Squared off to Bunt (part four)


I was in Memphis one snowy morning recently. A CRM teammate we affectionately call “Hound Doggie” and I were designing curriculum for the upcoming reFOCUS:Atlanta conference when his cell phone rang.

52 robbery “Hi Honey… OK… Are you OK? Are the kids OK? Don’t worry about a thing. Stay put and I’ll be there in ten minutes.” His voice was smooth, calm, steady.

I tried to decipher what had happened.

“Hey Kirkie, I’m gonna have to run home for a little bit. Our house was broken into; a lot of stuff is missing. Be back soon as I can.” Matt was as calm with me as he was with Jen.

In a few hours he’d filed a police report, met his insurance guy, arranged for his family to spend a few nights at the in-laws. And he was back—fully back—writing content for the Leading Change track, where we support pastors to be leaders of change by being leaders in change.

52 WestonsMatt is no ‘armchair theologian’. Like the rest of my CRM team, he’s not ‘squared off to bunt’.

This recession has been tough on churches. Giving is down—way down. Many have reduced staff. Attendance has declined and so has vitality and optimism. While there are many exceptions, this is a decades-long trend across the Church in America.

Congregations often blame to pastor. Yet, rarely is any pastor good enough to grow a church where there’s an embittered, conflicted congregation. And, few pastors are bad enough to run people off when a congregation is vibrant and loving, passionately pursuing Christ.

Still, many pastors live discouraged as if they are responsible for their churches’ decline. 52 discouragedQuestioning herself, she pulls back from leading boldly. Fearing the firestorm of criticism, he “softens” his sermons, muting his own voice—and the Word of God through him. Rather than take on that manipulative, gossiping leader she placates, hoping something will change.

Squared off to bunt.

A Barna survey found the #1 concern among Christians is a “lack of leadership”. And the #1 need of leaders is courage.

Courage comes from the French word “kor” which means “heart”.  I suggest that to live courageously is to live with your whole heart. Your heart engaged, invested, vulnerable, at risk.

52 GethsemaneCan you imagine Jesus, in his passion week, squared off to bunt?

Defending himself weakly before the Sanhedrin. Negotiating with Pilate. A few rote prayers in Gethsemane.

No great struggle.

No great sweat.

No great victory.


Coaching distinctions #52.doc

The Meaning we Make Up (part two)


This series, we’re exploring coaching distinctions I rely on when coaching ministers for deep, life-changing transformation.  Last time, I introduced the very common habit of making up a meaning and attaching it to the experiences of our lives.  Seldom do we examine the veracity of these meanings, and so we live as if they are true… as if there’s no other explanation for why we encounter what we do.

Ever watch the first couple weeks of American Idol? People audition who can no more carry a tune than a rusted hinge. Yet, they’re absolutely convinced they sing well, sound great, and the judges – all music industry pros – are crazy.  We watch in stunned amazement.

How could anyone be that out-of-touch?

Then, we discover why. Departing from the audition they’re embraced by an adoring, doting, cooing parent who continues to lavish empty affirmations on her child. See, the parent has attached meaning to her child and reinforces the delusion over the years—so even industry execs can’t break through. 

A Midwesterner by birth, I now live in Southern California where I often say selfishness is the national pastime. This culture breeds narcissism (delusional self-love) the way concentration camps breed hopelessness. Children receive awards for finishing kindergarten!

In a few years they’ll be perfecting celebratory antics for scoring a touchdown in the NFL— which is what they’re paid to do!  Try as I might, I can’t picture Jeff, my tax guy, doing the Dirty Bird every time he finishes a return.

Jesus said: “…you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” [Jn 8:32]

The word translated “truth” here means “reality”.

Freedom is possible when we encounter reality and interpret it as it is—without overpowering it with a meaning we devise.  As coach, I support my clients to separate reality from meanings we rarely see we’ve assigned to it.

So, whether the meaning you’ve chosen is self-limiting (“I must be a fraud as a pastor”) or self-aggrandizing (“That J. Lo. don’ know nuthin’ ‘bout music”), it’s impossible to accurately assess the events of your life when they’re tangled up with meaning you’ve invented.

“What are people to you?”

In other words, what do people mean to you?

Many see people as a means to an end. Ministers can view their members as “possessions”… and some as “problems”. We can interpret other churches as “competitors”, other ministries as “opponents”.

Uninterrupted, these meanings undermine our effectiveness and make mischief of our message.

Don’t they?

Coaching Distinctions #23

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

The Formidable Four (part four)


When someone behaves in ways that don’t seem to make sense it’s usually due to one of the “formidable four” motivators: looking good, feeling good, being right, or, today’s focus: being in control.

The older I get the more sure I am that it is impossible to control anyone … other than myself.

And, controlling myself is a full-time job. 

Ironic that we invest so much energy and effort trying to control that which is most uncontrollable: another human being.

Don’t believe me?

Try raising a child.

