Global Ministries

The United Methodist Church

Connecting the Church in Mission

Leadership Alongside: Global Coaching and Strategic Initiatives

George Howard*

God’s Holy Spirit calls the Church into being for mission…In response to God’s call and the leading of the Holy Spirit, women and men, young and old, of all nations, stations, and races, and in all times and places, unite as the living body of Christ to join God’s mission of redemption, bearing witness to God’s presence in the world.
Theology of Mission: The Church as a Community
of Servanthood in Mission section

I began attending a Methodist church nine months before I was born—my mother was the church organist; she never missed a Sunday. I am a fifth-generation Methodist, with former generations of my family coming from Georgia, Alabama, and Pennsylvania. In 1970, at the age of 15, I heard a missionary speak and a call to a life of service in that moment. He served the church in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), known as Zaire at that time.

Within the year, my mother and father sent me to live with a missionary family in the Congo so that I could figure out what this mission field was all about. That was the year that changed my life—if I gave my life to God, to Christ, with that missionary, I gave my heart and my soul in that year that I lived in the Congo.

Local and global mission has been my lifelong passion. Following God’s call has taken me to rural, urban, and suburban settings around the world. In addition to the DRC, I have lived in Australia and Venezuela, as well as in multiple locations in the United States. Through this travel, I have gained insights about the gifts and challenges of leadership.

A Persistent Call
Since 1970, I have made many trips to the North Katanga Conference in the DRC to work on a wide range of priorities that Congolese church members have identified—including, among other things, supporting education, building churches, equipping pastors, building and sustaining an orphanage, and purchasing an airplane to expand the Congo aviation ministry.

This long-term commitment has strengthened my personal relationships and clarified for me the necessity of leadership development in the African church. I took an extended trip to the DRC in 2005. In Kamina I met John Nday Nyoni, an agronomist, Betty Musau Kazadi, a pastor and communicator, and others who had just returned after completing their studies at Africa University in Zimbabwe. They worked with me to prepare and interpret a series of leadership development courses.

Over a four-week period, I watched and listened as they interacted with the pastors, farmers, school principals, and business leaders who were participating in the training. I saw the respect they gave the elders while they invited them to consider new approaches. I realized the gift of our partnership, a connection that allowed them to be the bridge between current understandings and practices and new perspectives and ideas. One retiring superintendent asked the bishop why he had waited so long to bring this training to the conference. I realized that by working together, we formed a great team that could bridge the gap.

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                                         George Howard, a lay delegate from the West Ohio Conference, speaking from the floor at the
 2016 United Methodist General Conference in Portland, Oregon. Photo by Kathleen Barry/UMNS 


My journey has included work in business, government, a parachurch organization and, for the past 22 years, work at all levels of The United Methodist Church (UMC). Since joining Global Ministries in 2012, I have visited 21 countries for dialogue and strategy development with church leaders.

Regardless of the continent or the organization, leadership development is at the forefront of the challenges facing the church and the world at large. This has been expressed by bishops in the UMC and other denominations, as well as by clergy and laity who have goals and dreams they want to fulfill. Yet, like the leaders in North Katanga, they often feel isolated and without the tools to make the needed changes within themselves or their environments.

Benefits of Coaching
Coaching is about investing in leaders—increasing their capacity toward fulfilling their ministry and professional development goals. It is a strategy to connect with lay and clergy leaders and accompany them with encouragement and support.

One pastor I coached, the Rev. BJ Norrix of the Upper New York Annual Conference, describes his experience this way: “Working with a coach helped me do several critical things: 1) it helped me see multiple sides of the same issue; 2) it helped me gain a much broader perspective than my own; 3) I was encouraged to explore new avenues of thought; 4) I developed a clearer vision of the big picture and a workable plan for its component parts; and, finally, 5) I gained confidence with encouragement from the coach.”

Working as a leadership coach and training coaches across the United States, I began to wonder: What would it look like to provide leadership coach training globally? Coaching aligned with Global Ministries’ mandate to “Connect the Church in Mission.” It would empower leaders and increase their capacity to engage in their ministry locally and connect with one another.

