Client Relationships

You don’t trust the way you think you do.

The Truth about Trust (part one)

Pretty audacious, right?

How can I claim to know how you trust? And if, by some miracle I do, how can I assert that you misunderstand how you trust people? The way you trust is other than the way you believe you do?

Scripture says the heart is deceitfully wicked, who can know it? [Jer 17:9] Said more contemporarily: We’re good at fooling ourselves.

trust 1So with trust.

Because trust is central to relationships, misunderstanding how we trust causes much mischief…especially when trust’s been broken.

Let me explain.

Most believe that, as largely rational beings, we evaluate the trustworthiness of those with whom we relate. We assess their veracity, and, finding it substantial, we trust them. If we discover them dishonest, mercurial, deceptive, or deceitful we withhold trust.


And when someone we trust betrays that trust, it’s game over!

“I don’t trust you. And I won’t.” (Here’s where the mischief arises.) “Not ‘til you earn my trust again.”

The first falsehood about trust is that trust is earned.

It isn’t.

Trust is bestowed.

Think about it.

doctor 1You see your doctor, maybe recommended by a friend, or based on an online review, or because she’s connected to a reputable medical group. Waiting, as we always do, you don’t suspect the framed diploma on the wall is a forgery do you? The nurse who enters, takes your BP and administers your flu shot could be an impostor…a fraud in a uniform with a stethoscope who walked in off the street.

No. You trust that your Doctor is who she’s portrayed to be, that this is her nurse.

You bestow trust.

If you’re the suspicious type, you make small talk about your Doc’s Alma Mater: “How’d you like New Haven when you were there?” Easily satisfied, you move on.

Trust bestowed.

del taco 1Driving through DelTaco, you don’t ask the voice requesting your order: “Are you a certified food hander? What are your credentials?” You order a breakfast burrito and drive to the window.

Trust bestowed.

You say they’ve done nothing to undermine your trust… so you trust them. But honestly, it’s impossible to know a person is completely trustworthy.

After all, we’re human.

Human = limited…imperfect…flawed.

I can have the best intentions to keep my promise to you, respond to a pressing need that’s just arisen, and to not ‘drop the ball’ on any of a dozen other commitments I have in play at the same moment in time: Edit manuscript. Invoice coaching clients. Submit expense reports. Call potential participants for June seminar. Email prayer partners. Invest in marriage.

If I’m honest, I’m not all that trustworthy.

So, why do people trust me?

‘Cause, it’s bestowed, not earned.




The Truth about Trust part one.docx

KRK 5/24/2015

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The Architect (part one)

76 peculiar relationshipIf you’re like me, you’ve found yourself in what I’ll call “peculiar relationships” from time to time.

You might be in one now.

Perhaps you’re invested in an alliance that’s veered from the path or the purpose that originally drew you to it.  Possibly it began as a way to make a contribution to the Kingdom of God or to do good for others. Somehow, things changed. The emphasis now is self preservation or personal gratification or simply avoiding the truth that the endeavor has failed to do what you intended … and no one’s had the courage or integrity to speak the truth.

Or maybe a friendship once had desirable virtues that brought life to each of you. In time though, that which you admired has been subsumed by dynamics that are far less ideal. You may be toiling to minimize the effects of compromises to your values that have become a fairly regular expression of the relationship you now share.

Another possibility is that you entered a relationship by meeting a need for someone else. Maybe she or he was in a rough patch, and you provided a friendly face, a listening ear, or a sympathetic shoulder. As the intensity of their troubles abated, you stayed stuck in that care-giving role—a role no longer as necessary as it once was—rendering your connections oddly awkward.

It could be your marriage. Perhaps each of you took the plunge for what you hoped you’d get. Then, when the marriage took more hard work from you than you expected to give, your heart went out of it. The one who once commandeered your affections is no longer someone you even like very much.

Like all sensible people, you leapt into the new opportunity for some benefit you anticipated.  In some cases, it began well, then faded. In others, if you’re honest, what you’d hoped never materialized—even early on.  Or, you were pigeonholed in a role that’s not needed. Most commonly the endeavor failed to provide quick, easy benefits without any determined investment on your part, and someone’s become disillusioned.

