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Playing to Win! (part one)


Often in coaching I encounter clients caught in the grip of a powerful, frightening choice. How she chooses has everything to do with what she sees.  Without help, it’s tough to see from a perspective other than your own.  Some find it nearly impossible to adopt an alternative perspective— for even a few minutes.

After all, my perspective is … mine.  It is logical, sensible, familiar, and reinforced by my experience and my values.  At least, that’s what I believe.

My perspective provides a “frame” around my thinking.

Like a picture frame, my perspective gives structure and stability to what I’m looking at.

Like a picture frame, it establishes a boundary around what I see: what I interpret to be possible, what I limit my options to, and what I assume to be a reasonable method to work the problem.

Like a picture frame, my perspective draws my attention to certain features of the “picture” and, as I’m attending to those features, I overlook several others.

One common perspective can be summed up in this distinction: “Playing to win vs. playing not to lose.”

This is playoff time for both the NHL and NBA.  Every night, we’re treated to heart-stopping drama as opposing players ignore the pleading of their coaches and shift from playing to win to playing not to lose, once they’re in the lead.  How many times have you seen your team give up a dominant lead after they’ve moved from offense to defense?

Mike Babcock, coach of my favorite Detroit Red Wings is famous for urging his guys to keep their foot on the gas, no matter how great the lead.

And, when they do, they’re unstoppable.

Yet, too often, once they grab the lead, my Wings ease off, drop back, and hunker down in the defensive zone. And, playing not to lose, their intensity wanes just enough that when they make a mistake it costs them a goal. Too many goals, and they lose a game they once controlled.

And…you do it too!

Stealing Second (part three)


This is the 19th entry in a series on Coaching Distinctions.  I’m inviting you into some of the strategies and perspectives I employ as I champion my clients to achieve extraordinary results—not just while we’re working together, but for the rest of their lives.

As a coach, I’m not in the help-you-solve-your-problems business.  Nope.

I’m in the people-development business.

I’m here to support you to transform your capacity to address problems, opportunities, and challenges in increasingly effective and satisfying ways.  Our coaching relationship may last a few months or a few years. My commitment is to be with you in such a way that, decades later, you’re a fundamentally different person, inside your own skin.

That’s the people-development game.

I’m in this game for exactly one reason: it’s what I think Jesus was doing.

Consider Peter, the impulsive, mercurial, hot-headed, flip-flopping, ESFP.

Pete and a few others are out in a boat, caught in a frightening squall. Terrified already, they think they see a “ghost” not far away. What’s crazy, it is walking on the water. Eventually, they recognize that it’s Jesus out there on the angry sea.

With characteristically little forethought, Peter blurts out something akin to: “Hey, Jesus, lemme do that!!”

In an instant, he’s over the rail, taking one step and then another on top of the… wa… wat… water? Soon as it registers in Pete’s brain that he can’t be doing what he is doing…his focus shifts from Jesus to the furious sea and he’s down for the count.

Except, he’s not.

Jesus takes hold of Pete’s hand and he’s safely back in the boat—just in time for a tongue-lashing from the Savior: “Why, Peter, did you doubt?”

See, I don’t think Jesus cared whether Pete got five steps or five miles out on the water. Jesus was supporting the transformation of Peter’s capacity to stand and trust God in the midst of impossible odds, for the rest of his lifetime. 

Think about it.

If that had been you, in the years that followed, how many times would you go back over the events of those few moments in your mind? “Let’s see, he said ‘Come’, so I put one foot over the side, slid my butt across the deck and then I stood up on the water. Right away I started walking… my feet were wet, but that was it. Let’s see, I took, um, maybe four or five steps before I started to freak out. Yeah, five steps. Maybe a couple more! How ‘bout that? It wasn’t impossible.”

This morning, my daily bible reading was Acts 1.  Do you notice who stood up amid the 120 and, recalling David’s words, led the other apostles to fill Judas’ spot?  The same guy who, a chapter later, boldly addressed an enormous crowd while it was accusing them of being reprobate drunks.

Where’d he get the confidence to stand like that?  Off the bag at first, out on the water

Coaching Distinctions #19

Stealing Second (part two)


How do you steal second base? 

You give up first.

