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The Long View (part two)

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We’re considering the importance of sustained commitment; commitment to vision borne of God though impossible to be actualized in the here and now.

Our example is the Duomo di Firenze: an architect’s vision of a majestic cathedral with a dome so immense that it could not have been built when he conceived it.

At 142 feet it would be larger than the domes of the U.S. Capitol, St. Paul’s in London, the Pantheon in Rome, and St. Peters in Vatican City. When it was finally constructed, it remained the largest dome in the world for almost five hundred years!

More than eighty years after construction commenced, a goldsmith named Filippo Brunelleschi was born. In his 20’s he moved to Rome. For three years he studied architecture with a buddy named Donatello. If you watch the History Channel (I don’t) you’ll know that name. Brunelleschi studied the Pantheon, the largest dome then in existence. How it’d been built was an architectural and engineering conundrum.

Brunelleschi made several significant discoveries. Returning to Florence, he convinced the builders that he had a method to put di Cambio’s dome on the cathedral. This solution was ground-breaking on several fronts. The innovations Brunelleschi employed, however, are not our focus today. What is, is the commitment to the completion of this cathedral by generations of people who’d never see it with their own eyes. 

Leaders are not those with the best ideas or superior methods. Leaders have developed the strengths of character and the capacity to self-management so that they sustain movement in pursuit of what God’s called them to without giving up.

And, they do it in a way that motivates and mobilizes others in the pursuit of that great vision.

More than 2,000 years ago Jesus did this too. He laid out a vision of the Kingdom of God in ways that people could grasp.

How?

Lots of ways.

In scores of demonstrations of God’s mercy, supernatural power, the stories he told and word pictures he used, and an occasional sermon. Most often, Jesus proclaimed the coming Kingdom by the way he lived and moved among the people.

This is our great and noble task today. To live in such a way that the Kingdom of God is demonstrated over and over in ways that people get.

And to pull it off, you’ll have to take many, many approaches and stay at it far longer than you dreamed you’d have to.

My invitation is to join with those who’ll do this to their last breath and will have prepared a couple generations who’ll follow just as passionately and powerfully for as long as they have breath.

Think of it as a cathedral of great, influential human lives.

Coaching distinctions #40.doc

The Long View (part one)

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As a coach to pastors and Christian influencers, I’m sometimes surprised at the vacillating commitment of we who claim to be Christ’s.  I completely understand that life gets tough … so much so that, at times, I want to tear the hair from my head.

What I struggle to appreciate is the apparent over-arching power of the option to collapse on one’s vision and thereby escape the tension of living between what is and what God’s called us to.

Last week, Annie and I were with friends on a Segway Tour in Florence, Italy. I’m a curmudgeon when it comes to museums, tours, and lectures about things that occurred centuries ago. I’m much like Charlie Brown: “Bla, bla, bla… gelato!!… bla, bla, bla”.

But, as our guide was describing “the Duomo”, an incredible domed cathedral, the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, I lit up.

An architect named di Cambio, designed it in the 1200’s with a massive eight-sided dome, and convinced the city council to build it.

Trouble is, nowhere on earth did the technology exist to build that dome!  So, construction began on the immense cathedral in 1296… and when they got to the dome … they could not go forward.

For the next 120 years, eight architects worked the problem without success.

Think about it.

120 years.

Six generations coming and going without a dome atop the greatest cathedral in Tuscany.

How many of us sustain our commitment for 120 months, 120 weeks, 120 days?

  • Your first marriage?
  • Your relationship with an angry, distant teen?
  • An initiative to reach your neighborhood for Christ? 
  • Turning your congregation from entitled religious consumers to maturing ministers of the goodness of God?
  • Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with an embattled pastor whose desire is to bring the congregation into Christ-likeness?

I’ve watched many Christian pastors begin well, then collapse when confronted by opposition.

Usually their undoing is the resistance of church members activated by elevated anxiety. Anxiety because they’re so unaccustomed to trusting Christ in the midst of difficulty. Or, because when given the opportunity to live distinctly Christian lives they’re so out of practice they’d rather do anything else.

Watching these leaders succumb could break my heart, if I let it.

But then, I would’ve collapsed on the vision God’s given me. That vision is to strengthen the character of Christian leaders so that the churches they influence live courageously for the Kingdom of God.

