depth of God’s working in one’s soul, so my first question was the same one Jesus asked, “What do you think?” At first, the missionary, as most clients do, stumbled about in an effort to answer. “I’m not really sure,” he said. After talking about several aspects of his current ministry challenges, another question narrowed the focus. “For today, what is your greatest concern?” I asked.

That one question set the agenda for the next 45 minutes of our Skype session. From general exploration to exact, he said, “I really need to figure out the best way to train my national pastors on my team here. I am training them, teaching them everything I know, but they are thinking of going somewhere else. This culture highly values academic credentials. My national pastors may leave to enroll in a university-style of education.” My next question frustrated him a bit. “What might it take to offer an academically respected education to your national pastors?” He blurted out in some despair, “I don’t know.” We struggled together in his dilemma for some time.

Narrowing it down further, I probed, “What part of this do you want to work on today?” Slowly, he perked up a bit, “I need to figure out how I’m going to train my pastors in a way that is both biblical and culturally academically acceptable.” With those words, we set sail on his journey forward.

DEVELOPING AWARENESS

In the awareness stage, possibilities are explored. For me, this stage is most rewarding. Exploring the Holy Spirit’s leading with God’s Word as our compass to guide the journey leaves me awestruck every time. Nothing quite excites me more than a person’s discovery of God’s direction for his or her next best steps.

“What methods do you currently use?” I asked. The young missionary shared his current approach to training his young national pastors. After ten minutes, I posed another question, “How is this approach working for you?” The young missionary spoke of the challenges and frustrations of pouring himself into his pastors, only to hear it wasn’t enough. To adequately train national pastors in a culture that highly valued educational credentials, he felt he fell short. He lamented, “It’s just not enough, and I can’t give more than I am giving of myself.”

In professional Christian coaching, we call these moments of discovery “dancing in the moment.” It was a deepening relationship with my missionary client as we explored further into his soul.

SILENCE IS GOLDEN

“How are other missionaries training their national pastors?” I continued. A three-minute pause ensued. The young missionary processed the question. As we looked at each other in total silence, he finally replied, “Uh, I really don’t know? I haven’t talked with any missionaries about this. Being in such a remote place, it’s hard to know how and who to speak with. I mean, it’s not like I can enroll these national pastors in a Bible college or school them online.”

The best part of our session occurred next. He smiled, “I guess I might need to find other missionaries who train their nationals well, and ask them for advice?” The inflection in his voice towards the end of that question indicated he was looking to me for an answer. I asked another question, “What other missionaries can you speak with who are knowledgeable on training national pastors?”

ACTION PLAN

A good coach not only helps his clients develop an action plan to accomplish their goals but also provides accountability regarding the effort to reach those goals. I offered resources and the names of a few good missionaries with expertise in training national pastors my client might contact.

My young missionary friend laid out his personal action plan:

  1. Find missionaries training national pastors in countries valuing academics as in his country.
  2. Connect with those missionaries over social media seeking their advice and expertise.
  3. Ask his national pastors for their perspectives on the matter.
  4. Gather information from other missionaries in his country.

As we concluded our session on developing his plan of action, he said, “Sounds like a plan! Talk with you next month!”

The next month, my first question was, “How’d your homework go?” And with that, we began another exciting coaching session.

D. J. Mingo and his wife, Kathy, are Baptist Bible Fellowship missionaries serving in the Support Team Endorsement Program (S.T.E.P.). They served 22 years in South Africa, and Don pastored in Minnesota for eight years. As reinstated missionaries, they help missionaries, pastors, and native pastors reach their full Kingdom potential.

Don and Kathy are currently on deputation raising support and are available to speak and present their ministry in your church. Don can be contacted at (763) 213-2994 or dr.donmingo@gmail.com.

Don and Kathy trained and continue to train with Professional Christian Coaching Institute as professional Christian life and leadership coaches. They offer free coaching to missionaries and national pastors, helping them serve longer and stronger in their lives and ministries.

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