To progress to any goal, you’ve got to give up where you’ve been. As long as you’re all right with where you’ve been, you’re not likely to pay the price to move into the unknown and on to your goal.

Let’s be specific:

Until you’re willing to give up the marriage you have, you won’t get the one you want.  I’m not suggesting divorce. This invitation is to give up the way you’re in your marriage and be in it in a whole new way.

Until you’re willing to give up the barely-get-by finances you’re accustomed to, your net worth won’t improve. Not much.

Until you’re willing to give up the pastorate you have now, it won’t be radically different—the way your heart longs for it to be.

See, you can only control yourself.

So, if you want to change your church, your marriage, or your finances, you get to change you. And, changing you is so costly it’ll only happen it if you’ve abandoned all hope of getting where you want without having to change.

My CRM teammate, David Zimmerman loves this from Robert Quinn: “If you want to do something you’ve never done before, you must become the person you’ve never been before.”

Change, on this level requires risk. Leading off only works when you lead off far enough to be thrown out.

Far enough to be in danger.

Change is a dangerous game.  It’s especially dangerous to your comfort. And, comfort, most of all, is what keeps our feet planted firmly on first. And you can’t steal second from there.

Making significant change—particularly the kind that undermines what’s become habitual– demands that you over-ride the “auto pilot” inside you. For many of us. the programming of your auto pilot began in childhood, was beta tested in your teen years, and then became codified in the early decades of adulthood.  By the time you pass your 40’s the auto-pilot is engaged most of the time.

New client sales call? Auto-pilot.

Good Friday Service? Auto-pilot.

Mother-in-law’s visit? Auto-pilot.

Staff meeting? Auto-pilot.

Budget “discussion” with the husband? Auto-pilot.

Car shopping? Auto-pilot.

Weekend with the kids? Auto-pilot.

Stealing second, from the safety of first, can’t be done on auto-pilot.

You’ve got to grip the controls and force your mind, your heart, and your body

— deliberately —

out into danger and away from all that’s familiar, predictable, safe, and comfortable.

Second base!

Stealing Second (part one)


The first thing every base-running instruction says is you have to lead off.

You gotta get off of first.

Your foot off the bag.

You lead off.  And when you do, you’re no longer on first … and you’re a long way from second.

And, in this condition you can be thrown out.

There’s a risk to leading off and there’s no other way to steal second.

In life, like in baseball, you have to give up what you have in order to have something new—in order to have a chance to get there!  And, giving up what you have, what’s familiar, predictable, anticipatable, even strangely comfortable involves risk.  Trust.  And the very real possibility of loss.

In a church culture that more and more is oriented around safety and security and avoiding loss, leading off seems so strange.

But, is it?

Imagine the Book of Acts if the saints were unwilling to risk, to lead off.

In the upper room they’d not take the initiative to replace Judas with Matthias. “But, wait a minute, only Jesus chooses apostles.” Standing on first, they couldn’t possibly attempt something new.

“Who does Peter think he is to address this huge crowd on Pentecost?  No talking! We were specifically instructed to pray.”  Willing to lead off, Peter stood up.  The eleven followed his lead… and thousands came to Christ on that day.

Did you notice?

Many of us revere the church we read about in the Book of Acts.  That book is full of leaps, risks, and doing things for the very first time.  Consider just three chapters:

Healing the crippled man [3:7]

Calling the onlookers to repent [3:19]

Boldness and courage before the Sanhedrin [4:20]

Praying for even greater boldness and the power to heal [4:29-30]

Sharing wealth [4:32]

Disciplining Sapphira [5:9]

Public healings [5:15]

Obeying the directive of an angel [5:21]

Proclaiming the good news everywhere [5:42].

When you read this, it’s easy to overlook the fact that each of these was a brand new experience for them.  There was no precedent.  No rulebook to follow.  No polity.  No Book of Order.

God intended us to be people willing to do anything to obey. To follow Jesus.  To respond to the Holy Spirit’s leading. To advance Christ’s Kingdom wherever we go.

That’s the pedigree of the early church.

A church of action.

A church in motion.

A church characterized by risk.

See, you can’t steal second, while standing on first.



