How to Be a Great Coach

Cell Coaching

By Joel Comiskey

Fall 2002

When I started a three-year commitment with six pastors who were transitioning to cell church strategy, I figured they had hired me as a consultant—even though coaching language was used. I soon realized, however, that my consultant paradigm wasn’t sufficient.

Thinking I was primarily a consultant, I wrote an in-depth analysis of each church and then offered precise counsel. I assumed that after giving my counsel, my primary task was to make sure these pastors fulfilled it.

You can imagine how quickly these pastors tired of my dronings. When one pastor left and another two made their dissatisfaction crystal clear, I realized my consultant model had to change.

God in his sovereignty placed a key person in my life—Jeff Lodgson– to instruct me in coaching concepts. Lodgson served me as a resource person, putting me into contact with excellent coaching material. I devoured these materials like a sponge, as truth touched my needy, desperate heart. As I listened to tapes, read books, and received Lodgson’s counsel, a whole new world opened up to me.

Coaching versus Consulting

I believe in consulting, especially when time is limited and outside expertise is needed. Yet, I also see two dangers:

Danger #1: Creating dependency. The leader is forced to depend on the expert and often can never breakaway from that dependency.

Danger #2: Information overload that doesn’t practically work in the long run. Information/knowledge is necessary to successfully transition a church to cell-based ministry. It’s equally important for a leader to successfully lead and multiply the cell group.

The major obstacle, however, is practically applying the information over the long haul. It’s easy to say, “I got it” after a seminar or a sudden burst of enthusiasm, but it’s a lot harder to apply that knowledge in day to day ministry.

A great coach, on the other hand, listens and encourages the leader to become successful over the long haul. A great coach comes alongside the leader in order to fulfill the leader’s agenda, knowing that ministry is a process rather than a one-time event. The coach equips the leader with tools, knowledge, and opportunities to become more effective.

How to Coach

Many people say to me, “Joel, I’ve heard you talk about the coaching structure (e.g., G12.3, Jethro, etc.), but I don’t know how to coach. What should I actually do when I’m coaching?” I recommend the following sequence:

  • Listen to the leader
  • Celebrate with the leader
  • Care for the leader
  • Develop/ train the leader
  • Strategize with the leader
  • Challenge the leader

I tell people to follow the above order when coaching leaders. I’m convinced, in fact, that the above order is the best coaching formula. You’ll notice this list is specific enough to give coaches clear direction, yet general enough to grant flexibility. [i]

Group Coaching? One on One?

Some have likened coaching to conducting an orchestra–sometimes you work one-on-one, other times you direct the person from afar, and on some occasions you cut people loose so they can develop in areas completely outside your scope.

There are a variety of ways to deliver coaching. I prefer a mixture of one-on-one and group coaching. If you follow the principles of coaching (e.g., listening, celebrating, caring, etc.), you can coach by telephone, in person, in a group situation or through the Internet. The principles are the same, although the exact circumstances will vary.

Further reading on this topic: Groups of Twelve and From Twelve to Three explain the coaching structure using Jesus and the twelve as a model of coaching. Comiskey’s book How to be a Great Cell Group Coach (Touch Publications, 2003) unpacks coaching principles in a practical way.


[i] The above components are not original to me. I first heard them on a tape series called Empowering Leaders through Coaching by given by Steven L. Ogne and Thomas P. Nebel (ChurchSmart Resources, 1995). I’m aware that there are other, more recent coaching sequences (e.g., the 5Rs), but I hold fast to listen, celebrate, care, develop, strategize, challenge because I think this order is clear, effective, and feasible. Bob Logan and associates have developed a new five phase coaching order that uses the words: RELATE: building the coaching relationship; REFLECT: Analyzing the situation; REFOCUS: Visioning and planning; RESOURCE: Providing for resourcing needs; REVIEW: evaluating the execution of a plan. Personally, I don’t like this order as much. Although the words start with the same letter and have very similar purposes, the words don’t immediately clarify, in my opinion, and I prefer the coaching scheme I’m currently using.