Next time, we’ll return to the story of the Duomo and the commitment to a vision that took more than a century to apprehend.

Stay with me.

 

Coaching distinctions #39.doc

The Invitation (part five)

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We’re considering the idea that each of us is an invitation. We’re always inviting people toward us. They come for what we offer. Many times, we have no idea what that is.

For the last four segments, I’ve invited you to examine what you invite, to decide if it’s what you want.

If not, you might want to re-do your invitation.

So, how do you decide what to invite? The answer lies in what you’re for. Why are you living, breathing, taking up space? Why did God put you on the planet at this moment in history?

It’s absolutely true that you were made to glorify God, through Jesus. And you get to love your family faithfully and establish the way of Christ in your home and relationships. Beyond all that, each of us gets to bring a unique brand of “good” to the world.

Ephesians 2:10 is clear. You’re created in Christ to do good works that God prepared before hand. There’s more to life than working, eating, sleeping, entertaining ourselves, and attending church. As God’s workmanship, you’ve been prepared to bring good that the world around you needs. Knowing what that good is, and who it’s for, you’ll be able to determine the invitation you want to be.

CRM reFocusing developed two workshops to help people do just that. Anchored in the bedrock of Eph 2:10, the Awaken & Activate Workshops provide a step-by-step process to determine God’s unique calling. You’re invited to examine your most influential life experiences.

An inescapable truth is that we’ve all been shaped by our experiences. All of them. Curiously, the painful ones often shape us most powerfully.

Awaken invites an interpretation of those experiences via a biblical view of God. Instead of interpreting your painful past through the lens of a distant, disinterested creator or a punitive, angry monarch, you’re supported to consider that a loving Father, aware of your life experiences, desires that they work for good [Rom 8:28].

  • What’ve you learned?
  • How’s your character been refined?
  • In what ways has God been faithful to you—even through the hardships?
  • What goodness has come?
  • How’ve the passions, longings furies, and desires of your heart been ignited?

These considerations hold clues about who you’re called to influence and the difference you’re equipped to make in their lives.

Imagine this. In Awaken you realize you care deeply about the impact of job stress on law enforcement professionals, growing up with your mom, a correctional officer.  While struggling with alcohol in your teens, you learned a lot about substance abuse. A decade later, you enjoyed satisfaction in the field of counseling. Suddenly, you recognize that training as a substance abuse counselor will allow you to capitalize on your relationships with local police.

You begin to invite them toward health and freedom.

Get it?

Coaching Distinctions 37.doc

The Invitation (part four)

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The concept we’re examining is being an invitation.

Everyone you’ve ever met is an invitation.

So are you.

For pastors and Christian influencers it’s a great advantage to determine: what is the invitation that you will be, from now on. In other words, what do you intend to invite?

The clearer you are, the more effective you’ll be making the difference God made you for. And, clarity about why God made you is the best way to determine what to invite. 

If you’re in ministry, you get to bring people to maturity in Christ. It’s one of the very few most important things that ministers get to do.

Many of us don’t do it so well.

Have you noticed that Christians in the US live statistically indistinct lives?

While we’re more generous with our time and money, we also cheat, divorce, declare bankruptcy, commit adultery, sue people, and get arrested about as often as the general population.

Pastors often lament shallowness in their congregations. No surprise that many have confused growing people to mature Christ-likeness with teaching them religious ideas.

The invitation seems to be “come and listen”.

Were pastors an intentional, unmistakable invitation to grow up in Christ, much would change.

Churches, for example, would be smaller.

For a while, anyway.

And they’d be more godly, fruitful, distinctive, and influential in society.

Could America benefit from more of that?

Let yourself imagine what will happen if we don’t.

Pastor, if you’re in the disciple-maturing business, I invite you to become an invitation to thatWith seasoned church members and your next-door neighbor be an invitation to grow up in Christ.

Oh, and start with you.

It’s a lot easier to invite people into the game you’re already in. To join you in what you’re fully invested in. It’s so much more effective to invite people into what you’re living and modeling for them. It’s authentic. Sincere.

Look for openings to provoke those around you to live and love like Jesus. Openings like this happen all the time—when difficulties loom, distress surrounds, and discouragements reign…and when beauty overtakes, blessings mount, and goodness prevails.