Coaching Distinctions #17

Committed Action (part four)


Imagine the impact on the United States if Christians here were known – first of all — for being people of action

You could be reading these blogs and conclude: “Good! We’re doing all kinds of ministry in our city: we donate used clothes to the homeless shelter, canned goods to the food bank, we give a little bit of money to a women’s shelter, drug rehab, an afterschool program, a hospital, and to a convalescent center. Hey, we spent one Saturday working on a Habitat home.”

Many churches do give to causes that, it is thought, advance the cause of Christ in their communities.  Trouble is, these efforts are often so small, so diverse, and so impersonal as to have no lasting Kingdom influence on the people they intend to serve.

These are mere “gestures”.  And, churches make good-hearted gestures all the time.

Consider the difference when a church commits “all-in” to serve the staff and students at a local school.

Church members are on hand every day: assisting teachers, aids, and staff any way they can. They sponsor student awards, help with the booster club, and are on campus to support and encourage students’ progress in academics, citizenship, health, and teamwork.  They donate materials and supplies for every homeroom before each semester and they give themselves along with the donations to help the teachers prepare for the students’ arrival.

They are on hand to help by providing dinner when standardized tests or parent-teacher meetings keep the faculty on campus day and night.  Regularly, they honor the teachers who they observe investing so devotedly in their students.  And, members of these churches are regularly in prayer for the health, safety, and well being of the students, faculty, and their families.

This is “committed action”.

These actions are so regular, so costly, so focused, and so personal that the recipients of their service cannot mistake the generosity, the selflessness, and the love they are experiencing.

Ministry like this can take months or years to develop.

Commonly, those we intend to serve will be cautious, even skeptical that somehow they’re being duped—that there’s going to be a “hook”, a “gotcha” where the church people reveal their true, self-serving motives.

When our motivation is only to serve and love and bless the recipients, for their benefit, over time the barriers dissolve.

And when they do, we will be prepared to give an answer for the hope we have [I Pt 3:15] and the love we so generously give.

Coaching Distinctions #16

Committed Action (part three)


Imagine the impact on the United States if Christians here were known – first of all — for being people of action

Caution: activity does not equal effectiveness.

Many Christians and churches are busy, busy, busy:  elders meetings, fellowships, teas, seminars, bible studies, retreats, revivals, accountability groups, small groups, home groups, growth groups, recovery groups…

Are we effective?

Is the Kingdom of God advancing, in our lives and in our cities?

The Willow Creek Association’s groundbreaking Reveal Survey said “no”.  Church activity does not correlate to maturity in Christ, or the effective evangelization of our cities.

To test the religious activities that vie for your congregation’s attention, consider two questions:

1. Who is this for?

Most church activity benefits only Christians.  Yet, Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, famously said: “The church is the only organization that exists primarily for the benefit of its non-members.”

We may say our meetings, groups, classes, and retreats are primarily for guests. With frighteningly few exceptions, they’re not.

2. How does this advance God’s Kingdom?

By “God’s Kingdom” we mean the unencumbered reign and rule of Christ.  Consider how much of what we do, has so little to do with that.

Study your church calendar.  For every class, gathering, service, and meeting, see if you can determine any specific Kingdom-advancing outcomes that were achieved.

You might consider:

Was good news preached to the poor?

Did the imprisoned find freedom?

Was sight restored to the blind?

Were the oppressed freed?

Was the Lord’s favor proclaimed and actualized?

These [Luke 4:18] are among the things Christ did as the Kingdom of God was advanced.

Consider the kinds of activity common in church today:

If pie was eaten while Christian women gossiped and church-going men griped about Obama, as churched kids played kickball in the fellowship hall, be honest enough to admit that no maturity-inducing discipleship took place. 

No one grew in Christ.

Nobody outside the church was ministered to.

Compare that to a team from Westside Christian Church. They regularly minister to people who’ve been forced by the brutal Southern California economy to live in RV’s, campers, or other temporary accommodations.  The Westside team throws BBQ’s (called “RVQ’s”), serves, loves, shares, feeds, helps, prays with, and encourages these amazingly resilient folks… who do not attend their church.  And, lives are changing.

