Leadership Transitions and Overcoming “Founder’s Syndrome”: A Case Study in Humility and Gratitude

Some leadership transitions are fraught with tension and conflict. Others can even sink a church or an organization.  Thankfully this wasn’t the case for Leadership Resources when Craig Parro took over for LRI’s Founder Bill Mills in 2010 as LRI’s President.

Craig and Bill recently sat down to discuss the challenges of avoiding “Founder’s Syndrome,” and shared how God helped them transition with grace.

Bill Mills

Bill Mills: God gave Karen and me the grace – the joy – of being the founders of this ministry in 1970. I was president of the organization for the first 40 years. It’s amazing to think back that length of history.

Craig joined our staff in about 1989, and by the time we transitioned from me being president to Craig being president, we had worked together for 21 years. Craig was our International Director and laid the foundation in those years for everything we’re doing overseas today.

Craig Parro

Craig Parro: So, Bill, as we worked together over those years we learned to work together well. We’re wired very differently. Bill is your classic entrepreneurial visionary leader that began the ministry on faith and very little else. And the ministry grew under his leadership. Bill was able to attract people to join him. He’s a man of great faith, and so the ministry grew under Bill’s leadership.

I think during the 1980s Bill began to recognize two things: One is the need for leadership of the ministry with a different gift mix, perhaps. Someone, perhaps, with a little more strategic gifting and organizational-building type of wiring. I had at least some of that, and so Bill began very intentionally to begin to build into me. He really did that the whole time we were together. Bill has always been very intentional about developing me as a leader, as a teacher, and encouraging my gifting.

BM: You know, Craig, what you’re talking about is the reality that drove this change – the shift in leadership. It was purely a strategic move in my eyes. I wasn’t tired of the job. I wasn’t burned out in ministry. I felt, first of all, that I had my chance. Forty years is long enough to be in leadership. But it was a strategic move. I knew that your gifts of leadership and organization were much stronger than mine. And Todd Kelly had joined our staff and he was our Training Director, but of course when you joined our staff in 1989, most of what we were doing was in the States, and our work overseas was just beginning to grow. Now ninety or ninety-nine percent of what we’re doing is around the world and not in the States. And so this was a strategic shift, knowing that we could strengthen the ministry in one move on three levels: You had the gifts needed to lead the work as president that I lacked, Todd could strengthen the work by taking your place as International Director, and there was a need for someone to take over our work in Russia and Central Asia. I was glad to do that, and to me it was purely a strategic move. I loved you and trusted you, so the rest was easy.

CP: But the rest wasn’t always easy. Often for Christian organizations, or any organization or church, when the founding leader turns over the leadership to someone else but then sticks around, that often makes the organization very vulnerable. That’s the “Founder’s Syndrome,” if you will. It’s his baby; he’s poured his life into it. And that can play out in lots of different ways – and often in destructive ways. In fact, Bill watched a partner organization of ours go through a poor leadership transition, and I think one of the things Bill thought to himself was, “Oh, Lord, don’t let that happen here at Leadership Resources.” And it didn’t.

I attribute it to two things that Bill did:

First of all, he stepped off of our Board of Directors when I became president. That meant that Bill had no organizational oversight over me as a leader. What happened is that it gave me space – it gave me freedom to shape the ministry and reshape the ministry as seemed best to me. I appreciated that so much.

The second thing Bill did was to announce to the entire staff that his job description was to do whatever Craig wanted him to do. That demonstrated a humility which was no surprise because of who Bill is and the way God has been building into His life over the years. But I attribute those two decisions, if you will, to making the transition amazingly smooth for us.

BM: But, Craig, to be honest, the truth is, you and I are about as different from each other as two people can be. In character, praise God, we’re very much the same; but personality, gift mix, and the way we think about ministry and the future are very different at times. And you and I have had some very rough waters that we navigated through. And the truth is that, being founder and president for so long, my heart has been deeply invested in this ministry. Not only in the past but in the future. And we have had some real struggles and confrontations, and we’ve had to work through them. And by God’s grace, we’ve been able to do it. We were not thinking we want to do this as a model for others or an example to be followed. We just wanted to be the best stewards of this work that we could be, and so we were committed to getting through this stuff. But it hasn’t always been easy.

CP: One of the things I’ve learned from Bill over the years is when Bill struggles with a relationship at the ministry, he tries to do this – to thank God for that person, to be grateful for the person with whom he’s struggling at the moment. And that is a powerful approach to difficulties in relationships, because it reminds us. . . . When there’s a difficulty in a relationship, we’re always focused on the problem, the negative, the irritant that keeps frustrating us. But when we go to transition to gratitude, we’re focusing on the strengths, the blessing, the gift that the other person is.

When Bill struggles with a relationship at the ministry, he tries to do this – to thank God for that person, to be grateful for the person with whom he’s struggling at the moment.

I think Bill and I have learned to do that with one another over the years, because we have frustrated each other. The transition was eight years ago. I would say during those eight years, we had five or six clashes where there was some real energy and angst and yet none of those were showstoppers, because we valued one another so deeply. We realized we’re wired differently, and my job isn’t to fix Bill or change Bill. Bill’s job isn’t to fix me or change me. So, God just gave us grace to navigate those difficulties loving one another, being patient with one another, thanking God for the unique way that God has wired each one of us.

