Put me in, coach — I’m ready to lead

New worshiping community experiences the value of quality coaching

by Jon Moore | Special to Presbyterian News Service

Telos at Southminster members play a speed fellowshipping game during a Fifth Sunday fun day at the new worshiping community. (Photo courtesy of Telos at Southminster)

LOUISVILLE — Beth McCaw didn’t know what she was getting into when she first heard God’s call to start a 1001 new worshiping community.  As a social worker, she was a long way from the challenges she would face in launching a new faith community.

As a mid-life transfer into vocational ministry, she displayed the characteristics of a church planter — the drive to gather people together, the willingness to step into other cultures and a fearless curiosity about her surrounding community.  Yet she didn’t feel like an entrepreneur and was frequently overwhelmed thinking she had no idea what she was doing. To activate these innate characteristics, she needed help — and that where a coach comes in.

Beth McCaw

“Frankly, my coach, Shannon Kiser, saved by life and continues to do that,” McCaw said. “Frequently overwhelmed, I’d think, ‘I have no idea what I’m doing.’ But then, thanks be to God, I’d realize I have a coaching session coming up.”

Kiser, who calls McCaw “very coachable,” helped keep her focused by asking, “What is most important to the mission of the community now?”

“Once I can answer that, I can do what is necessary,” says McCaw.

Calling coaching “the stabilizing force” during the roller-coaster of her first year leading the worshiping community, McCaw said she’s amazed how a coach brings the answers of what to do next to the surface.

“It was trial by fire,” she says. “The fact is, I didn’t start it. I just jumped on it as it went by.”

Having just started at Southminster Presbyterian Church, a small congregation in Nashville, Tenn., she was asked to come to a meeting of parents involved in a childcare center that the church’s session had reluctantly decided to close.  McCaw quickly realized the parents would do anything to keep the center open.

“What I saw was an intentional community committed to a cause,” she said, “and I became an interpreter of sorts between the older congregants and the young families.”

As McCaw continued to coordinate discussions, parents in the group provided hours of help and expertise to get the center reorganized and up and running smoothly. When Southminister’s session saw their desire and commitment, the childcare center received a reprieve.

Excited about the emerging relationships that came from that experience, McCaw began to talk with childcare parents about forming a new kind of community. As she explored what was happening in people’s personal and spiritual lives, she invited a small group to dream with her about what church could be.

Before she knew it, McGaw had the beginnings of Telos at Southminster. In ancient Greek, “telos” means “purpose” or “wholeness.”

Members of the Telos at Southminster new worshiping community bag green beans for a gleaning ministry in their Nashville, Tenn., neighborhood. (Photo courtesy of Telos at Southminster)

“Besides excitement, I was immediately struck by fear — the fear of not knowing what to do,” McCaw said. “Thank goodness I had a Shannon to talk with.”

It’s all part of a coach’s job, Kiser said.

“One of the coach’s roles is to help manage the uncertainty and even fear that comes with leading a worshiping community so that it doesn’t drive mission,” says Kiser. “Beth delves into the complexity of mission and continually moves forward — and because of this, her worshiping community continues to build momentum.”

Lately McCaw is confronting another fear — her hesitancy to talk about money.  She knows that in order to sustain the community, she needs to be able to help people understand that giving is important — not only for continuing the community’s mission, but for the spiritual health of its members.

“Coaching helped me see that while I can’t control how much money is given, I can determine what is being done to encourage generosity,” she says. “I’ve figured out a way to talk about money without begging or selling. Now, each time we worship we ask the question, ‘Where will you be generous in the coming week?’”

McCaw keeps a sticky note at her desk where every day she sees this verse from Isaiah 30:21: “And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’”  

“Shannon is very often that voice, helping me to know where to put my feet down next,” says McCaw. “I can’t imagine doing this kind of work without a coach.”

Jeff Eddings, associate for the 1001 Coaching Network, says he hears time and again from leaders like McCaw how much coaching means to them — by providing a place of assurance, connection and encouragement.

“It helps them discover the truth that God is equipping and guiding them in this work,” Eddings said.

Jon Moore is mission engagement adviser for 1001 New Worshiping Communities. Paul Seebeck of Presbyterian News Service contributed to this story.

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