This is not to suggest that you aren’t busy. No, ministers are among those who can be overwhelmingly active and profoundly unproductive at the same time.
Postured to bunt, you desperately drive from hospital room to committee meeting, from one religious function to the next.
Are lives changing? Can’t tell.
Are those outside the Church coming toward Jesus via the loving example of your members? No way to know.
Your week is jammed with your best attempts to anticipate or respond to the complaints and requests of church members who mistakenly believe that you exist to serve them.
Most of what you do to soothe, comfort, and appease them does just the opposite. It keeps them infantilized.
Study the way Jesus interacted with His followers.
You’ll see that he constantly challenged them to trust God on their own. To experience God’s faithfulness for themselves. Unlike you, Jesus kept putting his disciples into harm’s way! The way your local police and fire academies put perfectly good people in peril for the sake of those they will rescue one day.
See, you and they have forgotten that God has given ministers to equip the people to do the work of Christ’s ministry [Ephesians 4:11] …so that they actually mature. I don’t see a lot of either happening in the lives of most church-goers these days.
To what degree do you challenge your people?
Do you press them to examine and repent of their immaturity, entitlement, and commitments to comfort?
Does your preaching regularly unsettle them?
Do you raise many more questions than you answer?
I don’t see how Christianity can be a part-time pursuit. Can you?
How is it that couples can live together, unmarried, and worship as if the were? How can we cheat on our taxes and pray as if God doesn’t know? How can we hold unforgiveness toward others and not think it undermines our prayers?
When you live “squared off to bunt”, pastor, your parishioners will follow suit. Could society’s sudden pursuit of much that’s contrary to God’s Word be the result of a Church that’s “squared off to bunt” so much of the time?
In 1988, an injured and aging Kirk Gibson hobbled to the plate for the L.A. Dodgers. Though his legs could barely carry him around the base path, he took a mighty cut at the ball…
and made history.
You can, too.
Coaching Distinctions #53
Our example is the Duomo di Firenze: an architect’s vision of a majestic cathedral with a dome so immense that it could not have been built when he conceived it.
At 142 feet it would be larger than the domes of the U.S. Capitol, St. Paul’s in London, the Pantheon in Rome, and St. Peters in Vatican City. When it was finally constructed, it remained the largest dome in the world for almost five hundred years!
More than eighty years after construction commenced, a goldsmith named Filippo Brunelleschi was born. In his 20’s he moved to Rome. For three years he studied architecture with a buddy named Donatello. If you watch the History Channel (I don’t) you’ll know that name. Brunelleschi studied the Pantheon, the largest dome then in existence. How it’d been built was an architectural and engineering conundrum.
Brunelleschi made several significant discoveries. Returning to Florence, he convinced the builders that he had a method to put di Cambio’s dome on the cathedral. This solution was ground-breaking on several fronts. The innovations Brunelleschi employed, however, are not our focus today. What is, is the commitment to the completion of this cathedral by generations of people who’d never see it with their own eyes.
Leaders are not those with the best ideas or superior methods. Leaders have developed the strengths of character and the capacity to self-management so that they sustain movement in pursuit of what God’s called them to without giving up.
And, they do it in a way that motivates and mobilizes others in the pursuit of that great vision.
More than 2,000 years ago Jesus did this too. He laid out a vision of the Kingdom of God in ways that people could grasp.
Lots of ways.
In scores of demonstrations of God’s mercy, supernatural power, the stories he told and word pictures he used, and an occasional sermon. Most often, Jesus proclaimed the coming Kingdom by the way he lived and moved among the people.
This is our great and noble task today. To live in such a way that the Kingdom of God is demonstrated over and over in ways that people get.
My invitation is to join with those who’ll do this to their last breath and will have prepared a couple generations who’ll follow just as passionately and powerfully for as long as they have breath.
Think of it as a cathedral of great, influential human lives.
Coaching distinctions #40.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
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]
For several installments, we’ve been considering the motivation that is common to human beings—to look good, feel good, be right, and be in control—yet largely goes unexamined. Then, contemplating what to do about it, we’ve been examining repentance.
Repentance that sticks.
In my coaching practice, not uncommonly our focus turns to patterns in the pastor’s leadership or relational style that undermine his or her effectiveness. I call this: “getting in your own way”. All of us, from time to time, behave in ways we regret.
Some of these behaviors become habitual, keeping the leader in Groundhog Day—repeating the pattern in one church after another.
The antidote is sorrow unto repentance.
And, that’s easier said than done. When you examine the impact your selfishness, preferences for control, irresponsibility, perfectionism, or irritability has on those close to you, it can open you up. Once opened up, you can allow yourself to be impaled by the horrible effects of your sin.
You’d think it’d just about kill you.
Funny thing is, the opposite is true.