BM: Yes. One thing you were talking about there can be defined as trust. We talk about valuing each other. We have honestly trusted each other along the way. And underneath that, we genuinely love each other. That is a glue that has not only bonded us, but kept us, together for the sake of the work. It’s not a make believe; it’s a deep and genuine love. But there’s another thing Craig, and you talked about humility a moment ago. . . . I think part of the grace that God gave to us along the way is: this isn’t about us, and we were more committed to this work. We’re talking about not Leadership Resources as an organization, but the work of the gospel throughout the world. This work is more important than we are, and we genuinely were not most concerned about our reputation or our agenda but committed to doing what is best for the sake of the gospel and the growth of Leadership Resources. I think next to the love and the trust, that third thing – the commitment to the work of the gospel beyond ourselves – has been a great power and protection along the way.

CP: Jim Collins talks about a “Level Five” leader. That’s one aspect of a level-five leader: they put the mission first before personal agenda. We both have aspired to do that. We haven’t always been successful with it, but we’ve aspired to be that kind of leader. Dr. Henry Tan, one of our board members, asked the question, “Who’s the boss?” And his answer is, “The mission.” And I think both you and I ascribe to that, Bill. It’s not about us; it’s about the mission. It’s about God’s glory.

It’s not about us; it’s about the mission. It’s about God’s glory.

Kevin Halloran: To close, Bill, say you know the founder of a ministry and exhort him – maybe he’s thinking about or there’s a leadership transition going on. And then, Craig, can you give an exhortation, a word of encouragement to a guy taking the reins of an organization?

BM: What we’re talking about here is really the fruit of much deeper theological understandings and commitments than just how to navigate well through ministry transition. First of all, if we understand that ministry is about God and not about us, if it’s about what He’s doing rather what we’re doing, that creates in us a humility that frees us to walk with God through the process. If we’re most concerned about preserving what we’ve done or our own reputation, we’re in an extremely vulnerable place. So at the root of this is deep and genuine humility. And neither Craig nor I want to put ourselves forward as an example of humility – we are deeply flawed persons – but that’s been part of God’s grace to us.

If we’re most concerned about preserving what we’ve done or our own reputation, we’re in an extremely vulnerable place.

I just want to say that part of what has given me freedom along the way is . . . Craig talked earlier about gratitude, and part of my wonderful freedom and joy is looking at Craig’s stewardship of this ministry that I love so much. You have done very well with it, brother, and carried it to places beyond where I could have ever been, and I love you for it.

CP: My exhortation to someone who is facing a leadership transition and handing over the reigns to someone else is: Get out of the way! You are more invested than you realize; you have more influence than you realize; you can cause more trouble for the person following you than you realize.

There’s a blind spot in the “Founder’s Syndrome” that is a huge vulnerability for you and for the person following you and your organization or church. This comes back to self-awareness. But get out of the way. Bill got out of the way, and I’m so grateful to the Lord and to Bill for that.

BM: Let me conclude with an exhortation for those who are reading: If you are facing a leadership transition in your church or mission organization, don’t assume.

Don’t just embrace the wisdom of the world immediately that says, “The former leader needs to leave the scene in order for the transition to be effective.” Don’t buy into the wisdom, the thinking of this system. That is not biblical, and it’s not even true. There are riches that have been developed over the years that God can use if we are willing to walk humbly through the process and build up each other and the work along the way by God’s grace. So, don’t just assume that, well, this is the pattern; that’s what we need to follow.  

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Does Battling Burnout Get Easier Over Time?

This post is the last in a series titled Finishing Well in Life and Ministry: 20 Years Later. Listen to the full conversation below. 

Kevin Halloran: Bill and Craig, you wrote the book on burnout, so that means you’re perfect in this area, right? Just kidding. How has fighting burnout or discouragement in ministry gotten easier as time goes on, and how has it gotten harder?

Bill Mills: You know, Kevin, for me, I think of the battles of ministry: maintaining ministry schedules, being productive, being effective. Craig is always challenging us as a staff to go deeper to get better, and I appreciate him so much in that. Facing all those calls and challenges to me, I think the battle has gotten better. Even as I’ve gotten older and continued to maintain a rather heavy travel and ministry schedule, I find the battle less challenging. I think the things that I have learned by God’s grace have built in patterns in my heart and life: the patterns of responding to the Father rather than asking Him to enter into what I’m doing and make it happen. There’s some level of affirmation that I desire. That has been less and less an issue. I think learning to rest in the Lord in the work, rather than from the work, has been a pattern that has really been helpful to me and made an incredible difference.

I think of learning what the writer to the Hebrews talks about when he calls us to enter into God’s rest and uses God as an example. God created the world in six days and then rested on the seventh day. Why did He rest? Not because He was exhausted from the hard work of six days of creation. He rested because His work was completed. He was finished with the work of His first creation. That’s what it means for us to enter His rest – to cease from our works. But the thing that I learned the most, and this is one of the great realities for all of us in this ministry, is the power of the Word of God. Because the writer of Hebrews in that fourth chapter carries us to the place, after calling us to enter into God’s rest, to the place of saying that the Word of God is alive and powerful, sharper than a two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12). Our God is still at work. He’s still at work in the same way as in Genesis 1 – by His Word and His Spirit. Since God is at work, that means I can rest. How is God at work? The same way through all of history: through the power of His Spirit. So, that’s the thing that has sustained me.

