We’re examining leadership coaching distinctions that I employ when coaching pastors and Christian leaders. Last time, I suggested that the client’s perspective determines what they see as possible and impossible as they search for solutions to pernicious problems.
Pastors commonly cycle between “playing to win” and “playing not to lose” several times across a career. Armed with clarity about God’s call and great hope that God will use you in significant ways, early on, you’re all-in. Playing to win, you’re taking risks, learning, experimenting, making adjustments, and going again.
And, as the decades pass, you encounter opposition and criticism from intransigent resisters, who — somehow – got themselves into positions of power. You’ve taken many punches along the way, maybe survived (or not) a congregational vote-of-confidence, and been disillusioned by the heartlessness of Christians more than once. As a result you’ve set your sights lower, become more passive, and less aggressive in pursuing what you once knew God wants the Church to become.
You’re less disturbed by the status quo, less willing to endure the rigor to provoke maturity in your people, and far less likely to face down those who are both influential and immature. You’re no longer gripped, as you once were, to bring deep, God-glorifying, fundamental change to the church you serve.
Called to a new pastorate, you find your footing, being careful not to lose the opportunity to serve here. Then, you begin to stretch yourself, your elders, and your congregation to take new ground, declare and achieve goals, and pursue a future worth having. And yet, over time, your enthusiasm to take on that obstinate trustee wanes. You capitulate, opting for peace — even if it means your people stagnate spiritually.
So, as a coach to pastors, my privilege is to invite you back in. Back in to win.
You stand in your pulpit, amid the congregation, and with admirers and detractors alike, clearly self-differentiated. You’re vigilant to seize opportunities to provoke your members toward maturity in Christ… maturity of character.
The ministry you’re doing becomes increasingly focused on equipping saints to minister on Christ’s behalf. As a result, church members are engaged with the un-churched all over town. Skeptics, once hurt by the Church, are reconsidering their dismissal of the Gospel. Marriages are being strengthened. Hopelessness is being banished. People far from the church are coming to Christ.
Over time, the culture in your community is changing.
Crime is down.
Caring is up.
Love is on display.
This is playing to win.
Coaching Distinctions #21
This is the 19th entry in a series on Coaching Distinctions. I’m inviting you into some of the strategies and perspectives I employ as I champion my clients to achieve extraordinary results—not just while we’re working together, but for the rest of their lives.
As a coach, I’m not in the help-you-solve-your-problems business. Nope.
I’m in the people-development business.
I’m here to support you to transform your capacity to address problems, opportunities, and challenges in increasingly effective and satisfying ways. Our coaching relationship may last a few months or a few years. My commitment is to be with you in such a way that, decades later, you’re a fundamentally different person, inside your own skin.
That’s the people-development game.
I’m in this game for exactly one reason: it’s what I think Jesus was doing.
Consider Peter, the impulsive, mercurial, hot-headed, flip-flopping, ESFP.
Pete and a few others are out in a boat, caught in a frightening squall. Terrified already, they think they see a “ghost” not far away. What’s crazy, it is walking on the water. Eventually, they recognize that it’s Jesus out there on the angry sea.
With characteristically little forethought, Peter blurts out something akin to: “Hey, Jesus, lemme do that!!”
In an instant, he’s over the rail, taking one step and then another on top of the… wa… wat… water? Soon as it registers in Pete’s brain that he can’t be doing what he is doing…his focus shifts from Jesus to the furious sea and he’s down for the count.
Except, he’s not.
Jesus takes hold of Pete’s hand and he’s safely back in the boat—just in time for a tongue-lashing from the Savior: “Why, Peter, did you doubt?”
See, I don’t think Jesus cared whether Pete got five steps or five miles out on the water. Jesus was supporting the transformation of Peter’s capacity to stand and trust God in the midst of impossible odds, for the rest of his lifetime.
Think about it.
If that had been you, in the years that followed, how many times would you go back over the events of those few moments in your mind? “Let’s see, he said ‘Come’, so I put one foot over the side, slid my butt across the deck and then I stood up on the water. Right away I started walking… my feet were wet, but that was it. Let’s see, I took, um, maybe four or five steps before I started to freak out. Yeah, five steps. Maybe a couple more! How ‘bout that? It wasn’t impossible.”
This morning, my daily bible reading was Acts 1. Do you notice who stood up amid the 120 and, recalling David’s words, led the other apostles to fill Judas’ spot? The same guy who, a chapter later, boldly addressed an enormous crowd while it was accusing them of being reprobate drunks.
Where’d he get the confidence to stand like that? Off the bag at first, out on the water.
Coaching Distinctions #19
How do you steal second base?