Another team, from Chino’s New Hope Christian Fellowship, routinely dedicates time at a mobile home retirement community.  Intentionally, they are building redemptive relationships, forging friendships, demonstrating what it is to be good news to people who would otherwise have no contact with people devoted to love and serve them as Jesus might. Several times a month, team members serve residents, share their joys, fears, anticipations, and sorrows, honor them, and meet practical needs.  Their objective is not to bring these people into their church so much as it is to bring Jesus to them.

It’s working.


Coaching Distinctions #15

Committed Action (part two)


Imagine the impact on the United States if Christians here were known – first of all — for being people of action

When you read the New Testament, you see Jesus in action much of the time.  So much so that when he drew away for prayer, reflection, and rest—it was noteworthy.  But, most sermons today give the impression that solitude, reflection, and “waiting on God” are the central features of the lifestyle of a mature Christian. 

Yet, in scripture, you see the twelve in motion.

The seventy-two are anything but stagnant. You don’t

find them sitting, waiting, and praying for God to do what God has called them to do.

In the diaspora [Acts 8], Christians went everywhere presencing and presenting the gospel, performing signs and wonders out in society [Rom 15:19].  Sick are healed, lepers cleansed, poor cared for, lame restored, oppressed freed, hypocrites exposed, adulteress rescued, greedy challenged…

The early Church was so effective that it was accused of “turning the world upside down”. [Act 17:6]

When you look at our society, don’t you think it needs to be flipped on its head?

Don’t you see it exalting that which is ruining it?

Do you see it denigrating the values and practices that would strengthen it?

Do you notice it sprinting to its demise?

When the Church values security over adventure, ideation over action, and reflection over courage, society goes to hell in a fast hurry. 

The Christian life is one of action, risk-taking, trusting God and leaping into the fray.

In Acts 14, Paul and Barnabas are strengthening and encouraging the disciples, saying: “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”

Paul’s invitation to Timothy: “Join me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.”  Funny, I don’t remember hearing that when I was accepted to Seminary.

When we are content to pray and wait for God to do what God has called the Church to do in society… it doesn’t get done.

Consider how the passification and cerebralization of contemporary Christianity has contributed to the scarcity of young adults in our churches.

Pastor, will you restore a biblical view of our obligation to engage, rescue, and redeem our neighbors and neighborhoods? [2 Cor 5:16-21]

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” [Eph 2:10]

“…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” [Mt 5:16]

“Live such good lives among the pagans that … they may see your good deeds and glorify God…” [1 Peter 2:12]

Tick. Tock.

Committed Action (part one)


Imagine the impact on the United States if Christians here were known – first of all — for being people of action


If we were regarded as people who leap when there’s an opportunity to help others.

People who jump at the chance to undermine injustice?

Those who are swift to relieve suffering?

What if Christians were known for bravery?

For generosity.

And for personal integrity in doing the kinds of things Jesus did?

What if we were vigilant in our intolerance of hypocrisy, dishonesty, and favoritism—especially in ourselves, and then, in society as a whole?

And, what if, winsome, courageous, and humble—our way of living invited the entire community to be like this, more and more?

What then?

Christianity, for many, has been boiled down to an intellectual acceptance of religious premises. It’s been reduced to a fairly flimsy apprehension of select promises—while we disregard many other promises that deal with obedience, sacrifice, and judgment.

What’s become of the confidence of the early church that Christ – through us – will change the very fabric of society? “…if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors…” [2 Cor 5:17-20a]

What has become of our embodying the hope of the world? God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” [Col 1:27b]

Or, being the light of the world? “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” [Mt 5:14-16].

Or just being light? “No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, so that those who come in may see the light.” [Lk 11:33]

Maybe it’s that the Protestant Reformation was so intertwined with the Renaissance that we’ve become transfixed on defining the Christian faith intellectually, cerebrally, and propositionally.

What if we committed to be the change Christ promised to make in the world?


Coaching Distinctions #13

Repentance that lasts a lifetime (part three)


For several installments, we’ve been considering the motivation that is common to human beings—to look good, feel good, be right, and be in control—yet largely goes unexamined.  Then, contemplating what to do about it, we’ve been examining repentance.

Repentance that sticks. 

In my coaching practice, not uncommonly our focus turns to patterns in the pastor’s leadership or relational style that undermine his or her effectiveness.  I call this: “getting in your own way”.  All of us, from time to time, behave in ways we regret.

