The Player-Coach: A Biblical Model for Ministry Leadership

Church Support Australia
Church Support Australia

Since the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century the Preacher/Teacher/Pastor paradigm has emerged as the foundational model for local church ministry. Provided pastors are competent in their preaching, biblically consistent in their teaching and faithful and caring in their pastoral visiting most congregational members are content.
While that paradigm works well in a Christendom context, the western world, to quote Dorothy from ‘The Wizard of Oz’, is “not in Kansas anymore.” Christendom died in the second half of the 20th century and was buried with the advent of the internet and advances in digital technology in the 1990s and the early 21st century.
The challenge now is to shift the dial from attempting to maintain the status quo of the pastoral ministry model to an outward focused, disciple making emphasis of the missional paradigm. What is needed in the contemporary church is a new paradigm – a new model for ministry leadership.


For Christians, the basis for all Christian ministry must be the life and teachings of Jesus and the apostolic witness to Jesus found in the New Testament. When Jesus called his disciples to follow him it was in order to equip, inspire and model to them how to make other Jesus-followers who would form missional communities that live out the values and vision of Jesus (Mark 1:16-17, Matt 16:18). Drawing on the Hebrew Scripture’s leadership image of the Shepherd (eg. Psalm 23, Ezekiel 34), Jesus called himself the Good Shepherd who leaves the security of his Father’s home to seek and save the lost (John10; Matt 18:12-13; Lk 19:10).
The apostle Paul outlines the leadership gifts of the ascended Christ in Ephesians 4:7-13. While most of the ministries (apostles, prophets and evangelists) seem to be non-local leadership roles, the pastor-teacher ministry seems best understood as a hyphenated gift for leadership in a local missional community. (As Jesus in John 21 three times commissioned Peter to “feed my sheep “, I understand teaching God’s will and word is part of the pastoral leadership role and therefore I see the pastor-teacher gift to be different sides of the same ‘coin’. However, I do acknowledge that according to Acts it seems that some teachers, most notably Apollos, had a peripatetic teaching ministry. But while the gift of teaching can be separate from the gift of pastor, the gift of pastor must always include teaching. The pastor ‘feeds’ the church by establishing them in God’s Written Word.)


So what does that all that mean for pastoral leadership today?

  1. Firstly it means that ministry leadership today needs to be more like it was in the 1st century than it has been in most of the 20th century. That means the pastor is called to be the primary missional leader of the local church. Not the church board, council or elders, but the pastor. While accountable to the governance board the pastor is still the leader.
  2. The pastor’s core leadership role is to ‘equip the saints for the work of ministry’ (Ephesians 4:12).
  3. He/she does that through:
    a) Teaching, preaching and applying Scripture to people’s lives, culture and society today;
    b) Training church members in how to effectively witness to Jesus through their relational networks;
    c) Coaching leaders of ministry and mission teams and pastoral care programs;
    d) Being a personal example of Christian maturity;
    e) Overseeing ministry leaders and their programs;
    f) Discerning and developing with other leaders the church’s missional DNA (i.e. its foundational mission, basic beliefs, core values and motivational vision);
    g) Responding with care to critical pastoral needs in the church community;
    h) Developing systems to enhance the mission and ministry of the church and
    i) Being the key spokesperson and representative of the local church in the wider community.
    I contend in our contemporary non church culture the most appropriate model for fulfilling that challenging role is the player-coach model. In sporting teams, player-coaches are members of their teams, training and playing alongside their other team members while at the same time exercising a leadership coaching and equipping role. They do that by inspiring team members to succeed, listening deeply to them and their challenges, asking empowering questions, offering advice and insight, providing relevant skill training and development, advocating for needed key systems and resources and holding themselves and the whole team accountable to achieve their goals. Similarly, pastors who practice the player-coach paradigm inspire their people through worship, teaching and personal example, train them through workshops, group and individual coaching, develop appropriate strategies and systems and advocate to the church board for needed staffing and resources.


The player-coach model is relatively straightforward to apply in small churches with fewer than 150-200 active members. In churches of that size the pastor can be hands-on in most pastoral care and small group ministries, in providing leadership coaching and training and in modelling and leading evangelistic and other outreach programs.
However as churches grow beyond the 200 barrier and employ specialists in overseeing areas such as worship, mission, training, small groups, youth and children ministries, the pastor’s player-coach role changes. Instead of being an active player and participant in most or many diverse ministries she/he becomes a player in only a few roles such as with the staff team, the worship team and the church governance board, as well as coach of the specialist leaders of ministry team and group leaders, together with perhaps coaching a few potential leaders in ministries for which the pastor holds a particular passion and gifting.
If you would like to explore how to adapt the pastor-coach model to your ministry context you are welcome to contact me, Graham at


  • Graham Beattie

    Graham is a retired pastor with 50+ years’ ministry experience. While pastoring two growing churches Graham completed a Doctor of Ministry degree through Fuller Theological Seminary, majoring in church consulting and church growth. Following graduation he was appointed as a denominational church consultant in Victoria (7 years) and Queensland (9 years) before accepting a position as State Chaplain with UnitingCare Community. There Graham was a member of the executive team, pioneered a leadership coaching accreditation training program, coached several managers and professionals as well as providing traditional chaplaincy services. Since retirement, Graham developed his own coaching and consulting practice ( In addition to coaching managers in the business and not-for-profit sectors he has been consulting with churches and coaching pastors from Baptist, Churches of Christ, Pentecostal, Lutheran, Uniting and Anglican denominations. Living in Brisbane, he is married to Beth - they have 3 adult children and 4 grandchildren. Graham enjoys tennis, vintage detective stories and, of course, time with his grandkids.

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