As Paul notes in 2 Cor 7:11 godly sorrow produces concern, longing, earnestness, and indignation. And, it also produces the eagerness to set things right and a readiness to see justice done. Your heart is changed. Because it is, you are changed, too.
The result is freedom for you and the possibility of new intimacy with those you’ve harmed.
Hard to believe, but true.
Now, some of you have no trouble ruminating on just how awful you are… like a well-worn path across the schoolyard, you relive your errors and with ferocity you abuse and debase yourself.
Never! You say you don’t deserve it! You say you’re just that awful.
I say no.
You’re not especially awful, you’re just arrogant.
You’re so certain you’re the special case. The one person beyond forgiveness, cleansing, restoration. The blood of Christ, you think, is insufficient to cover you, your sin. You discount the remarkable provision of Heaven rather than embrace the truth that you, special little you, are an ordinary sinner.
Of course you’re unworthy.
That’s exactly the point of the atonement: God paid it all.
So, my invitation is to allow yourself be run through with the sharp sword of the sadness, pain and loss you’ve caused others.
Freedom waits on the other side.
Coaching Distinctions #12
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
I thank God for the gift of repentance. For the provision in the atonement, of forgiveness, cleansing, and restoration of relationship when I do. What’s troubled me, though, is how often I seem to be “returning to the well”: asking forgiveness over and over again for the same things.
What about you?
Since “repentance” means to turn and walk the other way, why is it that we so often turn back?
Why do we repent of our repentance?
I get that I’m fallen. Human. Frail. All that. And I get that Christ lives in me [Col 1:27]. That God has given me everything I need for life and godliness [2 Pt 1:3].
So, what of all this repenting and turning back and repenting again?
What does it take for repentance to stick?
Long ago, when I was a devoted “King James Christian”, 2 Corinthians 7:10 caught my attention. “For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.” Godly sorrow produces repentance we don’t repent of. Repentance that sticks!
So, what kind of sorrow is “godly”? How does God sorrow that is so different than the “sorrow of the world”?
When the “world” sorrows, it sorrows for itself. It is sorry it got caught. It is sorry for its loss. It is sorry things didn’t turn out better. Sorry there are prices to be paid because of its poor choices. Sad that it behaved the way it did. Poor decisions produced outcomes it didn’t intend or choose.
That’s why worldly sorrow leads to death.
It is self-consumed.
Consider how differently God sorrows. As mentioned last time, when God sorrows, it is for us. Why did Jesus weep at the tomb? He was impaled by the grief of Mary and those who loved her and Lazarus [Jn 11:35].
As Jesus approaches Jerusalem, he contemplates the difficulty that’s about to befall its residents, and he weeps for them [Lk19:41-44]. God’s concern is not himself but others.
And, I think, that’s the key.
Repentance that sticks emerges from truly and deeply and honestly and gut-wrenchingly sorrowing for others.
This kind of repentance requires that we drink deeply from the cup of their suffering. The suffering we have brought on, whether intended or not.
It is slow, awful work to honestly consider the impact of our selfishness on others. To climb into their skin and feel the pain we’ve caused them.
Yes, it’s horrible.
The older I get the more sure I am that it is impossible to control anyone … other than myself.
And, controlling myself is a full-time job.
Ironic that we invest so much energy and effort trying to control that which is most uncontrollable: another human being.
Don’t believe me?
Try raising a child.
You may eventually soothe your bellowing newborn, but not before dozens of attempts to quiet her went unheeded.
Undaunted by the reality that we can’t control our kids, co-workers, congregation, or spouse, we continually employ strategies in an attempt to do just that.
The beleaguered clerk who, after being humiliated at work, comes home and browbeats her spouse.
A teen who, feeling powerless to communicate effectively with his parents, steals the car and runs away from home.
The spouse of the rapidly-ascending politician who suddenly comes down with a mysterious illness and can no longer make public appearances.
An elder who, being confronted, deftly pivots and attacks the semantics or logic of the person raising the concern.
The denominational executive, discouraged by the anemia in the churches under her influence, who travels from one seminar to the next hoping something will happen to stem the tide of attendance and financial declines.
A minister who pretends not to see troubling immorality among church officials, hoping it will all take care of itself.
These control strategies have enormous prices attached to them. Prices are extracted from the perpetrator and those connected to him. When I’m with a coaching client who’s operating out of the formidable four, we explore the impact on those closest to the client.
What prices are your loved-ones, co-workers, congregants paying?
What do you think it’s like to be in relationship with you?
The key is to drill down far enough until the client has embraced – both mentally and emotionally – the devastation caused others. This is slow, painful work.
To be impacted by the pain one’s control strategies have caused others is central to repentance.
The Apostle Paul noted: “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation…but worldly sorrow brings death.” [2 Cor 7:10] See, worldly sorrow is sorrow for myself.
