Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Missions Coach

On my other blog culturebiz.blogspot.com I wrote about the new profession in business today, that of a personal or life coach. No need to repeat myself here as to the reason for such a coach, but I began thinking about coaching in the world of missions.

For about ten years I held a position in a sending organization as vice president of international training. Part of my responsibility was to travel and visit field personnel. My role was very much like a coach. In traveling overseas I would visit the projects people were involved in and would ask critical questions and give my evaluation. The two objectives I had in every setting was (1) Why are you doing work this way and, (2) Is there a better way of doing it? Much of the time the projects were going well, so my recommendations were a matter of tweaking the process and to get people to think of how to make a good program better. Sometimes the projects were not effective and I was able to help them move away from those projects and rework their strategy. Most of the time the people on the field received and appreciated my advice, a few did not.


First, the coach is an outsider. He/she has lens that is not tainted by organizational bias. Example: I know a couple whose work is focused only on evangelism using a specific evangelism method. Because it is a strong North American model and used widely by many evangelicals, the organization expects their people to produce the same results on the field. This particular couple is busy and conducts many seminars. However, in many ways they are culturally insensitive. They don’t have a strong team of nationals and, in my opinion, the method is a horrible evangelism tool for their context. As a coach from the outside I could recommend some modifications that the organization would never do.

Second, accountability is sometimes better achieved through outside influence. Most teams I have worked with have meetings, purpose statements, goals, etc. However, many of those good things are not realized because everyone lives on the same field, they are peers. The team leader has a nearly impossible job in holding others to the purpose because he is working with his friends. If he comes down too hard, they won’t be friends long.

Which leads to the third reason for a coach and that is he doesn’t have line authority. Even working with my former organization, I did not have line authority and, I didn’t want it. Why? When people perceive they are being told what to do from the top, they may acquiesce, but it doesn’t mean they value the change suggestions and they lose ownership in their work. If the recommendations work everyone is happy, but if it doesn’t then the finger pointing begins as either “the field people didn’t do what we told them to do,” or “those idiots in the home office have no idea what they are talking about.” As a coach with no line authority it is up to the team if they heed my advice. If they did and it succeeded, it was their success. If they tried and it failed it was merely something they tried which didn’t work out. Either way people on the field must have ownership in their work. A coach allows autonomy in the process.

Much more to talk about as it relates to mission coaching...next time.