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Hope for Discouraged Pastors


As a group, pastors typically dream big, God-sized dreams for their ministry and their people. They hold on to the hope that one day the people they serve and lead will be transformed spiritually. Unfortunately they also often take personal responsibility for the spiritual growth of others. These factors often combine to create a sense of deep disappointment – even failure – when reality doesn’t seem to line up with their dreams and expectations.

If you are in ministry then you have tasted discouragement.

Joe Donaldson Coaching helps discouraged pastors enjoy greater effectiveness, passion, insight and clarity in ministry. Together we will design a coaching series around your area of greatest need. Here are a few examples:

  1. Finding Your Joy Again
  2. Launching New Ministries
  3. Vision Alignment
  4. Staying Sharp
  5. Navigating Transitions

Each coaching series will include personal assessment, ministry alignment, specific action plans, and ongoing follow-up. Imagine what this season of ministry could look like if you had an experienced, trusted confidant to help guide you along the way!

I am an experienced pastor (as well as a trained and certified coach) who is uniquely qualified to help you enjoy greater effectiveness, passion, insight, and clarity in your ministry. Contact me here and let’s explore what that could look like for you!



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Closing the Gap


  • You’re facing a major decision you’ve wrestled with for weeks – maybe even months – and you’re still uncertain which way to go. 
  • You’ve been attempting to achieve a particular goal but no matter what you do you’re no closer to attaining that goal than when you started.
  • You seem to be stuck in a Ground-Hog-Day loop repeating the same mistakes day after day after day.

The distance between where you are and where you want to be is “the gap.” This gap looks different for different people. Some are fairly small and take just a little more effort to cross. Other gaps are huge and will take some pretty intense work to successfully navigate. Either way you’re going to need some help closing the gap.

Regardless of size, coaching is the best way to close the gap. With a coach you will set a course and begin to take specific steps toward your goal. With each coaching conversation you will begin to see real, measurable progress as the gap begins to shrink. Each step of the way you are the one identifying the best “next step” along your journey. Your coach will guide you with questions to bring clarity, effectiveness, and momentum to your steps but you decide which steps to take and whether you will walk, run, or leap forward! You will experience a new sense of accomplishment once you close the gap and step back to celebrate your much-earned success.

What’s the gap in your life?

Message me for a complimentary coaching conversation and begin taking steps to close the gap today.

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the epic coaching partnership

At epic coaching we join you on your journey toward your destination – whether it’s accomplishing what you want to accomplish or becoming the person you want to become.  The epic coaching  partnership can be illustrated using the four letters of the word “epic.”

First, we explore  together to discover where you are and where you want to go. It may be a long overdue personal achievement or developing a healthy practice or habit. We will take the time to explore a variety of potential destinations before settling on the one that is most important to you today.

Next we will prepare for the journey, by considering what resources you will need to move toward your destination. What tools do you need to develop or what obstacles do you need to consider before heading out? Being prepared for the journey will help you stay on track.

Now that you are ready to start your journey we will identify what the next steps are. Which path will you take? What are the mileposts along the way that you can use to check your progress and help you stay on course? How quickly do you want to get there?

Finally, we will celebrate your progress along the journey and when you reach your destination!

It’s a simple – but powerful – process that will help you make forward progress in life. Through epic coaching you can get where you want to go and become who you want to become. It’s been said, “If you want to go faster, go alone. If you want to go farther, go together.” (African proverb)

What journey are you on? Let epic coaching  partner with you to explore, prepare, identify, and celebrate your journey! Contact me below and let’s get the conversation started.

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Subway’s “Life Coach” Fail

subway life coachHave you seen Subway’s latest commercial? The one that features a guy in a football helmet who says he has a life coach? Whenever he starts to eat, drink, or do something that threatens his success at achieving his weight loss goals the life coach barks orders to him (through a conveniently located headset in his helmet) to keep him on the right path. There is a little humor here but it is a total failure at identifying what a life coach actually does! It’s a great example of one who leads by telling – which is the exact opposite of what a good coach does.