You may eventually soothe your bellowing newborn, but not before dozens of attempts to quiet her went unheeded.

Teenagers?  We had six… at one time.   Honestly, I don’t know if any of us were under control at all during those chaotic years.

Undaunted by the reality that we can’t control our kids, co-workers, congregation, or spouse, we continually employ strategies in an attempt to do just that.   

The beleaguered clerk who, after being humiliated at work, comes home and browbeats her spouse.

A teen who, feeling powerless to communicate effectively with his parents, steals the car and runs away from home.

The spouse of the rapidly-ascending politician who suddenly comes down with a mysterious illness and can no longer make public appearances.

An elder who, being confronted, deftly pivots and attacks the semantics or logic of the person raising the concern.

The denominational executive, discouraged by the anemia in the churches under her influence, who travels from one seminar to the next hoping something will happen to stem the tide of attendance and financial declines.

A minister who pretends not to see troubling immorality among church officials, hoping it will all take care of itself.

These control strategies have enormous prices attached to them. Prices are extracted from the perpetrator and those connected to him.  When I’m with a coaching client who’s operating out of the formidable four, we explore the impact on those closest to the client.

What prices are your loved-ones, co-workers, congregants paying?

What do you think it’s like to be in relationship with you?

The key is to drill down far enough until the client has embraced – both mentally and emotionally – the devastation caused others.  This is slow, painful work.

To be impacted by the pain one’s control strategies have caused others is central to repentance. 

The Apostle Paul noted: “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation…but worldly sorrow brings death.” [2 Cor 7:10]  See, worldly sorrow is sorrow for myself.

But when God sorrows, God sorrows for us. [Lk 19:41]  So, to truly repent from our commitments to the formidable four, the pathway runs straight into the suffering we cause others.

From this place, repentance lasts a lifetime



Coaching Distinctions # 9


Go First! (part three)


Leadership Courage Series # 31 

We’re looking at a ninth characteristic of courageous Christian leadership.  A leader moves.  She takes action.  Rather than taking a straw poll to see what the prevailing opinions are, a leader will go first.  And sometimes this means going alonefor a while.

It’s nothing special.

It what leaders do.

As we investigate going first, we’re reminded that Christ gave three distinct ministry gifts to the church: apostle, prophet, and evangelist to compliment that of the pastor-teacher [Eph 4:11].  Yet, since the Reformation, pastor-teachers have been leading in a vacuum.  The overemphasis on shepherding and teaching has produced both the Church and the society that we have today.

Going first, I assert, includes restoring the apostolic, prophetic, and evangelistic graces to Christian leadership.  Last time we considered the apostolic; what it brings to leadership and what’s lost when it’s absent.

So, what becomes of the Church when the prophetic is marginalized?

You get an indistinct, mushy, shallow, and disingenuously “nice” message week after week.  The trumpet blows an uncertain sound. [I Cor 14:8]

Sounds kinds like American Christianity, doesn’t it?

And where there’s no prophetic voice, there’s no distinctively Christian lifestyle either.  Sin can thrive in an atmosphere like that. 

And, it does.

Doesn’t it?

The prophetic grace brings clarity when the church and her leaders wobble and wander.  The prophetic brings courageous correction.  It is the scalpel that cuts between the diseased and the healthy tissue around it. It provides a clear word from God (or from God’s Word) when the Church is blurring the lines of biblical acuity.

Think about Nathan’s role in the life of King David [2 Sam 12:1-14].  Where might David’s arrogance, selfishness, and entitlement have taken him were it not for the timeliness, the clarity and the strength of the prophet’s rebuke?

When you mix the kind of power that many ministry leaders have with their human frailty disaster often results.  When it does, innocents are hurt and the veracity of the Christian faith is undermined.

What if the prophetic voice was just as visible, authoritative, and influential in the Church in North America as the pastor-teacher has been?  Imagine if they stood side-by-side to mature the Church and to improve her efficacy in society.

Which of the high profile scandals might have been avoided?

More imperative, how much more mature, godly, and authentically Christian might the Church be today?

Allow yourself to consider the moral, spiritual, and ethical condition of American society if the prophetic had been as influential as the shepherd-teacher has for the last couple hundred years.

“Christ gave some to be apostles and some to be prophets…

Since Christ has given them to the Church, don’t you wonder where they are?

The Unreasonableness of Being Reasonable (part three)


Leadership Courage Series # 27

Pastor, who you are is more important than anything you say.

Who you are is more important than everything you say!

This Leadership Courage Series is a call to the courageous, risky life 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 run 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 lowered your preaching to that which you actually live, those words will resonate with your heart right now.

See, when your life is “Chamberlainian” [see last week’s 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 all-time 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 has gained gravitas.  Like Jesus had, when the scholars marveled at his understanding [Lk 2:47] and when demons quaked in his presence [Mk 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.

Some of 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.

It is.

Isn’t it?

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