A Coach Approach to Preaching

Preaching evPriest handcuffedery week for 20 years is hard. Oh, some preacher will tell you, “It’s not that difficult,” but for the rest of us mere humans. It is hard. Maybe I try too hard. Maybe I put too much pressure on myself. But I feel like I’m supposed to come up with something new and interesting every week. Most of the experts out there agree. Andy Stanley says not to preach one theme more than a month. Andy Stanley would be disappointed in me.

I would pay someone to coach my preaching every week. Honestly it wouldn’t need to be every week. It could probably be once a month. How would a Coach Approach to preaching look?

This may be heresy, but here it goes. I’d start with the preacher rather than with the sermon. Coaching encourages the client to lean into his or her strengths. I can’t think of one preaching book that starts with the preacher and natural strengths. Billy Graham certainly has Woo. In fact, Billy Graham’s top five strengths are all Woo. Woo is not in my top five. I’ve wondered where it might be but not so much that I’m ready to pay $79 to find out. Gallup charges you $10 to find out your top five strengths, but then charges $79 to find out what you’re not good at.

If you look at my top 4 strengths, they are all strategic. I am a thinker. I can influence, and I can think, but my natural tendency is to make a well founded argument. When I am at my best in preaching, I don’t just make the argument, I invite people into my thinking. This is how I influence people. I help them think. I encourage them to think and come to their own well founded conclusion. I always short change the congregation when I land on a conclusion for them. This may not be true for you.

When I am best in my preaching, I am funny, usually sarcastic. The funny comes best off the cuff, and so I need to leave room in my preaching for the funny to come out. I also often need to explain why I’m being sarcastic. It doesn’t work for everyone. Sometimes people think I’m just being rude. I don’t need to stop being sarcastic. I need to craft my sarcastic remarks to have better effect. It is my strength.

That’s who I am. That’s what I got. That’s what works best for me. So when someone says to me I need to “Drop the hammer,” I can often see their point, but that is not my strength. My worst sermons are when I lean into my weaknesses.

If you preach, what is YOUR strength? What strength were you working out of when you preached your most memorable sermon? You might want to ask people. You are probably afraid to ask people what your most memorable sermon has been because you are afraid they won’t remember even one. Not even last week. Truthfully I have trouble remembering what I preached last week. But I’m safe. One of my strengths is Future Thinking. I don’t live in the past. Whew.

Are you an influencer? A relater? Is communication your strength or do you actually use something else in your preaching to make your point? I’ve seen poor communicators preach very well.

A good coach would encourage you to know your strengths and lean into them. I’m not Billy Graham or Martin Luther King or Andy Stanley. I could wish I was, but that would be disrespectful to God who made me Brian Miller.

Find a coach and have them coach your preaching for a few weeks. They aren’t so hard to find. We’ve trained almost 100 in our denomination alone.

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Failure Is Not Trying

You should immediately add this question to your year-end review:

When did you utterly fail this past year?

And the one being reviewed should be penalized if they have no answer. If you aren’t trying, you’re dying.

I was coaching a man who’s actions were paralyzed. As we coached through it, the obstacle was the fear of disappointing people he respected. So in order to not disappoint anyone with a failed attempt, he didn’t do anything.

He needed a new perspective. How would these people you respect respond if they knew you were taking no action because of them? Answer: They would be disappointed. Ouch.

You don’t want to be reckless. You don’t want to work without a net. And if you have a good coach, you can create a plan to move forward that is well thought out and that will give you confidence to move ahead.

But if there is no risk of failure, it probably isn’t worth doing.

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Fire Up the Brain – Coaching Demo

Often people don’t have any idea what coaching is.  If I talk about coaching, they start to nod their heads, but don’t make much of a connection.  But when I demo coaching, I see eyes light up.  “Oh!  That’s what coaching is!  That’s really useful!”

Fire Up the BrainI was at a conference teaching a workshop on coaching (contact me if you’d like me to teach a workshop at your conference).  At the end, I asked for a volunteer to be coached.  This is often when people decide to break eye contact.  But there is always one brave soul.

I asked Brandon a question.  What is your next step with Jesus?  This is a very open ended question.  The answers you get to this question are really interesting.  I’d encourage you to start asking this question.  And then listen.

Brandon said, “I’ve started gathering various people in the community to start working together on projects.”

“Wow!”  “That’s awesome.  I think that’s so important.”

Brandon didn’t give me much observable feedback.  That can make coaching tough when you’re looking at a blank face.

“What struggles are you having with this gathering?”

Brandon knew the answer.  “When we first gather, everyone stays in their own little cliques until we officially get started.  I’d like for them to start mixing as soon as they arrive.”

“That would be great.  What ideas do you have to accomplish this?”

“None.  That’s why I volunteered.”

It was a powerful “No.”  It was a discouraging “No.”  This is where it is tempting to feel responsible for finding your client an answer.

I often start to pray, “God give me a powerful question to get Brandon‘s brain fired up.”

“When have you been part of a group that created interaction right off the bat?”

He still had that look of “No” on his face, but he was thinking.  When you get a person thinking, stay quiet.  Let them think.

Brandon shocked me and everyone in the room.  “You mean like in college when you had pre-assignment interactions.”  I don’t remember his exact words, but his words were very specific and a light had come on.

“Wow!  Yes.  How could you create some pre-assignment interactions?”  Notice, I didn’t ask “What are pre-assignment interactions?”  It was important that he knew, not that I knew.

He was thinking again.  That’s a really good sign.  Silence often means you are succeeding.

“Well, I could email them a pre-assignment that would require them to interact with others in the room as soon as they arrive.”

Here is where I made a mistake.  I tweaked his idea.  As much as you want to help brainstorm, a coach shouldn’t participate in the brainstorm.

I asked, “Could you just give them the pre-assignment as they walked in the door so you didn’t have to worry about them getting the email and printing it?”  I was trying to help.  Instead I slowed down his thinking.

We got back on track, and he brainstormed some more great ideas.  I was impressed.

At the end, I asked, “What was your big takeaway?” 

He recounted his first idea without my tweak!  I had to laugh.  It was a great demonstration of what not to do.  But we had fired up his thinking with powerful coaching questions.

What lights up your brain?  What gets you thinking?

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