Let this be the invitation at your weekend services, youth group, men’s breakfasts, women’s retreat, recovery ministry, and home groups. As you and your leaders get more and more clear about the invitation you are, the clearer those around you will become.

And, in this hour, that’s a good, good thing.

 

 

Coaching Distinctions 37.doc

The Invitation (part three)

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We’re looking at distinctions employed coaching pastors and Christian influencers.  I hope coaches find these helpful with their clients. Pastors read this blog to more effectively lead those God’s entrusted to them. So, whether you’re a pastor, a coach to leaders, or both, this is for you.

Christian ministers have a tricky leadership challenge. With the exception of staff members, pastors always lead an all-volunteer armyWhenever you preach, speak, or write, your audience is agreeing and disagreeing with you, point-by-point.

There was a time, in some contexts, when clergypersons were esteemed as being close to God. Some believe they spoke for God. Ministers could wield out-sized influence with parishioners and the surrounding society. Sadly, not all that influence was God-honoring—in some cases the abuses were horrific. Today ministers in the US are far more likely to be viewed with skepticism than reverent trust.

And, this is not all bad! It’s a context very similar to that in which Christ and the apostles ministered.

This brings us to being an invitation. Pastor, if you’re going to successfully advance the influence of Christ in your community and bring people to maturity, it’s imperative that you sharpen the invitation you are.

First of all, who do you want to invite toward you?  What kind of people do you need to be with to best fulfill God’s calling? The game you’re in determines the players you need.

Yesterday I met with a pastor who’s committed to build a powerful, community-impacting regional church. An African-American, he’s attracted a congregation that matches his ethnicity and who are inspired by his preaching. Now, he needs to invite visionary, take-charge leaders representing all three ethnicities that predominate the area the church influences. To do this, Wayne gets to be clear and intentional.

He gets to redefine the invitation he is.

Second, what are you inviting people to?  What “game” are you enrolling them in? Many pastors offer no more compelling invitation than that people sit, tithe, and don’t cause trouble.

That’s a pitifully small game!

Wayne gets to invite capable women and men to lead lay teams to invest their lives, hearts, and talents influentially in the realms of entertainment, education, commerce, government, and arts.

Third, what distinguishes your “heroes”? What do you affirm, venerate, honor?

These last two weeks, both parties held their national conventions, choreographed for TV. It’s easy to see who each side venerates and why.

Pastor, you get to be just that clear.

Fourth, a clear invitation repels what you don’t want. Notice that Jesus had no grace for the religious legalists, the externalists, the rule-enforcers. Jesus’ invitation cut to the core motivations of people’s hearts.

Yours can, too!

Coaching Distinctions 36.doc

The Invitation (part two)

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I’ve invited you to consider that, regardless of your personality, you are an invitation. All day every day, you invite … something.

To discover what you invite, notice what keeps coming your way.

Why would you want to know?  If you’re not intentional about it, you’re likely inviting what you don’t even want.

I coach pastors. Lots of them. Last month a client lamented that his office door is like a turnstile – bringing a never-ending string of parishioners and staff members to him, eating his time and keeping him from what’s most important.

“What do they want?”

Thinking for several moments he answered: “They want me to do something to either ease their distress, change someone else, or make their lives better.”

“Why do they come to you for that?”

He didn’t know.

I do. It’s an occupational hazard for ministers. Somebody re-wrote the playbook generations ago. Rather than equipping God’s people to live mature, influential lives, clergy became an invitation to calm member’s fears, quell their disquiet, relieve their suffering, and ease their distress.

I call it: “THE MINISTRY OF THE KLEENEX BOX”. 

Instead of provoking mature faith—like Jesus did—ministers run with Kleenex and band-aids, wiping noses and bandaging boo-boos… of Christians who’ve been called by God to be wiping the noses and bandaging the knees of the people who aren’t yet following Christ. [Eph 4:11-13]

Stand as an interruption to this popular and unscriptural notion or you will be conscripted into the ministry of the Kleenex box to the religious.The best way to interrupt it is to get very clear about what you are inviting people to.

Ministry, fundamentally, is about people-development and Kingdom-advance.

Jesus developed people into mature disciples and advanced God’s reign: healing, delivering, liberating, and forgiving … mostly for those outside his circle of disciples. Jesus invited people to give their lives away in the service of the King. To surrender self-interest and follow him into ministry … to benefit those outside the commonwealth of faith.

