In many quarters of the Church, the contemporary understanding is that Christianity is lived in the passive voice. Wikipedia says: “the passive voice denotes the recipient of the action (the patient) rather than the performer (the agent).”
The assumption is that the Christ-follower empties herself of all ambition and self-determination and simply waits, patiently, for God to move gloriously upon her life.
Problem is, it’s not biblical. It’s Buddhism.
How much ‘straining’ and ‘pressing on’ do you see in the Church today?
“Make every effort to enter through the narrow door...” [Lk 13:24 NIV] In the Greek “make every effort” is agonizomai. Sounds a lot like “agonize” doesn’t it?
Consider Mt 11:12 “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of Heaven has been taken by storm and eager men are forcing their way into it.” [Philips New Testament]
Are these texts familiar to you?
The assumption that Christianity is lived in passive reflection—and our preoccupation with what we’re against—may have contributed mightily to the historic decline in Christian adherence in the West.
Especially among those under 35.
“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who … if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”
How well Terry Roosevelt’s words describe the noble and rigorous Christian life!
Around the US, pastors are breaking out of the “please-the-parishioner” mold, and are leading members into their cities, daring valiantly to minister regularly and unconditionally to those outside. Though they make mistakes, the sincerity of their motive procures a response of surprise and gratitude from those outside… and eventually, an openness to the claims of Christ.
And, in their churches some oppose and criticize, hoping to undermine these risky and selfless ministry endeavors.
Cold and timid souls.
Coaching distinctions #47.doc
In I and Thou Martin Buber writes of the freedom each of us has to pursue our destiny.
If you’re paying attention, the longer you live the better you understand the unique contribution you are. I say, “if you’re paying attention” because God is communicating. Those endeavors where you’ve had success, failure, frustration, satisfaction, the aspirations that ignite your passion, the injustices that make your blood boil, the people you’re drawn to, and those you find repellant. All these point to the unique ways you get to contribute to advance God’s agenda.
Jesus did it pretty well. “He did good and healed all who were oppressed…”.
So, do good.
Just start there. Do good, lots and lots of good. If you’re not sure what constitutes “good”, avoid the fringes and lock-in to what almost every moral person will agree is good.
In the war between your great will and little will, how do you determine which wins?
The one you feed.
So, feed your great will. Give yourself permission to dream. Big, huge, God-honoring dreams.
Imagine that your life’s been set up. That God’s been preparing you to impact people in clearly beneficial ways. Consider this: you live where you do, have the occupation you’re in, and are connected to the people you are because God set it up this way. It’s all been set up for you to bring good to. Your unique brand of good.
Ephesians 2:10 calls them “good works”. You are God’s masterpiece, God’s “poema”, created in Christ Jesus to do good works that God prepared in advance for you. For this to be true, it’s not just the “works” that’ve been prepared.
You have, too.
All your life, God’s been shaping, crafting, honing, and refining the masterpiece God calls ‘you’. And, God’s placed you in a setting that needs the good you bring.
Watch some people and you might think God’s done all this just so they can be enslaved by their puny, obnoxious, comfort-obsessed, self-serving ‘little will’.
So, let’s experiment. For the next month, live as if you’ve been prepared to bring good to those within reach. Try “doing good and healing all who are oppressed…”
Drop the lawsuit.
Quit stonewalling your mom.
Forgive the jerk who betrayed you.
Spend a couple hours with that lonely person you barely know.
Offer to pray for the next sick person you see… and five more after that.
Get a freakin’ job and quit filching off your family members.
Stop feeding your ‘little will’ and its insatiable entitlements.
Then, in a month, decide if you want to ‘re-up’.
I bet you will.
Coaching distinctions #45.doc
How does a minister develop tenacity … particularly when the surrounding culture is increasingly committed to relieving tension—in the short run—without regard to the long term consequences?
Tenacity is defined as the capacity to stick—like super glue—to one’s commitments. The word comes from the Latin tenere which means “to hold”.
This isn’t new.
The collapse of just about every great empire has been presaged by a similar shift. These once-great societies collapsed from within. Like tall trees hollowed by pine beetles, when opposing winds came, they lacked the fiber to stand.
I’m reminded of a moment early in the “Battle of Carthage” scene in Gladiator when Maximus draws his fellow gladiators into a tight circle, shields surrounding them. As well-armed chariots approach—and their every impulse is to run—he urges them to “Hold!…Hold!…Hold!” ‘till the charioteers are almost upon them. As a result, they overthrow their attackers and win a most improbable victory.
It is this act of holding that is essential to pastoral leadership in our day.
With my CRM teammates, I facilitate a leadership development and change process with Senior Pastors and their churches. Our goal is to strengthen the leadership character of pastors so they can lead their congregations through a massive cultural change: from consuming religious education and entertainment to ministering influentially to the un-churched in their communities. It’s been my privilege to work with dozens of churches all across the denominational spectrum. Initially, almost everyone agrees to become a missionally-effective church.
Yet, saboteurs abound!
Like the pine beetle, their largely covert opposition eats away at the church’s commitment to what it knows it must become.
