Nov 07, 2016


How Coaching Turns Everything Upside Down

Sammy Joo of #NoCampusLeft shares how powerful ministry coaching can transform and unlock the potential of others.

Visiting with David, I expected to learn from his vast expertise in ministry that decades of leadership had afforded him.  Having worked with countless pastors as they walked through difficult circumstances and conflicts, he was a wise, old sage of sorts.  But instead of telling me all these things he had learned, David asked me a series of questions, and I was taken aback.

I was born and grew up in Korea. Not all Koreans, but most Koreans grow up in a hierarchical culture where the experts tell the rest of us what to do.  For example, in a public school, 40-50 students study in one classroom listening to one teacher. This teacher never encourages students to ask questions during class. Only the teacher speaks, and students speak only when the teacher calls upon them. Churches were not so different from the schools. The senior pastor is the communicator. He teaches and preaches.  The congregation listens. This top-down communication was a norm for me. Pastors were professionals who needed to have all the answers for all the questions their congregations asked.

In 2014, I began to work with the Collegiate Partnership Team of the Baptist State Convention of NC and learned quickly about the practice of “coaching.” Under the vision of “No Campus Left,” my team has a goal to create a “reproducing gospel presence” in all 148 college campuses in North Carolina through equipping and mobilizing local churches.  Before I was introduced to coaching, I viewed my role as the “top-down-teacher.”  I attempted to simply tell other leaders what to do by asserting my expertise. But sitting across the table David Moore that day, his questions turned everything upside down.

  • Sammy, where do you think you are now in your life and ministry?
  • Where do you want to be?
  • Why do you think so?
  • How can you get there?

Honestly, I never thought about them until he asked me. The impact was great in two ways. First, for the first time in my life, I sat in the driver’s seat to assess and evaluate myself without depending on someone else’s expertise. Second, I owned the process of determining action steps and seeing them through, without depending on another person’s application. David helped me discover where I was and what actions I needed to take to move forward, all by simply asking a series of good questions.  Later, I found out what David did to me is called “coaching”.

I began to learn the value of asking good questions myself.  Now, as a coach, success is not determined by hearing, “Sammy, you are such an expert in this! We learned a lot from you.” Instead, it’s a win if I hear, “Sammy, thank you for the questions. You made me to think, and I am activating what I think.”

I met a pastor who came back from taking his college students to Uzbekistan on a summer mission trip. And he asked me, “Sammy, I want to pick your brain on this: How can I establish a discipleship system for my college students?” My old self embedded with “top-down communication” would have provided a quick answer with 5 steps to build a discipleship structure in his church. But instead of presenting my “expert ideas,” I asked him a couple questions: “What is your vision for discipleship? How has God already shaped your ministry for discipleship?” With these questions, the ball was in the pastor’s court. He was the one who carried the conversation, and I enjoyed listening to his stories, watching his excitement build. At the end of the conversation, I asked him “What action steps do you need to take?” Right away he told me what he would do and even outlined a timeline to execute the plan! I did not tell him what to do; he told himself what to do. He owned it!  All I did was ask him questions that helped him think and act. I could help him without having to be the expert.

I have four children. Gracie, the oldest one, is 16 years old.  When she was very little, I used to give her a lot of instructions. As a father, I was an expert in everything. I spoke to her, and she had to listen to me. This Fall, however, Gracie went off to a boarding school where she lives separated from her family. I often call her to check on her, particularly her walk with Christ. In the past, I was prone to giving her profound, hour-long lectures on what it means to walk with Christ. But instead of lecturing, I have begun to ask her questions like, “What do you think God is saying to you these days?” and “What makes you think so?” Though they are simple questions, they are not “leading questions.”  She is in the driver’s seat and gives her own answers. By asking questions, I learn from her, and I’m able to help her figure out where she needs to grow. The impact is amazing!

Instead of my action steps for Gracie – things like playing the piano at my church or reading the Bible at least 30 minutes each day – I’m hearing her say, “Dad, I want to go to Belize to help out children in low-income families because I feel God calling me to share His love,” or, “Dad, I’m coming home to help out with the fall festival at our church to reach refugee families for Christ.”  None of it is from me; they are her own action steps; and she owns them. Thanks to coaching, my daughter is taking ownership in her own spiritual journey with Christ.

I learned a valuable lesson through my coaching experience.  As a coach asking good questions, I can serve people in all different stages of life and ministry.  I no longer have to be the expert.

about the author

Chase Abner

Chase is the Lead Church Planting Catalyst in Iowa with the North American Mission Board and music geek.