From Student to Coach: Experiencing VCI from the Inside Out

Date Posted: 1/12/2017

Several pastors and retired pastors are encouraging their peers through the Vibrant Church Initiative as “coaches.” Here’s a peek at that leadership transition from the first pastor to experience VCI.

Rev. John Stephenson believes in the power of pastors coaching pastors because he has seen the benefits of having a coach during the Texas Annual Conference Vibrant Church Initiative (VCI), and he’s now paying it forward by being a VCI coach.

Rev. John can relate to the anxiety some pastors feel at the outset of the Vibrant Church Initiative because he was the first pastor in the Texas Annual Conference to venture into the VCI waters in 2012. “At the beginning, VCI pastors may feel somewhat vulnerable,” he acknowledges, “but I found that feeling quickly dissipates as you realize how collaborative the experience is. I know how much my VCI coach and consultant team helped us at FUMC Pasadena --to understand the life cycle of a church and where we happen to be in that cycle. Over the span of several years, the office of Congregational Excellence and my peer coach were also supportive in helping us define our vision in terms of FUMC’s specific context in our community. Clarifying a church’s vision and direction is the first step in becoming more vibrant.”

Now that he has settled into his new appointment at Faith UMC Richmond, John has pursued a new leadership challenge: becoming trained to ‘pay it forward’ by serving as a VCI coach.  He is now sharing with Faith UMC and FUMC Athens what he found helpful as the inaugural VCI church pastor and how the team in Pasadena strengthened the missional opportunities in many different ways. “Oftentimes church leaders seem beaten down when they first start VCI, but in no time they get excited and fired up about the possibilities. I love being a coach and watching the transformation that occurs in a church from one month to the next,” he says. “There is a level of enthusiasm and sense of hope that springs from VCI, and I can encourage others by sharing the amazing experience we had in Pasadena.”

John spends about 16-20 hours month being a VCI coach, most of which involves talking leaders and clergy through the key milestones and hearing their challenges. “Pastors and leaders usually possess all the knowledge they need to solve situations, but it usually helps to articulate things to someone who has been in a similar situation.” Adds John, “I never claim to have all the answers, in fact, I certainly learn a lot from leaders I spend time with which is one of the reasons I continue to be involved in VCI.”

John affirms FUMC Athens for making notable strides in connecting the Methodist Children’s Center into the life of the church, and giving the facilities the attention needed. “In Athens, they have also begun focusing on enriching worship -- with the help of the conference resource specialists like Craig Gilbert.” He equates the coaching role to that of a cheerleader. “Being a pastor in VCI is completely different from being a coach, but even the coaching role is enhanced by being exposed to a number of other churches along the way.”

He also finds himself naturally applying his VCI experience to church life at Faith Richmond. “Working in a VCI model for so many years has me trained to think more collaboratively,” he shares. “I automatically tend to pull temporary teams together for an individual project and get a cross section of members in the event; people don’t have the time to be on standing committees year after year. I will always be eager to share with other pastors how helpful it is to lead from the vision/mission. When leaders connect everything back to that vision and mission, members and those in the community have a clearer understanding about the why behind all that a church does.”

To learn more about VCI, visit the or contact Rev. Mike Tyson.

See Video from when Rev. Stephenson was still at FUMC Pasadena discussing the VCI Process.