What if you invited people to that?

With his disciples, Jesus provoked them to get off themselves and onto advancing God’s Kingdom. He frustrated them when they wanted him to minister to them.  He directed them into challenges so they’d grow strong trusting God.

Pastor, I invite you into the game Jesus modeled.

Call people to that.

Without apology.

Like he did.

 

Coaching Distinctions 35.doc

The Invitation (part one)

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Have you noticed that some people consistently attract what they don’t want?  Maybe it’s true for you, too. It’s as if you’re wearing one of those sandwich boards — visible to others, but not to you.  And, the distinction between what you invite and what you want may be subtle.

Years ago I attended a seminar called The Clearing. For the first time I was challenged to consider the invitation I am to the world.

What is it that I invite, as people come toward me?

By way of illustration, I have a good friend who’s now a marvelous pastoral counselor. He’s great at helping hurting people get on their feet. It doesn’t matter how deep a hole you’re in, he’ll climb down in and help you up. It’s a gift and he’s developed it well.

Several years ago, he planted a church. Annie and I were excited. We’d been on a church planting team before and longed to gather influential, world-changers who’d commit to transform the surrounding community.

The church kept attracting something else. 

Our pastor—and by extension the church—was an invitation for the broken, discouraged, and destitute to find healing and recovery. Though an important and beneficial ministry, it doesn’t invite the kind of folks who are up for building a world-changing church.

Maybe you’ve seen Burn Notice.  Michael Weston is a “burned” CIA agent who’s mission is to figure out who burned him and why. As a field agent, he has special skills. Skills to take down bad guys, right wrongs, con con artists, and foil plots against all things noble.

So, while trying to solve his own CIA dilemma, Michael’s an invitation to help people in trouble.  He does. It’s great entertainment.

All this brings us to me, then you.

In The Clearing, the challenge was to inventory what we invite. My answer was “advice”. People approached me in a conundrum and assumed I had some experience or expertise by which to advise them.

It was all quite flattering.

And a small, small game.

Rather than strengthening people’s capacity to trust Christ and address their own dilemmas, I invited the parade of people-with-questions looking for free advice. I suppose I could have busied myself for a lifetime bestowing advice and feeling good about it.

But, I believe God wants me to strengthen Christian influencers to live in such inspiring ways that those they lead—and the communities around them are transformed for Christ.

Since then, that’s the invitation I am.

What invitation are you?

The Game You’re In (part four)

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A friend challenged me once: “Kirk, you think you’re planting tomatoes, but you’re harvesting beets. And, when you don’t get tomatoes, you just work harder and harder planting and watering and fertilizing those same seeds. Beet seeds.”

Derek wasn’t taking about vegetables; he was taking about my marriage.

Unwilling to examine the seed I’d been sowing in my family, I just upped the ante, laboring more diligently…producing more and more “beets”…

Last night I met a wonderful pastor and the elders of his church not far from Miami. A member of my CRM team and I were there to introduce them to the amazing reFocusing Network Process: a two-year transformational pathway for churches desiring to impact their communities for Christ. Never have I met a more sincere team of leaders, each wanting to introduce the Savior to neighbors who – presently – have no interest in Christ.

Their enthusiasm for the community was palpable, contagious, inspiring. As we were introduced, the pastor spoke confidently of their commitment to engage those outside the church. “We’re very active in the community”, he explained. “We’ve adopted a public school and, when school starts, we provide backpacks with school supplies for the students. At Thanksgiving, we give turkeys and groceries to families in need. And, at Christmas time, we give $50 and $100 gift cards to school families who otherwise couldn’t afford gifts for their kids. We do this with no strings attached; not to coerce them to join our church or to promote ourselves. We do it to love them in Jesus’ name.”

As our presentation began, they were invited to consider that, excellent as their intentions are, they’d been in the wrong game. “See, people don’t need your stuff nearly as much as they need you.

These days, people stay away from church on purpose. They’ve decided Christianity doesn’t have the remedy for what ails them; we don’t have the scratch for their itch.  And while it’s not a bad thing to provide what people lack, receiving things from well-meaning people does little to uproot these assumptions.

What people really need is you … on the other end of that backpack.

Regular, repeated, positive, life-on-life experiences with Christians who are postured to love and serve them unconditionally.

