This month we sat down with Mike Jarrell, founding pastor of Narrow Road Communities and founding Movement Team member of the Creo Collective. Under Mike’s leadership NRC has grown from just one missional community in their first year to twelve active MC's today. Just as significantly, NRC has more than twice as many people connected in missional communities than currently attending weekend worship gatherings. This week we sat down to talk about the irreplaceable role of coaching to missional community ministry.

"Mike, why is this conversation so important?"

For all of the interest in missional communities very few people seem to take me seriously when I talk about the importance of coaching in missional communities. Now if your goal is just to start beefed-up small groups or bible studies, you can probably afford to not take coaching seriously. However, if you are serious about creating and multiplying healthy MC’s, learning how to coach is a must.

In fact, I'd go so far as to say growing your coaching capacity ought to be one of your highest priories as a leader. If it’s not, you will continually find yourself with groups that are off-track, confused and struggling to get traction. 

"What would you say to someone who has done little to no coaching in the past. Where do I start?

First of all, you need to begin to see your primary role as that of a coach. When you begin to take a vested interest in growing your MC leaders, you will find that your healthiest communities will often be those whose leaders you spend the most time with. You’ve got to spend time with them. Lots of it.

Consider that Jesus spent years developing the future leaders of his church and yet they still needed regular connection and correction. It’s unrealistic to expect your leaders to do it alone. Please don’t make them try.

You need to set aside intentional time to be with your current and future MC leaders.

"How do you typically prepare for this time with your leaders?"

I have found it helpful to not just think of them as small group leaders, but as church planters and missionaries. This ups the bar for what I think they are capable of and of what I expect God to do in and through them.

I carve out time throughout my week to reflect on what I’ve learned and what I’m learning that I might pass on to them. This allows me to be mindful of what God is teaching me and intentional about passing it on to others.

Many of my most fruitful coaching moments surface in our otherwise ordinary time together. They happen while we are having lunch, on a phone call or texting back and forth with one another. Carving out regular time to be with my leaders makes these unplanned teachable moments possible.

"So what would you say to those who are bivocational or have other commitments that make morning coffees and lunch meetings impossible?”   

Whether you are in full time ministry or not, chances are much of your coaching will need to happen outside of regular working hours. Most of our MC leaders work during the day and so we do most of our scheduled coaching time in the evenings over video.

These coaching sessions typically last an hour and include three or four leaders at a time. This not only allows me to get an hour of coaching in after the kids are in bed, but the dialogue that happens between fellow MC leaders is invaluable. Our leaders often learn just as much from each other as they do from me. 

"How much time does this actually require of your leaders?"

Our MC leaders average about an hour of coaching a week.

We also use the information we gather from our coaching sessions/video calls to provide a training we do every couple of months on a Saturday or Sunday morning for two or three hours. The training is designed around the areas where they need encouragement and direction.

As we've grown to twelve communities, I have raised up three other coaches who coach three or four MC leaders each. This has allowed us to continue to multiply and to do so in a healthy way.

"Can you give us a glimpse into what these coaching times look like?"

I want to make sure our coaches are asking the right questions so that the core of who God has called us to be doesn't get lost. To this end, we have five questions that we process through each time we meet together. 

1. How are you doing at slowing down? What is the Holy Spirit saying?

We believe the most important thing is that believers (especially leaders) are taking the time to slow down and rest with God. We want our leaders hearing from God and getting clear direction on how to love, serve, and live on mission with their community. This is where our coaching begins.

2. How are you utilizing three spaces to grow and go?

We believe that relationships develop in three spaces. We have a whole lot of people that we can hang out with, have parties and fire pits with, and watch sporting events with. This is the first space where we begin to develop relationships and talk about surface level things.

The second space relationship is a relationship where people begin to open up and lean in closer in relationship with you. These people go from the party to the dinner table. They begin to share about life, family, health, politics and faith. The conversation about faith usually begins in a second space relationship. This is were people dip their feet in. They're not yet ready for a deep level of relationship and accountability and they're still sort of checking Jesus out.

The third space of relationship is the close relationship with God and others space. It's where we challenge people to follow Jesus in all of life and join us in living intentionally on his mission.

This coaching question is designed to help us walk people through the relationships they are developing at a surface level, who they are bringing around the table, and how they are growing in depth in relationship with God and others.

3. What or who is missing?

Each missional community is expected to live out what we call the ABCs and 123's. The ABC's are Apostles teaching, Breaking of bread, and Charitable giving. The 123's are one mission: make disciples that make disciples, two: fellowship, and three: prayer. We ask this question to make sure that our communities are balanced. We also ask if anyone is missing to make sure that people aren't slipping out of relationship unnoticed.

4. How are you activating APEST to meet needs?

We have found that for a community to be effective everybody needs to use their gifts. If every believer isn't built up and encouraged to use their gifts, the leader of the community will get burnt out quickly and everyone else will feel benched. It's really important that we all understand that we are vital to the mission and growth in community.

5. What special experiences are you planning in/out?

We have learned that life and relationships often center around experiences. So we ask, what special experiences are you planning for people that are in the family of God and what experiences are you planning that include people that are not a part of the family of God yet? Examples of this can include things like prayer retreats, football game parties, vacation trips, Thanksgiving dinners, you name it. This helps spark a conversation about us truly doing life with the people that God has called us too.

"Is there anything you'd say to those just getting started in missional communities or perhaps focusing for the first time on their role as a coach?"

I don't think for a moment that we have all this figured out. Our coaching questions have actually changed multiple times over the years. They were designed so that our leaders would be intentional about relationship and mission. I encourage you to use these questions if they're helpful, or go ahead and create your own. The goal is to be intentional with your leaders about making disciples and living intentionally on God's mission to your city.