How is it that when a prominent Christian leader falls, the whole affair is so often shrouded in darkness? The secrecy seems to persist until the police, the media, an offended party, or the victim of the leadership abuse brings it into the light. How often are those illuminations met with skillfully-articulated denials or a minimizing reinterpretation of the offense? Is it just me, or do you see it, too?
We Christians are often fond of reciting John 8:32 “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” particularly when the topic is evangelism. The trouble is, our behavior – at very important times and in very important ways – oftencovers up the truth.
The Greek word translated “truth” is alethia, meaning “reality,” or “what is.” Yet, in times of crisis – like when a minister falls in sin – we seem to invest ourselves in elaborate cover-ups. One reason we do, I think, is because the Church has forgotten what business it’s in. Remember, ministry is the “people-development business.”
Is it any wonder those outside our faith community scratch their heads about us? What are they to think when we froth at the mouth about the “truth” of our Gospel and then behave in ways that endeavor to keep truth hidden? Were the roles reversed, what would you think? How likely would you be to consider their faith claims?
-Kirk Kirlin, Leadership Courage
The Unreasonableness of Being Reasonable (part four)
Pastor, who you are is more important than anything you say.
In fact, who you are is more important than everything you say!
This Leadership Courage Series is a call to embrace the courageous, risky life that leaders lived in the Church of the New Testament. It stands in glaring contrast to the lifestyle of the professional clergy that, more often than not, resembles tenured professors at our nation’s universities…without the taxpayer-funded salary package.
This is primarily troubling because you are not primarily an educator… you are a role model.
Just like Timothy, Paul, Priscilla & Aquila, Barnabas, John, and Stephen.
Yes, just like them.
If not you, then who?
Who else is to model the vibrant, sold-out Christian life than you, your elders, and leaders?
Those who write books, like those who traverse the Christian speaking circuit, don’t provide the regular proximity and access that you, as shepherd of a local congregation, do—unless you hide in your study and only emerge when it’s time to preach or lead a meeting.
Think about those words: proximity and access.
If the lyrics and music of your preaching and your life don’t align, those words will strike fear in you.
If, however, you’ve raised your way-of-living to match your preaching or aligned your preaching to the faith you actually live, those words will resonate with your heart right now.
See, when your life is “Chamberlainian” [see the last blog], the dissonance between it and the biblical message undercuts your effectiveness as a leader of God’s women and men.
And, when your living is “Churchillian”, the bravery to which you call your congregation is the same as the courage you routinely summon to bring God’s reign to the chaos and disorder that has besieged your community.
One of my favorite preachers is Mike Erre. Mike’s always been an amazing Bible expositor and communicator. Biblically-sound. Funny. Profound. Engaging. Illuminating. Winsome.
In recent years, a medical crisis has befallen someone very dear to Mike and Justina. A crisis from which there’s no recovery. None.
Mike’s preaching gained gravitas. Like Jesus had, when the scholars marveled at his understanding [Luke 2:47] and demons quaked in his presence [Mark 5:7]. You can sense it when you’re around Mike. This man knows what it is to follow Jesus no matter what.
When you live in harmony with the Biblical message, you have gravitas.
So does your preaching.
When you don’t, your sermons are hollow. And that hollowness drives folks away.
The first to go are the true believers. The uncompromising. The bold. The spirited. The gutsy. Those who read their Bibles and believe that it says what it says. That it means what it means.
The people who long for authenticity. Not theory.
They want to associate with a faith community that will live this stuff – Jesus’ stuff – like it’s real.
Because it is.
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The Supremacy of Vision (part ten)
In the Garden, Jesus modeled visionary leadership, powerfully.
As scripture reveals, Jesus was both fully divine and fully human. Wrestling with his impending crucifixion, he demonstrates the final key distinction about vision: the leader subordinates her psychology to her vision.
