NFL coaches beware: Coach Keating is ready to roll.

Go ahead and laugh. Thinking of me as a football coach – or a coach of any sport, for that matter, is absurd. Even the most desperate beginning youth team wouldn’t hire me as a coach – and for good reasons.
Yet coaching has become part of my ministry. I celebrated my 31st ordination anniversary last week by enrolling in a program to be a credentialed coach. Coach Training for Leaders and the Omaha Presbyterian Seminary Foundation have partnered to train ministry coaches in our region. The hope is to improve church leadership through the ministry of coaching. OPSF is already providing a network of coaches for pastors and congregational leaders in the Midwest and plans to continue deploying coaches in the years to come.

We think of coaches as hard-cussing individuals whose inspiring talks and dedication to winning promote excellence. The International Coach Federation sees it a bit differently. ICF, which is considered the gold standard in coach training, defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”

There’s scientific research backing up their claims. Coaching improves personal fulfillment, improves self-esteem, increases productivity, and increases learning. Coaching is also seen as more cost-effective for churches. A coach can meet with a pastor or leaders by phone or video conference. When we were preparing our strategic plan, Woodlawn Chapel engaged a coach who provided substantial – and cost-effective – insights.

Though I didn’t play football in college, my life was forever changed by getting to know a man whom I rate as one of the best college football coaches of all time. Roland Ortmayer isn’t a Hall of Famer, and his .500 career record won’t draw a lot of attention. But Ortmayer – Ort to all who met him – understood the value of coaching. He had little or no ego, didn’t take attendance at practice, and rarely looked at gameday footage.

But what he did was remarkable. Ort lined the fields himself and washed his player’s uniforms. He felt carrying the soiled football pants brought him closer to his players. He experienced great personal pain as well — both the pain of injuries and the pain of loss. His six-year-old son died as the result of drowning at a nearby reservoir. Years later, Ort recalled the incident to a Sports Illustrated reporter:

Standing by the reservoir, Ort recalls that earlier that day David had asked him to play. But Ort said he had to groom the baseball diamond, drag the track and clean the gym. Says Ort, “What I learned is that a gym or a baseball diamond is not nearly as important as people.” Ort’s blue eyes glisten.

That’s the sort of coach the church needs, and it is why I’m grateful that Woodlawn Chapel has encouraged me to participate in becoming a ministry coach.