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Friendship: The Simple Secret Of Coaching

By Joel Comiskey

Appeared in February 2002 edition of Small Group Dynamics.

My coach never spends time with me," the hurting leader confessed . "He administrates me, directs me, and even continues to exemplify small group leadership. But what I really want is a friend. I want someone to take me out for coffee, to occasionally ‘hang out with.’"

As a researcher, I’ve spent many hours trying to discover the principles behind effective coaching. I’ve searched for secret formulas and hidden mysteries. When I finally found what I consider the KEY, I was embarrassed by its simplicity.

I felt like the famous German theologian who boiled down all his years of research into one phrase: Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so.

Friendship. We often overlook this simple, yet powerful principle. I believe it’s the key to successfully coaching small group leaders.

Jesus, the ultimate coach, revealed this simple KEY in the book of John when He said to His disciples, "I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you" (15:15).

Jesus, entered a friendship with twelve sinful human beings, whom He mentored for three years. He ate with them, slept with them and answered all their questions.

The gospel writer, Mark, describes the calling of the twelve this way, "He appointed twelve—designating them apostles—that they might be with him. . . " (Mark 3:14). Jesus prioritized "being with them" over a set of rules or techniques.

My Own Experience

I learned this the hard way. I coached seven small group leaders over a period of three years. They often came to my home for skill training, goal assessment and care.

When we gathered, I hooked up my computer to my TV, used my flashy PowerPoint slides and tried to WOW them by my teaching.

As I polled them later, I discovered that some weren’t impressed by my fancy presentations and high-tech gadgetry. They left unfulfilled, wanting something more.

God began to show me a better way as I talked with other, more effective coaches. One coach, for example, who I met in Australia explained to me why his own network of small group leaders was growing so rapidly, "I’m a friend to my leaders. Those under me follow my example and they befriend the new small group leaders under their care. Through friendship, my network of cell leaders has grown larger than any other."

It finally began to dawn on me that people really don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Knowledge, skill training, problem solving, group dynamics, and other techniques can play an important role in a coach’s success. BUT, what a new small group leader really needs is someone to bear the burden, to share the journey, to serve as a sounding board.

Sharing the Journey

Does this mean the actual coaching meeting is unimportant? Does it mean that you shouldn’t faithfully rotate among groups or provide needed skill training? NO. What it does mean is that you first must win the leader through a caring friendship. Everything else will flow naturally.

The best teaching, in fact, is the natural type that occurs spontaneously. Jesus didn’t simply teach His disciples about prayer. Rather, He asked them to accompany Him to prayer meetings. He allowed His disciples to see Him praying. When the disciples finally asked Him what He was doing, He seized upon the opportunity to teach them about prayer (Lk. 11:1-4). The same is true with evangelism. Jesus evangelized people in the presence of His disciples and then instructed them afterwards. He took advantage of real life situations to carefully explain complex doctrinal issues (e.g., rich young ruler in Mt. 19:23).

Practical Suggestions

Let’s get practical. How can you, the coach, befriend those small group leaders under your care? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Invite the small group leader over to your home for dinner. Let him or her see your family, your dog, your life.
  • Send the small group leader a birthday card, a get well note, or a spontaneous "off the wall" humorous letter.
  • Go out for coffee with the person.
  • Invite the small group leader to play sports with you, or some other normal life activity.
  • Pray daily for the person (which will solidify your spiritual friendship).

Everyone can be a friend, although only some coaches will excel in administration. Everyone can be a friend, although only some coaches possess teaching gifts, graduate level education or a call to fulltime ministry.

You probably knew the key was friendship all along. If not, I’d encourage you to start now to build a sincere, caring relationship with those who you’re coaching. Like me, you’ll discover how such a simple truth can have such a powerful impact on people’s lives.

Further reading on this topic: Comiskey's book How to be a Great Cell Group Coach highlights what it takes to effectively care for small group leaders. Comiskey's book Groups of Twelve expounds on the coaching principles. The book From Twelve to Three explains G12 principles as it relates to coaching leaders. Buy HERE or call 1-888-344-CELL.