Here’s what I mean:
This agony, we understand, was his natural human response to the anticipation not just of a dreadfully painful execution by crucifixion, but also some kind of separation from the Father [Mt 27:46] for a period of time.
Physiologically, sweating blood is called “hematidrosis”. When capillaries around the sweat glands rupture, and blood oozes through the sweat ducts. It occurs when a person is facing death or highly stressful events, having been seen in prisoners before execution and during the London Blitz.
Hematidrosis indicates just how powerful Jesus emotions were. Bible translators describe his prayer as fervent, urgent, earnest, anguished, and intense.
Fully human, Jesus possessed all his psychology. He experienced the full range of human emotions.
Just like you do.
We see him engaging deep, intense emotion—completely authentic and appropriate in light of what he’s facing. And, he didn’t just emote. He wrestled. He cried out: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me” [Lk 22:42a]
It was not for show.
Real, honest, penetrating, intense emotions.
And, he chose to subordinate his emotions to his vision: the will of the Father. He suspended his human preference for emotional resolution (apprehensions comforted, fears assuaged, aloneness addressed, hurt salved, etc.) so that his great, world-changing, eternity-impacting vision could be accomplished.
He resolved: “…yet not my will, but yours be done.”
This is visionary leadership.
Dr. J. Robert Clinton’s team’s research of 1,300 biblical, historical, and contemporary Christian leaders has revealed patters—similarities—in the ways God develop leaders. One is that all leaders experience Leadership Backlash multiple times over their lifetimes. Leadership backlash occurs when leader and followers move to fulfill the vision they’ve agreed upon. Then, when unanticipated difficulties arise, followers turn against the leader, on whom they blame the setbacks.
In backlash, the leader’s psychology is activated. Depending on the leader’s spiritual maturity, those emotions either request, demand, or tantrum to be assuaged. Often isolated, alone, the leader either abandons the vision, or subordinates her psychology to it, like Jesus in the Garden.
This it the pursuit of God-authored vision against all odds, through all resistance—even our own. We have our psychology. But, no longer driven by it, we can marshal its potency to keep us moving toward vision’s fulfillment.
Like Jesus did.
The Supremacy of Vision part ten.docx
While there is much for a Christian leader to learn when in conflict — today’s principle will keep you from falling into conflict, much of the time.
So, if you’d prefer to minimize your participation in conflicts from now on, listen up!
As with each of the articles in this series, this principle will make a lot of sense to you… and I bet you rarely apply it. And you do this to your own relational and leadership peril.
Principle #8- Who gets to choose?
Who decides your decisions?
Who determines your attitudes: whether and when you forgive, when and why you finally get off some offense or other?
The answer is ridiculously apparent: You do.
“So what?” you say.
Here’s what: most of your conflicts erupt when you forget this simple, obvious reality:
You don’t get to choose anybody else’s choices.
You never have and you never will.
And yet, in your most challenging relationships, you behave as if you do.
Think about it.
You imagine that you choose how much your daughter is online. How much your wife spends on shoes. How and when your son does his homework. Right? You say: “We have strict guidelines in our home about how much time Sophia gets to be online. Susan has a strict budget—including shoes. Ben knows he has to do all his homework before TV.” And, you think that because these things are true, that Sophia, and Susan, and Ben are not deciding every single day whether and to what extent they live within these carefully-defined parameters?
I assert that they choose. Every time. Just like you did when you were a kid.
Their choice is always theirs—just as your choices are yours.
Most of your conflicts erupt when you forget that you only get to choose your choices. An autonomous human being does what every single human being does every single moment of every single day: she chooses. And you go berserk because you think somehow you’re entitled to choose other people’s choices. Don’t you?
Think about it.
God, who is omnipotent, who knows everything, who is eternal and sovereign set it up that way. We get to choose all our choices. And, sometimes (maybe much of the time) God weeps over the choices we make.
