As a sincere Christ-follower it’s easy to develop a convoluted relationship with striving, with industriousness, and with determined, diligent labor. On the one hand, we aspire to live peacefully [Rom 12:18], to be unfazed amid difficulty [Jn 14:27], and to enter into God’s rest [Heb 4:1].
And, on the other hand we struggle against sin [Heb 12:4], agonize to enter the Kingdom [Lk 13:24], and strive for mastery in the Christian life [2 Tim 2:5].
And, many times God has me in situations where I can’t do anything to rescue myself. All I can do is trust Christ and embrace my powerlessness.
Over a decade ago I attended a powerful character development workshop that transfromed my understanding of and relationship with doing. Let me share it with you.
The transformation hinges on the fundamental ways you understand yourself. Shift this understanding, and much about your relationship with doing will shift…radically. I say “relationship with doing” because each of us has one. Just like your relationship with a sister or cousin, you relate to doing in specific ways. For many of us, they’re not helpful.
The relationship is revealed in the way most of us approach any goal, obstacle, or desire. Someone asks what you want to be when you grow up. Oh, a doctor. Well then, you should…get great grades, go to medical school, pass your boards, and get hired by a top hospital.
To be beautiful, go to the gym and the plastic surgeon, get a perfect face and body.
Think of it as an equation: DO > HAVE > BE.
DO go to school, HAVE your Juris Doctor and pass the bar, BE an attorney.
DO dig wells in Kenya, HAVE the esteem of friends and family, BE a good person.
DO get ripped abs (and hair implants), HAVE a great body, BE attractive.
DO perfect your preaching, HAVE a large congregation, BE a successful pastor.
DO gather 400 to your High School ministry, HAVE the biggest youth group in town, BE somebody.
DO launch a radio ministry, HAVE airtime on hundreds of radio stations, BE an international sensation.
What’s the alternative?
BE > DO > HAVE.
Coaching Distinctions #83.doc
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.
Not so, my friend!
Here’s a surprise: YOU are the architect of all your relationships!
And, because you are, you can re-architect every relationship you’re in.
Coaching Distinctions #76.doc
We’re examining one of the most helpful insights on human behavior I’ve learned. The “Universal Human Paradigm”, was explained this way:
1) Human beings are “resistance machines”.
2) When life looks the way we prefer, we engage it.
3) And, when life doesn‘t look the way we prefer, we resist it.
4) The universal way that human beings resist life is by withholding their participation from it.
If you, like me, believe that God is sovereign, omnipotent, omniscient—as the Bible illustrates—then consider who is the ultimate architect of your life’s circumstances. This isn’t to suggest you don’t have a choice.
You always do.
Yet, much of what surrounds us is beyond our control, even our influence.
I choose to believe that these are the provision of a loving God who “in all things works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” [Rom 8:28].
In other words, the life I have is the one God intends for me.
So, when I’m in resistance, I’m withholding my participation from the life I am meant to live!
I’m also clear that my life needs me. It needs me to be “all in”: participating as fully as I can.
Every single one.
The adolescent years for our six children were brutal for me. So much happened that I hadn’t anticipated, wasn’t prepared for, was shocked by, and felt was way out-of-bounds for the life I thought I was supposed to live.
For more than a decade, much of my life looked nothing like I preferred. Following the Universal Human Paradigm, I resisted…
I withheld my participation from my children, my family, my own life—immersing myself in seminary studies, my investment business, and pastoral ministry. I had more than enough to keep me busy. Busy and distracted from the barrage of calamities befalling our teens…many, at their own hands.
The more I persisted in resisting my life, the worse it got. Nothing resolved itself on its own.
One horrible night all this came to a head: a drug arrest and a fist fight with one of my own put me in the hospital.
It was then that I realized my life needed me.
I didn’t know what to do. But, I knew I had to be in. All in.
So, in the language of my mentor and friend Ennio Salucci: “I threw myself into the middle of the room”
…and there I found Jesus and his provision for me and my children waiting.
Coaching distinctions #66.doc
Usually, like a lightning bolt.
The insight appears, and with it, understanding that serves you the rest of your life.
Much of Proverbs is like that for me. I became Christian in my twenties, at Harvard—a place where some pretty smart people congregate. Well, the wisdom in many Proverbs provided illuminating clarity that changed my perspective on almost all of life.
So too, with the insight I’ll share with you now. A decade ago I was in training to facilitate a series of powerful character development workshops, and a guest speaker had come to share with us.
His name was John and he called it the “Universal Human Paradigm.”
It has changed my life, my coaching, and the leadership of hundreds of pastors I’ve had the privilege to equip since then.
He called it “Universal” because it applies to everyone, everywhere. “Human” because it is the way human beings behave. And “Paradigm” because it is a worldview, an orientation, a way of interpreting and operating in the world.