Quick-fix fantasies emerge and gain a ready following. People take sides.
The lead pastor’s tenacity is essential.
So, from the outset, we work to strengthen the pastors’ capacity to hold.
By creating scenarios that invite opposition on a small level while monitoring, via coaching, the pastor’s responses to it. Over many months of facing gradually-increasing resistance, reFocusing pastors increase their capacity to tolerate anxiety—first in themselves; then in their congregations.
Walking with a coach and several other senior pastors who are encountering the same challenges in their congregations, the pastor develops the fiber to Hold!…Hold!…Hold! to what God has called them.
Coaching distinctions #41.doc
As a coach to pastors and Christian influencers, I’m sometimes surprised at the vacillating commitment of we who claim to be Christ’s. I completely understand that life gets tough … so much so that, at times, I want to tear the hair from my head.
What I struggle to appreciate is the apparent over-arching power of the option to collapse on one’s vision and thereby escape the tension of living between what is and what God’s called us to.
Last week, Annie and I were with friends on a Segway Tour in Florence, Italy. I’m a curmudgeon when it comes to museums, tours, and lectures about things that occurred centuries ago. I’m much like Charlie Brown: “Bla, bla, bla… gelato!!… bla, bla, bla”.
But, as our guide was describing “the Duomo”, an incredible domed cathedral, the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, I lit up.
An architect named di Cambio, designed it in the 1200’s with a massive eight-sided dome, and convinced the city council to build it.
Trouble is, nowhere on earth did the technology exist to build that dome! So, construction began on the immense cathedral in 1296… and when they got to the dome … they could not go forward.
For the next 120 years, eight architects worked the problem without success.
Think about it.
Six generations coming and going without a dome atop the greatest cathedral in Tuscany.
How many of us sustain our commitment for 120 months, 120 weeks, 120 days?
- Your first marriage?
- Your relationship with an angry, distant teen?
- An initiative to reach your neighborhood for Christ?
- Turning your congregation from entitled religious consumers to maturing ministers of the goodness of God?
- Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with an embattled pastor whose desire is to bring the congregation into Christ-likeness?
I’ve watched many Christian pastors begin well, then collapse when confronted by opposition.
Usually their undoing is the resistance of church members activated by elevated anxiety. Anxiety because they’re so unaccustomed to trusting Christ in the midst of difficulty. Or, because when given the opportunity to live distinctly Christian lives they’re so out of practice they’d rather do anything else.
Watching these leaders succumb could break my heart, if I let it.
But then, I would’ve collapsed on the vision God’s given me. That vision is to strengthen the character of Christian leaders so that the churches they influence live courageously for the Kingdom of God.
Next time, we’ll return to the story of the Duomo and the commitment to a vision that took more than a century to apprehend.
Stay with me.
Coaching distinctions #39.doc
We’re examining leadership coaching distinctions that I employ when coaching pastors and Christian leaders. Last time, I suggested that the client’s perspective determines what they see as possible and impossible as they search for solutions to pernicious problems.
Pastors commonly cycle between “playing to win” and “playing not to lose” several times across a career. Armed with clarity about God’s call and great hope that God will use you in significant ways, early on, you’re all-in. Playing to win, you’re taking risks, learning, experimenting, making adjustments, and going again.
And, as the decades pass, you encounter opposition and criticism from intransigent resisters, who — somehow – got themselves into positions of power. You’ve taken many punches along the way, maybe survived (or not) a congregational vote-of-confidence, and been disillusioned by the heartlessness of Christians more than once. As a result you’ve set your sights lower, become more passive, and less aggressive in pursuing what you once knew God wants the Church to become.
You’re less disturbed by the status quo, less willing to endure the rigor to provoke maturity in your people, and far less likely to face down those who are both influential and immature. You’re no longer gripped, as you once were, to bring deep, God-glorifying, fundamental change to the church you serve.
Called to a new pastorate, you find your footing, being careful not to lose the opportunity to serve here. Then, you begin to stretch yourself, your elders, and your congregation to take new ground, declare and achieve goals, and pursue a future worth having. And yet, over time, your enthusiasm to take on that obstinate trustee wanes. You capitulate, opting for peace — even if it means your people stagnate spiritually.
So, as a coach to pastors, my privilege is to invite you back in. Back in to win.
You stand in your pulpit, amid the congregation, and with admirers and detractors alike, clearly self-differentiated. You’re vigilant to seize opportunities to provoke your members toward maturity in Christ… maturity of character.
The ministry you’re doing becomes increasingly focused on equipping saints to minister on Christ’s behalf. As a result, church members are engaged with the un-churched all over town. Skeptics, once hurt by the Church, are reconsidering their dismissal of the Gospel. Marriages are being strengthened. Hopelessness is being banished. People far from the church are coming to Christ.
Over time, the culture in your community is changing.
Crime is down.
Caring is up.
Love is on display.
This is playing to win.
Coaching Distinctions #21
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
How do you steal second base?
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.
— deliberately —
out into danger and away from all that’s familiar, predictable, safe, and comfortable.
The first thing every base-running instruction says is you have to lead off.
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
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.
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]
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.
“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]
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?
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?
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