Craig Parro: I would say it’s gotten harder. Burnout or discouragement has gotten more difficult for me as my leadership responsibilities have grown. There’s the responsibility that our ministry has 29 staff members. Having leadership responsibilities for those precious folks is challenging at times because of the battles that they face: some physical challenges, surgeries and so on, struggles with kids, financial challenges . . . there’s a weight to all of that. I would love to wave a magic wand and cure all of those, but I don’t have the power within me to do that. Leadership Resources doesn’t have bags full of money that we can throw at every financial struggle that our staff faces, for example. So in many situations, prayer is the only response – and it’s an appropriate response – but it’s also a response of weakness rather than strength. It’s an acknowledgement that we don’t have – that I don’t have – the answers, the resources, the solutions to the problems facing us. And so we pray out of our weakness and dependency – which is, of course, a healthy place to be at the same time.

Buy Finishing Well in Life and Ministry: God’s Protection from Burnout on Amazon or our web store.

The Sustaining Power of a Grateful Heart

This post is a continuation of the conversation Bill Mills had with Craig Parro titled Finishing Well in Life and Ministry: 20 Years Later. Listen to the full conversation below.

Craig Parro: Along those lines, I wonder if we were writing the book again today if we might emphasis gratitude more fully. It seems like gratitude is key to resting in the moment-by-moment work. When we express gratitude to the Lord, we are verbalizing the reality that ministry is about Him and not about us. We’re affirming that God is at work – yes, through us; but He’s the explanation, not ourselves.

I think over these last twenty years, I’ve grown a little bit in living more with an ongoing heart of gratitude. I still have a long ways to go. There’s something healthy, freeing, delightful about just walking moment by moment, day by day with a heart full of gratitude – saying, “Thank you God, thank you God for the big things, for the little things, for the surprises, for the difficult things. Thank you Lord.”

Bill Mills: I think part of gratitude comes from the fact that God has already done with us more than we ever dreamed that He would. That leaves me personally in a place of freedom to be thankful to God rather than this pressure to accomplish more before I’m finished. I could leave this earth next week and be very grateful for what the Lord has done without regrets that my ministry wasn’t more fruitful or more effective in those places, since God is at work. I’m walking with Him in what He’s doing. What I hoped at the beginning in a one-to-one discipleship ministry (learn more about LRI’s history), God had plans to bring that to discipling pastors around the world. I never dreamed of this; I never thought it was possible. So, what regrets could I have experienced that I wish God would have done more? That gratitude is a place to rest in, Craig. I think you’re really on to something.

CP: Gratitude also protects us from a sense of entitlement – that somehow God owes us because of our faithfulness, or whatever. Gratitude, circling back to your earlier point, puts God on display. Big God, small us – and that’s a healthy way to walk through life and ministry, isn’t it?

BM: Yes. You know, I’m thinking of pastors that I’ve known who have burned out along the way in ministry. I think the thing that most of them have said is, “I tried as hard as I could. I did the best I knew how to do, and it just didn’t work. God just didn’t do it, and I just gave up along the way.” When God is at work, this God who fulfills His purposes, things not only happen, but we see that He is doing it. That creates this sense of gratitude and worship. It also gives us a place of rest.

Going back to this thought of resting in the work, I think of Paul. He defines his ministry in his letter to the Colossians. This is towards the end of chapter one, where he says, “My desire is to bring everyone I meet, everyone I teach, every person to maturity in Christ” (Colossians 1:28). He says, “This I do with all of His energy which so powerfully works in me” (Colossians 1:29).

You think of the schedule – the ministry schedule of the Lord Jesus and the Apostle Paul – and we’re staggered by it. We want to set boundaries. We want to make limits. I’ll give this much of myself and then no more. I need to think of myself, my family, whatever. There’s a place for that, of course, but with the Apostle Paul and the Lord Jesus, nothing was ever measured out. They were able to pour out their lives – Jesus, because of the work of the Father within Him; Paul, because of the power, the sustained grace, the energy, and the pleasure that he found in serving.

Learning to Rest In Ministry, Not From It

This post is a continuation of the conversation Bill Mills had with Craig Parro titled Finishing Well in Life and Ministry: 20 Years Later. Listen to the full conversation below.

Craig Parro: So, Bill, over twenty years ago we wrote the book. If you were writing the book today, what might you change in the book?

Bill Mills: The thing that I have learned the most as I walk with the Lord in ministry next to ministries about Him and what He’s doing that sets me free to follow Him. I would have done a section on learning to rest in the work rather than just resting from the work. By that I mean this: I look at my life and the patterns of ministry that I’ve developed, and I think brothers and sisters in the ministry get caught in the same patterns. We see ministry as pouring out our lives for our people, and every one of us wants to do that genuinely. With a whole heart, we want to serve the Lord. We want to serve our people. So, we give ourselves. We lay down our lives – preaching, shepherding, counseling, organizing, and leading. We give all of our strength and energy and get emptied out in the process. Then we go away for a personal time of prayer or study or vacation or holiday. We get filled up again. Then we follow the same pattern. Laying down our lives or our people, pouring yourselves out, and then finding a place of rest to be filled up and filled up again.

I think the model of the Lord Jesus, and I think of the apostle Paul as well, was resting in the work rather than resting from the work. I learned that primarily from Jesus’ ministry model, that you alluded to earlier, of watching to see what the Father is doing and entering into the Father’s eternal work. He was following the Father in ministry. I think of many ministry trips that you and I have taken together, Craig, and I remember on trips where somebody else was leading, someone else was responsible for the trip, it gave me a sense of rest in the process. I don’t have to be all over this, I don’t have to worry about every detail; someone else is in charge. And there’s something restful about that. I think that’s the way Jesus walked with the Father in ministry. He knew that this is what the Father is doing. He would fulfill His purposes. He was following in the Father’s service, resting.

