Feature

Online Interview with Dr. Bob Wenz

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In the July 15, 2010, issue, Alliance Life highlighted the new Alliance life-on-life mentoring initiative as Richard Bush outlined the future of mentoring among our pastors. While peer-to-peer mentoring will transform our movement in many ways, the C&MA relishes the opportunity to build into the lives of pastors in another critical way.

Peter Burgo, alife’s editor, spoke recently with Dr. Bob Wenz, a Colorado Springs–based and Alliance-sponsored preaching coach.

PB: If I Google “preaching coach” your Web site is there, but overall there isn’t much else that pops up.
BW: No, not much, considering how important pastors consider preaching to be and how important churches consider preaching to be. I have wondered if it is question of supply or demand.

PB: What do you mean?
BW: I have clients, but I think there might be more [who would like to be coached]—and many more preaching coaches. But preaching for many pastors is a very private thing or personal thing that they don’t feel comfortable talking about. It takes courage and humility to seek coaching.

And I think that a lot of pastors are not comfortable being “evaluated” by others. Most pastors I know don’t receive an annual review by their elders. I never received one in three of the four churches I pastored—even though I asked. Of course, that is a whole other kettle of fish. But it seems that sometimes the first official evaluation a pastor gets is the one that suggests it’s time for him to move on.

So seeking a coach requires real vulnerability and therefore takes courage. There is risk involved. We have to get real and surrender our pride. And after having preached for 30 years I am the first to admit that pride has to continually be “put to death.”

I suppose many pastors think that if you need a coach it’s because. . . well, because you NEED a coach. Because your preaching is not very good.

PB: Not so?
BW: Of course not. At least, I don’t think so. Everyone can be better. Good preachers can become great preachers, and average preachers can become good preachers. Everyone can benefit from coaching because coaching is really structured and guided feedback.

We don’t grow as preachers listening to “Nice message, pastor” from those who like us. Too often the people who are critical of our preaching just leave and thereby cheat us out of some valuable (albeit painful) feedback. That is what a good coach brings: critical feedback and helpful suggestions given from a well-trained and experienced practitioner who understands the challenges of delivering high quality preaching week after week.

PB: So, you’re a great preacher, then?
BW: Well . . . no. Great golf coaches are rarely championship golfers. Oh, they can play a decent game, but the coach is the one with the good eye more than the perfect swing. I understood this back when I actually coached a golfer or two.

My background is in public speaking [BA/MA, Arizona State University] and a short tenure as a speech instructor at ASU. I had formal homiletics training in seminary, followed by 30 years of preaching. Now I’m teaching public speaking again at a community college and preaching at The King’s Seminary.

PB: What do you do when you coach a pastor?
BW: Richard Bush and others have a whole program for mentoring that takes at least two years. Only rarely do I do more than just focus on the preaching task. I see this as a partnership or supplement to the life-on-life coaching that is very much needed.

I begin with an hour on the phone (or in person when possible) to get acquainted “preacher to preacher” – I have a set of questions about training, philosophy of preaching, approach, preparation routine etc. That is followed by watching two messages on video from the pastor that I carefully analyze and evaluate. I usually write 3,000 to 4,000 words of response—what was good, what was perhaps not so good—together with specific suggestions for instructions. Always looking to be positive and build on what is the foundation.

I then follow that up with another conversation to review and help him think through how to process it all. Sometimes we plan to do a second cycle of sermons and evaluation, all in a span of about 30 days.

PB: Who do you coach?
BW: Well, anyone who wants to take their preaching to a higher level—why not good to great? I just finished coaching a rabbi from Los Angeles—a very interesting experience! He found my Web site [rtwministries.com]. We’ve become friends. Seeing preaching as a specialized type of public speaking allows me to help even a rabbi.

The cost shouldn’t exclude anyone, really (about half the cost of a plumber on an hourly basis), and Gary Benedict’s office has some funds to assist Alliance pastors who would like some coaching but cannot afford it all.

PB: So, why are you not preaching every Sunday in a church, Coach? Is this about “Those who can, ‘do.’ And those who can’t, ‘teach?’”
BW: I miss preaching after 30 years, I really do. But I’m disabled now with an incurable lung disease. I’m on oxygen 24/7. So, while I really appreciate the occasional opportunity to preach or speak at a retreat, not many churches want a pastor who each Sunday shows up on life support!

All of this has pushed me in new directions of ministry—coaching, a little adjunct teaching and writing. I’m really excited about a new book, Navigating Your Perfect Storm—for me a different way to continue to preach.

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