Squared off to Bunt (part two)

This is the 50th blog entry on distinctions I often make in coaching. For close to a decade, it’s been my privilege to coach pastors, primarily. Invariably, our conversations center on leadership. And, because of the inseparable link between the two: on character.

Pastors who lead well do so because of who they are.

Who you are—especially in the midst of crisis and difficulty—is a product of the way you’ve trained yourself all your life long. In times of calm and storm, you are training yourself for the challenges you can’t yet see. Those that await in the future.

Christian Leaders who’ve been given great responsibility have developed the capacity to rely on God in their own crises, and to stand with others in theirs. The more faithful they are, the greater the tests.

50 WorkoutHave you noticed?

A pastor marveled at the intense off-season regimen of an NFL player who trains at his gym. “Do you need all that muscle development to play your position in football?” he asked in disbelief. “No. I need it to survive the physical beating I take every Sunday.” Every day, he strengthens muscle fibers in anticipation of the opposition his body will encounter.

In Squared Off to Bunt, I invite you—as I do my coaching clients—to consider the posture of your life.

50 CabreraWhether the challenges you now face are intense or mild, are you training yourself to take big, commanding cuts at the ball?

Or, are you crouched to bunt?

  • How clear are you about where God has you leading your congregation?
  • How compelling is the vision you’re calling your people to?
  • How great is the sacrifice you challenge your members to, as apprentices of Jesus?
  • How bold is your trust in Christ for the miraculous in your ministry?
  • How desperately do you cry out for the power of God’s Kingdom to break in on your city?
  • How diligently are you training yourself to recognize the voice of God, then unflinchingly obey?

Should the political and cultural opposition to Biblical Christianity continue to strengthen, we may find ourselves ministering in a far more challenging climate.

In Lystra, as Paul is preaching Christ a mob stones him, drags his body outside the city, and leaves him for dead. Believers gather around, he rises up, and goes right back into Lystra.


Paul is “…strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith.” [Acts 14:22]

Who lives like that?

Someone who’s not postured to bunt.


Coaching distinctions #50.doc

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Squared off to Bunt (part one)

In some sectors of the church today there’s great momentum, clarity of mission, risk-taking experimentation, courageous leadership, and fresh reliance on the Holy Spirit for direction, empowering, and transformation.

49 RVQChurches are breaking out of the attractional paradigm and are moving their ministry focus off their facilities and into the community where those who need Christ are. Committed to love and serve people until they ask why, Christians are living the Gospel among the unchurched – and they are responding with surprise, with gratitude, and with saving faith in Jesus.

And, in other sectors, churches, ministers and members are bewildered. Attendance is falling. So is giving. Enthusiasm for church programs is low. Discouragement is high. Anxiety is epidemic.

Denominational systems feel this more intensely. Local churches are less able or willing to send money ‘up the food chain’. Regional and national budgets are being slashed. Programs and staff are being eliminated. Every forecast is more sobering than the last. The Church is aging…more rapidly than ever. Since most giving comes from the more senior members, their mortality portends the same for the systems their generosity built and sustained for decades.

49 bunt bLike a bewildered ball player, thousands of clergy and denominational execs who are “at bat” in this hour stand in the batter’s box…crouched to bunt.

The advantage is if you’re going to bunt, it’s the best stance to be in. The disadvantage: you can’t do anything but bunt from that crouch. And, here’s where many in the Church find themselves today.

Not sure how to stem the receding tide of dollars and attendees, Church leaders cycle from one well-worn, low-risk program to another.

49 bunt aBunt left.

Bunt right.

Bunt down the middle.

Trouble is, the “score” is so lopsided that laying down bunts won’t move us forward fast enough.

What’s needed is to restore apostolic momentum to the Church.

Apostles are “sent ones”. The apostolic Church was a sent church. In contrast to today’s stogy institutions, the early Church was on the move.

Its message: Jesus.

Its focus: heart transformation.

Its method: personal encounters as the redeemed loved, healed, and shared their stories.

For this to recur, our churches need to mature and mobilize Christians as ministers to those outside.

