“Have a vision that can call you through the pain of transformation.”
It’s something we take for granted…
Until we find we’re losing it, or have gone blind altogether.
According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology 7,000,000 people go blind every year.
That’s seven million.
Imagine being unable to see.
In my work with pastors, churches, and systems across the US, I learned that many have a vision problem.
As society presses Christianity to the edges, many raised in Church in a very different era find themselves destabilized—unsteadied by the rapid secular ascent. Ministers are not immune. The chaplaincy model seems profoundly inadequate as parishioners die off and young and middle-aged adults evacuate the Church. Neighbors seem more disinterested than ever in our religious offerings…
Now, that’s the question.
The vision question.
What are you doing? What’s the reason you’re breathing? Why is your church in this community? What’s the difference you want to see it make?
It’s not arrogant to ask—and answer—this question. It’s essential!
“Have a vision that can call you through the pain of transformation.”
If there’s no compelling reason to invest deeply, passionately, even dangerously—the courageous won’t stay. They’ll go find a cause to champion, a wrong to right, an injustice to surmount, a greater good to get done—and go after that.
Somehow between the church that Jesus founded and the mess we have today, pastors have assumed their job is to soothe, comfort, encourage, and appease religious folks.
Pastor, your job is to make mature Christ-like disciples of Jesus.
People who change the world—beginning with their hometowns and neighborhoods and workplaces and schools–like Jesus commissioned us to.
The quote: “Have a vision that can call you through the pain of transformation.” I learned at a character development training God used to change my life more than a decade ago. It acknowledges that transformation—change—induces pain.
You’ll choose to embrace that pain in pursuit of a vision so good, so important, so noble as to call you forward into that pain and through that pain to what waits on the other side.
Power of Vision 1.doc
Scenario A: Think about a time when you were in an argument with someone … and you thought you knew what you two were arguing about. At least you know what you were arguing about. As the two of you launched salvo after salvo, gradually it dawned on you that you were either arguing with a completely crazy person—or, whatever it is your adversary was angry about, it wasn’t what you thought it was.
Scenario B: You made a blunder that by all accounts was relatively benign. But, the reaction it triggered in someone else was orders of magnitude greater than you expected. Once again, you’re tempted to conclude that the offended party is institutionally insane. What else could account for the over-the-top reaction?
Scenario C: A friend asks you about one facet of an issue you both know you’ve been struggling with. You intend to give a focused, factual answer and before you know it, your emotions are so powerfully engaged that the two of you are stunned. While you try to collect yourself, an awkwardness permeates the mood. Now you’re wondering if you are the crazy one…
This principle will invite you to interrupt your natural press to resolve your conflicts hastily, or to simply shrug your shoulders and assume you’ve wandered into the psychiatric ward of the local community health clinic.
When you encounter a response that seems inappropriate in its intensity, I invite you to ask: what could this really be about?
Stay curious enough, long enough to find out what is really in play.
If you fail to do this, you will miss your friend and you will miss the opportunity to bring Christ’s ministry of reconciliation to this situation, as well. As rational human beings, we all do some pretty irrational-seeming things.
One of them is this:
We attach meaning to things, to words, and to events that transcend the things themselves.
Think about it.
Let’s say that as a child you heard over and over that you were a poor student, slower than your siblings intellectually. Maybe the words “stupid” or “dumb” were used in reference to you.
Decades later, you are an accomplished sales executive, and you’re in one of those 360° performance appraisals. A peer points out that you were slow in adopting a new reporting procedure… and you flush, become agitated, and a smoldering fury begins to blaze in your bosom. You’re only vaguely aware of what incited the reaction, but your reaction seems both valid and surprising at the same time.
As a human, you’ve attached meaning to your intellectual prowess, borne in your childhood experiences, that transcends your true intellectual attributes.
When you heard the word “slow” it represented something other than the speed with which you implemented the new reporting procedure.
Subconsciously, you applied “slow” to you.
And, since you interpreted the feedback as an indictment on your intelligence, you went nuts… in a professional way.
We’ll expand on this next time.
We’re examining why it’s important to be a learner when embroiled in a conflict. The principle: “leader, know thyself!”
Suspend the very natural impulse to get out of this—quick. Challenge yourself to learn as much as you can, and to model a way to respond to conflict.
If you’re like me, you have an Achilles heel in this area. As a child and teenager, I was about as likely as anyone to occasionally do bone-headed things. I was probably as vulnerable as the next teenage boy to forget something I’d said I’d do, to impulsively leap before thinking things through, and for failing to consider who else might be impacted by something I did or left undone.
Rarely, if ever, did I intend evil or harm toward anyone, and when I learned of my mistake, I did what I could to repair the breach.
Yet, one of our family dynamics was that it was assumed that I meant to hurt or embarrass or slight another. That my motives were malicious, evil, cruel. So regularly and forcefully were my motives impugned that I became unsure of them, myself. I developed a hyper-sensitivity to accusations about my heart and intention.
