The Game You’re In (part two)


Last time I suggested that the “game” you’re in determines how you play in life. At the end, we considered two married couples. To shift the nature and quality of their relationship, both spouses need to examine the game they’re in, in the marriage as they’ve designed it.

There are moments when we have little idea why we do what we do—particularly when we regret our actions…or their impact on those we love. It’s helpful to drill down to identify what’s at the core—below the surface, to uncover the beliefs that define the “game” you’re in.

Here’s an example. Many evangelical pastors will say they’re in the “go-and-make-disciples game”. [Mt 28]  Yet, they keep score by counting the people who sit and listen and the money they give. And these days—five years into a recession and decades into a societal drift away from church—the scoreboard looks bleak.

Many are wondering what’s wrong. Invariably we discover they’re in the wrong game!

While imagining they’re in the “go-and-make-disciples game”, most pastors and churches are in religious education and entertainment.

How can you tell?  See how they keep score.

Last night, Annie and I attended War Horse – a spectacular stage play at the Ahmanson Theatre. It is wonderful entertainment.  Beautifully, creatively, and spectacularly artistic. The house was packed—as it always is. In all the ways that theatres and theatre companies keep score, I’m certain it’s a success.

But theatre companies don’t think they’re in the “go-and-make-disciples game”. They are clear about the game they’re in, and this one is good at it.

To be good at the “go-and-make-disciples game”, you’d be paying attention to at least a couple things:

1) are we going?


2) are disciples being made?

The sad reality that can explain much of the malaise of the Church in the West is that we aren’t going to those who don’t follow Christ, and people aren’t growing to spiritual maturity. However, we are educating religious people and we are providing loads of entertainment options for religious types.

The ministries that do this best are running up the “score” —at least in terms of spectators and revenues—and may or may not be making any disciples at all.

So, whether you are a minister or a married person: What game are you in?

Coaching Distinctions #31

The Meaning we Make Up (part five)


A few weeks ago, while pondering what you’ve been reading, Annie and I were in church. As we sang: “I’m coming back to the heart of worship; and it’s all about you, all about you, Jesus.  I’m sorry Lord for the thing I’ve made it, when it’s all about you…”

The phrase “…the thing I made it…” speaks to the meaning we make up.

At the church Matt Redman attends, it became clear that worship had taken on a meaning that was troubling the pastor. So, he scrapped the band, the instruments, and the sophisticated production and called the congregation to return to the simplicity and focus at the heart of worship: adoration of the Savior.

Mike Pilavachi, Matt’s pastor, challenged his church to examine the meaning they’d made up about worship and, instead, apply a scriptural meaning.  The beautiful anthem I sang a week ago was birthed in Mike’s challenge.

So, let me ask you: What meaning have you given to worship?

Pastor, when you conduct your services this weekend will you be entertaining people, providing religious education, and collecting money? Or, will you be provoking your people to maturity in Christ, equipping them to live as ministers, and enrolling them to serve in the community?

What do your services mean?

What does all the activity mean? 

What meaning have your elders assigned to themselves?

When they meet, what do they think it’s for?

What meaning have they attached to their “elder-ing”?

Christian, what meaning have you made up for yourself?

Why is it that you’re breathing?

When you’re at work— why are you there?  In addition to making a living, what do you think you’re doing there, all those days?

Have you considered God’s meaning for your being at that specific job, with those specific people, as this unique moment in history?

See, the meaning you make up has everything to do with how you carry yourself in each of life’s settings.

Doesn’t it?

I remember a unique season in my life, immediately following an unusually powerful seminar Annie and I attended. The speaker somehow convinced me to live with the expectation that God was afoot; that God would use me everywhere I went. All I had to do was to be prayerful, expectant, and watchful.

Know what?  For the next eighteen months every day was an exciting surprise.  I found myself doing all kinds of ministry. Almost every day I had the opportunity to pray for someone, speak with a co-worker about Christ, or encourage a stranger about God’s care and love.

The meaning? Life’s an opportunity to enter the continual flow of ministry that God is already doing.

Isn’t it?

Coaching Distinctions #26

Stealing Second (part three)


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

Committed Action (part two)


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. 

Yet, in scripture, you see the twelve in motion.

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]

When you look at our society, don’t you think it needs to be flipped on its head?

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.

Pastor, will you restore a biblical view of our obligation to engage, rescue, and redeem our neighbors and neighborhoods? [2 Cor 5:16-21]

“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]

Tick. Tock.

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

Compendium (part four)


Leadership Courage Series # 38

We’re reviewing nine traits essential to lead effectively in a Church caught in a culture of cowardice.   Three: Promote healthy differentiation within the church or system you lead.