Consider just how different your life could be if you lived as if everyone around you makes their own decisions—every time. Imagine your life when you no longer manipulate, press, challenge, shame, and guilt others. Imagine never again being “so disappointed” in the decisions of those near you.
Imagine the impact on those you love.
Consider how they might live when out from under the crushing weight of your expectations, disappointments, and judgments.
What if you trusted people to make their own decisions and to live into whatever reality those decisions open up and close down for them?
You could sorrow with them, without being ashamed. The confidence you display in those near you might invite them to make great choices—surprising both you and them!
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See, all my life I’d been training myself to put tasks above people.
As an extrovert, I’ve enjoyed being with people far more than being alone. For most of my adult life, I’ve used the people I’m with to get things done. Reduced them to a “means to an end.”
That’s produced two experiences in those I’m with. Practical help and committed encouragement to achieve what we want to accomplish and an uneasy awkwardness when we’ve just been together.
I befriended Sam, a successful and hilarious radio personality, hoping to introduce him to Christ. Soon, his very difficult marriage became the focus of our conversations. I slid into the role of “marriage advisor”. We spent hundreds of hours together over many months … Sam began to change, Suzi responded, their marriage improved.
When it did, I was at a loss.
We had nothing to talk about.
Tim and I planted a church together. Then we launched a business.
I loved it!
Tim became one of my best friends. We were together all the time, working on the church of the business. Both were new, exciting adventures with regular progress and limitless possibilities.
What Tim said almost 25 years ago I’ll never forget:
“Kirk, when I’m with you, I feel more like a project than a person.”
I didn’t understand what he meant. So, I hired a counselor and asked her. Years of very helpful therapy, intensive work in a character-development ministry, reflecting on Buber, and being supported by a wife and friends have brought transformation in my way of being with people.
And…there’s more coming.
Coaching Distinctions #89.docx
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Like many exquisite things, this beauty has a price. Rents are challenging enough in winter quadruple to astronomical heights in summer.
Last night I met the landlords where we’ll live this summer. David and Juliette seem to be lovely people. He’s from London and she’s from the Seychelles. He’s a retired real estate developer. They “summer” in Rhode Island and hope to visit friends in the UK before fall.
That is all I know about them. In a thirty-minute encounter with two remarkable, unique, and talented people who’re created in God’s image—that’s all I know about them.
I wasted the exchange in a “IT-IT” relationship.
I was “tenant” and they “landlord”. We covered the pertinent details about rent and keys and utilities and parking and trash day. But, I failed to encounter them.
Lewis says that in every encounter with every person we hasten them to one end or the other. And I cannot tell you where this couple stands regarding the Savior. I didn’t bring it up!
As an “IT”, I hastened to conclude the meeting. I’d planned the evening, and had already decided there wasn’t room for an “I-THOU” encounter.
What if God wanted me to represent him to them?
What if God intended that we pray together?
What if God desired that we become friends?
As “tenant” these considerations don’t surface. But as “child of God” they do.
My being with Juliette and David is an opportunity for Heaven to come to Earth. For Christ’s goodness to touch two lives beneficially like he has mine.
It may have nothing to do with “religion” and everything to do with love.
An “I-THOU” encounter allows that we move each other. Each life is altered, impacted, changed. Not just in our thinking, but in reality changed.
How much greater is the possible reciprocity among people to call, draw out, impact, move, and be moved by each other?
I and THOU.
Coaching Distinctions #88.docx
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Maybe you’re committed to DO>HAVE>BE. After all, it’s what you know, how you keep life manageable, and the best way you’ve found to get people to accept you.
DO>HAVE>BE provides the opportunity to immerse yourself in constant activity without struggling with the existential question of why you’re alive.
As daughters and sons in whom God delights, who’ve been rescued from judgement to security in the Father’s love … the answer could be straightforward. For many Christians, apparently it’s not.