76 architect 1So often, we assume that our only options are either to exit or to suck it up and endure hopelessly.

Not so, my friend!

Here’s a surprise: YOU are the architect of all your relationships!

Because every relationship involves more than one person, you’re not the sole architect—to be sure. But, at minimum, you are the co-architect of all your relationships. 76 architect 2

And, because you are, you can re-architect every relationship you’re in.



Coaching Distinctions #76.doc

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The Audition Delusion (part one)

70 hearingMost people think that when we’re having a conversation you are listening to me… and I am listening to you. It’s the first delusion of audition.

By “audition” I mean hearing. 


Attending to what is being spoken.

There is a common fallacy that contributes greatly to communication frustration, unrealistic expectations, and much wasted effort.

This isn’t to say that when we’re having a conversation that you’re not listening to anything.  You are.

You’re just not listening to me.

And, without intentional discipline and effort, I’m not listening to you, either.



70 curtainLet’s pull back the curtain on the first audition delusion…

What you are listening to is that little voice inside your head.

Your running commentary.

What you’re saying about what I’m saying.

Test it out. Next time you’re in a conversation, attending a lecture, hearing a sermon, or listening to an audiobook, notice your thoughts.

See if you can discern the “running commentary” you’re having about what is being said.

Then, see if you can silence it, so you’re hearing just what’s being said by the person you thought you were listening to.

You can!


Coaching distinctions #70.doc

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Impact, not Intention (part one)

Coaching pastors in the development of their leadership, it is important to distinguish between the leader’s intention and her impact. Much of the time, my clients’ intentions are good…or, neutral.

Yet their impact is sometimes far from either.

This creates an important opening for some catalytic coaching.

As the debate over Obamacare, gay marriage, and immigration reform rages on, there’s renewed interest in what’s called the law of unintended consequences59 unintended consequences

Possibly originating with Adam Smith and the Scottish Enlightenment, the concept burst into prominence in 1936 in an article by sociologist Robert Merton. The general notion is this: in a complex system, any effort to engineer a beneficial outcome can be thwarted by the emergence of unanticipated and often undesirable effects.


In other words: impact, not intention.


Leaders are influencers. There’s no leadership apart from influencing others.

And, leaders—no matter how highly skilled—at times create an impact other than what they intend.

As a leader it is imperative to manage your impact, regardless of the nobility of your intention.

Every married person, no doubt, has conjured up a plan to bless their mate, only to have it “blow up” … producing a very undesirable result.

About 15 months into our hand-to-mouth existence as a newly married couple, I though we’d finally saved enough money to take our first vacation.

Thinking it would “bless” our wives if Rich and I handled all the details, we did.

59 motelWe chose the destination: the seaside community of Marblehead, Mass, the means of transportation: 38 hours in a two-door Buick [far too cramped for two couples and two babies], lodgings along the way: relatives and friends (to conserve our cash), and our ultimate destination: a roadside motel that stunk of mildew and the last guests, who typically stayed only a few hours at a time.

The trip was a disaster—and Annie endured, dreading every minute of it!

Any woman reading will have already exclaimed: “Kirk, what were you thinking??!!!

And, my answer illustrates the importance of this distinction.  See, my intentions—while wrongheaded, seemed innocent enough to me. And, I defended myself for weeks on that basis.

But, the undeniable reality is that I overlooked, frustrated, devalued, hurt, and dishonored Annie.

THAT’s my impact.

Until I address my impact, own it, and make amends for it, there’s no movement toward reconciliation.

Intentions are irrelevant.

It’s my impact I must respond to.




Coaching distinctions #59.doc


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Causing an Experience (part four)

I coach pastors. All kinds from all over the country. Years ago, I learned that in each conversation I create an experience with that client. It is the experience the client has—and not the content of our conversations that are enduringly influential in changing their lives.

58 GatsbyHave you seen Baz Luhrman’s The Great Gatsby?

Every scene practically overwhelms the senses.

The costumes, props, sets, lighting, sound, and cinematography together cause the audience to have a specific experience.

You’re caught up in it.

58 LuhrmannYou find yourself in the scenes.

You feel the dizzying opulence of the party scenes, the nervous tension as Jay and Daisy are about to meet, the arresting shock of the auto accident… You experience it.