Immediately, I discredited his statement as preposterous: “Look, I don’t know everything, but I studied human ontology in seminary and human beings are not machines! We are made in the image of God … and we are free to choose all our choices all the time! Who does this guy think he is, anyway, and what are his credentials?? Resistance machines—BAH!!” I scoffed.
“Here’s how it works”, John continued, too nonchalantly for such a controversial statement. “When life looks the way we prefer, we engage it. We embrace it; give ourselves to it. We participate. We play… Don’t we?”
“Ummm, yup. I can see that” I thought. “In fact, when life looks good, I don’t even think about myself or my participation. I’m just immersed in it!
Again, I thought: “That’s not true! I do not withhold my participation when I don’t like life! I jump right in and fix it! Solve it! I address what’s wrong with it! That’s what I do!!!” I assured myself.
Coaching distinctions #64.doc
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.
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.
We 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
I love the movie Taken in the way Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson’s character) keeps giving himself to recover his daughter, who’s been kidnapped. When Kim’s parents learn of her abduction, their responses illustrate, the distinction: 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.
Neeson’s Mills is clear-headed, studying his daughter’s room for clues to her disappearance. He is determined and he is in motion … the product of his extensive training as a CIA operative.
Both of Kim’s parents had been in training—all their lives—for a crisis such as this.
So have you.
It was Father’s Day 2001. Driving from church to lunch, traffic was snarled. Creeping along we eventually came upon the source: multiple police cars, an ambulance, and a fire truck situated diagonally to keep the public from being able to view a particularly grizzly scene.
It was my daughter’s car!!
In crises, people often say: “NOTHING could have prepared me for what happened!”
Reality is, I had been preparing myself all my life for that morning. We were privileged to see God’s merciful intervention in what should have been a double decapitation. Both kids walked away shaken, but unhurt.
Not every family crisis has resolved as swiftly and miraculously as that one. Each catastrophe—and the many mundane opportunities to trust God in between—has been preparation. Every relationship breakdown has provided opportunities to examine my reactivity and vulnerabilities, to pursue repentance, and grow in Christ-likeness.
So with you.
Ever wonder how Jesus carried on—through Judas’ betrayal, the isolation and agony in Gethsemane, the beatings and the travesty that was his trial? After all that, with spikes through hands and feet, his own weight suffocating him, he forgave those who crucified him, made provision for his mother’s care, and ministered to the believing thief on the cross next to him.
“Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered.” [Hebrews 5:8 NLT] Like Jesus, you and I can learn how to live great, God-honoring lives by the ways we train ourselves while in the midst of suffering.
It is possible, even for a “career bunter” to learn to crush the baseball.
Go hire a coach and reacquaint yourself with the batting cage.
Coaching distinctions #51.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
We’re examining destiny. You have one. Waiting for you. As Buber says, you must pursue it with your whole being, not knowing where it waits. You have a ‘great will’ that wants to live a noble, heroic, God-honoring, and history-impacting life.
And, you have a ‘little will’ that above all desires to:
Be in control.
These motivations I call “The Formidable Four”.
They show up everywhere.
They undermine a pastors’ resolve to lead clearly, consistently, and courageously. They invite congregations to focus inwardly, even while the community—where they’ve been placed as God’s provision—drifts further from Christ. They motivate elders to gesture at change rather than do the hard work of maturing disciples who bear fruit as a way of life.
In my life, the “little will” dissuades me from initiating conversations about financial support for the ministry to which I’m called. It presses me to downplay the urgency to enroll pastors in new reFocusing Networks, when my momentum begins to wane. It cautions me to play safe in coaching, rather than offend a client by illuminating a character flaw that is undercutting her leadership. And after an unusually intense week (like last week), it tempts me to blow off writing this blog!
Buber’s ‘great will’ and ‘little will’ wrestle within us.
Save or spend.
Walk or take the car.
Stand up for what you know is right or compromise to keep peace.
Pander to the preferences of your congregation or lead them to serve others selflessly.
Develop the character of around you or settle for being liked.
We see the conflict between great and little will played out in US politics.
While campaigning, candidates’ towering rhetoric calls to our ‘great will’.
It extols the virtue of selflessness, challenging us to forfeit our petty comforts in the short run to establish or protect or defend something noble and honorable and necessary and good for the generations that follow. It speaks of great accomplishments and great sacrifice and uniting for the benefit of the nation.
Then, post-election, the ‘little will’ takes over.
Its priority is whatever will please the most people now. Minimize pain, discomfort, and anxiety immediately—no matter how it infantilizes the population, rips apart our social fabric, and devastates those who’ll inherit the mess.
This blog is not about politics.
It’s about you.
Which will wins?
Coaching distinctions #44.doc