I didn’t grow up in a Christian home. Not really. Ours was a productive home. I learned early that my value lay in productivity. DO good, DO helpful things, DO what’s right…and you’ll be valuable, virtuous, loved. Subtly and overtly, the message was reinforced a hundred ways.
I came to understand myself as a ‘productivity machine’ and to people as ‘a means to get things done’.
So, like my siblings, I was a bit of an achiever. At Harvard, I surrendered my strife-filled life to Christ, experienced surprising peace, joy, and love. To be unconditionally loved was rewarding and refreshing. Completely new.
Soon, though, I landed in a fundamentalist charismatic church. Suffocating legalism grew gradually. I compiled an ever-growing mountain of behavioral do’s and don’t. Desiring to please God who’d so graciously rescued me, I mustered the self-discipline honed in childhood, tucked in my chin, and ran toward the “high calling of God in Christ”. DO>HAVE>BE.
Along the path were achievements, accolades, esteem, and recognition.
I morphed into a ‘ministry machine’.
What about you?
And, as years passed isolation grew. So did insecurity, discouragement, exhaustion, fear.
Have you noticed?
After several excruciating setbacks—I consider them God’s severe mercy—I came to the end of my striving…again.
I’d been introduced to BE>DO>HAVE.
Unsettling initially, it provided a framework for seeing God’s Word—and myself—differently. It anchored my primary identity as God’s beloved child. A few workshops helped clarify my uniqueness. Recalling experiences of God’s particular pleasure (remember Eric Liddell?) I discovered specific ways of being that blossom to life. In these times, people experienced clarity, courage, and confidence to be who God had distinctively called them to.
A securely loved child of God, I get to champion leaders to live God’s special calling, all-in.
Leaders like you.
Not what we do, but who we are.
Coaching Distinctions #86.doc
In thousands of messages we’re told: “you’ve gotta do a, b, and c in order to have x, y, and z so that you can be: smart, important, respected, beautiful, famous, admired, significant, wealthy, important, successful…somebody”.
Yet, Christ modeled a completely different way of living. “I AM the Father’s Son, so I DO what I see my father doing, and I HAVE the glory intended for me.” [Jn 5:19-23]
Of us, he says: “We ARE his handiwork, we DO the good God intended for us to do, as a result we HAVE been brought near to God [Eph 2:10,13]
BE>DO>HAVE is the way of the Kingdom of God.
Think about it.
In this view, people are a threat. If your roommate has what you think you’re supposed to have, you’ll view her as a competitor. If a co-worker does what you think you need to do—or does it faster, better, quicker—you’ll naturally interpret this as a hazard to your becoming.
Rather than being blessed for someone’s success, you feel diminished—in some crazy way. So you’re jealous, bitter, resentful, or worse!
Notice your language. If you frequently evaluate yourself in reference to others (better, prettier, less than, better paid, faster, less successful, smarter, taller, less popular) you’re living DO>HAVE>BE.
A mentor, Lawrence Edwards once told me “comparison is the seedbed of envy”. Envy is deadly to relationships. [Mk 7:22]
In DO>HAVE>BE you can’t be generous, because anything you give away reduces what you have left. And that shrinks your significance.
But living BE>DO>HAVE your identity is solid, secure, intact. It’s not based on performance, other’s opinions, or what you have. You are. And, secure in who you are, you live generously with praise, talent, friendship, resources, opportunities, material goods, wisdom, esteem, perspective.
Pastor, is that church down the street a competitor or an opening for you to bring glory to God?
It all depends…on you.
Coaching Distinctions #85.doc
We’re looking at one of the most common dumb things most people do most of the time. When “A” offends “B”, A rushes to A’s defense, pleading that, after all, A’s intentions were innocent. B just took it wrong and B got hurt. End of discussion!
This is dumb because in A’s self-focused concern to clear himself, A left the injury—and the injured party (i.e. B) unaddressed.
If A was hoping for restoration of relationship, this strategy is just plain dumb!