Baz is masterful at causing his audience to have an experience.

Great communicators are, too.

One of my favorite examples is Dr. Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech. Through it, he causes his audience to have an experience. To imagine a very different future from one corner of the US to another. 58 King

With his words, he takes us around the Country, to Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Colorado, California, Tennessee, and to every village and hamlet, state and city. Listening, you are invited into a day far from 1963 when black, white, Jew, Gentile, Protestant, and Catholic stand together to thank God for their freedom.

These are spectacular examples of creating an experience, chosen to illustrate the distinction. But, as I said, we’re always causing an experience for others.

Flying first class and you have a different experience. On most flights, the difference transcends the width of seats and extra leg room. I fly so often I’m sometimes “bumped up” from coach to first class. And, when I step into that first class cabin I feel differently.



And, it happens on purpose. The flight attendant speaks to me by name. Is attentive in a way that never happens in coach.

I’m the same guy wherever I’m seated. I pay the same fare. I arrive at the same destination. Yet, up front, I have a different experience of air travel. And, it’s exactly what the airline is committed to cause.

I love Mangia Bene, an Italian restaurant my family and I frequent … frequently. 58 MangieThe food is fabulous, affordably priced, and the service is attentive.

One waiter is too attentive.

If the building were on fire I’d want this guy—and only this guy—to get me any my family out!

But, the building’s not burning. Yet, he waits on us as if it is. Dashing from table to kitchen, interrupting to make sure we always have all we want.

When I’m in a rush, I want him. Quick. Efficient. Assiduous.

But, he causes a stressful experience. And, that’s the last thing I want on a gorgeous summer’s night relaxing and connecting with those I love.

What do others experience with you?

Ask them and find out.


Coaching distinctions #58.doc


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Causing an Experience (part three)

You always cause an experience with others.57 dozing off

Doze off in staff meeting. You might imagine that doesn’t affect everyone else in the room. You’d be wrong.

Last time, I told you I’m committed to cause my coaching clients to experience clarity, courage, and confidence to live the unique calling each has been given by God. Since each person is different, how I give myself varies from client to client.

One pastor is deeply invested in interpreting herself as her functions: what she accomplishes. Another is committed to an identity steeped in his shortcomings. A third is predisposed to have “peace” at any price— a consistent hindrance to being used by God to meaningfully change lives and advance the Kingdom of God. A fourth is so fearful of being overpowering that he fails to lead his people at all.57 plumb line

While each client is different, the ‘plumb line’ is the same: the minister living clearly, confidently, and courageously the life that God has given him.

And, you ask: “What life is that?”

It’s the life that is unfolding before him.

So, my opportunity is to create the experience of hope in God’s faithfulness, personal empowerment, and the willingness to engage life with one’s whole heart. To do this, I listen carefully to discern the beliefs to which my client clings in order to make sense of life while living only partially invested in it. These are “limiting beliefs” and all of us have them. Creating the experience of clarity, courage, and confidence often means challenging these beliefs in light of scripture and of life itself.

I get to support my client in examining the reliability of these often-unarticulated-but-powerful assumptions in light of who God is and how God has set life up. Sometimes, I am the interruption in the apprehension of these limiting beliefs. This calls me to create a very different experience: one of disruption, destabilization, and opposition.

57 suspendedThen, I get to hold my client—suspended in tension—‘til God brings awareness: a fresh insight that the client discovers for herself.

And, because the client discovered it, that in itself creates the experience of empowerment.

I have this friend. Clare’s a therapist, really. And whenever I’ve gone to her she’s with me as if I’m fully capable of thriving in life—no matter how bleak things appear.

She’s with me as if God is right there to speak to my perplexities… and that I’m fully capable of discerning what God has to say.

And, somehow, God does and I do.

It’s exactly the experience she’s committed to cause.


Coaching distinctions #57.doc

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Causing an Experience (part two)

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.56 Chase

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.

Chase has decided in advance the experience they want to cause, and they give themselves in such a way that it happens, over and over, hundreds of times a day.56 Coaching

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.

56 Brandon What doesn’t vary much is the experience they have.

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

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Causing an Experience (part one)

Every interaction you have, every time you speak, each encounter with another person you are causing an experience with and for them.