A good coach helps you identify the goals, behaviors, and results that are important to you and your personal, relational, and professional growth and development. A good coach helps you discover the best path forward for you and what the next few steps look like. Through that process you will explore potential obstacles, resources, and motivations to ensure your success. Take note of those italicized words: identify, discover, explore. They are words that describe forward progress on the journey you are taking. And take notice of who is taking the journey – it’s you! Your coach doesn’t tell you which path to take or how to take the next step. That’s your call. In the end you will find that you get to your personal destination both faster and better with the solutions, methods, and steps that you design.

Sorry Subway, but you got this one wrong.

If you would like to know more about how you could benefit from good coaching I invite you to explore my blog – epic coaching – or just reply to this post. I offer a limited number of complimentary, no-obligation coaching sessions each month where you can see if coaching is right for you. Contact me here and let’s start the conversation!


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The Best Coaching Question I’ve Ever Been Asked!

question mark

Two years ago I was having a conversation with a friend. As we were talking about a challenge I was having in ministry he asked me a question that I consider to be the best coaching question I’ve ever been asked. I use it often – but sparingly. In fact, I used it today. Here it is:

“When you pray about this, what do you hear God telling you?”

Even as you read this I’m guessing you responded with something like an, “Ahhhhhh!” and you immediately recognize the multi-faceted impact of this question. It contains at least three expectations:

  1. An expectation that the person being coached prays and values conversing with God.
  2. An expectation that prayer is two-way and that one will hear from God through prayer.
  3. An expectation that the person being coached has already spent time praying about this issue.

As a christian ministry leader (pastor) everyone I coach is also a Christian and many are ministry leaders. For me, these are reasonable expectations to hold when I and/or the person I am coaching identifies as a Christian, but even people with other spiritual beliefs could benefit from it.

Whenever I ask the “When you pray” question the response is always the same. After a brief pause they say, “Hmmm. Good question!” What follows varies. Sometimes there is an admission of little or no prayer about the issue. Other times there is an expression of uncertainty or a desire for more clarity in what they are hearing from God. In just about every case there is a renewed commitment to prayer. Perhaps we collectively realize that the quote from Oswald Chambers is accurate, “We tend to use prayer as a last resort, but God wants it to be our first line of defense.”

Let me say that I never lead with this question! It’s not a short-cut. When I coach I ask questions that help the coachee identify the topic, develop awareness of the issues that influence the topic, and discover meaningful solutions. I try to ask this question only when I sense that the coachee appears to be stuck or is not considering the impact their spiritual beliefs can bring to the conversation. And I find that it’s a great question to frequently ask myself!

I enjoy coaching ministry leaders. Some are struggling to get things done or to implement a new approach. Others are wrestling with vision and call. Many are in some type of transition. If that’s you we should talk. I offer no-cost, no-obligation initial consults. From there you can decide if coaching is a good fit for you. Contact me and let’s get the conversation started.

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Why Telling People What to Do Doesn’t Work



Actually, there’s a simple way to prove that telling people what to do doesn’t work. Here it is: Do you like being told what to do? Are you more likely to make a change if you’re told to do something or if you choose to implement that change on your own? In reality, no one likes being told what to do. And while we might comply with a demand that’s made of us, it will rarely result in any lasting change.

There’s some pretty good science to explain why this is true. According to an article by David Rock in the Neuro Leadership Journal the approach (reward) – avoid (threat) response is a reflexive activity that occurs unconsciously and automatically.  We quickly perceive situations and stimuli as containing either a threat or a reward. Not surprisingly, the way we perceive those situations determines whether we engage or we avoid. According to Rock, “Engagement is a state of being willing to do difficult things, take risks, to think deeply about issues and develop new solutions.” (emphasis added). That’s the goal of coaching!

In the coaching conversation the person being coached is guided toward a reward-engagement response by asking non-threatening questions which develop awareness and stimulate growth and action. The coach will avoid judgmental questions, leading questions, or what I call “test questions” where there is only one correct answer. Questions like these will result in an involuntary threat-avoidance response.  Someone who asks questions like these neither understands basic human behavior nor practices good coaching techniques. Just ask someone who has received good coaching and they’ll tell you: there’s one reason why coaching works – the questions! Not your basic run-of-the-mill yes/no questions or those there’s-only-one-right-answer questions or I’m-the-boss-and-I-want-an-answer-right-now type questions. A good coach asks questions that help you discover more about yourself and more about the journey you are on – “to think deeply about issues and develop new solutions!”