CP: Along those lines, one of the things that impresses me most about the way Jesus does ministry is how He responds to interruptions. I contrast that with how I respond to interruptions. When I’m on task, please don’t interrupt me. I want to finish what I’ve started. And Jesus doesn’t respond that way. When people interrupt Him, He receives it as a divine appointment, and He puts down whatever He was working on, in a sense, and gives Himself to the person or people who interrupted Him and looks for what God is doing there and how He can participate in it.

BM: Yes, it seems that Jesus’s ministry, as we read in the Gospels, is very spontaneous. Not pressured to get these disciples ready by a certain point of graduation so He can turn over the work to them. He is very free along the way. Knowing that they will be ready in the Father’s timing.

When I think of resting in the work, I think of one those interruptions with the woman at the well (John 4). Here He’s going through Samaria – and Jews, of course, would never do that – but the disciples went into town to buy food. And He sits down to take a rest, and here comes this Samaritan woman. He knew all about her. She’s a hurting woman; she’s a sinful woman. She’s been used, she’s hungry, she’s thirsty for the real things of life. Jesus begins to talk to her about living water. And it just happens along the way. He heals her life. He satisfies her with the living water. And then the disciples come back with lunch. It’s time to break out the sandwiches that they purchased in town, and Jesus says, “I’m not hungry anymore.” And they begin to look at each other and say, “Did someone bring him something to eat while we were gone?” He says, “No, I have food to eat that you don’t know anything about. My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, to accomplish His work.” So Jesus was being filled up along the way through the ministry by the things that came from His Father, in that relationship.

I think the same is ours in the Holy Spirit in this walk with Jesus in the ministry – that we can be filled up along the way in the process, even in the interruptions, and break this pattern of the work of the ministry being exhausting – pouring out my life – and then I need to go to a place of rest to be filled up again. I think we can rest in the work.

The next post shares how gratitude is a powerful weapon.

Finishing Well in Life and Ministry: 20 Years Later

It’s been over 20 years since Bill Mills and Craig Parro wrote the influential book Finishing Well in Life and Ministry: God’s Protection from Burnout (available on Amazon or in our web store. LRI thought it would be a good idea to catch up with Bill and Craig about the book and hear of lessons learned since its release.

Bill Mills: Craig, it’s been over twenty years since we wrote the book together, titled Finishing Well in Life and Ministry: God’s Battle Plan for Burnout. We had hoped that it would be an encouragement to pastors in the battle against burning out in the ministry, and in the last twenty years, a lot of things have changed and a lot of things have stayed the same.

We still see a horrendous number of pastors leaving the ministry for various reasons. It’s hard to keep up with the statistics, but it sounds like at least half of the pastors of the churches on the field are struggling with burnout on a physical, emotional, and spiritual level. We still pray that God would keep their hearts.

Craig Parro: Bill, I think it’s clear that this was a book that scratches where pastors itch. As you said, the landscape is replete with pastors who have burned out from the ministry. It’s one of the toughest jobs in America, isn’t it? You have the growing independent mindset of people in our country, and sometimes pastors feel like they have 150 bosses, right? It’s a very, very challenging responsibility. There are a lot of reasons why pastors can burn out.

BM: I think it would be good as we look back on that project to talk a little bit about what we wrote in the book that we still believe in very strongly and maybe some things that we wish we would have said differently. Do you have any thoughts on that?

CP: Sure. In many ways, so much of this book reflects your life message. I’ve heard you give dozens and dozens of messages over the years, and sometimes we laugh around here that Bill’s messages are all the same. And that’s not at all a criticism.

Ministry is looking to see what the Father is doing and then walking in that.

One of the key aspects of your message of the years, which is clearly reflected in this book, is the idea that ministry is looking to see what the Father is doing and then walking in that. I’ve so appreciated that emphasis, and you cite specifically the ministry of Jesus. We think of Jesus as this great leader, and of course He was, and yet Jesus in relationship to the Father was the Responder; the Father was the Initiator. He says in John, “I only do the things I see My Father doing. I only speak the words I hear My Father speaking.”

We’ve tried to shape our lives and our ministry based on that – that we’re looking to see what the Father is doing and then seeking to walk in that, rather than creating our own ministry.

BM: Just to review a quick thing: The book Finishing Well in Life and Ministry is about ten people in the Scriptures that struggle with burnout and how God met them along the way, hoping that it will be a help to us and to other pastors.

Ministry is about God – it’s about who He is, it’s about what He is doing. Ministry is not about us and about what we’re doing.

What you’re talking about is, to me, the most important message in that book, the one that I’ve learned over the years that has made the biggest difference in my life: understanding that ministry is about God – it’s about who He is, it’s about what He is doing. Ministry is not about us and about what we’re doing.

We have a God who speaks. There’s so much in this book about the power of His Word – that it brings new life in us and through us to our people. But it’s also about a God who is active, who is at work. Sometimes we think that when Jesus returned to the Father, He left the work to us. Biblically that is not true in any sense. When we look at the book of Acts and the disciples, they are following the Lord Jesus just as you described a moment ago – Jesus is following the Father. His identity, their identities, are clearly as followers of what God is doing. So here in the book of Acts, Jesus is building His church. God is actively fulfilling His purposes in His glory. That is a great hope.

