September 16, 2020

Am I the Right Leader? – Episode 160 | The Unstuck Church Podcast

right leader

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How a Coach Helps You Get Better at What You Do and See What You Can’t See on Your Own

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In this season, we’re hearing uncertainty on the lips of church leaders at organizations of all sizes. They’re asking this question, “Am I the right leader for our church going forward?”

In most cases, yes, you are. God gave you the role you have for a time like this. But I know that doesn’t make it feel easier. In some ways, that may even make you feel more alone.

There’s been a lot of change in the past six months—and there will probably be a lot of change in the next six months.

You’re probably recognizing the need to build new muscles for leading in this new reality.

And not only that, but you also have to lead your staff and your congregations to do the same.

In other words, it’s not only about leading personal change but also leading organizational change.

That self-questioning you feel might be a sign you need someone walking beside you.

Every good player has a coach. Even the best of the best have a trusted advisor who can pull back the curtain, encourage them, say the hard things and ultimately make them better.

Too often ministry leaders find themselves without that kind of support in their corner.

So, in this conversation, Amy and I are diving into some of the benefits we’ve seen leaders get from having the right coach in their lives:

  • How the right coach helps you see what you can’t see, build new muscles, and get better at what you do
  • How we’re seeing the “fight or flight” response in pastors across the country right now as ministry changes make them uncomfortable—and how some pastors are choosing to fight
  • What we can learn from Harvard & Yale’s early football win-loss records, and how they set a precedent for coaching that changed organized sport forever
  • How to evaluate whether or not your coach is the right fit and helping you get the right results
A good coach helps bring clarity and focus where it’s needed, raises the effectiveness of ministry, and increases our confidence leading through uncharted waters. #unstuckchurch [episode 160] Click to Tweet Good coaches ask the right questions u003e The right questions lead to the right conversations u003e The right conversations rally your team, bringing unity to the vision and the actions that are most important. #unstuckchurch… Click To Tweet

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Sean (00:02):

Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast, where each week we’re exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. Every good player needs a coach. Even the best of the best have a trusted advisor who can pull back the curtain, encourage them, say the hard things and ultimately make them better. But too often ministry leaders find themselves without that kind of partner in the corner. On today’s podcast, Tony and Amy discuss why coaching is vital to helping you be the best leader you can be and how it’ll help you lead a healthier church into the future. Before you listen today, though, make sure you stop and subscribe to get the show notes. Every week, you’re going to get one email with resources to go along with that week’s content, our leader conversation guide, access to our podcast resource archive and bonus resources that you won’t find anywhere else. Just go to and subscribe. Now, let’s join Tony and Amy for this week’s conversation.

Amy (00:57):

Well, Tony, this is the second episode in our series addressing the question a lot of pastors seem to be asking themselves these days, which is, am I the right leader? And last week we talked about just leading and the pivots that churches need to make and the pivots that The Unstuck Group is making. But this week, you know, I think most of the pastors listening right now actually are the right leaders. When you were talking about that last week, it just really stuck with me. It’s just that there’s been a lot of change in the last six months, and there’s probably going to be a lot of change in the next six months. And because of that, right, new muscles. We just need to develop new muscles for leading in this new reality.

Tony (01:33):

Yeah, that’s for sure, Amy, and not only do senior pastors have to build their own new muscles in what they do and how that happens, but they also have to lead their staff and their congregations to do the same. And in other words, it’s not only about leading personal change, but we’re also leading organizational change.

Amy (01:53):

That’s right. That’s why today I actually want us to talk about the importance of having a coach in our life. You know, the importance of having someone in our life who can help us think, who can bring confidence to what we do, who can confirm things, who can challenge things, especially in this next season, as we think about the unchartered waters most of our pastors are in right now. So with that, Tony, obviously we talked about this, but where do you want to start today?