In May, my CRM team will equip pastors, church planters, and lay leader to do exactly that.

49 reFOCUSAt reFOCUS: ATLANTA we’ll introduce tools we’ve developed working with more than 5,000 pastors and churches. Strengthening pastors to lead, Christians to mature, and churches to engage their cities with the lived-and-proclaimed Gospel.

Join us for these three very important days: http://www.refocusing.org/events/

Batter up!

Coaching distinctions #49.doc

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The Game You’re In (part four)

A friend challenged me once: “Kirk, you think you’re planting tomatoes, but you’re harvesting beets. And, when you don’t get tomatoes, you just work harder and harder planting and watering and fertilizing those same seeds. Beet seeds.”

Derek wasn’t taking about vegetables; he was taking about my marriage.

Unwilling to examine the seed I’d been sowing in my family, I just upped the ante, laboring more diligently…producing more and more “beets”…

Last night I met a wonderful pastor and the elders of his church not far from Miami. A member of my CRM team and I were there to introduce them to the amazing reFocusing Network Process: a two-year transformational pathway for churches desiring to impact their communities for Christ. Never have I met a more sincere team of leaders, each wanting to introduce the Savior to neighbors who – presently – have no interest in Christ.

Their enthusiasm for the community was palpable, contagious, inspiring. As we were introduced, the pastor spoke confidently of their commitment to engage those outside the church. “We’re very active in the community”, he explained. “We’ve adopted a public school and, when school starts, we provide backpacks with school supplies for the students. At Thanksgiving, we give turkeys and groceries to families in need. And, at Christmas time, we give $50 and $100 gift cards to school families who otherwise couldn’t afford gifts for their kids. We do this with no strings attached; not to coerce them to join our church or to promote ourselves. We do it to love them in Jesus’ name.”

As our presentation began, they were invited to consider that, excellent as their intentions are, they’d been in the wrong game. “See, people don’t need your stuff nearly as much as they need you.

These days, people stay away from church on purpose. They’ve decided Christianity doesn’t have the remedy for what ails them; we don’t have the scratch for their itch.  And while it’s not a bad thing to provide what people lack, receiving things from well-meaning people does little to uproot these assumptions.

What people really need is you … on the other end of that backpack.

Regular, repeated, positive, life-on-life experiences with Christians who are postured to love and serve them unconditionally.

As people have multiple, positive encounters with you, they begin to question some of what they’ve assumed about Christ. Over time, you become credible – not based on what you know – but how you live. Eventually, some will trust you with the most important conversations of life.



Coaching Distinctions 33.doc

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Committed Action (part four)

Imagine the impact on the United States if Christians here were known – first of all — for being people of action

You could be reading these blogs and conclude: “Good! We’re doing all kinds of ministry in our city: we donate used clothes to the homeless shelter, canned goods to the food bank, we give a little bit of money to a women’s shelter, drug rehab, an afterschool program, a hospital, and to a convalescent center. Hey, we spent one Saturday working on a Habitat home.”

Many churches do give to causes that, it is thought, advance the cause of Christ in their communities.  Trouble is, these efforts are often so small, so diverse, and so impersonal as to have no lasting Kingdom influence on the people they intend to serve.

These are mere “gestures”.  And, churches make good-hearted gestures all the time.

Consider the difference when a church commits “all-in” to serve the staff and students at a local school.

Church members are on hand every day: assisting teachers, aids, and staff any way they can. They sponsor student awards, help with the booster club, and are on campus to support and encourage students’ progress in academics, citizenship, health, and teamwork.  They donate materials and supplies for every homeroom before each semester and they give themselves along with the donations to help the teachers prepare for the students’ arrival.

They are on hand to help by providing dinner when standardized tests or parent-teacher meetings keep the faculty on campus day and night.  Regularly, they honor the teachers who they observe investing so devotedly in their students.  And, members of these churches are regularly in prayer for the health, safety, and well being of the students, faculty, and their families.

This is “committed action”.

These actions are so regular, so costly, so focused, and so personal that the recipients of their service cannot mistake the generosity, the selflessness, and the love they are experiencing.

Ministry like this can take months or years to develop.