That’s why I enjoy being a coach! I get to ask the type of questions that help people become more engaged in the issues that matter most to them and to discover new pathways of success, effectiveness, and enjoyment in the pursuit of those life issues. If that sounds helpful to you, contact me and let’s start the conversation.

I offer a limited number of complimentary introductory coaching sessions each month. Contact me here about scheduling a session with you.

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What Charlie the dog Taught Me about Coaching!

Version 2Every summer we spend a week in our daughter and son-in-law’s home in Portland watching their dog while they take a family vacation. It’s really a win-win for everyone – except for Charlie! He’s a pretty chill dog – just lays around most of the time – but he can’t be trusted to be left alone in the house. So whenever we leave Charlie needs to be kenneled. Would you be surprised if I told you Charlie doesn’t like the kennel? Getting him into the kennel is a real challenge. It takes several commands, some begging, raised voices, and maybe a bribe or two!

This past summer I had a breakthrough. Charlie didn’t respond well as I stood at the destination and told him what to do, or when I stood several feet away pointing to the kennel and told Charlie to get in. So I tried something different: I walked up to the dog, stood next to him, and walked alongside him all the way to the kennel!  It worked!

In most areas of life we have people telling us what to do, where we need to be, and how to get there. In effect, we’re being commanded to “get in the kennel” when we really don’t want to! Eventually we surrender to this command and walk slowly into our own little prison with our tail between our legs! We don’t want to go there, we’re not going to enjoy being there, and we can’t wait to get out. The next time we’re supposed “get in the kennel” the process has to be repeated all over.

There’s a better way.

With coaching the coach walks alongside the person being coached, helping them discover the best process for them to get to their desired destination. Coaching works because the person being coached gets to decide the where, what, when, how, why, and who of the journey. No one is pointing to the destination and ordering you to go there. No one is raising their voices and barking commands at you. Instead, the coach functions as a guide who listens well and asks questions that aid your own personal discovery. In the end you will have designed the best next step for you along your journey.

Doesn’t that sound like a better way? It is. And there are thousands upon thousands of people who have discovered that coaching is a much better way to identify – and achieve – life’s next steps! I offer a limited number of no-obligation introductory sessions each month for people who want to give coaching a test-drive. Contact me and let’s start the conversation!

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Coaching In Ministry

coaching in ministryThere is no question that the ministry landscape is undergoing significant change. If you went to seminary more than 10 years ago the nuts-and-bolts ministry training you received is becoming less relevant and less effective with each passing year. People’s engagement with the local church in terms of  attendance, serving, and giving no longer resembles the “twice on Sunday and once on Wednesday,” tithing-multiple-committee-member model from just a decade or two ago. Churches seem to be universally challenged with how to guide people toward greater ministry engagement. For many of those churches they need look no further than how they equip and empower their volunteers and ministry leaders toward meaningful ministry. In Coaching In Ministry, coaching pioneer Keith Webb charts a course that will help ministry leaders navigate this changing landscape.

I have received significant training and encouragement through Keith’s training programs and his previous work – The COACH Model for Christian Leaders. He has quickly become my primary resource for all things coach related. His latest book continues to teach, challenge, and clarify my understanding and use of coaching in ministry. I highly recommend Coaching in Ministry to anyone involved in ministry leadership. (Full Disclosure: Keith Webb provided me a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)

Keith begins this short book with a concise working definition of coaching:

“an ongoing intentional conversation that empowers a person or group to fully live out God’s calling.” (p. 21)

He further explains:

“Coaching focuses on people’s learning rather than us teaching. Coachees (those who are coached) are in the driver’s seat. They choose their own goals, reflect deeply on their current situation, think through their options, and decide their next steps. All the while, the coach actively listens and asks reflective questions, supportively challenging limited beliefs and behaviors.” (pp 21-22)

Later Keith describes coaching as,

“a non-directive conversation in which the coach asks a person questions to prompt reflection into what God is saying to that person. The coaching process empowers that person to develop custom solutions for his or her problems or goals.” (p. 37)

One of the primary strengths of Coaching In Ministry is that it can serve as an introduction and call-to-action for the importance of coaching in ministry. I will order several copies to share with my staff colleagues and board members. I will also use this book when inviting ministry leaders to consider my coaching services. If you are unfamiliar with coaching (or think you already know what coaching is) reading Coaching in Ministry will bring further clarity to the immense value of coaching.