If I’m smart, I’ll attend to my impact, not my intention.
Recently, while leading a workshop I was bemoaning “bait and switch” tactics employed by some churches. They show up to do some form of community service then to use it to buttonhole people with religious arguments and promote the church they attend.
When the “switch” is thrown, people are offended.
To illustrate the impact of bait and switch, I described a time Annie and I were invited to dinner at the home of an admired minister. When the conversation awkwardly turned to a multi-level marketing “opportunity” they discerned was ideal for us, their true motivations were revealed.
We felt hurt, manipulated, and used.
During the break, a workshop participant angrily challenged the negative light I’d cast on the MLM I’d mentioned—a business to which he and his wife had devoted decades. I had so offended her that she’d left, humiliated and angry. I should be more careful about what I say!
Impulsively, I explained that I’d simply shared a story whose details were true. I’d done nothing to disparage his particular MLM. I’d simply shared the facts as they occurred. About this time, I began to notice him.
I could see that my defense had accomplished nothing in assuaging his anger, addressing his hurt, or communicating concern for his still-absent spouse.
In an instant, my heart cracked. “Please forgive me … I am so sorry to have been so thoughtless! I should never have named the business—it was completely unnecessary for that illustration. I was terribly insensitive!! I can only imagine how much I hurt your wife and you. You’ve given so much to build your business, and I come traipsing into your town and trash your reputation in front of your friends!!” Now, with tears welling up: “Could you forgive me, please?”
What happened next has occurred so many times when I’ve blundered like this and then attended to my impact.
We became close.
The ‘breakdown’ between us became an opening for intimacy. I invited him to tell me more about how my words impacted him. He talked about the care they’d taken to grow their business with integrity, to honor Christ in all their dealings, and to be honest with everyone along the way. Graciously, he forgave me. We shared laughter, hugs, and tears.
Owning my impact honestly and authentically brought us closer than if I’d never made the mistake in the first place.
See, a relational breakdown is an opening for intimacy.
Coaching distinctions #62.doc
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We’re examining a powerful reality of human interaction: whenever you are with somebody, you are causing an experience for them. The great news: you can choose, in advance, the experience you are committed to cause with them!
You can decide, in advance, what you want your congregation to experience this weekend. Yes, the content of your message is influential—but so is your mood, your tone, your attitude, and the context that’s created for the encounter you and they have together.
Last time, I told you about a Delta gate agent. Her way of being with me was so positive, so hopeful, so empathetic that I experienced peace, confidence, assurance, and value even as a mechanical problem waylaid my travel plans.
Two of my kids use Chase Bank. I don’t, but I’m beginning to wish I did. My bank does all the conventional banking things. They are polite, competent people. The branches are adequate in every way. Walk in, fill out a deposit slip, wait in line for a teller, and get your banking done.
In an Orange County Chase branch several people welcome you as you come through the door. Somebody’s on the floor to ascertain what you need and direct you to get it done. If a teller is free, she’ll call out: “Oh, don’t worry, I’ll fill that out for you!” as you reach for a transaction slip. The mechanics of banking is virtually the same as at my bank, but Chase’ people go out of their way to make sure I know they’re glad I visited. All this creates an experience of being valued, important, almost … celebrated.
I am committed to cause my coaching clients to experience clarity, courage, and confidence in who God has designed them to be.
So, in dozens of subtle and overt ways, I give myself to them to have it happen.
I watch them to know whether it’s occurring, and if not, I keep changing my way of being with them until it does.
Since each coaching client is different, my way of being with each one varies.
Each fall, I hold a ministry fundraiser essential to the financial viability of the ministry I do. Each time, three clients will talk about the impact of the ministry on their lives, their churches, and their communities.
It is amazing, humbling, and gratifying to hear how similarly each describes the clarity of calling and the courage and confidence they have to pursue what God has called them to.
That’s the experience I’m committed to cause with them.
Coaching distinctions #56.doc