Healthy differentiation means to take full responsibility for your own being and destiny.  Pastor, this means that you will discard the ministerial malpractice of taking responsibility for others.

You and your members can’t both be responsible for their well-being and destiny. 

If you take responsibility for them, they won’t.  Soon, you begin to over-function.  Your over-functioning undermines the impulse toward initiative of your people.  Edwin Friedman writes: “When one over-functions in another’s space, the existential reality is [that] it can cause another’s being to disintegrate.”

Here’s a shock: Every over-functioner does it for himself.  Over-functioning is selfishness.  Self-indulgent.  Self-serving.

Sure, you’re exhausting yourself in the service of all those around you.  The lie you believe is that you do it for them.  Peel back the onion and you’ll find that you prefer it this way.  You love the control, the self-satisfaction, the esteem, maybe the sense of superiority it provides you.

Trust me.  I know.

When you take responsibility for your congregation’s emotional being and destiny, you assume a role Jesus didn’t. Jesus lived with his disciples as if they were responsible before God for their own being and destiny.  The storm at sea [Lk 8], healing the epileptic [Mk 9], Peter walking on water [Mt 14], feeding the multitude [Jn 6].

Jesus saw challenges, not as threats from which to shelter his people, but as opportunities for growth to maturity.

Second, a well-differentiated person knows who she is and who she’s not.  She doesn’t look to her career, her friends, or her children – important as they are – to determine her value, identity, or well-being.  The opinions, expectations, and preferences of others don’t define her.

She is clear.  Not arrogant.  Confident in who God has made her to be, and clear about the difference she gets to make with her life.

As pastor, you’re a champion of your people’s secure identity.  You get to champion them to stand in well-differentiated maturity.

The best way is to be with them as if they are…

Compendium (part three)


Leadership Courage Series # 37

We’re making a brief, final lap through nine traits called for from pastors and influencers in the Church in North America.  The second is: Take full responsibility for your own emotional being and destiny.

Pastor, more than you know, you are the model of what maturity in Christ is.  Regardless of your age, the congregation looks to you to see how to “walk as Jesus walked”. [I Jn 2:6]

Paul urges Timothy to “set an example for the believers in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity…so that everyone may see your progress.” [I Tim 4:12b, 15b]  Notice that only one of these has to do with the sermons you devote all those hours to, each week.

How you live is far more influential than what you teach.  That’s why, when you blow your stack one time with a parishioner, it eclipses decades of faithfulness in the pulpit.

Doesn’t it?

In a Church culture teeming with cowardice, you model spiritual and emotional maturity.  So, how completely do you take responsibility for your emotional well-being?  

These are dispiriting days for many ministers.  Once-vibrant congregations are aging.  Dying.  Young adults stay away en masse.  Social and political winds are blowing cold and hard in the face of the evangelical church. Clergy are viewed with disdain, churches with suspicion, denominations with contempt.  Giving’s dried up, budgets slashed, staffs cut.  And there’s no turn-around in sight.

How completely have you taken responsibility for your emotional well-being?

Were you more confident when there were 20 more cars in the parking lot?

More sure of God’s favor when giving was $2,000 a week more?

Are you grumpier, more stressed, less gracious now than six years ago?

What meaning have you attached to your circumstances that you’re not unaware of?

 Just yesterday a pastor shared a string of difficulties he’s been in.  An insubordinate staff member, a church split, and a financial decline.  He wondered if pastors have a “shelf life”.  Maybe his has expired? The meaning Mike attached to these challenges was that they somehow indicated that God was “done” with him at his church.

What assumptions are you holding as if they were true?

Perhaps you see yourself as victim to a poor economy, squabbling elders, resistant congregation, or denominational freefall.  Does your emotional state bound from pole to pole based on Sunday’s headcount, the offering, or whether so-and-so is leaving or staying at your church?

When my world is spinning, here’s a practice that works.  First, I remind myself that God was not caught off-guard by the troubles that snuck up on me.

Next, I ask myself: “Kirk, does God have you?”  “Are you sure?”  And, “Does God have … [your child, your finances, your congregation]?”  I ground myself in the truth that God has me, you, and it all under control.  Not my control. God’s.

We’re held.

We’re loved.

We’re secure.

We’re good.

Then, I consider my destiny.  I am bound for heaven. That is sure.  As long as I’m pursuing Christ, there’s no doubt.  So, I check myself… repent where needed… turn toward Christ and follow all-in.




From a place of security in Christ, you can lead.  Without it, you’ve got no shot.