To progress to any goal, you’ve got to give up where you’ve been. As long as you’re all right with where you’ve been, you’re not likely to pay the price to move into the unknown and on to your goal.
Let’s be specific:
Until you’re willing to give up the marriage you have, you won’t get the one you want. I’m not suggesting divorce. This invitation is to give up the way you’re in your marriage and be in it in a whole new way.
Until you’re willing to give up the barely-get-by finances you’re accustomed to, your net worth won’t improve. Not much.
Until you’re willing to give up the pastorate you have now, it won’t be radically different—the way your heart longs for it to be.
See, you can only control yourself.
So, if you want to change your church, your marriage, or your finances, you get to change you. And, changing you is so costly it’ll only happen it if you’ve abandoned all hope of getting where you want without having to change.
My CRM teammate, David Zimmerman loves this from Robert Quinn: “If you want to do something you’ve never done before, you must become the person you’ve never been before.”
Change, on this level requires risk. Leading off only works when you lead off far enough to be thrown out.
Far enough to be in danger.
Change is a dangerous game. It’s especially dangerous to your comfort. And, comfort, most of all, is what keeps our feet planted firmly on first. And you can’t steal second from there.
Making significant change—particularly the kind that undermines what’s become habitual– demands that you over-ride the “auto pilot” inside you. For many of us. the programming of your auto pilot began in childhood, was beta tested in your teen years, and then became codified in the early decades of adulthood. By the time you pass your 40’s the auto-pilot is engaged most of the time.
New client sales call? Auto-pilot.
Good Friday Service? Auto-pilot.
Mother-in-law’s visit? Auto-pilot.
Staff meeting? Auto-pilot.
Budget “discussion” with the husband? Auto-pilot.
Car shopping? Auto-pilot.
Weekend with the kids? Auto-pilot.
Stealing second, from the safety of first, can’t be done on auto-pilot.
— deliberately —
out into danger and away from all that’s familiar, predictable, safe, and comfortable.
The first thing every base-running instruction says is you have to lead off.
Your foot off the bag.
You lead off. And when you do, you’re no longer on first … and you’re a long way from second.
And, in this condition you can be thrown out.
There’s a risk to leading off and there’s no other way to steal second.
In life, like in baseball, you have to give up what you have in order to have something new—in order to have a chance to get there! And, giving up what you have, what’s familiar, predictable, anticipatable, even strangely comfortable involves risk. Trust. And the very real possibility of loss.
In a church culture that more and more is oriented around safety and security and avoiding loss, leading off seems so strange.
But, is it?
Imagine the Book of Acts if the saints were unwilling to risk, to lead off.
In the upper room they’d not take the initiative to replace Judas with Matthias. “But, wait a minute, only Jesus chooses apostles.” Standing on first, they couldn’t possibly attempt something new.
“Who does Peter think he is to address this huge crowd on Pentecost? No talking! We were specifically instructed to pray.” Willing to lead off, Peter stood up. The eleven followed his lead… and thousands came to Christ on that day.
Did you notice?
Many of us revere the church we read about in the Book of Acts. That book is full of leaps, risks, and doing things for the very first time. Consider just three chapters:
Healing the crippled man [3:7]
Calling the onlookers to repent [3:19]
Boldness and courage before the Sanhedrin [4:20]
Praying for even greater boldness and the power to heal [4:29-30]
Sharing wealth [4:32]
Disciplining Sapphira [5:9]
Public healings [5:15]
Obeying the directive of an angel [5:21]
Proclaiming the good news everywhere [5:42].
When you read this, it’s easy to overlook the fact that each of these was a brand new experience for them. There was no precedent. No rulebook to follow. No polity. No Book of Order.
God intended us to be people willing to do anything to obey. To follow Jesus. To respond to the Holy Spirit’s leading. To advance Christ’s Kingdom wherever we go.
That’s the pedigree of the early church.
A church of action.
A church in motion.
A church characterized by risk.
See, you can’t steal second, while standing on first.
Coaching Distinctions #17
Imagine the impact on the United States if Christians here were known – first of all — for being people of action.
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?
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.
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.
Coaching Distinctions #15
Imagine the impact on the United States if Christians here were known – first of all — for being people of action.
If we were regarded as people who leap when there’s an opportunity to help others.
People who jump at the chance to undermine injustice?
Those who are swift to relieve suffering?
What if Christians were known for bravery?
And for personal integrity in doing the kinds of things Jesus did?
What if we were vigilant in our intolerance of hypocrisy, dishonesty, and favoritism—especially in ourselves, and then, in society as a whole?
Christianity, for many, has been boiled down to an intellectual acceptance of religious premises. It’s been reduced to a fairly flimsy apprehension of select promises—while we disregard many other promises that deal with obedience, sacrifice, and judgment.