But when God sorrows, God sorrows for us. [Lk 19:41] So, to truly repent from our commitments to the formidable four, the pathway runs straight into the suffering we cause others.
From this place, repentance lasts a lifetime
Coaching Distinctions # 9
Whatever we do, we do for a reason. Since we’re not crazy, there is always a reason behind our actions.
When our behaviors are perplexing, it’s almost always because we’re unaware of our true motivations in the moment.
One of the most pernicious motivators is being right.
If you’ve ever sat with a couple heading for divorce, you’ve seen this. Each spouse has reached conclusions about their mate’s limitations, motivations, character defects, and willingness to change. Over time, they’ve found ample evidence to support these judgments — solidifying their commitment to what they’ve decided is true.
And, they’ve ignored many dozens of data points that disagree with this thesis.
As you labor to referee reconciliation you quickly discover they’re not having one conversation but two. Each lobbing evidence to support how right they are about how wrong their spouse is. The energy that each spouse invests to defend the “rightness” of their position is only overshadowed by the devastation that’s wrought on their relationship.
To be proven right is the “booby prize” in any conflict.
The desire to be right is a powerful motivator all across life. A pastor had developed the practice of predicting who was about to leave his church, trouble that would be erupting on his staff, and problems his ministry would soon be encountering. His track record was excellent: just about every departure, difficulty, and hardship he predicted did happened. Despite the devastation these events brought, he took solace in the clarity with which he’d anticipated them.
Crazy, I thought.
Why not labor to prevent these things from occurring? As we worked together, he developed strategies to undermine the problematic scenarios before they happened. And yet, before he gave himself to thwart these troubles he first gave up being right about their inevitability… and his ability to predict the future.
When being right will not serve you or them, my invitation is to give up being right about it.
The drive to be right is a lot like living with tunnel vision: you’re predisposed to notice what confirms your assumptions, and you’ll likely miss most everything that contradicts them. This undermines creativity, closes down opportunities, and locks you into outcomes that you may really not want.
I listen to political talk radio. There are several radio personalities that I like. They say what I think, promote what I believe is best for the country, and oppose practices I think are weakening us as a society. It’s easy to listen to them.
Also, as a discipline, I listen to the radio station on the other side of the political spectrum. I listen for what I can agree with and what I can consider that’s new to me. It is rigorous to listen not to be proven right, but to discover what I don’t know.
So, where in your life are you locked into being “right” about someone or something?
What if you gave up the preference to be right, and trusted God to surprise you with something new?
Coaching Distinctions # 8
It’s true. You never do anything for no reason.
So, whether you’re coaching yourself or someone else, it’s helpful to dig to discover what actually motivated apparently incomprehensible behavior. Four basic motivations are often at the root of such actions. I call them the formidable four.
Being in control.
We’ll examine the second one today.
Have you noticed society’s growing intolerance of anything difficult, painful, challenging, or distressing?
The ridiculous notion that ‘God’s great aim is to make you happy’ has helped undermine our stamina as people of faith. When distress occurs, we no longer interpret it as a normal feature of faithfully following Christ [Act 14:22, Phil 1:29, I Pt 2:21]. Rather, we consider it evidence that something’s gone wrong. Gravely wrong.
Consequently, we prioritize the deliverance from suffering over the development of our souls.
The result? An anemic witness and a society gone awry.
Feeling good quiets pastors when it’s time to forcefully confront a sinning member—particularly when she wields enormous power or money.
Feeling good keeps denominational leaders moving incompetent ministers from parish to parish—instead of directly challenging his dysfunction.
Feeling good invites elders to ignore a series of relatively mild, but troubling, ethical breaches—because to take decisive action might be misinterpreted.
Feeling good confines a senior pastor to the seclusion of her study rather than mix it up with church members who are unhappy or unpredictable.
Feeling good beckons Christians to ignore the impact of their self-centeredness on those God’s called them to influence.
Our Enemy, knowing this vulnerability, loves to pile on. When I’m facing opposition in one area of ministry, trouble will often beset another. Before long, the wheels have come off in a third area of life, then a fourth and a fifth. As the challenges mount, determination can evaporate into discouragement and morph into despondency.
To shield myself from additional difficulty, I can begin to withdraw from life.
This creates a vacuum. When I am absent from my own life, mayhem takes over. Since I’m not present, those who are accustomed to my participation try to make sense of my absence. Since they don’t see me, they make stuff up. And the rumors start. In time, the congregation’s confidence in the pastor’s leadership is so eroded that there’s no coming back.
When you catch yourself withdrawing from your life or ministry, my invitation is to trust God and leap back into the middle of your life.
Amazingly, you’ll usually find God there waiting for you.
Coaching Distinctions # 7