Squared off to Bunt (part five)


In these five entries, I’m highlighting the likelihood that you, pastor, are “squared off to bunt” in your ministry and life.53 bunt

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.

Let’s be clear: Minister, your central role is not to care for your people. It is to grow them to maturity in Christ.53 Infantilized

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.

Do you?

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?

53 Gibson 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

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

Which Will? (part five)


You don’t hear much about one’s will in preaching these days.  There’s plenty about God’s love, God’s mercy, and how God thinks each of us is so very wonderful. There’s lots about our allowing God to do this or that— be the center, be in charge, be on the throne, take my life, let it be this or that for Thee.

46 waitingListening to all of this, it’s easy to get the idea that the Christian life is lived passively. The inference is that you just sit and wait, yielded and surrendered until God decides to act upon your life … then suddenly, you do great things for God.

In my observation, people pretty much do what they’ve trained themselves to do. If you’ve trained yourself to live your faith passively, you’re not likely to spring into action when God makes an opening that requires fast obedience and involves risk.

When we sing “Lord take my life and let it be fully pleasing unto thee” I imagine God asking us: “Well, what do you want?

Do you want your life to please God?

Then, tell your boyfriend you’ll sleep with him when he marries you. Not again ‘till then.

Insist that your employer pays you “above the table”.

Gather some friends and help someone who’s needy.  Keep doing it until they ask you why.

Each is an action.

It requires your will to do it.

To drift through the years, living an indistinctive life also takes your will. The will to live like everyone else.

Your friends.

Your comfort.

Your routine.

Your stuff is paramount.

All this, Martin Buber calls our “little will”. He says it’s “ruled by things and drives”. Like our emotions and preferences. The little will never accomplishes anything great.

46 sandAnd, in the US in this hour, so pitifully little seems to be getting done that honors Christ and blesses those outside the Church, that we’d be wise to engage our “great wills” and get after it.

If not, I fear Christianity could be within a few decades of extinction.

Recently I heard an interview with the founder of a Freedom from Religion group. Their purpose is to educate the United States in “nontheism” –ridding society of all worship. 46 GodlessHe relished the amazing progress of their cause in the US and points to Scandinavia where he said fewer than 4% have any religious faith.

A secular utopia.

You can bet this man’s will is fully engaged in its pursuit.

Where’s yours?

Coaching distinctions #46.doc

The Meaning we Make Up (part seven)


We’re almost thirty entries into this series examining distinctions I regularly use when coaching pastors and Christian leaders. This is the seventh of eight blogs focused on the very common—and debilitating—human drive to have life make sense…even when it doesn’t.

So, when the events of life don’t make sense, we invent our own meaning and hold it as true, even when it contradicts scripture. 

For the last six segments I’ve invited you to suspend the practice of attaching a meaning to yourself, others, and life’s experiences.  Now, I want to contradict myself—sort of.

In the Bible it’s clear: God is sovereign and loving.

And, God speaks. I believe it and I believe God has spoken to me. I can also attest that when my circumstances have been most challenging, confusing, and confounding God has often been silent.

In those moments when I most ardently demanded that God explain things to me—God was silent.  

Oftentimes, later I learned valuable insights that helped me understand some of what God intended by allowing me to experience what occurred. The fourth chapter of Ephesians provides an invaluable frame through which to understand God’s priority for you and me: that we “become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” [Eph 4:13b]

See, God wants us to grow up before we grow old.

Christ-likeness is God’s aim for you and me. And, God will shape the events of your life to assist your growth toward maturity in Christ, if you’ll submit to its rigor. And, that choice is always yours to make.

Usually “submitting to its rigor” means faithfully trusting when it looks like you’re completely on your own. 

A second perspective when life is perplexing is also found in Ephesians: “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]  

If this is true, then your life has been set up for you. Whatever comes, you get to bring your unique brand of “good” to it.  It’s what you’re created for.

There’s a calm confidence in Christ that can characterize a believer willing to interpret her life through the lens of Eph 2:10. 

So, I invite you to consider yourself the beloved child of an attentive Father who is superintending over your life: drawing you to maturity in Christ and providing opportunities for you to bring your special God-honoring goodness to those you impact.


Coaching Distinctions #28



Stealing Second (part two)


How do you steal second base? 

You give up first.

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.

You’ve got to grip the controls and force your mind, your heart, and your body

— deliberately —

out into danger and away from all that’s familiar, predictable, safe, and comfortable.

Second base!

Stealing Second (part one)


The first thing every base-running instruction says is you have to lead off.

You gotta get off of first.

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

Throwing my Body into the Middle of the Room (part two)


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.

When you’re surprised by life and find yourself frozen in uncertainty, the pervading impulse is to stop.




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.

Throwing my Body into the Middle of the Room


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?

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