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This is the 50th blog entry on distinctions I often make in coaching. For close to a decade, it’s been my privilege to coach pastors, primarily. Invariably, our conversations center on leadership. And, because of the inseparable link between the two: on character.
Pastors who lead well do so because of who they are.
Who you are—especially in the midst of crisis and difficulty—is a product of the way you’ve trained yourself all your life long. In times of calm and storm, you are training yourself for the challenges you can’t yet see. Those that await in the future.
Christian Leaders who’ve been given great responsibility have developed the capacity to rely on God in their own crises, and to stand with others in theirs. The more faithful they are, the greater the tests.
A pastor marveled at the intense off-season regimen of an NFL player who trains at his gym. “Do you need all that muscle development to play your position in football?” he asked in disbelief. “No. I need it to survive the physical beating I take every Sunday.” Every day, he strengthens muscle fibers in anticipation of the opposition his body will encounter.
In Squared Off to Bunt, I invite you—as I do my coaching clients—to consider the posture of your life.
Or, are you crouched to bunt?
- How clear are you about where God has you leading your congregation?
- How compelling is the vision you’re calling your people to?
- How great is the sacrifice you challenge your members to, as apprentices of Jesus?
- How bold is your trust in Christ for the miraculous in your ministry?
- How desperately do you cry out for the power of God’s Kingdom to break in on your city?
- How diligently are you training yourself to recognize the voice of God, then unflinchingly obey?
Should the political and cultural opposition to Biblical Christianity continue to strengthen, we may find ourselves ministering in a far more challenging climate.
In Lystra, as Paul is preaching Christ a mob stones him, drags his body outside the city, and leaves him for dead. Believers gather around, he rises up, and goes right back into Lystra.
Paul is “…strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith.” [Acts 14:22]
Who lives like that?
Someone who’s not postured to bunt.
Coaching distinctions #50.doc
In some sectors of the church today there’s great momentum, clarity of mission, risk-taking experimentation, courageous leadership, and fresh reliance on the Holy Spirit for direction, empowering, and transformation.
Churches are breaking out of the attractional paradigm and are moving their ministry focus off their facilities and into the community where those who need Christ are. Committed to love and serve people until they ask why, Christians are living the Gospel among the unchurched – and they are responding with surprise, with gratitude, and with saving faith in Jesus.
And, in other sectors, churches, ministers and members are bewildered. Attendance is falling. So is giving. Enthusiasm for church programs is low. Discouragement is high. Anxiety is epidemic.
Denominational systems feel this more intensely. Local churches are less able or willing to send money ‘up the food chain’. Regional and national budgets are being slashed. Programs and staff are being eliminated. Every forecast is more sobering than the last. The Church is aging…more rapidly than ever. Since most giving comes from the more senior members, their mortality portends the same for the systems their generosity built and sustained for decades.
The advantage is if you’re going to bunt, it’s the best stance to be in. The disadvantage: you can’t do anything but bunt from that crouch. And, here’s where many in the Church find themselves today.
Not sure how to stem the receding tide of dollars and attendees, Church leaders cycle from one well-worn, low-risk program to another.
Bunt down the middle.
Trouble is, the “score” is so lopsided that laying down bunts won’t move us forward fast enough.
What’s needed is to restore apostolic momentum to the Church.
Apostles are “sent ones”. The apostolic Church was a sent church. In contrast to today’s stogy institutions, the early Church was on the move.
Its message: Jesus.
Its focus: heart transformation.
Its method: personal encounters as the redeemed loved, healed, and shared their stories.
For this to recur, our churches need to mature and mobilize Christians as ministers to those outside.
In May, my CRM team will equip pastors, church planters, and lay leader to do exactly that.
At reFOCUS: ATLANTA we’ll introduce tools we’ve developed working with more than 5,000 pastors and churches. Strengthening pastors to lead, Christians to mature, and churches to engage their cities with the lived-and-proclaimed Gospel.
Join us for these three very important days: http://www.refocusing.org/events/
Coaching distinctions #49.doc
This series is about coaching distinctions used with hundreds of clergy, from all corners of the church: Episcopal to Calvary Chapel, Foursquare to Presbyterian, Adventist to Nazarene. The desire or distress that brings them to hire me varies widely. But, the work we do doesn’t.
This series, now 48 entries long, illuminates distinctions that’ve been most helpful for these ministry leaders.
It’s offered to help you who coach, counsel, and shepherd the shepherds… and to support my clients, past, present, and future. Working these perspectives, postures, and practices into my own life has taken years. Many foundational beliefs and assumptions have been challenged and replaced as I’ve committed to live these distinctions. It’s required repentance—biblically normative, but increasingly rare these days.
True repentance that’s born of a broken heart.
Let me illustrate.