CP: And the reminder – that it is about His glory – is another theme that Finishing Well picks up on. There’s a chapter on Habakkuk. Habakkuk battled with burnout didn’t he? He was complaining to God that God wasn’t doing enough, and God surprises him by saying, “Oh, you don’t think I’m doing much? Open your eyes. Let me show you what I’m doing. I’m raising up the Babylonians – that fearsome and impetuous people. And they’re coming to a neighborhood near you to destroy your people.” That just blows all of Habakkuk’s circuits, and the book is really a record of his struggle to understand and, ultimately, to embrace what God is doing. In the second chapter, he realizes that because of what God is doing, the earth will be filled with the glory of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14). God’s purposes, ultimate purposes, are to fill the earth with His glory – and that includes mercy and grace. It includes judgment. It is all part of His great eternal purposes.

BM: When you mention Habakkuk and what he experienced, you’re really touching on one of the major themes of all of the other chapters of the book too, Craig, and that is the need of our vision of God to get bigger and bigger. When the book of Habakkuk begins, he is very confused. There’s some anger and there’s some fear about what God is doing and what He’s not doing. He’s crying out for justice, and God says, “I am at work, and I’m doing bigger things than you can see or understand.” Part of what God reveals is that He’s going to use the hated Babylonians to come and take God’s people captive. So, the prophet is even more confused. But by the end of the book, he is dancing on the high places (Habakkuk 3:17–19). What’s changed?

It’s helpful for us personally but also as we’re shepherding our people. How often are they in places where they’re confused about what God is doing, or what He’s not doing, or they’re disappointed in what God is doing? It might be a crisis in marriage or family or health or finances. Situations that are hurtful, devastating, confusing, fearful. How do we shepherd our people so that they’re able to dance on the high places? What’s changed for the prophet Habakkuk? His view of God has gotten bigger. His circumstances haven’t changed at all.

CP: Actually, his circumstances have gotten worse. Because at the beginning he doesn’t realize that judgment is so imminent for his people.

BM: Yes! We talk a lot in the book about vision. The need for our vision of God to get bigger and bigger. We talk about how God consistently began the ministry of prophets with vision. Not so much a vision of what He would do with them, but a vision of Himself. Of course vision is a very important word in ministry today, because we all know that if you’re interviewing for a position in a church or mission organization or whatever role, one of the first questions is going to be, What is your vision for this ministry?

“There’s no hint in any text in the Bible where God has interest in anyone’s vision for ministry. He’s got all the vision…”

One of the realities that we deal with in this book is the fact that there’s no hint in any text in the Bible where God has interest in anyone’s vision for ministry. He’s got all the vision, in that He’s an active God. He’s fulfilling His purposes: filling the earth with the knowledge of His glory. The confidence that the prophet Habakkuk experienced is that God will fulfill His purposes, and I can rest in that. It’s a wonderful thing.

But going back again, ministry’s not about us; it’s about God. It’s not what we’re doing; it’s what He’s doing. The hope that comes from the vision of this reality is not only that God is going to fulfill His purposes, but it sets us free to walk with God in what He’s doing.

Here’s the difficulty with the pressures pastors face: we expect pastors today to develop a vision for their church, for their ministry, to cast that vision in a way that the people will be engaged and follow the vision and help develop it. Then we’re in the place where so much of our energy in preaching and most of our prayer time is focused on asking God to enter into what we are doing, to give it life, to bless it, to make it happen – rather than leaving us with the freedom to enter into “What does God have for me?” and walk with Him in His purposes. So, it takes a lot of pressure off: I don’t have to develop a vision for this ministry; the Word of God is filled with the vision of His heart.

Next you’ll hear how Bill and Craig have learned to rest in ministry, not from it.

Coaching Using the IGROW Method: Interview with Craig Glassock (Part 3 of 3)

This is Part Three of a series. Read Part One or Part Two.

Listen to the interview or read the transcript below.

KH: When you were with our staff, you shared a method called the IGROW method for coaching. Can you give us a two- or three-minute overview of that?

CG: One of the classic coaching methods is the GROW method which stands for:

  • What’s the Goal?
  • What’s the Reality of the situation?
  • What Options do you have?
  • What’s the Way forward?

Experts have added: What’s the Issue up front? (Thus, IGROW.)

I like to use the IGROW method when working with pastors, when it’s appropriate to do that.

What is the issue at hand? What is keeping someone awake at night? What’s on their mind? What’s nagging away that they can’t just let go? So, that’s the issue.

The G is the goal. What is the goal for this coaching session? We have limited time. How can we set a goal that we can actually work towards and try and come up with a resolution or a way forward at the end.

The R stands for reality. We’re trying to use questioning skills to raise their awareness of the current situation. What’s working now? What’s working for them? What’s not working? When is working? How is it working? Digging with questions like, “Tell me some more about that.”

There’s a technique called the A-W-E question: “And what else?” Remembering that is really helpful.

Allow time for the awkward silence.

Often, you need to allow time for people to contemplate, to allow time for the awkward silence, and “What else?” just helps people to dig further and find those solutions. It’s a really important question in coaching.

O in the IGROW method stands for options. You’re trying to help them shift their perspective towards actions and solutions. What options do they have? What are they doing that’s already working? And what else? Also, what are the costs and benefits? So, if they choose to do this thing, or if they choose to use that method or go this direction, what’s going to have to go at the expense of that trade? Help them to see there’s a cost/benefit with options.

Then W stands for the way forward. You’re trying to help them to sit and gain commitment to action steps that you can follow up on with them later. “What are the next steps to take?” “How are you going to move forward?” “How can you keep track of your progress?” “Who will support you in this?” “How confident are you that you’re going to achieve this?” “How committed are you to it?” That’s a scaling question as you’re doing those action steps. Answering “How committed are you?” will actually reveal whether it’s something they really want to put in place.