Tony (02:18):

Well, yeah, let me start by repeating what we just said a moment ago in case our listeners didn’t catch it. Most of you are the right leaders. And so just in case no one has told you that yet. Those of you sitting in the lead pastor seat right now, while this is definitely a challenging season of ministry, I believe God had you in your seat for this moment. And Amy, you and I have been personally serving dozens of churches, especially in these last few months. And I’m excited about the new ideas and the very intentional strategies that churches are forming in the midst of this pandemic, and churches are being more creative, more forward thinking and more mission-minded that than they were in the past. Aren’t you finding that?

Amy (03:04):

Yeah, I do. Funny they don’t start that way like when we start the engagement, but it’s amazing how ideas come and unity and momentum starts to build as they think together during their planning processes. And I think that’s our function as a coach with the team, right? To draw out the best in the leaders that we serve. And you mentioned last week, you’ve been coaching church leaders for over 10 years now. And I know, Tony, based on your experience, why do you believe every leader needs a coach?

Tony (03:33):

Yeah. So, first of all, let me just step back again. I don’t know why it is that church pastors many times in this season are asking am I the right leader? Am I the right leader for right now? And I just want to, before I jump into more of the positive side of this, I want to push against that because I think a lot of your tendency right now is because this feels uncomfortable. This is unchartered waters. I’ve never been here before. There is a fight or flee thing that’s happening there. And part of what pastors, I think, are wanting to do is just, I don’t want to deal with this. I want to do something else. And so you have to fight against that. It is, it’s uncomfortable. You’ve never been here before, but God’s been preparing you for this. And, I think part of what you’re feeling right now is you need somebody else to support you in this and that, too, is natural. I mean, you need, we need other people around us, especially in seasons like you’re experiencing right now. And because of that, you know, in response to your question, Amy, first of all, I think we can all get better at what we do. And really, if you think about this, coaching is about getting better at what you do. And even the best athletes in the world have coaches. Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, as an example. I mean, although I always pick with my son, I say Michael, Jordan’s the best basketball player ever. He says, LeBron James. We kind of have this back and forth going. But even if you think LeBron James is the best of the two, they all have coaches. And it’s just an example of they needed a coach. We probably also need a coach. And it’s probably why they’re the best at what they do. And related to this, talking about coaching, Amy, you were talking about a TED Talk that you heard recently. And I was just, I was fascinated by this. So do you recall that?

Amy (05:34):

Oh yeah, I was just listening to it a few days ago and they were talking about when American football, that they were kind of the leaders in bringing this whole concept of a coach to players. I didn’t know that. So they said back in 1875, Harvard and Yale, that those were the first American football kind of teams, not soccer, like it was across the pond, and Yale hired a coach, but Harvard didn’t. And for the next three decades, this speaker told us, Harvard only won four games. In 30 years. Four games. And so needless to say, they hired a coach after that at Harvard, but now coaching is a natural part of sports because someone needs to observe and watch and help a player do things better.

Tony (06:28):

That’s right. Yeah. And right now church leaders need to learn how to get better at what they do, too. And so as we navigate the new complexities, especially over these past six months, and what that’s led us into, we need leaders to have the confidence and the wisdom to lead well. So our churches are healthier, not only in the midst of what we’re experiencing, but what we want our churches to be healthier coming out of the pandemic as well. And so it’s important that we get that coaching so that we can get better at what we do. And then secondly, we need help seeing what we can’t see. And I’ve certainly known this to be true. I’ve shared this before, but our team at The Unstuck Group goes through a strategic planning process each year. And even though any one of us could facilitate conversations like this, we bring in outside coaches from time to time to lead us through that process. And every time we go through that process with an outside coach, Amy, I’m always surprised at the new things, the fresh ideas that come up that just we would never have considered. And it’s not that that idea came from the coach. The coach just knew the right question to ask to draw that idea out. The idea came from within our team, but we needed that outside perspective to help us think about things completely differently.

