Lending a Helping Hand
After years of ministering to orphaned street children and trafficked girls in the Philippines, John and Kelli Williford sensed God calling them to become fully appointed Assemblies of God world missionaries. One daunting aspect of that, however, was raising funds to return to the field.
It’s a concern common among missionaries, says Jeff Hartensveld. As AGWM mobilization director, he oversees almost 500 missionaries and missionary associates itinerating and fundraising. The oft-stressful process can delay missionaries from reaching the field; once deployed, new challenges arise that can likewise pose obstacles to carrying out ministry plans.
Believing that it helps in personal and ministry development, the AG Coaching initiative aims to promote coaching within the denomination to further the goal of making disciples. The AG encourages the coaching approach to ministry in local churches and in church planting.
And last year, AGWM incorporated coaching into its program for newly appointed missionaries, pairing certified AG coaches with missionary candidates. A coach, Hartensveld says, empowers missionaries to craft plans using tools and strategies they’ve already been equipped with, and to carry out those plans.
Hartensveld cites what that looks like at a practical level for a missionary: “You’re in XYZ country, and you have XYZ needs. Let’s formulate a plan on how you’re going reach those needs,” he says. “We’re trying to get them to do this itineration, not necessarily faster but feeling more helped — equipped, resourced, and inspired to do the work.”
In each weekly or biweekly session, the coach talks the missionary through his or her plans and holds them accountable for implementing them.
“An AG coach will ask, ‘What did you discover?’ or ‘What obstacle came against you or needs to change in your plan?’ ” Farina says.
AGWM connected the Willifords with Bill Ellis, a certified coach who is also lead pastor of Riverside Community Church, a multisite congregation in Pittsburgh. Ellis described a missionary family’s first year as a marathon that extends beyond itineration. It includes traveling and maintaining balance between ministry and family, which often includes small children. Coaches are an outside sounding board for ideas.
“Some of the missionaries I’ve coached say that they couldn’t imagine doing it without their coach,” says Ellis, who is a member of the PennDel Coaching Network. “They felt the coach was somebody to help them do what they needed to do and move forward in a more productive, more healthy way.”
Coaching, Ellis notes, has been around the business world for decades.
“The church is just catching up with best practices in leadership,” he says. Spiritual leadership isn’t just implementing business practices “but ‘What’s the Spirit calling me to do?’ It has a different flavor, but it helps leadership to be the best it can be.”
The Farinas recently traveled to Senegal to hold a leadership development summit for AG Africa missionaries that centered on all in attendance creating a leadership development growth plan and the use of a coach as they implement the plan. It’s of particular importance in Africa, Sam Farina says, as 40 percent of AG Africa missionaries are within sight of retirement.
“There will be a lot of millennials coming into leadership roles,” Farina says. “We have to raise up whole new set of missionaries ready to take leadership at younger ages.”
According to Vicki Farina, who also works with AG U.S. Missions this generation wants relationships and experiences, and coaching affords both. To ease the transition, all AG Africa missions area directors have received coach training, which will help the missionaries become a team.
“Without accountability, without somebody helping you think where you don’t normally think, everyone slides back,” says Sam Farina, who also works with the Church Multiplication Network. “We preach about backsliding because we backslide easily. We go back to our old habits.”
Vicki Farina, who along with her husband holds a Doctor of Ministry degree with an emphasis in professional coaching from Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, notes that while coaching is all about helping candidates reach fundraising goals and get to their field of ministry in a healthy manner, there are side benefits.
"Many times the coach will hear deeper issues, such as unhealthy beliefs, fears, or insecurities, which allow for self-directed learning and personal growth,” she says. “Coaching is about asking what will you do and by when, but it also encompasses values and beliefs and what is important in the heart of the person being coached.”
Missionary John Williford says that he could see the big picture — raising funds to get back on the field — but he and Kelli often bogged down on smaller issues that hindered the overall goal. He says his coach helped him stay on track.
“I feel like for anyone with a big idea where they want to be, a coach would help them get there, not only faster but also more efficiently,” Williford says.