To this day, I’m vulnerable here. When we disagree over tactics, over ideas, over differing ways to accomplish things, I’m fine. But, when you accuse me of intending evil, of purposing to hurt someone, of premeditated unkindness… my auto-pilot switches on:
My heart races.
My mental mechanisms seize up.
Instantly, I’m 11 years old again and I’m caught: the cruel, malevolence of my heart has been exposed and I didn’t even know it! In this condition, I’m lousy in a conflict! Fight and flight appear irresistible.
Because I’ve studied my vulnerabilities (with the help of great coaching and counseling), I’m able to get altitude in real time … when it counts most.
I’m able to coach myself in the moment, interrupt my emotional machinery, and return to the here-and-now:
How about you?
What are your unique vulnerabilities? What are the recurring themes in your conflicts—especially of those where you behave least maturely?
You’ll be well served to chronicle these and to plan in advance how you’ll handle yourself when these buttons get pushed. You, and those who love you, will be glad you did!
Being in Conflict 6.docx
Football season is here! Annie and I love to cheer for perennially great teams, like the Crimson Tide and pathetic teams like the Boilermakers. Many practices, disciplines, and perspectives distinguish the teams that succeed on the gridiron from those who seem to find a way to lose Saturday after Saturday.
Where are we vulnerable? What’s our Achilles heel? How can this opponent take advantage of our weaknesses, quirks, and vulnerabilities?
Like any ball club, you have vulnerabilities, susceptibilities, and blind spots, too.
Think about the last major conflict you were in… or the last several contentious situations that had something to do with you.
What made you a target?
Do people experience you as impulsive?
What complaints do people have about you, when your relationship with them has broken down?
Do you even know?
If you don’t know, you’d be smart to seek out some honest feedback – right away! Ask your siblings, your spouse, co-workers (but not your subordinates), and anyone you’ve offended, ever. Ask them how they experience you?
What is the impact you have on others that you’re largely unaware of?
Years ago, a dear friend gave me a great gift.
We’d planted a church and started a business together at the same time.
Tim told me he “felt more like a project than a person” when he was with me. And, I was completely unaware that I impacted people that way. Tim’s honest feedback launched me into an intentional process of seeking help, engaging a therapist, requesting feedback, self-awareness, undergoing character coaching, and self-discovery that’s ongoing.
Along the way I learned that I’ve often been experienced as detached, unaware of my emotions, and blind to the distress and sadness of others… even those closest to me.
Twenty years of counseling, coaching, character-development work, and fearless accountability commitments have brought growth and satisfying fruitfulness. Yet, I still miss the impact I sometimes have on others. My failure to attend to my impact has landed me in hot water with a number of folks on several occasions. This, for me, has been an Achilles heel.
Ever met a powerfully influential person who’s great in conflict?
They’re a rare breed, They’ve intentionally developed the discipline and rigor to govern themselves when they’d prefer to react, explode, shut down, counter-attack, or evaporate.
Christian leaders can benefit greatly from skillfully navigating situations of conflict. We’ve already pointed out that conflict is common to the Christian experience. The ministry of reconciliation, to which every believer is called, demands that it be so.
How can you become great at being in conflict?
Think about a transmission…
With your car in drive, you’re “in gear” ready to move. In this posture you’re ready to attack your adversary… or to flee the scene.
Putting your car in reverse is like being poised to back-pedal. To load all the blame on yourself. In this posture, you cave in to escape the discomfort that being in conflict represents to you.
Most of us have trained ourselves to throw ourselves into “drive” or “reverse” when controversy arises. Postured in this way you are prematurely predisposed to action, when learning will serve you far better.
There will be a time to take action, but this isn’t it. Not yet.
How often have you been burned by assuming you understood a conflicted situation and reacted too swiftly or too harshly?
If you’ve left a wake of broken relationships in your past, I guarantee you’ve done this.
Repeatedly. Maybe habitually.
A car in neutral isn’t going anywhere. Not yet.
When you get yourself to neutral, you’re resisting the impulse to move.
Switzerland considers itself a neutral country. That means that in a conflict they’re not taking sides. They’ve declared it up front. They have no dog in the fight, no horse in the race, no pugilist in the ring.
In neutral, you’re postured the same way.
Here’s where it gets tricky. In conflict, a healthy person will immediately side with herself.
The unhealthy person might automatically knee-jerk to side with his accuser. Sounds odd, but it happens.
The problem is that as soon as you lock in on one outcome your humanity begins to narrow your focus.
As it does, you lose objectivity.
You begin collecting evidence in support of the side you’re pulling for. And, you find evidence to oppose the other side.
This evidence collection is not impartial. Your humanity causes you to ignore, to minimize, to actually not see evidence that contradicts your cherished position.
It’s not that you’re dishonest; your desire to be “right” trumps your objectivity.
You can test this the next time you watch a sporting event involving a favorite team. You’ll identify un-flagged fouls against your team, and scarcely notice those against their opponent!
Getting to neutral means choosing to embrace AMBIGUITY. Entering into the discomfort of not deciding who’s right and wrong—even when you are the one “on trial”.