Unfortunately, many leaders still operate under the disingenuous definition of management as ‘the art of getting people to do what you want them to do while thinking it was their idea!’ Many of those same leaders think that coaching is ‘asking questions until you get the coachee to give you the answer you want!’ The lack of authenticity in both of these approaches destroys any potential for long-lasting growth and effective leadership development.

It is so much more fulfilling to hear a coachee formulate a solution to a challenge they are facing that they thought of themselves rather than reluctantly agreeing to try the solution you gave them! Coaching has enabled me to equip more people for effective ministry than any training program, class, or leadership development program I have ever used. Keith clearly and concisely establishes a solid foundation for biblical coaching that honors God, equips and empowers the coachee, and strengthens the church.

Finally, Coaching In Ministry will introduce you to: The Question That Moves People to Action. Keith claims this one question will,

“help get people into action that is non-threatening and open enough to work in just about any situation.” (p.78)

But you will have to read the book yourself to find out what that question is. I think it’s well worth the modest price of the book!

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Five Reasons to Start Coaching NOW!

coaching image

What? Start something as significant as coaching now? Just a we’re about to enter the busyness of the holiday season? Why not wait until after the first of the year?

Here are five reasons why today is absolutely the best time to start coaching:


  1. If you won’t start now you’re unlikely to start later. Putting things off until “the time is right” is a fools errand! The time is never right. There will always be distractions and busy schedules. By starting coaching now you will be able to get control of your life before the New Year starts. Actually, it’s this kind of “I’ll just wait until….” thinking is a strong indicator that getting a coach is imperative!
  2. It will give you a head start on those elusive New Year’s resolutions. How successful have you been in the past in making headway on your goals and resolutions? Like losing a few pounds, or changing your career, or finally getting control of your schedule? Would you like next year to be different? Initiating conversations with a coach now will permit you to put the actions into motion that will allow you to achieve the goals you’ve always hoped for.
  3. Coach’s Schedules Fill-Up In January. Beginning January 2, coach’s phones will start ringing and their email in-boxes will start overflowing. After the annual ritual of introspection leaves people wanting more, everyone will start looking for a way forward. Some of them will contact a coach. You can beat the rush and secure your place on their schedules by getting signed-up now. Even as I write this I am near my upper limit on my coaching load. Once that fills I won’t have openings for at least six months.
  4. It Will Change Your Storyline. Right now your story is riddled with enough failed attempts at getting things done to fill that junk drawer in your kitchen. How different would your life be if that were to change? Spending time with a coach will help make those changes a reality. Before you know it you will be telling all of your friends how great it feels to finally overcome those challenges and complete those tasks that have been unfinished for way too long.  Let that be your story!
  5. Doing nothing is not an option. If you don’t get started – and get started now – the odds are pretty good that next year at this time you will come across another article like this one and realize that nothing has changed. In fact, you might have even made a few steps backwards instead of moving forward. That’s just no good. Take that first step. And do it now!

Contact me today and let’s get the conversation started.

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4 Ways Coaching Is Like Good Jazz!

optimized-maxW950-jazz4I started playing the trumpet 50 years ago! While I’m a better classical trumpet player (I prefer playing from sheet music), I’ve always liked listening to jazz. It’s one of the truly American music forms. Recently, I discovered that listening to jazz actually makes me a better coach. Here’s how.

Improv. In jazz the melody is always there but sometimes it’s hidden behind a little free improvisation. You’re never really sure where the music is going because the musician doesn’t really know either! He’s free to explore different combinations, progressions, and resolutions. Every version of the song is different. Coaching conversations are very similar. There is a main focus to the conversation but there is freedom to explore combinations and the final resolution will reflect the uniqueness of the person being coached. No two conversations are the same.