Compendium (part two)


Leadership Courage Series # 36

Nine earmarks of courageous leadership were proposed in his blog series.  As we wrap, here’s a review.

The first is this: Courageous leadership is not about skill, technique, or knowledge.  It is, most of all, about the presence of the leader as he or she moves through life.

Since Christian ministry is about moving people into ever-greater Christ-likeness, we’re seeing people continuously transformed all over our churches and ministries.  Right?

No. Not so much.

And, it’s not surprising.

Interview two dozen Senior Pastors and ask them to explain why they do what they do, in just one or two sentences. Few would identify their central task to be that of producing maturity-in-Christ in those they influence.  Since ministers don’t recognize the game they’re in, it’s no wonder there’s little spiritual maturity in American congregations.

Jack Welch, the legendary CEO of GE is credited with advising someone starting a career with a new company: “Find out how they keep score… and then score!”

In the body of Christ, “scoring” means growing people into Christ-like maturity. Imagine if every one in Christian ministry was devoted to this outcome.  Once you’ve set your priority as people development, you’ll begin to see everything thru this lens. In all you do: planning, teaching, budgeting, conducting services, enfolding guests, you’ll be thinking developmentally.  You begin to recognize every situation, crisis, and setback as an opening to champion your people toward maturity. 

And, there is no one whose progress in spiritual maturity is as important as that of the senior minister.  In seminary you were trained to present the truths of Scripture with integrity.  Many do this well enough.  But few recognize the priority to presence those same truths with just as much integrity.

I don’t know why this is such a shock to professional pastors.  Maybe it’s an unintended consequence of the post-enlightenment focus on rationality as the primary means of Kingdom advance.

Paul’s counsel to Pastor Timothy applies to all of us: “Watch your life and doctrine closely” [I Tim 4:16a].  As the key influencer in Ephesus, Timothy’s way of life was as important as his doctrine.

So, what is “presence”?

A pastor with presence has a clear sense of who she is and who she’s not.  In other words, your sense of “personhood” is solidly anchored in who you are in Christ.  You’re also very clear about what you’re for.

Why you’re alive.

What you’re committed to bring to the world God’s placed you in.

You’re sense of self and your value is neither augmented nor diminished by the actions and decisions of others.  So, you can be bold, consistent, and clear despite your circumstances.

It’s the difference between Russell Crowe’s Spaniard and Joaquin Phoenix’ Commodus in the movie Gladiator.

The slave has it.  The Emperor does not.

Got it?

Undermine the 80/20 Rule


Leadership Courage Series # 22

Why is it that 20% of the people in our churches are doing all the giving, all the serving, all the ministry?

What if we who lead have actually established the culture that reinforces 80/20?

What are we communicating such that the vast majority of church dwellers feel great about coming, taking, and contributing nothing?

And, though you’re unaware of it, pastor, what if this is exactly what you want?

I invite you to ponder: what are you doing to perpetuate 80/20 in your congregation? And, since, according to Edwin Friedman in A Failure of Nerve “No one has ever gone from slavery to freedom with the slaveholders cheering them on” I fully expect to encounter your resistance to this claim: 80/20 is yet another evidence of the culture of cowardice that is alive and well in much of the American Church.

So, take a breath.  Set your resistance aside, and gather your key leaders together.  Lock yourselves in a conference room until you can identify at least ten ways your church communications, culture, and leadership promote and preserve 80/20.

Think about it.

One: what do we model when, every time the doors are open, a relative handful minister to the many who simply spectate?

When a thousand gather for “worship” what do they see?

One preaches.

Another one does announcements.

One or two run the soundboard, show the videos, dim the lights.

Maybe a dozen play instruments or sing in a worship band.  Or, maybe you have an organist.  One organist…and a soloist.  One soloist.

A couple dozen function as greeters and ushers.

And, several dozen teach the children—but that happens elsewhere… out of sight of most of the adults.

What you model reinforces a culture in which very few exercise their gifts and very many do next to nothing.

Don’t they?

Two: what expectations are communicated to those who gather at the weekend services?

Park here.

Don’t smoke in the building.

Sign in your kids. Take a pager.

Leave your coffee outside the sanctuary.

Give, if you want to.

Take part in this class, that event, the other small group experience.

And… please come back!

You can boil down the “contract” you make with most of your folks this way:  “You come back and we’ll take care of everything else.“

And, if they come back, they do exactly what you’ve asked: nothing.

And this often goes on for years…

Three: how frequently and how clearly do you teach your congregation about giving?