Commonly, those we intend to serve will be cautious, even skeptical that somehow they’re being duped—that there’s going to be a “hook”, a “gotcha” where the church people reveal their true, self-serving motives.

When our motivation is only to serve and love and bless the recipients, for their benefit, over time the barriers dissolve.

And when they do, we will be prepared to give an answer for the hope we have [I Pt 3:15] and the love we so generously give.

Coaching Distinctions #16

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Committed Action (part three)

Imagine the impact on the United States if Christians here were known – first of all — for being people of action

Caution: activity does not equal effectiveness.

Many Christians and churches are busy, busy, busy:  elders meetings, fellowships, teas, seminars, bible studies, retreats, revivals, accountability groups, small groups, home groups, growth groups, recovery groups…

Are we effective?

Is the Kingdom of God advancing, in our lives and in our cities?

The Willow Creek Association’s groundbreaking Reveal Survey said “no”.  Church activity does not correlate to maturity in Christ, or the effective evangelization of our cities.

To test the religious activities that vie for your congregation’s attention, consider two questions:

1. Who is this for?

Most church activity benefits only Christians.  Yet, Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, famously said: “The church is the only organization that exists primarily for the benefit of its non-members.”

We may say our meetings, groups, classes, and retreats are primarily for guests. With frighteningly few exceptions, they’re not.

2. How does this advance God’s Kingdom?

By “God’s Kingdom” we mean the unencumbered reign and rule of Christ.  Consider how much of what we do, has so little to do with that.

Study your church calendar.  For every class, gathering, service, and meeting, see if you can determine any specific Kingdom-advancing outcomes that were achieved.

You might consider:

Was good news preached to the poor?

Did the imprisoned find freedom?

Was sight restored to the blind?

Were the oppressed freed?

Was the Lord’s favor proclaimed and actualized?

These [Luke 4:18] are among the things Christ did as the Kingdom of God was advanced.

Consider the kinds of activity common in church today:

If pie was eaten while Christian women gossiped and church-going men griped about Obama, as churched kids played kickball in the fellowship hall, be honest enough to admit that no maturity-inducing discipleship took place. 

No one grew in Christ.

Nobody outside the church was ministered to.

Compare that to a team from Westside Christian Church. They regularly minister to people who’ve been forced by the brutal Southern California economy to live in RV’s, campers, or other temporary accommodations.  The Westside team throws BBQ’s (called “RVQ’s”), serves, loves, shares, feeds, helps, prays with, and encourages these amazingly resilient folks… who do not attend their church.  And, lives are changing.

Another team, from Chino’s New Hope Christian Fellowship, routinely dedicates time at a mobile home retirement community.  Intentionally, they are building redemptive relationships, forging friendships, demonstrating what it is to be good news to people who would otherwise have no contact with people devoted to love and serve them as Jesus might. Several times a month, team members serve residents, share their joys, fears, anticipations, and sorrows, honor them, and meet practical needs.  Their objective is not to bring these people into their church so much as it is to bring Jesus to them.

It’s working.


Coaching Distinctions #15

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Compendium (part nine)

Leadership Courage Series # 43

Reintroduce yourself to the adventurous life. This is the eighth of nine characteristics necessary to lead the Church well today.

Notice how little risk-taking the Church does today?  Other than making a bold “leap of faith” to finance a 400-seat sanctuary for the comfort and convenience of their own people, when did any church you’re aware of attempt anything great for anyone?

For what greatness are we admired in society today?

As a young believer, the Signs & Wonders and Church Growth video series by John Wimber inspired me.  It challenged me to believe that God would “confirm his word by the signs that accompanied it.” [Mk 16:20] when sharing Christ with those outside the Church.

Wide-eyed, I watched people receive prayer and several being healed of various medical maladies.  Soon after, Annie and I signed up to be trained in “Power Evangelism” … the adventure was on!

Within weeks of the training, several of us were in Times Square chatting with pedestrians and offering to pray with them.  I’d never done anything like it before.  Many entrusted themselves to Christ and even more were miraculously healed: a punctured lung, alcohol addiction, paralysis, and other conditions were remedied before my astonished eyes. What an adventure.