Amy (07:52):

Yeah. That discovery process through the right questions have sent us many times in a direction we didn’t anticipate. Right? And some of the things we thought we were going to be focusing on, they’re still a lot lower on the list today and we’re better for it.

Tony (08:05):

That’s right.

Amy (08:06):

All right. So why everyone needs a coach? You said, you know, we need help seeing things that we can’t see. We all need to get better at what we do. Why do you think it’s even more important now for church leaders to have a coach?

Tony (08:19):

Yeah, well, first, more than ever, I think it’s critical that church leaders bring clarity and focus to their mission, their vision, their key ministry strategies. Again, the key here is clarity and focus. And so here’s some things that come to mind related to that. And we just mentioned it, but good coaches ask the right questions to help us find that clarity and focus. The right questions, they’ll lead us to the right conversations. And so it may, that initial question, may not provide the key thought, but it might drive the conversation that gets us to that key thought. The right conversations will rally your team and bring unity to your vision and the actions that are most important. And Amy, I just, I think even as our team has been processing some of the pivots that we’re in the middle of making right now, that’s helped unify us as a team. And it’s helped make sure that there’s an alignment of thinking and that we’re all pulling in the same direction. And right now churches need to be crystal clear on their priorities and then align those priorities to the work that the team is doing. Secondly, and again especially as it relates to digital ministry and that new world that we’re operating in as churches, churches need a coach that can provide fresh perspective. And I just mentioned this, but great coaches provide a unique perspective. They’re coming from outside your team, and they can bring fresh eyes to your work. And as an example, as it relates to digital ministry right now, we’re getting to see examples that are happening across dozens of churches right now, some things that are working and frankly, some things that aren’t working. And the good news is when you engage with a coach from The Unstuck Group right now, you’re getting all of that wisdom. So they’re able to bring that fresh perspective that you may not have internally on your team. And then most of us habituate to our environments. We don’t see things as clearly as an outside person does. And Amy, I know you’ve been assessing a lot of online service experiences, as an example, in this current season. How has your outside perspective been helping churches?

Amy (10:39):

Good question. You know, I do, I watch a lot of services, engage with them for the churches we’re serving. And, you know, I always watch these experiences as if I’m a person outside the church and outside the faith and was just invited to check out their online experience. And so I see things, honestly, they didn’t see, and they didn’t notice, which then again leads to asking some good questions as we process it together. But you know, I don’t know the people who are putting these experiences on, the people who are, you know, the hosts of them. And we go through a process of, you know, answering questions like, well, did I feel welcomed? And I’ll let them know how that felt. You know, was the experience engaging? Was it relevant to my life? Was I compelled to take a next step? Would I come back? And sometimes my feedback is surprising to the church leaders, especially right now because so many of the online services are really still just designed to be a recast of what they’re doing in their in-person services, but also some, and by the way, when that’s the case, when they’re surprised by the feedback, it causes some great conversation to go, man, who is our primary audience and things like that. But sometimes the feedback also confirms what the senior pastor has already been feeling, something they’ve already been wrestling with. And for whatever reason, when an outside person says it versus someone on the team, it just, it causes people to be a little bit more open minded to that feedback.

Tony (12:01):

Yeah. So Amy, that’s a good example, talking about how getting that fresh perspective of online services helps leaders, helps churches move forward, but that same fresh perspective is going to be helpful for your entire ministry approach. And then I think, especially around staffing and structure decisions that need to be made. And to be clear, while good coaches don’t tell you what to do, good coaches do provide input and honest feedback that’s helpful as you’re making your decisions.

Amy (12:33):

Yeah. All right, well, Tony, what type of coaching will leaders get through The Unstuck Group?