That’s kind of a broad overview of the IGROW method. In general day-to-day ministry, I think the pastors and lay leaders probably change more using a task-based coaching method. Things like: “What do you think you are doing well?” “What do you think you could do better?” “This is what I see you doing well . . .” “This is what I think we’re able to improve on . . .” and “What’s a way forward with some action steps?” That’s a simple task-based method that people can use in various ministry trellises or structures.

KH: Excellent. We’ve had Colin Marshall from your ministry come and share with our staff before, and you came most recently. There’s a budding friendship between VineGrowers and Leadership Resources International. How would you describe the connection and the friendship between our ministries?

CG: We’ve gotten to know LRI through various people (through Sean Martin and others). At VineGrowers, as I said before, we’re trying to help grow a culture of disciple-making disciples in the church. We want to see people being prayerful, patient proclaimers of the Word of God in their daily lives, growing in Christlikeness (we say “learning Christ”). We try to help people learn Christ and help others do the same, to evaluate and structure all their trellises around helping people to do that. That’s what we’re on about at VineGrowers. We coach pastors through The Vine Project, which is a five phase book to bring about this disciple-making culture.

You guys are about a movement of the Word, training pastors around the world to be able to preach expository sermons, and more. You’re trying to create a movement of the Word. That was so encouraging for me when I was over with you guys in April. That’s what we’re about as well. We want to see a movement of the Word through all our churches from around the world. A movement of the Word in people’s lives, in their families, in their neighborhoods—and so we feel kindred with LRI. We’re working in slightly different ways, but it’s an important friendship for us.

KH: Where can people learn more about about VineGrowers?

CG: They can go to TheVineProject.com. We’ve got a free resource library with hundreds of resources through which you and your church can be disciples who make other disciples. We would love you to join that free library. There’s dozens of videos and interviews and case studies and templates. TheVineProject.com or you can go to The Vine Project Facebook page. We’ve got a page for members who are actually working through The Vine Project, who are trying to build this disciple-making culture in their churches.

The Vine Project book is available through Matthias Media. It’s a follow on from The Trellis and the Vine as many people would know. You guys have talked about The Vine Project before [watch our interview with Colin Marshall], so to read the book would be great.

[Editor’s Note: Since the recording of this interview, VineGrowers has released The Vine Project podcast. Check it out!]

Asking Good Questions and the Importance of Listening: Interview with Craig Glassock (Part 2 of 3)

Continued from Part One: Helping Your People Grow Through Coaching: An Interview with Craig Glassock

Listen to the interview or read the transcript below.

KH: I noticed when you were with LRI at our staff training, you asked a lot of really good questions. How did you get so good at asking questions, and what is your goal in asking questions? [Note: This “asking good questions” is different from the hermeneutical principle LRI uses with the same name.]

CG: Naturally, I’m interested in people. I think that’s the way I’ve been put together—just the way God’s made me. My dad actually was a great asker of questions, very interested in people. I’ve had some good models. I think our Lord was a pretty good model in terms of asking questions as well. He asked hundreds of questions in the gospels—drawing people out, helping them to learn, challenging them, pointing them towards God. He kind of used questions as a scalpel to get to the heart of what was happening in people’s hearts and to challenge them to help them to see things they may not have seen if it was more didactic or if it was downloading. Even in the Sermon on the Mount, he asked questions—rhetorical questions, but questions to get people to think and to learn. Proverbs 20 says, “The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out.” It’s really important that we ask questions. In terms of what I’m trying to achieve, it’s trying to build up a mental picture, a jigsaw puzzle. How do these pieces of understanding someone come together? I try to do that in conversation. Coaching is a natural extension of that. The coaching questions are intentionally different. Like I said before, we are trying to equip people to find solutions to their problems, and that often requires a lot of digging and a lot of probing to find out what’s at the heart of the issue for them. How we can actually help them move forward? Asking questions takes a lot of practice, a lot of failure, a lot of asking the wrong questions to find out the right questions—just a general curiosity as well, wanting to understand people, wanting to know what makes them tick and how we can help them move forward.

KH: One aspect of asking good questions is listening well to the person speaking. What are some things a coach should listen for so he can best direct the conversation moving forward?

CG: Listening is vital. James instructs us to be quick to listen and slow to speak. It’s obviously vital as a coach—vital in ministry in general. We can’t understand people if we’re not asking questions. We seek to know what makes them tick and what drives them. What makes them struggle? I think this is a great challenge. Listening can be a great challenge.

Pastors and other are trained to teach. We’re trained to have the answers, to be the expert. So, it can be a great challenge to sit back and listen and dig. But it actually gives us a great opportunity to teach and be more precise in trying to help someone. I think one of the reasons we need to listen carefully is that often when you’re coaching someone, what might seem to be a side issue for them is really at the heart of what’s going on. I can think of an issue a little while ago when someone I was coaching had just mentioned on the side that they had a little issue with an elder. It wasn’t anything major, but it was actually at the heart of their ministry and how they are operating as a pastor. That was the perfect example of how they were living out their ministry. So, what might seem small to someone can actually be a big thing.

It’s vital to listen carefully and not stick to a script. When we’re starting out coaching, it might be lay person-to-lay person or a small group leader to someone who is in their small group. We want to try to help them, so we tend to want to stick to the script of questions we should ask. That can actually impede listening. I don’t know if there is any way around that, because we make mistakes when we’re learning anything. We want to try to listen carefully and be prepared to go off in a different direction if you think something is really important. I’m trying to listen to what makes someone tick—What drives them? What motivates them?—just picking up different cues about what’s happening in the church. That can take a lot of digging. It can take time. So, sometimes you might have ninety minutes or two hours for a coaching session. You may need to flex on that to get at the heart of an issue and really help someone.