Getting to neutral allows you to stay curious, to return to a learning posture.
And, in any conflict, learning is the key to an honorable, rewarding resolution.
Being in Conflict 3.docx
Principle #1- Focus on you
There may be no more important life skill than successfully handling conflict.
For a leader, it’s essential that you govern yourself in conflict. More than anything else, this can affect how you’ll keep good, healthy people on your team. And, every leader knows that the best determinant of the quality of what your organization gets done is the caliber of the people you have around you.
If you’re in Christian ministry, as I am, you’re very familiar with conflict. You may be a person with an abnormally robust commitment to harmony, yet conflict seems to dog your path. See, like it or not, conflict is a staple in the Christian diet. Why? Because it’s in conflict that we get to do our best ministry! There are a few things Jesus claims to have given his disciples; one of them is the ministry of reconciliation [2 Cor 5:18].
The thing about reconciliation is it’s only needed where there is conflict, enmity, discord, and strife. So, if you’re a Christian, conflict is as normal as a kitchen is to a chef.
Let that sink in a little.
Conflict for the Christian is as normal as the operating room is to a surgeon. It is where we get to do what we do!
For the next several weeks, we’ll look at principles and practices that will serve you well in conflict. Let’s get started.
Principle #1: For once, focus on you. Good leaders are great at setting up the people around them to win, and stepping back just as the spotlight comes on and confetti fills the air. Your ministry leaders get the lion’s share of your focus and attention; you make sure they’re recognized, appreciated, and honored. Yet, when you’re embroiled in a conflict, this is a time to lock your focus on yourself.
This flies in the face of our natural tendency to fixate on the role the other person has had in creating or embellishing the conflict you both are in. It takes almost no effort to uncover the contribution another has had to a mess you and they are in. Recognizing your contribution to the breakdown, articulating it honestly, and owning your part (and just your part) is much more challenging for most of us. I’ll let you in on a secret: if you’re in conflict with anyone, you have a contribution!
Years ago, I was in a conflict with a couple with whom I worked. From my perspective, I’d been victimized by an avalanche of unwarranted distrust. Over and over in my mind I rehearsed the selfless and faithful ways I’d served them. Then a friend challenged me to discover how I had planted the seeds of distrust in this relationship [based on Gal 6:7]. To my surprise, I remembered that even before joining the ministry I had judged them as un-trustworthy! This I compounded by repeatedly ignoring the Lord’s urging to initiate relationship with one of them. My contribution: at minimum, I’d entered the relationship distrusting them and I allowed the distance between two of us to grow unabated.
Your contribution may be something you’ve said or done. It may be a judgment you’ve had about that person or a less-than-charitable attitude you’ve indulged.
Your judgments and attitudes always find a way to leak out.
People can tell when you judge them—even when you’ve never mentioned it! Your contribution might’ve been something you left undone, something you failed to do, something you might have done, but didn’t.
Allow yourself to consider how your attitudes, actions, or inactions have contributed to the breakdown. This will prepare you for principle # 2, next time.
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
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
As a sincere Christ-follower it’s easy to develop a convoluted relationship with striving, with industriousness, and with determined, diligent labor. On the one hand, we aspire to live peacefully [Rom 12:18], to be unfazed amid difficulty [Jn 14:27], and to enter into God’s rest [Heb 4:1].
And, on the other hand we struggle against sin [Heb 12:4], agonize to enter the Kingdom [Lk 13:24], and strive for mastery in the Christian life [2 Tim 2:5].
And, many times God has me in situations where I can’t do anything to rescue myself. All I can do is trust Christ and embrace my powerlessness.
Over a decade ago I attended a powerful character development workshop that transfromed my understanding of and relationship with doing. Let me share it with you.
The transformation hinges on the fundamental ways you understand yourself. Shift this understanding, and much about your relationship with doing will shift…radically. I say “relationship with doing” because each of us has one. Just like your relationship with a sister or cousin, you relate to doing in specific ways. For many of us, they’re not helpful.
The relationship is revealed in the way most of us approach any goal, obstacle, or desire. Someone asks what you want to be when you grow up. Oh, a doctor. Well then, you should…get great grades, go to medical school, pass your boards, and get hired by a top hospital.
To be beautiful, go to the gym and the plastic surgeon, get a perfect face and body.
Think of it as an equation: DO > HAVE > BE.
DO go to school, HAVE your Juris Doctor and pass the bar, BE an attorney.
DO dig wells in Kenya, HAVE the esteem of friends and family, BE a good person.
DO get ripped abs (and hair implants), HAVE a great body, BE attractive.
DO perfect your preaching, HAVE a large congregation, BE a successful pastor.
DO gather 400 to your High School ministry, HAVE the biggest youth group in town, BE somebody.
DO launch a radio ministry, HAVE airtime on hundreds of radio stations, BE an international sensation.
What’s the alternative?
BE > DO > HAVE.
Coaching Distinctions #83.doc