Mentoring, coaching, and training

swiss_army_knifeI’ve just returned from a conference called ‘Coaching the Coaches’ aimed at equipping pastors to coach other pastors involved in planting and leading churches. I picked up many things from the time together. Some of it was information to learn and digest. Some of it was method to put into practice. Some of it was encouragement to keep at the task. Some of it was relational in sharing the journey. It was all important.

At one point during the conference we appeared to get bogged down in semantics. ‘What’s the difference between coaching and mentoring and training?’ someone asked. ‘What should we be focusing on?’ ‘Which area is most important for us?’ ‘Does it really matter?’ These questions led to some helpful clarification and we moved on. No doubt you can find many definitions of these roles and tasks. Some will be distinct and some overlapping. I’m not so much interested in crisp textbook definitions, as I am to bring clarity in how we are aiming to use these strategies to support the growth group leaders in our church.


My understanding of coaching is largely shaped by the sporting world – especially team sports. As I observe Jake White at the Brumbies, I see a coach who is focused on goals and outcomes. He’s responsible for the big picture and how the different parts fit together to make the whole. He works at directing people towards achieving desired outcomes. He helps people to identify areas of improvement or barriers to be removed.


The team environment instructs here also. I watch senior players getting alongside the junior players, advising, critiquing, suggesting, encouraging, playing practical jokes! The more knowledgable or experienced person invests in the next generation. Relationships are formed and powerful results can flow.


Training can take a number of forms. In the professional rugby world there will be fitness trainers, strength and conditioning trainers, training camps, training drills, training timetables, team training, individual training. Training is provided so as to build the competence needed to achieve the goals. Training is about building competency and gaining the skills, tools and resources to do the job.

traingleAll these areas are important, each contribute to supporting growth group leaders in their ministries, and each are dependent on the work of the others. Without being too pedantic, we could say something like:

    • Mentoring is about encouraging.
    • Coaching is about directing.
    • Training is about equipping.

Our aim is to support our leaders in each of these ways. Every leader should be connected with a mentor, to encourage them in their leadership. Every mentor should be connected with a coach, to help direct and support them in their mentoring. All leaders, mentors, and coaches should have access to trainers and training to equip them for their ministries.

Here’s a model of what this could look like in practice:

Coach 1 —>
—>  Mentor A  —>  Leader a, Leader b, Leader c
—>  Mentor B  —>  Leader d, Leader e, Leader f
—>  Mentor C  —>  Leader g, Leader h, Leader i

Coach 2 —>
—>  Mentor D  —>  Leader j, Leader k, Leader l
—>  Mentor E  —>  Leader m, Leader n, Leader o
—>  Mentor F  —>  Leader p, Leader q, Leader r

Coaches aim to catch up with their mentors at least once a term, to guide them in their ministry of mentoring each of the leaders. If the mentors are also growth group leaders then there will be a strong mentoring element to these meetings also.

Coaches are equipped by a pastor or director of the growth groups ministry, so that they are clear on expectations and the direction this ministry should take. They will draw on resources, books and training material to assist them to develop as coaches.

Here’s a timetable of meetings to facilitate these goals:

Once a term all growth group leaders, mentors and coaches meet together for vision meeting. These meetings may include: input on upcoming Bible talk/study series; direction on key goals for groups in the upcoming term; info on particular ministry plans for groups; and prayer together. 

At least once a term, the director meets with all coaches; coaches meet with all mentors; and mentors meet with leaders and co-leaders. These meetings could take place in small groups or one-to-one. As relationships grow, it is hoped that people will desire to meet more often.

Here’s some specific training strategies for equipping leaders:

Encourage all growth group leaders to find core members to prepare for future growth group leadership. Involve them in leadership, providing practical experience of ministry, support, advice, feedback. Encourage them to read some helpful resources.

Training courses
Encourage apprentice leaders to participate in a targeted training course for growth group leaders. This could be ‘Growth Groups’ or ‘Spice it Up’. Offer this course over a few weeks in third or fourth term, with the aim of having potential leaders to begin in the new year.

Turbo training
When leaders find themselves ill-equipped for their roles offer to bridge the gap. Consider a two workshop intensive course that focuses i) on leading better Bible studies; and ii) on pastoral leadership of growth groups.

Access to resources
Provide books, courses, materials, articles that will encourage and equip growth group leaders. This Leaders Toolkit is being designed for this purpose!

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