What’s become of the confidence of the early church that Christ – through us – will change the very fabric of society? “…if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors…” [2 Cor 5:17-20a]
What has become of our embodying the hope of the world? “…God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” [Col 1:27b]
Or, being the light of the world? “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” [Mt 5:14-16].
Or just being light? “No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, so that those who come in may see the light.” [Lk 11:33]
Maybe it’s that the Protestant Reformation was so intertwined with the Renaissance that we’ve become transfixed on defining the Christian faith intellectually, cerebrally, and propositionally.
What if we committed to be the change Christ promised to make in the world?
Coaching Distinctions #13
Last time, I introduced the phrase: Throw your body into the middle of the room and see what God does with it. Let me clarify.
Trouble is, often life’s reality won’t give you the luxury of opting out. Action is required—and it’s the last thing you want to do.
So, while my brain is screaming: “Stop!” “Wait!” “Protect yourself.” “Stay safe.” another option appears: Kirk, throw your body into the middle of the room…
Trust God and leap into the chaos.
I imagine myself picking my body up and – literally – heaving it into the midst of whatever it is that has stymied my brain. It’s a decision of my will – my heart – overriding the cautioning calculations of my head.
Once I’m there, in the middle of all that mess, God seems to show up. Options appear. Resources seem to arise. And, maybe best of all, I’m 100% alive and awake looking for God to step in.
Driving home from work, I come upon an accident. It’s just occurred. Broken glass, twisted metal, a stunned, vulnerable fellow amid the wreckage. I leap toward his car… An hour later the police have left. He and I are talking about Jesus who has preserved this young man’s life… I’ve thrown myself into the middle of the room.
We’re in Washington, DC touring with our young sons. The hotel room phone rings and I learn that my brother Glen, on a short-term mission trip in Irian Jaya, is dead. Malaria. We didn’t even know he’d been sick…
Without hesitation, I book a flight to tell my sister and parents the horrible, terrible news. They must hear it in person. I am the one to tell them. I throw myself into the middle of the room, trusting that God will be there in the brutal, painful hours that must follow.
Our word crisis comes from the Greek. It means “to decide”. In moments of crisis you are thrust into conditions where you must decide—right away. To hesitate is to decide. Not to decide is a decision. Each has repercussions.
All through life you are training yourself, preparing yourself for an uncertain future.
It can be no other way.
Practice throwing yourself into the middle of the room. The more you do, the more effective you’ll be when you don’t have the luxury to sit and wonder and weigh and ponder.
A while back I was training in an evocative character development ministry. Central to my struggle — in that training process and in life—was my reluctance to move, to leap into action, before I fully knew what to do. And, more importantly, if it would turn out. I’d trained myself to make plans, and back-up plans, and sometimes, plans to back-up the back-up plans.
The night of my conversion to Christian faith on the Baker Library lawn, I discovered that my penchant was borne of the unwillingness to trust God with my life and the most important parts of it. At that moment, I knew it was really important to God. The surrender that accompanied my conversion was deep and thorough and whole-hearted.
A bunch of it didn’t last.
Years later, in the midst of that deep character work, I was challenged to consider how much our culture loves to analyze, to assess, and to reflect. We in the Church have just about perfected the art— reducing a vibrant, adventuresome life following Jesus to sitting, listening, learning, pondering, evaluating, judging, and isolating ourselves with those who most closely have reached the same conclusions. Christianity isn’t so much a way of being in life as a series of ideas and ideals we agree with. Sad.
Friends in that ministry who I respect and trust challenged me to throw my body into the middle of the room and see what God does with it.
To do whaaaat?
The “middle of the room” is where the action is. It’s where the messiness is. It’s where God’s provision is needed most.
When uncertainty invites me to stop and study and analyze and consider and hedge my bets – I stop moving. Ceasing to move had become a way of life. As I’ve aged, life’s become more intricate, interwoven. As my career advanced, the challenges have become more pernicious. As my children have grown, so has the complexity of their difficulties. All this entices me to stop, to evaluate, to assess … to not take action.
What about you?
Life is meant to be lived in action. When you’re in motion, learning accelerates. Discoveries come quickly. Feedback is instantaneous. Mid-course corrections yield immediate results. The provision of God that you are is added to the mix. As you engage, trusting God, divine resources appear—sometimes through you, sometimes not. Often, they surprise everyone.
When I don’t know what to do, the last place I wanted to be was the middle of the room. Funny thing is, that’s exactly where God’s waiting to meet me. My friend, Dan Tocchini told me: if I will give all that I am, God will make up whatever I lack.
I’ve found this true too many times to doubt it.
What about you?