Think about it.

55 DeltaLast week as I was checking in, the ticket agent let me know my flight was delayed. It’d been rescheduled twice, and would be delayed twice more. This wasn’t good news. I was beginning a cross-country odyssey traveling with my dad, who at 95 doesn’t have the stamina he once did. Without the flight delay it would be a long, arduous day.

Here’s the thing. That Delta agent caused empathy, value, confidence, and assurance in me even as she communicated information I didn’t prefer. The way she carried herself, spoke, and engaged me invited trust, put me at ease, and let me know we were important.

When, almost two hours later, she told us our plane was on its way, she was so genuinely relieved for us, I thought she’d cry.

55 Cirque Big TopJust about my favorite form of entertainment is Cirque du Soleil. Cirque is masterful at creating an experience with the audience.

Cirque could use existing venues when on tour, but the don’t. They transport and assemble a gigantic big top in every city…a visceral connection to childhood when the circus came to town.

55 Cirque costumeEverything about Cirque is intricately designed to cause an experience…of wonder, imagination, creativity, and delight. The music in a genre unto itself. The costumes are other-worldly. The talent is spellbinding. The comedy is quirky but accessible.

To experience a performance is like being transported to another planet, another realm where humans do humanly impossible things…all the time.55 Cirque talent

This experience invites me to see myself and my life differently. Things that looked like limitations don’t seem so limiting.  Ministry challenges appear more like opportunities for something amazing to surface.

I have these two friends. When I’m with Joseph I feel cherished—like the most important person in the world. Our conversations linger on what matters most to me and my family.

When I’m with Thomas I feel like a prop in his one-man play. Our conversations rapidly move to focus on him and his amazing, talented family where they hover seemingly forever. I don’t know that either is aware of it, but both men are causing an experience with me.

So, pastor, what is the experience you want to cause others to have with you?



Coaching distinctions #55.doc

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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

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The Meaning we Make Up (part one)

We humans are peculiar.  We want so badly to make sense of life that we do a very insensible thing.  We make it up!

What I mean is this.  When an event occurs—particularly if it’s surprising, we’re not content simply being surprised.


We have to figure out what it means. The stronger your “TJ” on Myers-Briggs, the greater this pressure. But, TJ or not, we’re thrown to make the senseless sensible.

So, we demand a meaning.

If I was abused by my mom, suffered a terrible accident in childhood, experienced a forceps injury at birth, or lost my dad at age seven, before long, I’ll arrive at an understanding why misfortune has befallen me.  And, if I avoided these tragedies, I will not have escaped unscathed.  Because being human, raised by humans, befriended and rejected by humans, we will experience difficulty, harm, or worse.

The thing we can tolerate even less than being hurt in life is not knowing why.

So, if there’s no rational, justifiable explanation for our plight, guess what humans do?

We make one up!

Rather that live in the ambiguity of not knowing why this-or-that has befallen us, we make something up.  “I was hated as a kid because I’m un-loveable.” “God has it in for me… maybe a curse from my ancestors.” “I’m so unlucky, I attract tragedy.”

Often we’re “helped” in this making-up-meaning process by influential voices (parents, siblings, teachers) early in life. Once we grasp a particular meaning, we almost always hold it so tightly that it becomes intertwined with our own identity—and how we interpret life’s events.

Let’s say, in first grade, you’re labeled an “underperformer” by an influential teacher. A couple years later, you choke in the late rounds of a spelling bee. Then, you’re injured on the eve of a ballet recital, and can’t perform. Despite dozens of other experiences where you performed admirably, these few stand out to you. They support the thesis that as an “underperformer”, you find ways to sabotage almost certain success.

As you move through the decades that follow, you experience a normal mix of accomplishments, failures, and successes. To make sense—particularly of the disappointments and near-misses—you interpret these through the lens of self-sabotage. 

As a coach to pastors, I listen for the meanings my clients attach to themselves and their circumstances.

Invited to suspend these meanings, the client is freed to consider the events as they are. While Freud apparently never said “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar” it remains true.

Some events are just events. Setbacks happen. As does betrayal, difficulty, harm, and loss.

Still wonder why?

Try Genesis 3.


Coaching Distinctions #22

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