“Free is the man who wills without caprice… He believes in destiny and also that it needs him. It does not lead him, it waits for him. He must proceed toward it… with his whole being… He must sacrifice his little will, which is unfree and ruled by things and drives, to his great will that moves away from being determined to find destiny. The free man has only one thing: always only his resolve to proceed toward his destiny.” –Martin Buber, I and Thou
Reading this provoked an examination of the prevalence of the ‘little will’ in my motivations, choices, and actions. Sobering. But, evaluating the impact on those I love, left me undone…broken.
All was well until a hormone hurricane made landfall in our home. It seemed that invisible creatures, with diabolical intentions, had taken over our teens.
Shocked, frightened, confused, and shaken, I was suddenly “unfree”.
Vacillating between denial and fury, I was overrun by judgment and rigidity. I pined for the good old days and blamed them for their adolescence, using scripture as a bludgeon.
My ‘little will’ was in charge and my family suffered terribly.
Reading Buber, I began to wonder what they experienced living with me. Judgment. Isolation. Misunderstanding. Loneliness. Confusion. Distance. Injustice. Powerlessness. Frustration.
Pondering slowly, carefully, deeply, I allowed the devastating impact on my family to impale my heart. This slow, brutal work birthed repentance. And, it has lasted, now, for more than a decade.
If repentance has been elusive, this might serve you, too.
Coaching distinctions #48.doc
In many quarters of the Church, the contemporary understanding is that Christianity is lived in the passive voice. Wikipedia says: “the passive voice denotes the recipient of the action (the patient) rather than the performer (the agent).”
The assumption is that the Christ-follower empties herself of all ambition and self-determination and simply waits, patiently, for God to move gloriously upon her life.
Problem is, it’s not biblical. It’s Buddhism.
How much ‘straining’ and ‘pressing on’ do you see in the Church today?
“Make every effort to enter through the narrow door...” [Lk 13:24 NIV] In the Greek “make every effort” is agonizomai. Sounds a lot like “agonize” doesn’t it?
Consider Mt 11:12 “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of Heaven has been taken by storm and eager men are forcing their way into it.” [Philips New Testament]
Are these texts familiar to you?
The assumption that Christianity is lived in passive reflection—and our preoccupation with what we’re against—may have contributed mightily to the historic decline in Christian adherence in the West.
Especially among those under 35.
“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who … if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”
How well Terry Roosevelt’s words describe the noble and rigorous Christian life!
Around the US, pastors are breaking out of the “please-the-parishioner” mold, and are leading members into their cities, daring valiantly to minister regularly and unconditionally to those outside. Though they make mistakes, the sincerity of their motive procures a response of surprise and gratitude from those outside… and eventually, an openness to the claims of Christ.
And, in their churches some oppose and criticize, hoping to undermine these risky and selfless ministry endeavors.
Cold and timid souls.
Coaching distinctions #47.doc
You don’t hear much about one’s will in preaching these days. There’s plenty about God’s love, God’s mercy, and how God thinks each of us is so very wonderful. There’s lots about our allowing God to do this or that— be the center, be in charge, be on the throne, take my life, let it be this or that for Thee.
Listening to all of this, it’s easy to get the idea that the Christian life is lived passively. The inference is that you just sit and wait, yielded and surrendered until God decides to act upon your life … then suddenly, you do great things for God.
In my observation, people pretty much do what they’ve trained themselves to do. If you’ve trained yourself to live your faith passively, you’re not likely to spring into action when God makes an opening that requires fast obedience and involves risk.
When we sing “Lord take my life and let it be fully pleasing unto thee” I imagine God asking us: “Well, what do you want?
Do you want your life to please God?
Then, tell your boyfriend you’ll sleep with him when he marries you. Not again ‘till then.
Insist that your employer pays you “above the table”.
Gather some friends and help someone who’s needy. Keep doing it until they ask you why.
Each is an action.
It requires your will to do it.
To drift through the years, living an indistinctive life also takes your will. The will to live like everyone else.
Your stuff is paramount.
All this, Martin Buber calls our “little will”. He says it’s “ruled by things and drives”. Like our emotions and preferences. The little will never accomplishes anything great.
And, in the US in this hour, so pitifully little seems to be getting done that honors Christ and blesses those outside the Church, that we’d be wise to engage our “great wills” and get after it.
If not, I fear Christianity could be within a few decades of extinction.
Recently I heard an interview with the founder of a Freedom from Religion group. Their purpose is to educate the United States in “nontheism” –ridding society of all worship. He relished the amazing progress of their cause in the US and points to Scandinavia where he said fewer than 4% have any religious faith.
A secular utopia.
You can bet this man’s will is fully engaged in its pursuit.
Coaching distinctions #46.doc
In I and Thou Martin Buber writes of the freedom each of us has to pursue our destiny.