Players. Most jazz groups are small – individuals, duets, trios, 5-piece, etc. While there are big jazz bands some of the best jazz sound comes from very small groups. Coaching takes advantage of the uniqueness of the individual to create successful pathways and solutions. In christian coaching that duet between the coach and the person-being-coached includes the Holy Spirit – the perfect 3-piece combo!

Movement. There are times while listening to jazz that you just have to move along with the music. You might tap a finger, a foot, or even both feet! There’s no reason to fight it. Enjoy the beauty of the rhythm and harmonies in the moment. Close your eyes if you want to. In coaching we refer to this as “dancing in the moment.” It’s what happens when the person-being-coached “leads” into new territory with a reply to a question and the coach “follows” his or her lead with more questions. The conversation is not choreographed – it happens with both spontaneity and purposefulness – and movement is created.

Resolution. Every piece of jazz ends a bit differently but most often there is a sense of resolution that just feels right. Often it evokes a nod and a smile. Coaching can evoke much the same response. A sense of resolution. A nod of agreement and direction. A smile that a plan is in place that will bring about change and growth – even anticipation for the next set (coaching conversation).

Improv. Players. Movement. Resolution – all key elements of a good jazz selection and of a good coaching session. Listening to jazz is making me a better coach!

Ready to move into your own coaching conversation? Contact me today. Let’s get started!

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Four Secrets of Successful Ministry Leaders

Leaders-Managing-CrisisLet’s face it. No matter how good we think we are as leaders we all know we can do better. Here are four quick secrets that will unlock your leadership:

1) Take Risks. Successful ministry leaders take risks. Church planter/Lead Pastor Marlan Mincks says, “What God has for us is never realized in safety. It’s only realized in risk.” You can sit around and wait for ever thing to fall in place on it’s own or you can take a risk and go for it! I asked an “elephant in the room” question at a board of directors meeting once that ended up with us relocating our ministry center from Chicago to Orlando. If I’d kept my mouth shut the opportunity to move would have been lost for good.

2) Read. Pastor Rick Warren writes, “If you want to be a growing leader…keep reading. It’s the only way to stay out front.” [Read More] The two best book I’ve read in recent months are “Overrated” by Eugene Cho because it challenged my views of missions and justice [Review] and “What Radical Husbands Do” by Regi Campbell because of its clarity and directness in my most important leadership role.

3) Get assessed. Succesful ministry leaders invite assessment of their ministry and leadership skills. Author David Olson has created a FREE online leadership assessment that accompanies his book: Discovering Your Leadership Style. It’s worth the 5 minutes of your time. sixstyles.org
4) Get Coached. Neil Tibbots of Leadership On-Ramp ranks the coaching of church planters as even more important than their assessment. An assessed but uncoached church planter is unlikely to successfully plant a church. A good coach can help you develop as a leader and chart a course toward continued ministry success.
Contact me today and let me help you get started making significant progress toward unlocking these secrets in your own ministry.
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Top Ten Reasons to Get a Coach

Don’t think you need a coach? Think again! Here are ten reasons why you should get a coach:

10. Your boss (or your spouse) told you so!
Ok. So this one is not very subtle! When someone important in your life tells you to get help they mean it! You may not see the value in getting coached yet but you should trust their advice (or plea!) and call a coach today.

9. You were passed over for a promotion…again!
Let’s see if we can’t figure out together why this keeps happening. It might be related to #10 (see above) or #2 through #8 (see below). Taking responsibility for your own direction and development is a great outcome of coaching.

8. You’re in a performance loop.
Does your life remind you of the movie “Groundhog Day?” Have you been down this road before repeating the same tasks and mistakes? epic coaching can help you break out of the loop.

7. You keep hitting the wall.
Different from a performance loop (see #8 above) you just can’t seem to get past a certain point. You’ve tried different tactics but there just doesn’t seem anyway over, around, under, or through that wall. A fresh conversation with a good coach can help you discover some fresh and effective ways to get past that wall.

6. You struggle with achieving an elusive goal.
You understand the importance of setting goals but there are one or more goals that seem to be just beyond your reach. A coach can help you set smart goals that will produce the results that you want.

5. You have poor follow-through.
Every year you set new goals. Every month you review those goals and determine to make progress toward achieving them – except that the goals haven’t really changed in years. A coach can help you turn those goals into actions so that you can start making progress.

