Peer Coaching and Friday Feasts

It is very easy for us to think that what happens in ministry is up to us. But it is a general principle of leadership: “It is not what I do, but what others do as a result of what I do.” Peer coaching is one offspring of that principle. Sam Shellenberger, Eastern Pennsylvania Catalytic, sees peer coaching illustrated in something he calls Friday Feasts. I asked if he would elaborate.Last year we had two Friday Feasts each semester. The typical format was

  • 6:30 Dinner (usually a pasta dish, salad, dessert, chips, drink)
  • 7:15 Intros, singing, Vision
  • 8:10 Huddle, hypothetical situation problem solving
    • Groups of 5 to 8.
    • Spread students from same campus out amongst all groups.
    • Typical format: Pick a facilitator, scribe and time keeper.
    • Answer 3 questions:
      • “What have you seen work at your campus?”
      • “What challenges arose… and lessons learned?”
      • “What ideas for future efforts can you come up with?”
  • 9:15 Skill, A ministry tool or skill time
    • It does not have to be (typically is not) related to the hypothetical situation.

We chose to theme each of the Friday Feasts. Last year, we chose Prayer, Win, Send, Build (in that order). The choices went over very well, but the timing was not the best for Build. We chose to do Send earlier in order to take advantage of the momentum of the Christmas Conference, and give our student leaders another recruiting message while there was still time to make summer plans. Coupled with our other recruiting efforts throughout the year, this decision to address send before build helped in increasing the participation of our students in summer projects from 4 in 2006 to 21 in 2007.

For the Prayer Friday Feast we changed things up a bit and created 6 different prayer stations that the groups went to and learned and practiced different prayer related things (i.e. praying for our WSN partnerships; creating and praying for a Top 10 list (or Hit list); praying through scripture; praising God using the alphabet… etc).For the Win Friday Feast we did Co-Journer.For the Build Friday Feast we discussed discipleship, our Skill item was “The Compass”.

The Benefits:

  • Students often feel a greater freedom to discuss tough ministry issues with their peers. When they find out the challenges they experience as leaders are often the challenges everyone has, they feel great relief in knowing they aren’t alone, they aren’t weird. When they relate to each others’ situations they learn quickly. The key is to have good peer models, because this interaction can have a negative effect just as easily as a positive effect.
  • Also our students come up with tremendously creative solutions. When it is their idea from the beginning, ownership is high and my energy is not spent on motivation, but on doing things effectively and celebrating fruitfulness.
  • Relationally, we leave plenty of time for interaction and encourage as many as possible to stay over night. This community building results in a concern for things outside themselves. Our students think scope, because they live in the midst of scope. They have relational ties to a broad scope and a concern for both the breadth (because they see other locations) and depth (because they see multiple movements at other locations) of scope.
  • These promote our design of Staff coached, student led. I’ve trained them in the planning process, I keep the mission clear, I keep the critical path steps up front in their thinking, I train skills, I pray for and coach the leadership. The students create and execute the plan. They share how they do this with one another. It is very common for me to respond to a student leader, “You should give so-and-so a call from a-different-campus and talk with them about how they faced this issue.” And it is common for me to say to a student leadership team, “Could you write that up in an e-mail and send it to me so I can send it to the rest of the gang.”
  • Peer accountability. As they get to know one another they develop natural accountability relationships.
  • Peer relational support. It has been amazing to see the depth of concern my leaders have for one another. Close friendships have grown. They are praying for one another, traveling to visit one another, and they are working together to put on events (Mens and Womens Weekend). They are traveling to participate in outreaches and prayer events together. It is not uncommon for me to find out what is going on at Mansfield when I talk to someone from Penn College. And this is very helpful for me.
  • Recruiting to events is easier. It is not just a few from their college that are going, but it is also their good friends from these other schools that will be at the event.
  • Financial support. Because of the community that has been built, one of the campuses that receives a nice amount of money from its school is purchasing material that can be used by all the schools in the area (Numa videos, Wild at Heart, etc.)
  • Peer Coaching. One of the big benefits is the multiplication of my work. I can train a student leader at Penn College and it multiplies not just at Penn College, but as that leader interacts with student leaders from other schools the training is passed on.

If Sam is able to bring leaders in from across the state, it should relatively easy to pull off a leadership meeting in metro areas. What I like about this is the leadership development community fostered. When a new leader is surfaced on a new campus, they come into this environment where students own the vision on their campuses. There is cross-pollination of ideas and confidence is engendered. So often students see staff doing ministry and think that they could never do that. But when they see other students lead, the possibility that God could use them too becomes very real.


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