Part Three shares one simple method for coaching.

Helping Your People Grow through Coaching: An Interview with Craig Glassock from VineGrowers (Part 1 of 3)

What follows is an interview with a friend of the ministry, Craig Glassock of VineGrowers. In the interview we define coaching, talk about its importance for church ministry, and share a simple method to follow when coaching.

Listen to the interview or read the transcript below.

Kevin Halloran

Kevin Halloran

Kevin Halloran: Can you briefly tell us who you are and what VineGrowers is all about?

Craig Glassock: My name is Craig Glassock, and I’m the director with VineGrowers, which is a ministry based in Sydney, Australia.

Our mission is growing disciples and growing the gospel. We’re trying to help churches to develop a culture of disciple-making disciples.

Craig Glassock of VineGrowers

Looking at everything that happens in churches – all the ministry structures and trellises and the people—how can we get that all geared toward disciple-making, so that the normal life of the Christian is as a prayerful proclaimer of the Word? That’s what we’re about.

KH: Can you define coaching for us? Specifically as it relates to different activities such as mentoring or counseling, etc.

CG: Coaching in its simplest form is about helping a person develop and grow. Whenever we coach someone, that’s what we’re trying to do. That can be contrasted with things like counseling, consulting, and mentoring. The type of coaching that I do, which is working with pastors and church leaders, is overlapping in some of those areas. (Although, we try not to delve into the counseling side of things too much.)

If you think about a quadrant with asking questions being at the northern point and giving advice being at the southern point, analyzing problems on the west and creating solutions being in the east, coaching kind of sits in the asking questions/creating solutions quadrant. We’re trying to help people find the answers and unveil the answers for themselves.

In Christian coaching we’re trying to do that within a Christian framework, a biblical framework. That’s where there’s overlap with consultancy or with teaching or mentoring as well. I’m always very careful about differentiating the modes too much. Because you typically end up offending someone somewhat, but counseling tends to be about analyzing problems and problem solving: What’s happened to us in the past? How can we move through that, work through that?

Mentoring tends to be hierarchical, one expert talking to someone who doesn’t have as much expertise. Consultancy would tend to be something like going in, finding what the problem is, and solving it, and then leaving again.

It might be something like in the business world: A company gets a supply chain consultant in, looks at what’s going on, he offers suggestions, and then leaves. It’s a different kind of mode to coaching. Coaching tends to ask questions, dig and explore, and try to help people to find solutions and to be quick to be able to move forward into the future.

KH: Craig, why is coaching so valuable in ministry, and in what situations might a pastor or church leader find themselves with an opportunity to coach?

CG: I think it’s valuable in ministry because we’re sinful people and our flesh is at war with the Spirit. We all need people to help us. We need people to teach us to apply God’s word to our lives, to teach, rebuke, correct, and train us in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16–17). We also need people to listen to us, to ask the right questions, to understand, to find out what makes us tick.

How is it valuable in ministry? I think it’s valuable in just about every level of ministry. I’ll talk about some structures or trellises where it might be useful, but I guess it’s important to think about what we’re coaching people in. I’m a product of the ministry of Colin Marshall and Phillip Jensen and others who for a long time talked about three Cs (which I know you’re familiar with): character, conviction, and competence—they’re the things we want to see people grow in and churches grow in.

We want people to grow in godly character and grow like Christ. Romans 12:2 says to stop conforming to the patterns of the world, be transformed by the renewing of our minds, so we know what God’s will is. None of us drift towards holiness. So, we need coaching; we need help to do that. That takes intentionality. I think that there’s a real gap. Some churches are doing it really well, but broadly speaking, in our churches there’s a real gap in coaching people to develop in character.

A few of us have maintained great spiritual disciplines throughout our lives. Spiritual disciplines are important. We don’t want to drift toward legalism, but how can we coach people to implement the basic spiritual disciplines of reading, and prayer, and proclaiming the Word in their lives? We want people to see what’s worked in the past for them when they’ve been doing that well, what hasn’t, and how we can move them toward that.

In terms of convictions, what are we actually believing, and how are we living those convictions? One example of this is that we’re encouraged to meet together regularly, as Hebrews 10 says, to consider how we might spur each other on to love and good deeds. If we take that seriously, then we’ll prepare for church, prepare to learn, prepare to think about who we can encourage.

Use the B-E-L-L principle: Be Early and Leave Late. We want to coach people so that their convictions shape their practice. That’s a role for small group leaders and others: to coach their people to have their convictions shape their practice of church.

But also competence, which is the third C. When we talk about competency, we’re talking about ministry skills, which is anything from leading a service on Sunday, to preaching, to reading the Bible with a non-believer, knowing how to evangelize, knowing how to lead a small group, and on and on it goes. I think coaching is applicable at about every level of ministry structure.

There are many very competent pastors, but coaching can be very helpful to them considering the burdens, the responsibilities, the diversity of skills that’s not just required but expected these days of pastors, particularly the solo pastor who has a huge diversity of responsibility. Pastors need help with that. They need someone to listen. They need someone to help them develop in those skills. They benefit from outside support. I think a lot of pastors just benefit from a listening ear. Someone they can share with. This is beneficial across other ministry structures, if there’s a lay person leading the Sunday service or praying or welcoming, for ushers, Sunday School, leaders, and on and on it goes.