If you’re paying attention, the longer you live the better you understand the unique contribution you are. I say, “if you’re paying attention” because God is communicating. Those endeavors where you’ve had success, failure, frustration, satisfaction, the aspirations that ignite your passion, the injustices that make your blood boil, the people you’re drawn to, and those you find repellant. All these point to the unique ways you get to contribute to advance God’s agenda.
Jesus did it pretty well. “He did good and healed all who were oppressed…”.
So, do good.
Just start there. Do good, lots and lots of good. If you’re not sure what constitutes “good”, avoid the fringes and lock-in to what almost every moral person will agree is good.
In the war between your great will and little will, how do you determine which wins?
The one you feed.
So, feed your great will. Give yourself permission to dream. Big, huge, God-honoring dreams.
Imagine that your life’s been set up. That God’s been preparing you to impact people in clearly beneficial ways. Consider this: you live where you do, have the occupation you’re in, and are connected to the people you are because God set it up this way. It’s all been set up for you to bring good to. Your unique brand of good.
Ephesians 2:10 calls them “good works”. You are God’s masterpiece, God’s “poema”, created in Christ Jesus to do good works that God prepared in advance for you. For this to be true, it’s not just the “works” that’ve been prepared.
You have, too.
All your life, God’s been shaping, crafting, honing, and refining the masterpiece God calls ‘you’. And, God’s placed you in a setting that needs the good you bring.
Watch some people and you might think God’s done all this just so they can be enslaved by their puny, obnoxious, comfort-obsessed, self-serving ‘little will’.
So, let’s experiment. For the next month, live as if you’ve been prepared to bring good to those within reach. Try “doing good and healing all who are oppressed…”
Drop the lawsuit.
Quit stonewalling your mom.
Forgive the jerk who betrayed you.
Spend a couple hours with that lonely person you barely know.
Offer to pray for the next sick person you see… and five more after that.
Get a freakin’ job and quit filching off your family members.
Stop feeding your ‘little will’ and its insatiable entitlements.
Then, in a month, decide if you want to ‘re-up’.
I bet you will.
Coaching distinctions #45.doc
We’re examining destiny. You have one. Waiting for you. As Buber says, you must pursue it with your whole being, not knowing where it waits. You have a ‘great will’ that wants to live a noble, heroic, God-honoring, and history-impacting life.
And, you have a ‘little will’ that above all desires to:
Be in control.
These motivations I call “The Formidable Four”.
They show up everywhere.
They undermine a pastors’ resolve to lead clearly, consistently, and courageously. They invite congregations to focus inwardly, even while the community—where they’ve been placed as God’s provision—drifts further from Christ. They motivate elders to gesture at change rather than do the hard work of maturing disciples who bear fruit as a way of life.
In my life, the “little will” dissuades me from initiating conversations about financial support for the ministry to which I’m called. It presses me to downplay the urgency to enroll pastors in new reFocusing Networks, when my momentum begins to wane. It cautions me to play safe in coaching, rather than offend a client by illuminating a character flaw that is undercutting her leadership. And after an unusually intense week (like last week), it tempts me to blow off writing this blog!
Buber’s ‘great will’ and ‘little will’ wrestle within us.
Save or spend.
Walk or take the car.
Stand up for what you know is right or compromise to keep peace.
Pander to the preferences of your congregation or lead them to serve others selflessly.
Develop the character of around you or settle for being liked.
We see the conflict between great and little will played out in US politics.
While campaigning, candidates’ towering rhetoric calls to our ‘great will’.
It extols the virtue of selflessness, challenging us to forfeit our petty comforts in the short run to establish or protect or defend something noble and honorable and necessary and good for the generations that follow. It speaks of great accomplishments and great sacrifice and uniting for the benefit of the nation.
Then, post-election, the ‘little will’ takes over.
Its priority is whatever will please the most people now. Minimize pain, discomfort, and anxiety immediately—no matter how it infantilizes the population, rips apart our social fabric, and devastates those who’ll inherit the mess.
This blog is not about politics.
It’s about you.
Which will wins?
Coaching distinctions #44.doc
You have been called.
Not just to be good. And not to be religious.
To be the ‘you’ God intended. To have the impact for which Christ has given you life.
You’re destined. Which is to say, there’s a destination for you. A unique, God-honoring difference that you’re the ideal person to provide for the world.
You get to pursue it—with your whole being—not knowing exactly where it is. As you give yourself in the pursuit of it, God makes that destiny more clear and certain.
And, all along the way, God is working to refine your character.
In I and Thou Martin Buber writes that one must proceed toward that destiny: “with his whole being… He must sacrifice his little will, which is unfree and ruled by things and drives, to his great will that moves away from being determined to find destiny. The free man has only one thing: always only his resolve to proceed toward his destiny.”
See, life conspires with your ‘little will’ to determine you, to define you, to limit you, to shackle you to a meaningless life.
