A Word from Your BCC Team: You’re reading Part One in a four-part BCC Grace & Truth blog mini-series on biblical counseling and small group ministry. In today’s post, Pastor Garrett Higbee outlines 3 functions of the small group coach.
The Context Is the Local Church
In previous posts (see here for the most recent post), I have tried to contrast the difference between a church with a biblical counseling department and a church of biblical counselors. While a church that has a well trained staff or lay leaders who do biblical counseling is great, even better is a church that equips its entire body to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). That is what I mean by “Uncommon Community.”
Let me draw you a picture. This model of care only really works in a local church setting. What I’m envisioning is a house (1 Peter 2:5) with multiple levels where people with different levels of equipping can serve in their church and in the kingdom by caring for the hurting. The ground level is the basic “every believer” ministry where believers try to live out the one-another Scriptures together. Going up one level, you’d find the more directive level of care carried out by small group leaders. With some specific training for our small group leaders and very intentional interactions with the small group members, a lot of everyday problems are being dealt with at that level.
The Role of the Small Group Coach
When the small group leader finds the issues are too complex or they just need support, this is where the small group coach comes in—he or she would be yet another level up the stairs in the house. Coaches will usually have 3-5 small groups under their charge (see the interaction between Moses and Jethro in Exodus 18:17-27 to understand the criteria and need for levels of oversight and leadership responsibility). I want to focus on the coach’s role in our soul care model. We will leave the rest of the levels for another post. As we develop training for the small group coach, three critical skills and functions come into play.
Function 1: Coaching
As the name implies, this level of leader needs to be able to coach other leaders. Think about what a coach does. He does not go out on the field and run the play, and he does not physically show the leader how to make the play in the game. That should have already happened in the training phase of leader development or off the field as needed. No quarterback wants the coach coming out on the field during the game. The coach is very accessible but generally stays on the side lines. The coach sees the playing field, studies the opponent, and can call an audible if necessary. He “owns” the playbook but shares its contents freely, spending much of his time helping to develop, affirm, and refine skills in the leaders he cares for (2 Timothy 2:2).
Here are four crucial attributes or skills needed to be a small group coach:
- Coaches encourage healthy leader habits like modeling authenticity and being a student of God’s Word.
- Coaches mentor the leaders in their care from experience and/or case wisdom to help foster practical application and needed self-reflection.
- Coaches take a personal interest in the spiritual growth, character, and competence of the leaders under them.
- Coaches understand that ministry is a trust. This is not a coach’s opportunity to have a forum to preach, influence, or shepherd based on their preferences or need for significance. They must be in it to love and serve at the will of God and to the joy of the pastoral staff above them (Hebrews 13:17). We need to remember the small groups they oversee are God’s people first, the church’s flock second, and then “our” sheep to shepherd third.
Function 2: Consulting
Secondly, the small group coach is a consultant. The consultant has experience, skills, and tools at their disposal. They are able to field the inevitable phone calls and meetings where a small group leader brings a problem or concern to their attention.
The job here is to help with problem solving. They pray, ask good questions, and point to biblical solutions anchored in Scripture that help the small group leader make wise and informed decisions. The calm and prayerful demeanor of someone who is objective, skilled, and seasoned in solving common problems has kept many a small group leader out of the ditch of overreaction or hopelessness. It is important to remember that consulting is more time-limited and solution-focused than coaching, but is a critical part of the role of a small group coach.
Function 3: Counseling
The last function to highlight in the role of small group coach is that of a counselor. Their counseling skills and tools need to exceed those of their small group leaders under them. That means more soul care equipping for our coaches.
In our church, the small group leaders take training courses we call Uncommon Leadership 101 and 201. The coach, having been a small group leader, attends those classes but also needs more specialized training which we call Uncommon Leadership 301. We are revisiting and retooling this level of training right now and hope to train over 200 coaches in our church this year. The coach will acquire skills and tools that allow them to be the backstop for more complex issues that might come up in the “flock” they oversee. For that matter, sometimes the coach needs to care for his leader who is burdened by the struggles and suffering in their life or the life of their group.
Let’s consider some common issues a small group leader brings to the coach that needs more care or help. Maybe it is a marriage conflict or a habitual sin issue like an addiction to porn or a substance. You can see why coaches need a deeper understanding in corrective soul care. The coach can help develop a “biblical care plan” as part of consulting with the small group leader. The coach can also provide care alongside the small group leader when a member needs more help but is not really in need of formal counseling. We consider this level of care as “informal counseling” because it is typically limited to three sessions and does not have to happen in the church or a formal counseling setting.
However, the coach might assess the situation and decide to refer the person to formal soul care counseling.* In our experience, almost 50% of formal counseling referrals stopped once the small group leader and coach stepped in on the prevention side of the counseling continuum. There are many stories every month of where counseling in community preempted a crisis because our people care for each other often and early.
*Unless the issue is life threating or extremely disruptive, the coach always starts by consulting with the small group leader. What is the severity, the ownership, and the support network around the person in need? What are the risks? What is at the root of the issue? Once these things are established, a biblical care plan can be developed.
A Coaching Culture Really Matters
So, as you can see the small group coach is a keystone in a healthy discipleship culture. While being friendly and encouraging is of great help, it is not enough. This level of leadership requires skills and character equivalent to a deacon (see 1 Timothy 3). It is wonderful when the elders fulfill this role as a part of their ministry to the church, but it is not necessary to be an elder in our church to be a small group coach. We have many gifted men and women serving in this capacity. The more we can define and refine the role, the more effective it becomes.
Uncommon community doesn’t just happen. Intentional development of leaders on a discipleship/counseling continuum requires clarity for each leader’s role and that’s what we’re trying to provide. I pray this post has helped you understand the essential skills and important role of a small group coach in uncommon community as you work to raise up leaders around you or consider being a small group coach yourself.
Join the Conversation
If your church had an equipped small group coach, how might that coaching ministry impact the small group ministry of your church?