Tony (12:38):

Well, yeah, last week I mentioned one of the things that excites me most about The Unstuck Leadership Coaching is there’s three different levels available. So, at the lowest level, if you will, there’s what we’re calling Toolkit Access. It provides all of the access to all of our resources, including most importantly, that on-demand ministry training that we have through our online courses. At the second level, we are calling it Cohort Coaching. The key feature here is you’ll be included in an e-coaching cohort with other like-minded pastors and leaders. And then at the top level, if you will, it’s what we’re calling Complete Coaching. And here we add on that access to a coach from our team. So it’s one-on-one coaching for the senior pastor or the executive pastor, or the combination of the both. And you’ll basically have all access to us. Not only for that monthly coaching that’s going to happen one-on-one, but you get access in the in between times, too, where you just need to help with an issue, and you don’t know where to turn, or maybe just need to bounce an idea off somebody. That that’s the type of relationship we want to have there.

Amy (13:54):

And Tony, maybe just a little bit more, can you give us some examples of the various kind of topics we’ll be covering in each of these spaces in the Cohorts and on the one-on-one times and with the senior leadership teams?

Tony (14:07):

Yeah. A good question, Amy, of course. We’ll help pastors and teams get united around things like mission, vision, strategy, so everyone’s pulling in the same direction, but we’ll also help pastors get focused on their mission field, who they’re trying to reach in their community. We’ll be coaching pastors and leaders on structure and strategies, just making sure that they have someone, again, providing fresh perspective about if this is what we’re trying to accomplish as a church, how do we best structure our teams, both staff and volunteers, to get that done? But this is not about just leading the structure, leading the team. We’re going to also dive into some personal, individual leadership opportunity around things like pace and rhythm and Sabbath. I mean, some of the pastors, that may light you up that we’re actually going to ask you the tough questions about that. I know how some of you operate. Some of you may not want us asking those questions, but we need to be asking you. Somebody needs to be asking you those questions. So, and then, as it relates to individual leadership, how, how do I manage performance? How do I make sure that my team is healthy, and that they’re high performing? And again, Amy, there are a number of other topics that we’re going to be walking through. I think the greatest opportunity for pastors here is in addition though, to the things that we want to be asking you about, these one-on-one coaching relationships are going to open the opportunities for you to bring whatever the pressing issues are that you’re feeling right now, either in your leadership or in your church as a whole. Those are the topics that I think I’m most looking forward to because we’re going to able to provide that kind of in the moment coaching, mentoring, guidance to help you take your next steps forward as a leader.

Amy (16:07):

Yeah. All right. Well, any final thoughts, Tony, before we wrap up today’s conversation?

Tony (16:12):

Yeah. I’m excited about this new way of serving church leaders, and in many ways, this is what we’ve been doing all along, but now it’s really accessible in a new way. These past four-to-five months have been hard for a lot of us, but it’s also been rewarding for me personally and for the churches we’ve been engaged with. The pastors we’re working with have gained early clarity on the pivots they need to make now to continue reaching new people and discipling their congregation even through the pandemic. The leaders I’ve been working with, like all of us, have been drawn to see the pitfalls and the challenges of leading their church through the season. But instead of being paralyzed by it, they’ve gained a new confidence to embrace a new way of doing ministry and a new way of moving forward into the future. They’re coming up with great ideas, and they’re reorganizing their teams to support those new ideas. They’re making hard decisions, but they’re also getting their teams and their strategies aligned, helping them to pull together in the same direction. There’s a lot we’re still learning, but I believe these pastors are in an early group of leaders figuring out the answer to the what’s next. So if you feel stuck right now as a leader, if you need some outside perspective to help you rethink your ministry strategies going forward, or if you just want to be connected with others who are trying to do these same things and find community with other church leaders, we invite you to sign up for The Unstuck Leadership Coaching, and you can find out more on our webpage at

Sean (17:50):

Well, thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. If this podcast has been helpful for you, we’d love your help in getting the content out farther. You can do that by subscribing on your favorite podcasting platform, giving us a review and telling somebody else about the podcast. As always, you can learn more about how we’re helping churches get unstuck by visiting us at Next week, we’re back with another brand new episode. So until then, have a great week.

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