Over the last five years of pastoral ministry I cannot count the number of times a man with a card passed his information to me about coaching me in leadership. As a pastor who pulls his Bible out in a public place — for instance a cafe like Starbucks or Panera — I’m an instant target for those who are looking to coach others. But rarely have these people ever met the litmus test I give for Christian Leadership Goo-Roos.
It’s a five question process that I use to measure whether the person is qualified to lead not just me but also others. On more than one occasion, I’ve asked this person: how long have you been doing this? Usually, I hear that they just started. That’s a red flag, but it’s a common one.
Let me tell you, if you can’t answer these five questions for the person you wish to coach, then you probably shouldn’t coach that person. If you can’t answer these questions at all, then you might want to rethink being a self-proclaimed Christian leadership goo-roo. They really are few and far between.
Here are my five questions with explanations:
1) Have You Led Longer Than I?
Though I’ve only been a full-time pastor for five years, I’ve served in Christian Leadership for fifteen years over all. I’ve served in a number of capacities. I served as the GM of Campus Dining Services at Dallas Seminary for five years while putting myself through seminary. Meanwhile, I functioned as a ministry head of a Jr. High Youth Ministry for five years and completed a number of internships now over my career.
I’m not trying to toot my own horn. Though Christian leadership is part of my DNA, I know I’m a limping leader. So much so that I wouldn’t pretend to say that I’m a goo-roo in leadership. I look to men like Al Mohler — who served as an editorial director and now as the President of the largest seminary in the world — to mentor me in leadership. I look for people with much greater capacity to lead, like Matt Perman, who is an expert in productivity.
If that’s the case for a guy who’s been leading at some capacity for fifteen years, then I think any person who intends to create a career out of Christian leadership consultation should think long and carefully about this commitment.
Age really doesn’t have anything to do with this. Perman is much younger, maybe only a few years older than I, whereas, Mohler is much more mature than either Perman or I. What counts is how long you’ve been leading and at what capacity.
If you’ve been a Christian Leader for fewer than five years and have not led a large organization, then you might not be the leadership goo-roo you think you are.
2) Are You Educated?
If you’re coaching someone in leadership, I’d like to think you have a Master of Arts or maybe even a Doctorate of Ministry in this discipline. That seems to be a reasonable expectation. These days seminaries have leadership tracks in their graduate programs. I still don’t really know what that means, and if I ever would have studied that track in graduate level education. But these leadership tracks exist; those who think that leadership is their gig should consider pursuing these educational tracks.
Regardless of proper education, leadership goo-roos should be widely read and studied in the area of leadership. If they don’t know who Robert Clinton is, I’d be concerned. At the same time, reading John Maxwell, Bill Hybels, Andy Stanley, Al Mohler, and Matt Perman does not necessarily make you a leader. I’ve read all those books, and like I said, I’m a limping leader at best. Longevity and presence in leadership is far more critical than reading a few books.
3) Are You Still Leading?
Leading longer and being more educated is big, but nothing is bigger than still leading. I’m always leary of consultants who are not presently leading. You have to be exceptional as a leader or in a unique transition to successfully make a long or short-term career as a leadership coach. If coaching is not something you are doing on the side, but it is your full-time gig, then you might be out of the leadership game. This, in my mind, makes you not qualified to coach leaders.
However, if you’re like my pastor, who is committed to coaching young leaders, while he pastors, then you might be the right kind of coach. That’s exactly why I’m I am doing my church planting internship where I’m doing it; Joe Thorn is the right kind of leader for me.
4) Are You Asking for a Fee?
I think coaching leaders is something leaders do, and charging a fee is not the way to do it. Older pastors should just lead younger pastors. Older non-for-prof leaders should just lead younger non-for-prof leaders. Leadership training needs to be more organic and less mechanic.
If someone walked up to me tomorrow and said, “Hey you served in youth ministry for a baker’s dozen years. Would you coach me in youth ministry?” I wouldn’t hesitate to exuberantly say, “Yes!”, and to do it for free. Of course, I’ve only got time to do one or two of those, which is precisely what my pastor does himself.
Few people have the time to sit down with a leadership coach let alone write a check to one as well. Most of us can build in a little margin to read a $10 book like Leaders Who Last by Dave Craft, Conviction to Lead by Al Mohler, or What’s Best Next by Matt Perman. Not many of us have $50-100 to cough up for a half-hour coffee with someone, especially if that person spends more time just chatting it up then focusing on leadership development.
5) What Is Your Leadership Presence?
Are you known publicly for leadership. Do you have a thriving, active multi-platform social media network? Do you have a written presence? Do you blog? Do you contribute to recognized Christian print or digital media? Do you go to conferences and keep up with what is going on not just in your niche of leadership but also the wider evangelical cultural environ? If I went to conferences and talked to my friends about you, would you be a known commodity? What would people say?
These are important considerations to ascertain whether a person is a qualified Christian leadership goo-roo.
Quite honestly, anyone can walk into a room or sit across the table from you with sticky notes, a marker board, and help you chart out your leadership or organizational vision. Anyone who has read a book or two can do this. It doesn’t take much to be a self-proclaimed leadership goo-roo.
Obviously, these metrics that I’ve used for myself are pretty superficial. But that’s how it goes at first. A leader’s character and credibility is measured over time. Up until that time passes, I have to lean on other’s words. But I’m just warning you, very few people are truly qualified to make a career out of being a Christian leadership consultant. Anyone can print up some business cards on Vista Print and start a wordpress site, few can make it last.
In 2013, during my year of transition from youth ministry into church planting, I met Dave Jewitt. Dave is a local Christian leader and coach in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He met all of my criteria.
He coached me through his curriculum, Your One Degree. He’s created a network of coaches, men who volunteer to lead other men to develop biblical purpose. Jewitt, though not so much trying to help people lead, as he helps people find their one purpose, played an invaluable role in my life for a few months. I’m forever grateful for him, and his generosity to give time and interest in a young leader.
Dave is able to do what he does because he has a board of directors that fully fund his ministry. He’s been elevated to his role of leadership because he selflessly helped many men over the course of twenty years. Those men give him the freedom to shine at what he does.
Those kind of leadership coaches are rare. There is certainly a place for them in Christian culture. But for the most part, all us other limping leaders need to create margin and capacity to develop leaders as we go. That’s the best way that we’ll help the next generation of Christian leaders.