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Mentors, Coaches and Ministry Companions

As a diocese we want clergy and authorised ministers to thrive in their ministries. As we seek to Grow in God, we are committed to developing “a body of ordained and lay ministers who are connected, nourished and encouraged”. The provision of mentors, coaches and ministry companions is one way of offering the support that enables this flourishing. The focus is on the individual in their ministry context, giving the individual a safe space to reflect, to be listened to and to grow in confidence in their ministry.

While there will be clear overlaps, this is different from spiritual direction which focuses on the minister’s relationship with God; from counselling, which is offered in a confidential setting when there are personal, emotional and mental concerns and stresses; and from mission/ministry consultancy, where a Mission Accompanier will work with the minister and wider parish/congregation to look at the strategic development and plans for the parish/benefice.

Having a mentor, coach or ministry companion is offered and encouraged for ministers as a positive means of supporting ministry. It also reflects a commitment to mutual and collaborative ministry and to both personal responsibility for well-being and to accountability to the wider church. It is recommended that all ministers consider having an individual or people who can offer this safe space for reflection, encouragement and prayer. For some it may be in the context of a regular prayer partner, prayer triplet, action learning set or cell group.

While the Diocese encourages ministers to find appropriate people for themselves, it also offers a range of support which ministers can access.

What type of person do I need?

There are three different types of support available, although inevitably the distinctions between them will often be blurred. What is important is that the relationship ‘works’.

  1. Mentors Mentors are people with more experience and expertise in a particular field which they are willing to share. For example, a new incumbent might be mentored by a more experienced incumbent who can offer advice, guidance, wisdom and space for the ‘mentee’ to ask questions and explore ideas, to listen and learn. A mentor won’t tell the mentee what to do but might make suggestions or give examples from their own experience.
  2. Coaches Coaches do not necessarily have experience or expertise in a particular field but do have the skill of asking the right questions to help the person being coached to work out the answers for themselves. Coaches assume (often rightly) that the person being coached has the resources and answers within themselves. Their role is therefore to help the person grow in confidence in trusting their own abilities. For example, a priest wanting help with chairing meetings might have a coach who will assist them in analysing the current situation and considering options for making changes – and then reflecting on what happened. Coaches usually work with someone for a limited number of sessions.
  3. Ministry Companions Many people find it helpful to have someone outside their usual ministry context with whom they can simply talk about their ministry. The agenda is set by the minister – whatever is on their mind. The ministry companion is there to listen, prompt, perhaps ask a few questions, to pray. There may not be any specific ‘need’ – it is simply useful to stand back sometimes and come away refreshed, perhaps with more clarity, or a sense of having put a worry to rest, or new realisation of possibilities. Trust and mutual respect is at the core of the relationship: the ministry companion is someone who walks with the minister on the journey and the relationship may last for years.

What types of support might be helpful?

There are various ways in which support can be helpful in particular circumstances.

  1. For those in transition:
    1. First incumbents – those just out of curacy or whose ministry to date has not included incumbency
    2. Those new in post

Transitions always bring with them new relationships, a new context for ministry and new challenges. They can be times of excitement and expectation, but also of uncertainty and anxiety. It is always good to have someone to reflect with as the minister adjusts to the new context.

The Diocese expects all those in transition to have a mentor and will be proactive in helping the minister to find one. This may be someone they see for just two or three sessions, or for a longer period – perhaps between one and two years until the minister feels that they are settled. The relationship will be reviewed regularly between the mentor, mentee and the Bishops’ Ministry Officer to ensure it is still fruitful for the minister. The mentor will not share any details of discussions with the bishop or other diocesan staff without the mentee’s permission but will encourage the mentee to take responsibility for addressing any concerns honestly, which may include encouraging them to talk to e.g. a bishop or archdeacon.

  1. For those with specific needs:
    1. Returning to full-time ministry/work after e.g. illness
    2. Needs identified e.g. through MDR, from a conversation with a bishop or archdeacon

From time to time there are specific situations where a particular need is identified, or a minister is under particular stress or there is a sense of crisis. In such situations a bishop, archdeacon or the Bishops’ Ministry Officer will discuss with the minister what support might be helpful. This might mean that someone comes alongside the minister to monitor and support their return to full-time ministry, or someone works, for example, with a minister to deal with a conflict or relationship breakdown. There will be some expectation that any progress and developments may be shared with others as appropriate such as the bishop, archdeacon, Bishops’ Ministry Officer or Rural Dean to ensure maximum all-round support.

  1. For those seeking on-going support:

As noted above, many will find it helpful to have someone or a group of people with whom they can share joys and concerns. The Diocese will seek to make suggestions of ministry companions for those that would like help in finding someone, although the setting up of the relationship will be the responsibility of the minister.