That question resonated at Africa University (AU), a United Methodist-related institution investing in Africa’s future. Currently, AU enrolls students from 26 countries who study in seven different academic areas. University leaders have been looking for ways to increase AU’s capacity to offer leadership training for all of its students.

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                                          George Howard (right) meets with Vice Chancellor Munashe Furusa to discuss a coaching
                                          program at Africa University in Zimbabwe. Photo by Africa University


The emerging vision at AU incorporates the impact that coaching could have on its student body and faculty. We are developing a cross-disciplinary course designed for students in health, management, education, theology, agriculture, and the Institute for Peace, Leadership, and Governance to introduce a coaching approach to their work.

Africa University Vice Chancellor Munashe Furusa is eager for AU to become the first university in Africa to offer leadership coaching for its students. “While coaching is new in Zimbabwe and on the continent, it is an essential leadership behavior,” he noted. “Coaching is one of the leadership styles that produce a ‘markedly positive’ impact on performance, climate (culture), and the bottom line.”

Select lecturers and administrative staff participated in a coach-training pilot in August 2016. During their training, participants spread out over the university grounds to hold their first coaching conversation with a student or staff member. All returned with great enthusiasm for the reception and impact of their conversations.

A second pilot training with 32 students from Côte d’Ivoire, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Burundi, Kenya, DRC, Zambia, and Zimbabwe yielded similar results. The student leaders were named by the student body or by staff.

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                                          George Howard (left) leads a coaching session at Africa University. Photo by Chris Holmes

Wehnam Dabale, the current director of Alumni and International Students for AU and a graduate of the university, would like to offer training to alumni across Africa and to establish an AU chapter of the International Coach Federation. “As a culture of coaching emerges, it will be a recruitment incentive for new students,” he surmised.

One AU student, Shekinael Gnagne Tata, confirmed, “I look forward to my graduation and taking coaching back to Côte d’Ivoire.” As she and other leaders are trained and return home across the continent, a Pan-African Coaching Network will develop. This network will continue to build leadership capacity by encouraging and supporting leaders in a wide variety of fields.

More Connections
I also work with a number of other networks and committees that partner with Global Ministries. The Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters and a network of large church mission pastors are the two primary ones.

I serve as staff for the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters, which is also addressing the ability to increase the leadership capacity within central conferences (those outside the US region). The committee is charged by General Conference to center its attention on two key areas of work. First, the committee will create a general (or global) Book of Discipline in consultation with the Connectional Table and the Committee on Faith and Order. All annual conferences worldwide will engage in a review of the sections of the general Book of Discipline, which were presented in draft form to the 2016 General Conference. A complete submission of a general Book of Discipline will be presented to the 2020 General Conference. Second, the committee will work on the “Comprehensive Plan for Africa,” proposing effective structures for the growing ministry of the church in Africa related to the number and boundaries of central conferences and episcopal areas.

The Large Church Mission Connection is a network of United Methodist churches that have mission directors or mission pastors as part of their church staff. The partnership seeks ways to strengthen the connection among Global Ministries and large congregations in the United States, as together we engage in healthy partnerships around the globe. Among other things, this connection includes the UMC Microfinance Connection (for more information, visit www.umcmicrofinance.org), partnership development, and training.

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                                          Members of the pioneer group of coaching students at Africa University. Photo by Africa University

The Spirit is always moving to sweep the church into a new mission age. Global Ministries, Higher Education and Ministry, and Africa University are listening to the Spirit to discover how to connect the church in mission in very practical ways. We are striving not for top-down leadership, but for leadership that comes alongside, so that we all can live out the potential of a new life in Christ. My passion is to increase each person’s capacity to be the one that God calls her or him to be—and as the executive director of Global Coaching, I am excited to work at AU and beyond to equip and empower men and women serving as pastors, agriculturalists, educators, health workers, and others to increase their capacity and follow their call.

George Howard, executive director of Global Coaching and Strategic Initiatives for Global Ministries, is a lay member from the Ohio Conference and a Professional Certified Coach (PCC) accredited by the International Coach Federation. Before coming to Global Ministries in 2012, he served as the director of connectional ministries for the West Ohio Annual Conference.

Copyright New World Outlook magazine, Winter 2017 issue. Used by permission. Email the New World Outlook editor for more information.