4. You don’t even know where to start!
While you’ve identified the problem you don’t have any clue where to start in tackling the problem. Coaching is an intentional conversation that will help you identify the steps that will be most helpful for you.

3. You lack purpose or direction.
You have a sense that something is not quite right and that things could be better but beyond that it’s kind of fuzzy. If you would like to bring some clarity to your life then talk with a coach.

2. You want something more.
You are ready to move forward and to take the next step. You’ve been in this rut for far too long and it’s time to take action! This is where coaching pays huge dividends. A coach will help you get where you want to go – faster!

1. It works!
Coaching works because no one is telling you what to do or how to do it! The coaching conversation focuses on the future and on actively achieving the goals that you have set. Coaching gets the results that you want.

Ready to talk to a coach?  I can help you get started. Contact me and let’s start the conversation!

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Let’s Talk About Coaching!

Are you looking for a coach? Do you know what a coach does and what you can expect in a coaching relationship? Do you know the difference between coaching, consulting,counseling, and mentoring? Here are some answers to those questions.

First some definitions. According to the International Coach Federation (ICF), coaching is defined as:

“partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”

Creative Results Management (CRM) defines coaching this way:

“Christian coaching is an on-going intentional conversation that empowers a person or group to fully live out God’s calling.”

And Linda Miller and Chad Hall submit this definition in their book, Coaching for Christian Leaders:

“Christian coaching is a focused Christ-centered relationship that cultivates a person’s sustained growth and action.”

This simple chart might help you understand the difference between coaching, consulting, counseling, and mentoring.

If this description of coaching sounds interesting to you I invite you to contact me. I’d be happy to explore with you how epic coaching can help you get unstuck and go further faster.

Downloadable version of chart:  coaching chart

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The COACH Model – A Discipleship Tool

In a previous post I wrote about the start of my journey into coaching. In that post I reviewed “Coaching 101” from CoachNet. As I talked with people about coaching I was referred by David DeVries to CRM and their COACH Model. What I have found is an organization and system that appears to be exactly what I am looking for! One strength is that they offer a local training that is longer (5 days instead of 2) for half the price! The process could move me toward certification within a year.

The COACH Model is based on this definition of coaching: Coaching is an intentional conversation that empowers a person or group to fully live out God’s calling. (p. 28)

Coaching is so much more than a management fad or trend. It guides a person along a path of self-discovery to take specific steps toward effectively achieving their goals. It’s not teaching, instructing, or even nudging people toward a predetermined outcome. Coaching is completely centered on the coachee (the one being coached) and not on the background or expertise of the coach. I plan to use coaching as a discipleship tool to help people go deeper in their relationship with Jesus and to equip ministry leaders become more effective in their ministries.

The COACH Model by Keith Webb lays out an intuitive coaching process from Connect (C) to Highlights (H). The rest of the process is Outcome (O), Awareness (A), and Course (C). Here’s a partial description of each from pp 43-44:

C is for Connect – First, connecting to the person you are talky with to build rapport and trust; and second, following-up on action steps from your previous coaching conversation.

O is for outcome – Outcome is the intended result the coachee would like to achieve during the conversation.

A is for awareness – Awareness is a reflective dialogue intended to produce discoveries, insights, and increased perspective for the coachee.

C is for course – Course puts feet to insights and discoveries by helping the coachee create action steps.

H is for highlights – Highlights focus on reviewing the parts of the conversation that the coach found most meaningful.

Throughout the book Webb fully develops each of the five components of the COACH Model with conversational examples, sample questions, and plenty of instruction.

As I read through The COACH Model I found stuff that I can put to immediate use with the guys I am coaching. I highlighted enough text that I quickly realized that this would be a book that I would want to read more than once. It is very content-rich and I want to make sure that I glean as much as I can from it in order to provide meaningful coaching conversations with those I coach.

If you have interest in developing your coaching skills, The COACH Model by Keith Webb is a great tool to help you achieve that goal. If you are a second chair leader I would strongly encourage you to look into coaching as an important tool for your toolbox. I believe that coaching will help me become a better men’s ministry leader and will be a valuable tool for many years in a variety of life and ministry applications.