As people have multiple, positive encounters with you, they begin to question some of what they’ve assumed about Christ. Over time, you become credible – not based on what you know – but how you live. Eventually, some will trust you with the most important conversations of life.

Tomatoes!

 

Coaching Distinctions 33.doc

The Game You’re In (part three)

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Look, I don’t mean to criticize pastors all the time. Many of my best friends are pastors. I’ve given my life to help pastors lead and live well.

It’s just that most of what the Church does doesn’t have anything to do with what Christ’s followers are supposed to be about.

It’s not that we’re not working hard or that we’re insincere. Most ministers, elders, and lay leaders I know serve pretty diligently and they’re very sincere about what they’re doing. I’m suggesting that we’re just diligently and sincerely in the wrong game.

And, when we get into the right game, it’s amazing what can happen.

When I met Dave Scott, Pastor of New Hope, a Free Methodist Church a few years ago, he was a very sincere, hard-working guy. And, discouraged. Attendance was stagnant, money was tight. More troubling, through, was the pervasive fatigue inside Dave and his congregation. 

New Hope wanted to be an effective, community-impacting church. So they entered CRM’s reFocusing process and, within a few months Dave’s leaders experienced a powerful paradigm shift. During the Awaken and Activate Workshops they discovered that God has been preparing and positioning each person to care for people in their community who don’t attend church. Encouraged, members began strengthening relationships with those outside the congregation.

As New Hope redirected its focus from itself to the needs of the community, they wanted to get off the church property to serve those outside.

They examined the makeup of their members and the surrounding community and identified a few focused, consistent, intentional ways to demonstrate Christ to others. Realizing that a number of congregation members work in law enforcement, they began serving the correctional officers at a state prison nearby.

In the next few years, teams of New Hope members put on barbecues and picnics for the correctional officers on their turf, invented creative ways to express appreciation to the guards inside the prison, partnered with them in community events, offered classes requested by prison employees, and made themselves available to serve any way they can.

Along the way, attitudes are changing. The officers—curious about what motivates these regular, genuine expressions of support—are having important, meaningful conversations with Dave’s folks that are becoming easy and common. New Hope members are maturing in Christ and those they’re going to are experiencing “good news” in human form.

Not long ago, an exec indicated that the culture in the prison is changing. Why?

Dave’s people are in the right game.

Are you?

Coaching Distinctions 32.doc

The Game You’re In (part two)

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Last time I suggested that the “game” you’re in determines how you play in life. At the end, we considered two married couples. To shift the nature and quality of their relationship, both spouses need to examine the game they’re in, in the marriage as they’ve designed it.

There are moments when we have little idea why we do what we do—particularly when we regret our actions…or their impact on those we love. It’s helpful to drill down to identify what’s at the core—below the surface, to uncover the beliefs that define the “game” you’re in.

Here’s an example. Many evangelical pastors will say they’re in the “go-and-make-disciples game”. [Mt 28]  Yet, they keep score by counting the people who sit and listen and the money they give. And these days—five years into a recession and decades into a societal drift away from church—the scoreboard looks bleak.

Many are wondering what’s wrong. Invariably we discover they’re in the wrong game!

While imagining they’re in the “go-and-make-disciples game”, most pastors and churches are in religious education and entertainment.

How can you tell?  See how they keep score.

Last night, Annie and I attended War Horse – a spectacular stage play at the Ahmanson Theatre. It is wonderful entertainment.  Beautifully, creatively, and spectacularly artistic. The house was packed—as it always is. In all the ways that theatres and theatre companies keep score, I’m certain it’s a success.

But theatre companies don’t think they’re in the “go-and-make-disciples game”. They are clear about the game they’re in, and this one is good at it.

To be good at the “go-and-make-disciples game”, you’d be paying attention to at least a couple things:

1) are we going?

and

2) are disciples being made?

The sad reality that can explain much of the malaise of the Church in the West is that we aren’t going to those who don’t follow Christ, and people aren’t growing to spiritual maturity. However, we are educating religious people and we are providing loads of entertainment options for religious types.

The ministries that do this best are running up the “score” —at least in terms of spectators and revenues—and may or may not be making any disciples at all.

So, whether you are a minister or a married person: What game are you in?

Coaching Distinctions #31

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