For six years my husband has been an aspiring gardener. When we moved to rural New Jersey (yes, such a thing exists) he was inspired by the local farms to start a family vegetable garden. Every year, he and our children prepare the same patch of lawn, plant some seeds, and then we all wait to see what survives.
Our children get to choose the seeds. Their choices are largely dictated by what looks the most interesting rather than what grows well in the rocky clay soil native to our area. Sunflowers, popcorn, pumpkins, and tomatoes all pop up in early April. But, so far, the team has been disappointed by a less than stellar fall harvest. Last year, one of the kids asked my husband, “Dad, do you even know what you’re doing?”
Desperate to preserve the goodwill of his assistant gardeners, he paused for a minute and said, “Not at all! But isn’t this fun?”
And the answer he got back was, “NO! It’s really hard!”
Ministry can be a lot like gardening. There are times when we work hard, investing so much, only to feel like there’s not much to show for all that we’ve done.
Anne Lamott says, “We are Easter Christians living in a Good Friday World.”
And many of us working in churches have lived that reality in a new way during the last two years. We know and talk about God being alive and at work in our world. But it’s not always clear or apparent what God is doing. We know and believe the seeds of new life have been sown. Deep in the soil those roots are growing. But there is still a lot of work to do before those roots become a plant that bears fruit.
As people of faith, our calling is to find these seeds God has planted—both in our lives and in the institutions we serve—and help them take root and grow. But sometimes, we could use a little help.
Spiritual direction and coaching are both great options when it comes to navigating the challenges and changes that the seasons of life will bring. Both types of support have their unique strengths and can actually work quite well together when simultaneously in place.
Spiritual Direction is about Discernment
People often seek spiritual direction during a time in life when they have to make a big decision. Maybe you’re considering changing careers or making a big move. Setting aside time to prayerfully reflect on your choices can be extremely helpful. It can make you feel like you’ve done everything you can to make a choice well. A spiritual director will help you listen deeply to God’s prayer for you in the big and the small. Spiritual direction impacts our everyday lives and everyday choices.
Coaching is about Development
Partnering with a coach often helps people grow as individuals and professionals. In ministry, engaging a coach can be a great opportunity to get input and feedback from a voice outside of your typical collection of colleagues and parishioners. Coaches provide reliable support and accountability at a variety of stages in our lives. They can help us identify and build skills that help us and our ministries flourish.
Spiritual Direction is about Relationships
It’s not just about sitting in a quiet place praying by yourself. Spiritual direction grounds your interaction with the world and everyone you meet in prayer. When you partner with a director, you partner with someone who is there to be your support and guide. They help you think through what’s going on in your life and what the thoughts and feelings that bubble up inside might mean. Spiritual directors can also give you tools (prayer practices, books to read, etc.) to grow a deeper faith and to build healthy relationships.
Coaching is about Outcomes
Personal coaches work with their clients to identify goals and develop criteria useful for measuring progress towards those goals. This work can range from focusing on a particular project to giving attention to a broader target, such as developing your effectiveness as a leader. The experience and resources a coach can offer may also help you be proactive about challenges that could arise after your time together.
Spiritual Direction is about Transformation
Author Rose Mary Dougherty says that when it comes to decision making, the outcome is much less significant than the process itself. Spiritual direction embraces that spirit by focusing less on solving problems and fixing things. Instead, it focuses more on who God is calling us to be in each moment or situation. A spiritual director will be more attentive to your transformation than accomplishing tasks.
Coaching is Task-Oriented
Conversely, coaches generally focus on specific needs or issues rather than taking a broad view of an individual. From building or improving a ministry at your church to navigating a challenging situation with a fellow staff member, a coach will help you think through all the possibilities, opportunities, and challenges, then create a plan with you. The coaching process typically begins with a diagnostic analysis that pinpoints the needs of you or your ministry. Then, it works to address those, specifically.
The last two years have been dizzying and disorienting for pretty much everyone. The challenges and changes the pandemic brought have forced churches, ministers, and nonprofits to make some really big changes and to do so quickly. As we all continue to find our way forward in 2022, I hope this guide helps you discern who could be a good support for you and your ministry. And if you’d like help discerning your next step, we’d love to connect in a free 30-minute call.