I recently attended the Northeast Region’s Staff Conference where I was asked to talk about launching and building movements. When I do that I like to have local stories about some of the principles that we are talking about. There were some great stories about seeing students initiate in prayer, evangelism, discipleship and sending. There were also some great stories about launching and resourcing movements. John Mitchell, Southern New England Campus Ministry, was slated to talk about coaching student leaders from a distance. But the time did not allow for him to share. I asked if he would write about what he would have covered. Here are some of his thoughts on distance coaching.
My role as a distance coach is to empower and equip student leaders to reach others for Christ on their campus. I’m not the one doing the ministry on campus. They are and my job is to help them stay in the race. This means that I want to care for them, encourage them and train them. Sometimes they need to be challenged to do more and take steps of faith, other times I need to challenge them to say “No.” and let some things go undone.
The primary focus of my coaching is centered around weekly phone appointments with my student and volunteer leaders. The call usually takes between 15 minutes and an hour, depending on the relationship I have with the student leader, how much time they have, and, sometimes, how many cell minutes they have. I also send out a weekly coaching nugget e-mail of just a couple short paragraphs. That email previews for the volunteer helpful ideas for the current stage of the semester on my coaching blog. I also visit most of the campuses I coach 1-2 times a semester. I think 2 times a semester is ideal to help build relationships with the students and observe some of the dynamics of the ministry. However, this can be limited by distance and time constraints.
In ten years of distance coaching, I have seen God do some amazing things from a distance. It has been exciting to see God raise up quiet students like Pauline to lead in ways I wouldn’t have imagined. She started a ministry at the University of Bridgeport a few years ago that almost died out last spring. This fall I encouraged her to follow through with starting up a Bible Study again and promoting it with the new students and they had 6 students (4 of them freshmen) at the final meeting of the semester Thursday night.
One of the amazing benefits of distance coaching is to have an impact on a campus over two hours away like Bridgeport and then pick up the phone a few minutes later and be able to have a conversation with another student leader in Salem, MA who is taking steps to share her faith with others on her cross country team. I get the privilege of helping lead and care for leaders who are willing to do what God has called them to on campuses that most Christians seem to have forgotten about.
It has been a tremendous blessing to see God use distance coaching to bring students to Jesus, help student leaders grow in their faith and to raise up laborers! I started coaching Kenley Cherenfant at UMass Dartmouth in 1998. Since 2000 God has raised up seven student leaders from this campus to serve as interns. They have come one at a time and helped build a tradition of sending in this ministry. It was especially exciting to see Kenley serve as an Impact intern for two years and then join staff with the Impact Movement. Today he helps coach several Impact movements here in the Northeast through a distance coaching strategy from Impact’s base in Orlando!
Through distance coaching, I can do things to give lift to evangelistic efforts on five, ten or more campuses in a single day. All this without walking out the door!
By the way, John was a student at the University of Rhode Island when Chris and I were on staff there. When we left URI to come to Student LINC in Orlando, no staff replaced us on the campus. I coached Steve Pierce, the student leader, from a distance that first year from Orlando. When he graduated and came on staff (he still serves in the President’s Office), John and Melissa Pierce (no relation to Steve) took over as the leaders. I coached them that year. In the meantime, John and Melissa started dating that year. John graduated and came on staff. Then Melissa followed six months later. After they got married and spent a couple of years at the University of Buffalo, they moved to Boston and then, eventually, back to Rhode Island, where John coaches ministries around southern New England.
And finally, I have posted a powerpoint on distance coaching principles on the wiki.