Funny, isn’t it?  Jesus spoke more about money than any subject other than the Kingdom of God.  Why?  Because what you treasure reveals your heart. [Mt 6:21]  Yet, most pastors dread speaking about finances.  “People will think that all we care about is money” some of you say.  So, you rarely teach the topic and how closely allied it is to all issues of the heart of your people…and yet you think about money all the time.

Don’t you?

See, if you’re in the business of packing the pews and parking lot [what I call the “religious education and entertainment business”], you’ll avoid all the topics that invite people to take offense (and reveal their values).  Isn’t it strange that Jesus wasn’t smart enough to remember this, since he addressed the topic so very, very often?  In fact, of you study his behavior, you’ll conclude that keeping the crowds coming back for more wasn’t nearly as important to Jesus as it is to us.

What was Jesus’ priority?

Why did Jesus say what he said?  Why did he teach, tell the stories he told, and live among people the way he did?  I assert that Jesus was in the people-development business. Jesus was making Kingdom citizens of people.  And, when it happened, these people lived in very distinct ways.

“Discipleship”, to Jesus, had everything to do with how people live, and why they do what they do.  The heart-posture and motivation of one’s actions.

Discipleship began with the renovation of the heart… and that heart-posture expressed itself in a way-of-being in the world that was… well, remarkable. [Acts 16:7]

Yet, in North America, church dwellers’ way-of-being in society seems anything but remarkable.

Doesn’t it?

Funny, too, that when pastors teach about finances, giving almost always increases… at least for a time.

Ever wondered why cults get a following?  I offer that one reason is that they communicate clear expectations of their members.  Very rigorous expectations.  Misguided, often.  Theologically corrupt as well.  Yet, people by the thousands “pony up” whatever is required.  Maybe the cult leaders abuse the scriptures that you avoid

Still, Jesus said: “If anyone will come after me, he (or she) must take up their cross daily and follow me.” [Mt 16:24, Mk 8:34] Yet, such preaching is rarely heard in the politically-correct Church of our day.

I wonder what prices we pay, as a result.

I wonder what prices American society is paying, too.

Don’t you?

Leadership Courage Series #13:


Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part four)

What does it take to be a courageous leader, particularly in a culture that has been growing more cowardly, childish, self-absorbed, and immature? Is it possible to live and lead in our Christian context so that spiritual and emotional maturity emerges?

If it is, you, as pastor, are key.

Let’s review for just a moment.  We’ve covered two essentials to lead effectively in a culture of cowardice that I say has become characteristic of the Church in North America today (2010).

One: Courageous leadership is not about skill, technique, or knowledge.  It is, most of all, about the presence of the leader as he or she moves through life.

Two: Take full responsibility for your own emotional being and destiny.

And today, we move from you to your organization, church, system, business, or family:  Three: Promote healthy differentiation within the church or system you lead.

Differentiation, as has been pointed out, means to take full responsibility for your own being and destiny.  So, stand in relationship with your congregants as if they were responsible for their own well-being, which, before God, of course, they are.

Remember how Jesus responded when his disciples were giving themselves to panic?  Did he make himself responsible for their emotions?  Their sense of wellbeing?  Their comfort or discomfort?


Remember the storm at sea.  In Mt 14:25-31, the disciples are terrified both by the storm and what they thought to be a “ghost” walking on the water.  Still out of the boat, Jesus says: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

Then, as Peter goes down into the water, Jesus grabs him and asks: “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

I imagine most pastors might exclaim something like: “Hey, great job Pete!!  I am SO VERY PROUD OF YOU!!  Look how many steps you took!! Hey fellas, let’s hear it for Peter!!”

Jesus’ response indicates that he saw this incident as character-development training for challenges yet to confront Peter and the others.  When members of your church come up against frightening challenges, what is it that you think you’re doing with and for them?  Comfort?  Encouragement?  Appeasement?  Or, are you developing them into mature, godly, followers of Christ??

When the disciples are unable to free the boy with the symptoms of epilepsy, Jesus behaves as if they are responsible for their own preparation for ministry: “This kind can come out only by prayer.” [Mk 9:29]  Jesus seems to believe that regular Christians can actually free those who were suffering like this boy was.

My dear friend and mentor, Dr. J. Robert Clinton [Professor of Leadership at the School of Intercultural Studies, Fuller Theological Seminary] taught me what he called Goodwin’s Expectation Principle.

Essentially it is this: “People will live up to the expectations of those whom they respect.”

Jesus seems to have understood this.

Rather than making allowances for their playing small, their love of comfort, and their penchant for control, Jesus lived as if he expected his followers to live and minister like he did. He expected then to trust God and step up to the challenges that life presented.

Didn’t he?

More importantly, how often and how consistently do you?

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