Are clergy, laity even on the right bus?

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Are clergy, laity even on the right bus?

Aug. 16, 2007    News media contact: Tita Parham* 
800-282-8011    Orlando {0721}

NOTE: A headshot of De Marco is available at

An e-Review Commentary
By John Michael De Marco**

As a commissioned pastor in the Florida Conference, I served churches in West Palm Beach and Fort Pierce. A few years ago I was led to move into the business arena in order to more fully utilize gifts, insights and experiences I felt could equip persons to ignite their potential within and beyond the walls of the church.

My current work as an organizational development practitioner with a Melbourne-based health care organization, as well as through my consulting business, hinges on the close cousins of leading change and developing talent. This involves conventional organizational development (OD) practices and approaches, including, but not limited to, systems thinking, leadership development, coaching, career development, skill and performance assessments, and teambuilding.

It has been a blessing to realize how so many of these OD responsibilities dovetail with the things I have learned through seminary studies and pastoral ministry. They embrace many transferable skills and concepts that can impact the business, nonprofit and church context. Pastors and church leaders who grow savvy about their use can better unleash the talent in their staff and laity for the sake of the kingdom.

To that end, the OD element I’d like to focus on is coaching.

The mode of coaching to which I refer is distinct from the excellent process currently being utilized by the Florida Conference Office of Congregational Transformation (OCT) within the Natural Church Development process. OCT is utilizing top-notch volunteer coaches to help develop the overall health of congregations through such dynamics as group facilitation and strategic planning. More information on this process is available at

Another manner of coaching, however, involves working one-on-one with someone across a prolonged period of time to help him or her grow more successful in a specific job or leadership position.

This process is grounded in facilitating the person’s identification and ownership of his or her values, skills/gifts and interests and digs deeper as the coach guides the person to draw strong threads between these attributes and job-related goals. There are similarities between this type of coaching and the coaching taking place as part of OCT’s ReFocus process (more information about ReFocus is available under the Refocus Covenant option on the left-hand menu bar at

My perception from being around churches for many years is that we do not offer enough coaching for pastors, staff members or lay leaders. Too often we tolerate a haphazard awareness or approach to spiritual gifts or natural talents, as clergy, staff and laity fill seats on the bus without necessarily giving careful thought to whether they are occupying the correct seats — or even traveling on the correct bus.

My work in coaching managers, directors, executives and physicians at my current employer, Health First Inc., which has a staff of 6,000 serving Brevard County, provides an example of the one-on-one coaching that can help clergy and laity determine the path they should travel in their ministry.

We utilize the concepts and assessment tool from a book by The Gallup Organization called “Now, Discover Your Strengths.” The book captures Gallup’s many decades of research into how the most effective organizations empower their employees and leaders in roles that best utilize their individual talents and strengths. Furthermore, this research led Gallup to pinpoint 34 distinct “themes” of talent and create an online assessment that enables users to learn their “Top 5” themes and begin to intentionally leverage them. Each book contains a unique pass code that readers use to take the assessment.

At Health First, I coach leaders by first having them read the book and take the assessment. Armed with their “Top 5,” we then begin conversations that unpack their understanding of these talents, examining how they use them in their current work and in their interactions with colleagues, supervisors, family and friends. This coaching process inevitably leads to identifying areas of struggle or frustration or current barriers to success. I then coach them to identify solutions or action steps toward removing these barriers, and together we establish specific, measurable goals that will lead to deeper success in their roles by using talents that can blossom into strengths.

I believe churches that develop a process of coaching leaders — one grounded in seeking to more fully understand spiritual gifts in collaboration with talents that have developed across a person’s lifetime — will emerge into a deeper season of ministry fruitfulness. Pastors, staff and lay leaders at these congregations will sense more passion, focus and optimism about their roles. The general congregation will taste this effectiveness and will more fully take hold of their own gifts and talents, especially as those leaders who have been coached in turn coach others. This “arsenal of talent” and gifts can be set loose for surrounding communities across the conference, and the implications will have eternal significance.

In addition to “Now, Discover Your Strengths’ and its sequel, “StrengthsFinder 2.0,” Gallup also offers “Living Your Strengths,” which specifically explores the spiritual gifts described in Scripture and connects them to natural talents. This book also includes the online assessment code. My suggestion is that church leaders and members read both.


This article relates to Leadership Development.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a commissioned minister of the Florida Conference and a freelance writer, speaker and consultant. He may be contacted at More information about coaching and organizational development is also available on his Web site at

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