Some of these behaviors become habitual, keeping the leader in Groundhog Day—repeating the pattern in one church after another.

The antidote is sorrow unto repentance.

And, that’s easier said than done. When you examine the impact your selfishness, preferences for control, irresponsibility, perfectionism, or irritability has on those close to you, it can open you upOnce opened up, you can allow yourself to be impaled by the horrible effects of your sin.

You’d think it’d just about kill you.

Funny thing is, the opposite is true. 

As Paul notes in 2 Cor 7:11 godly sorrow produces concern, longing, earnestness, and indignation. And, it also produces the eagerness to set things right and a readiness to see justice done.  Your heart is changed. Because it is, you are changed, too.

The result is freedom for you and the possibility of new intimacy with those you’ve harmed.

Hard to believe, but true.

Now, some of you have no trouble ruminating on just how awful you are… like a well-worn path across the schoolyard, you relive your errors and with ferocity you abuse and debase yourself.


Never!  You say you don’t deserve it!  You say you’re just that awful.

I say no.

You’re not especially awful, you’re just arrogant.


You’re so certain you’re the special case.  The one person beyond forgiveness, cleansing, restoration.  The blood of Christ, you think, is insufficient to cover you, your sin. You discount the remarkable provision of Heaven rather than embrace the truth that you, special little you, are an ordinary sinner.

Not special.

And not at all remarkable in your unworthiness.  You’re just as unworthy as everyone else.

Of course you’re unworthy. 

That’s exactly the point of the atonement: God paid it all.

So, my invitation is to allow yourself be run through with the sharp sword of the sadness, pain and loss you’ve caused others.

Freedom waits on the other side. 

Coaching Distinctions #12

Repentance that lasts a lifetime (part two)


Buried in the archaic curiosity of the King James translation is a gem: “…godly sorrow worketh repentance … not to be repented of…”. [2 Cor 7:10]

Repentance that sticks.

Consider that when God sorrows, it’s not the self-serving, feeling-sorry-for-myself kind of sorrow that leads to death.  God sorrows for others.

There’s the key to deep and lasting repentance: you must enter into the suffering of others.  In this case, the suffering your sinfulness has caused those around you: your spouse, your family, your coworkers, your friends.

A decade ago I was in a workshop participating in exercises and discussions designed to help me see my impact on those I claim to love.  Like most everyone I know, I’d made a practice of overlooking how my preference to look good, feel good, be right, and be in control had affected those closest to me.  There was so much frustration and sadness and hurt and resignation that I just didn’t see.

Didn’t want to see.

Until… one particularly powerful exercise about the value of life.

In an instant I saw myself as an analyst, with lab coat and clipboard, standing on the sidelines of my own life, carefully studying its complexities.  Once I understood, I’d lay down my clipboard and lab coat, walk off the sidelines and into “the game” of life.

Trouble is, while I’m on the sidelines, I’m not in the game.

And, without me, people I love were suffering. 

Most poignant, when our kids hit adolescence, the game-changers came with such ferocity and velocity that – for years – I couldn’t figure it out. So… I stayed out of the game.  Annie, essentially, parented all six kids through the turbulence and discontinuous change of their adolescence– alone. 

In the awful hours that followed, I drank deeply from the cup of their suffering.

Slowly, thoroughly I considered each child and what it would’ve been like for them to traverse the stormy uncertainties from child to adult without their dad… without my love, assurance, encouragement, tenderness, confidence, collaboration, sensitivity, and wisdom.

Not that I’d actually gone anywhere. I’d mastered the art of being present without being present. 

Then, I imagined what it must have been like, instead, to get a steady diet of my disappointments, judgments, distance, comparisons with my [idealized] recollections of my own adolescence, demands, and ever-present distraction. 

I chose to enter into the loneliness, confusion, isolation, frustration, loss, sorrow, fear, perplexity, discouragement, de-valuing, and opposition they likely experienced because of the way I’d chosen to be. 

I let myself feel everything.

Deeply. Influentially. Unrelentingly. Sickeningly.

It broke me.

It devastated me.

It undid me.


Coaching Distinctions #11
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