A meaningless life?
It’s a life driven by the capricious desires of the ‘little will’.
I want to vacation in Spain.
I want that boat.
I want botox for my face.
I want to make partner.
I want those amazing shoes.
I want to see her pay.
I want to get rid of the boat!
As you’re satisfying these whims, another half dozen arise, and you’re off in pursuit of them. What you’ll notice about the meaningless life is that you are its focus.
All the while, those around you are hurting. Suffering. Isolated. Heartbroken. Lost.
Do you notice?
At the dawn of 1865 more than four million Americans were held captive by slavery. If the movie Lincoln is an accurate portrayal, the President—probably hundreds of times—sacrificed his ‘little will’ to achieve that for which he was destined.
His ‘little will’ no doubt longed to be free of the struggle to amend the Constitution, to mourn the death of his son, to bring relief to his disconsolate wife, and to end the awful bloodshed for which he was blamed. When his cause faced its most strident opposition, when resisted by those in his own cabinet, when his allies waivered in their commitment, and when his body shuddered under the strain, Lincoln’s ‘little will’ would have cried out for relief.
Trusting God to provide what Lincoln could not, he and his resolve moved in pursuit of that destiny with his whole being.
You and I get to do this, too.
Coaching distinctions #43.doc
No book has been so confounding to me and, at the same time, so powerfully influential as Martin Buber’s I and Thou. Large chunks of the book, clumsily translated from Buber’s original German, for me are indecipherable. Then, like a flash of lightning, a paragraph or a page will suddenly illuminate the sorry condition of my soul – and I’m awash in deep repentance.
One of those lightning bolts is this:
“Free is the man who wills without caprice. He believes in the actual, which is to say: he believes in the real. He believes in destiny and also that it needs him. It does not lead him, it waits for him. He must proceed toward it without knowing where it waits for him. He must go forth with his whole being… He must sacrifice his little will, which is unfree and ruled by things and drives, to his great will that moves away from being determined to find destiny. The free man has only one thing: always only his resolve to proceed toward his destiny.”
Each of us has, according to Buber, two wills. A little will and a great will. The little will is ruled by our hungers and desires and drives. It is “unfree”, ruled by emotion and our preference for comfort and ease.
It is governed by the flesh.
You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh … walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. [Gal 5: 13f]
Maturity is realized when we subordinate our little will to our great will. Our great will is the motivation to live influential, God-honoring lives in humble submission to Christ and reliance on His Spirit no matter how difficult.
No longer capricious—no longer bounding from one self-centered desire to another (“I need to be comforted. What will people think of me? I want to be included. I must get my way! I’m stressed and deserve to relax.)— I’m free to pursue the destiny for which Christ gave me life.
Coaching distinctions #42.doc
How does a minister develop tenacity … particularly when the surrounding culture is increasingly committed to relieving tension—in the short run—without regard to the long term consequences?
Tenacity is defined as the capacity to stick—like super glue—to one’s commitments. The word comes from the Latin tenere which means “to hold”.
This isn’t new.
The collapse of just about every great empire has been presaged by a similar shift. These once-great societies collapsed from within. Like tall trees hollowed by pine beetles, when opposing winds came, they lacked the fiber to stand.
I’m reminded of a moment early in the “Battle of Carthage” scene in Gladiator when Maximus draws his fellow gladiators into a tight circle, shields surrounding them. As well-armed chariots approach—and their every impulse is to run—he urges them to “Hold!…Hold!…Hold!” ‘till the charioteers are almost upon them. As a result, they overthrow their attackers and win a most improbable victory.
It is this act of holding that is essential to pastoral leadership in our day.
With my CRM teammates, I facilitate a leadership development and change process with Senior Pastors and their churches. Our goal is to strengthen the leadership character of pastors so they can lead their congregations through a massive cultural change: from consuming religious education and entertainment to ministering influentially to the un-churched in their communities. It’s been my privilege to work with dozens of churches all across the denominational spectrum. Initially, almost everyone agrees to become a missionally-effective church.
Yet, saboteurs abound!
Like the pine beetle, their largely covert opposition eats away at the church’s commitment to what it knows it must become.
Quick-fix fantasies emerge and gain a ready following. People take sides.
The lead pastor’s tenacity is essential.
So, from the outset, we work to strengthen the pastors’ capacity to hold.
By creating scenarios that invite opposition on a small level while monitoring, via coaching, the pastor’s responses to it. Over many months of facing gradually-increasing resistance, reFocusing pastors increase their capacity to tolerate anxiety—first in themselves; then in their congregations.
Walking with a coach and several other senior pastors who are encountering the same challenges in their congregations, the pastor develops the fiber to Hold!…Hold!…Hold! to what God has called them.
Coaching distinctions #41.doc