Returning home, fearing we might’ve left behind the ability to minister God’s power, we threw ourselves into caring for the poor in our town—bringing groceries and offering to pray for anyone about anything.  People began experiencing forgiveness, freedom, restoration, and healing.  Uncontrollable hemorrhaging, severe infections, cancers, spinal meningitis was healed.  Each encounter was a new adventure.  We were walking in brand new territory.  Biblical, but new.

Someone suggested we throw a Christmas Day banquet for the homeless, the poor, and those with no place to go.  Without the time or resources, we leapt at the chance.  People from all over town donated turkeys, hats, coats, and mittens, the use of a commercial kitchen, and a community center to hold it in. Adventures like this invigorate everyone. It’s now an annual event—where thousands are fed, clothed, and loved.

A couple years ago, somebody decided to “blow up” Vacation Bible School– realizing that by having it at a church almost all who attended were churched kids.   That first year, against all odds, “VBS” happened in almost 30 locations off the church campus in parks, garages, driveways, community centers, and back yards across Orange County.

Of the nine hundred kids who took part, more than 70% were unchurched. 

Adventures like this aren’t easy, comfortable, or predictable.  When you are trusting God and taking leaps for the benefit of others—especially those who are not Christian—you are “living as Jesus lived” [I Jn 2:6]  Jesus, in his humanity, got to trust the Father as he took risks—with the woman at the well, Lazarus, the Gadarene, etc, etc.  He lived the adventurous life.

What about you?

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Go First! (part four)

Leadership Courage Series # 32

In the home stretch of this Series, we’re considering the ninth characteristic of those who would lead well in a culture overrun with cowardice.  Early in this series we examined why comfort-craving, security-seeking, spiritless stagnation is common to the Church.  Sad, when you consider how we behaved in the Book of Acts.

Isn’t it?

Christ gave the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to equip the saints for the work of their ministry. [Eph 4:11-16]  Strange, though, for several generations there’s been almost no evidence of the first three of these essential graces in the North American Church.  One quality of “going first” is to restore these missing graces in every church.

What’s the impact on the Church is when the evangelistic impetus is in scant supply?

Seriously, look around…

Because of the preponderance of the teaching grace, you get a dysfunctional over-emphasis on teaching as the means of evangelism.

See, when you keep trying to teach those who are not postured to learn you create an experience in those you’re with.  That experience is irritation, annoyance, condescension, and frustration. 

And, this we do in the name of Jesus.

The second thing you get is a dearth of actual “evangels”.

At the heart of “evangelism” is “angel”. 

An angel is a messenger.

An “ev-angel” is a messenger of good.

And a message is “good” when those who receive it define it that way.   

Think about it.  What was the angels’ message at the first advent?  “Turn or burn”?  “Close this clinic”?  “Vote for my candidate”?

“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today … a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah…Glory to God … and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” [Lk 2:11-14]  However that message might be interpreted today, it meant something really good to the Hebrew people enslaved by Roman oppression in that hour.

Our society thinks it has heard our “evangel” and they’ve judged it as anything but “good news”. 

They think they’ve heard enough from us.  They’ve decided we are rigid, judgmental, hypocritical bigots who oppose many of the darlings of what is considered to be progressive, enlightened culture.  And, since we’ve reduced Christian ministry to explanation and oration, we keep trying to teach them the right way to think, believe, and act.

Did Jesus do it this way?

Consider the Campaign of Nain, recorded in Luke 7:11-17.  Jesus approaches the town, sees a funeral procession, a widow weeping over the death of her child, and a lot of people in despair.

What does he do?

As he sizes up the situation, his heart goes out to her.  He walks up, touches the casket, raises the boy to life, and hands him to his mother.

That’s it! 

No altar call.

No self-promotion.

No commercial about Sunday’s meetings on Solomon’s Colonnade.

He doesn’t tell them to do anything. 

Jesus brings the Kingdom and people are blessed.  Here, he is a messenger of good.

And they all get it.

Their conclusion: “God has come to help his people.”

Is that what they conclude when you and I come to town?

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