Russ was a coach-spiritual director who helped me navigate my transition from pastoring to full-time coaching. At least ten years my senior, Russ had been a faithful pastor for 19 years and then felt the Lord leading him out of the pastorate and into being ‘a pastor to one’ as he liked to explain it.
Ellen and I had the opportunity to attend a couple of his two-day spiritual retreats. Russ would gather 12 people at a Catholic retreat center. We’d practice silence, reflection, and have discussions about spiritual formation. One of the things I heard Russ say more than once that stuck with me over the years and has become something I use with my coaching clients to explain to them an important part of my philosophy of coaching.
Russ would say, “It’s not my job to do your thinking for you. It’s my job to help you think.”
When I was a pastor I wasn’t very good at helping people think. I was good at doing their thinking for them.
Pastors are trained and expected to be the one to go to when you have a question or predicament. I don’t know about you, but I kind of liked this. It felt good to appear to have solved someone’s problem either through my advice or by pointing them to the perfect place in the Bible. There was a bit of an ego-stroke when a member of my church would come to me and ask, “Dave, what should I do? What does the Bible say?” I didn’t see it then but I can see it now. I liked being a mini-savior. “Come unto Pastor Dave all you who are weary and heavy laden and Pastor Dave will give you rest.”
Sometimes people want the easy way out. They want someone (the pastor) to tell them what to do, what to think, what to believe. The easy way is not always the best way. It’s hard to think for yourself. Thinking takes time. Thinking takes prayer. When you think for yourself you run the risk of coming up with the wrong conclusions. It’s easier to have someone do your thinking for you.
If I could go back in time, one of the things I would change about my approach to pastoring would be to focus less on being the answer-man, the mini-savior, and more on helping people think for themselves. When my people would come to me with questions I would counter with questions of my own. My questions would be designed to help them think, help them hear, help them see what the Father was doing in their lives.
I would not avoid giving advice at all costs but I also would not enable my people to lean on me more than they should. I would want to help my people ‘grow up’ which is hard for them to do if someone else (me) is doing their thinking for them.
Thanks Russ for depositing in me, “It’s not my job to do your thinking for you. It’s my job to help you think.”
Questions for reflection:
- How might you get better at asking questions?
- What ‘push-back’ might you anticipate from your people when they come to you for advice but instead get from you thought-provoking questions?
- How will you know when it’s time to give advice versus helping someone think for themselves?