We need to coach people to develop. We want to help them grow in those areas so that we are growing and building a disciple-making culture. When we think someone’s got potential, we should say, “You can lead the service” or “You can pray.” We might help them grow by getting them training and shape and structure, and then help them develop in those things, knowing they’ll make mistakes. We’re selling them short, essentially if we don’t do that. We need to coach people at every level.

I think that the big thing—and this is a growing movement in the States, I’ve noticed—is coaching small group leaders. It’s such a vital ministry for those who have small groups or adult Bible fellowship (adult Sunday School). How can we coach and develop our leaders to be equippers of others, to be disciple-making disciples, more than just facilitating a group? That takes coaching.

Leaders need to know how to lead a meeting, how to interpret Scripture, how to keep meetings on track, how to manage prayer, how to drive our people to have those deep convictions and develop character and competence. If we don’t, it’s like teaching a kid how to hit a baseball and then saying, “Alright, I think you’ve got potential to hit a baseball. Off you go. We’ll see you in a couple of years and see how it’s going.” We need more regular input for our small group leaders. And that is really challenging, particularly for solo pastors. They’ve got so many things on their plate.

If someone is ready to lead a small group, then I think 99 out of 100 of them can be trained to help people grow and change with a simple coaching framework and some simple coaching questions. I think coaching can be learned by lay leaders. It’s really important across all our trellises so we grow that disciple-making culture that we’re talking about.

Part two talks about asking good questions and the importance of listening.

The 2018 Blog Year in Review

2018 has been a remarkable year for the ministry of Leadership Resources International. In teamwork with our international partners, we’ve trained over 12,000 pastors in almost 50 countries.

The LRI blog has also experienced fruit and growth. The following links give a Year in Review for our blog. We hope the posts encourage and challenge you to faithfully minister God’s Word in your life and ministry.


Audio Resources

Video Resources

Stories from the Field

Central Asia: Preaching the Word with Clarity and Confidence

One preacher told Turstan that before this training “we got stuck in our own web. The harder we worked to make things clear, the more we confused even ourselves!” Now he preaches from the Word with both clarity and confidence.

Colombia: “Lord, please make this pastor go away!”

Costa Rica: “The pulpit now is no longer a burden, but a blessing”  [Video]

Cuba: Empowering Faithful Word Ministry

“TNT [Leadership Resources’ training for pastors] is really cool because students develop thoughts and sermons based on the principles we learn. This fuels us and also gives us feedback. At the same time, the student can be reproducing this training in home groups, Sunday School, and other places. . . . TNT has helped us greatly.”

Kenya: “His passion is channeled by the text itself. . .”

“His teaching has become more clear and to the point. He doesn’t just appeal to emotions. Paul is still a passionate preacher, but his passion is channeled by the text itself.”

Philippines: From Fear to a Passion to Preach God’s Word

“Everyone there had a far greater understanding of God’s Word. I thought I could never catch up.”

Security-sensitive Asian country: A Movement of the Word…Even Among Drug Addicts 

“A few years ago I was wondering, ‘Who will I train?’ A group of drug addicts at a local rehabilitation center were eager to learn, so I began with them. Soon they were changed by the power of God’s Word. Their hunger for the Word grew further still.

Security-sensitive Asian country: Transformed Pulpits Lead to Transformed Communities 

Chinh’s passion is to equip churches to shower the love of Christ on their communities by meeting social, physical, and spiritual needs . . . acts of love which “adorn” the gospel (Titus 2:10). These churches build schools, care for widows, dig toilets, and help farmers gather their crops when they are sick – they serve both Christians and non-Christians. When asked why, their reply is simple, “Because we love you! And because God loves you so much.” This outpouring of love has created a spiritual hunger among unbelievers to know this God of love. And as a result, many have come to know Christ.

Rejoice with us!

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you…”
– Zechariah 9:9 (ESV)

Dear Friends and Partners,

The beauty and the greatness of Zechariah’s proclamation rings in my ears at this time of year. This proclamation of hope causes me to rejoice at our Savior’s birth and deepens my desire that all might know Him.  

This same hope drives the ministry of Leadership Resources to equip pastors to teach God’s Word with God’s heart that they may share the Good News!

As we reflect on this past year, we rejoice that God has provided opportunities for LRI and our partners to work with key pastors in nearly 50 countries around the world, equipping over 12,000 pastors, transforming their ministries and churches through the power of God’s Spirit-backed Word.

We rejoice that those we continue to train gain confidence to preach God’s Word with God’s heart. We rejoice and pray that as they grow and mature, their ability to equip other pastors and church leaders will increase. By God’s grace, as they equip others, a movement of the Word will flourish.

We rejoice that our team is growing. God continues to bring men and women driven by a passion for God’s Word, a love for those we train, and a longing to see the Word of God flowing powerfully through every church to every nation.

We rejoice and thank God for you. Through your partnership, the nations are blessed with the written Word that points to the Living Word, our Lord Jesus Christ.

This Christmas, may you rejoice that the King has come – that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, fulfilling all of God’s good purposes in Christ.

Rejoicing with you in Christ,

Craig Parro


P.S. – As we come to the year end, would you prayerfully consider a special gift? By God’s grace, this ministry continues to grow. Your generous gift would help us finish the year strong and begin 2019 with great confidence!


    Launching Pastoral Training Movements Worldwide


    The mission of Leadership Resources is to launch pastoral training movements worldwide. This blog shares articles, resources, and updates from staff of God’s work around the world through our training. If you’re new to our blog, start here.


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