I and Who? (part one)


87 flight attendant The flight attendant’s passed my row a few times though still early in the flight. I cannot tell you her name, if she has children, or how long she’s been with American. I cannot even tell you the color of her hair. 


I’ve not regarded her as human. 

She is “Flight Attendant”. One who instructs the emergency row dwellers (eight rows ahead), dispenses regreshments, peddles boxed snacks, and – I suppose – provides aid in the event of various emergencies.

87 MadelineTo me, she’s not Madeline, mother of Deirdre and Paul. She is not a struggling widow, living in New Hampshire, who dead heads to DFW every workday. I don’t know that she lost her husband to an IED in Afghanistan and, because of a bureaucratic snafu, hasn’t received her survivor benefits, leaving her without his income and his pension.

I do not know this because Madeline, to me, is an “it”. 

In my life there are thousands of encounters with “it’s”— people with amazing stories who, in the name of effiency, I have reduced to their functional equivalent.

Flight Attendant.

Yet, I know every human being is perfectly and wonderfully made.[Psa 139:14] Each is uniquely created in God’s image [Gen 1:27], and each is an opportunity for the Kingdom of God to engage very real needs of those for whom Christ died.

Ever been unnerved by a book?87 Buber


Martin Buber’s I and Thou has been so unsettling as to compel a profound examination of my heart, character, and way of life.

God changed me.


87 shallowBuber’s thesis is that rarely do humans encounter one another fully, thoroughly. As a “Thou”.

Commonly, our interractions are cursory, shallow exchanges of niceties and information, facts, feelings, opinions, and doings-on. Safe and riskless, Buber calls this: “I and You”.

I’ve not delved deeply into who you are as a fully-orbed human being, one in whom God is working in marvelous ways and someone on who’s neck Christ’s satan has a boot. To encounter you in this way takes risk, curiosity, patience, and trust.

Relationship is investment.

Invest little and the relationship will be insubstantial.

Invest considerably and the connection can be vast, prodigious, precious. An “I and Thou” relationship won’t be simple, easy, or inexpensive. Your heart will become engaged, at stake for the other. Yours will soar with her successes and suffer at her sorrows…and you’ll sit—undone—in the ambiguity of what’s disorderly and unresolved in her life.

“I and Thou”.

By the way “Madeline” is Stephaine. A brunette, she lives in Cowan Heights and has a stepdaughter who’s studying at the University of South Carolina.



Coaching Distinctions #87


To Be or… (part two)


84 To BeLast time I introduced the paradigm BE>DO>HAVE. It stands in stunning contrast with the prevailing cultural view: DO>HAVE>BE.

If you make the shift from




your relationship with doing will be transformed, freeing you to greater effectiveness and satisfaction in life and ministry.


’Cause you’re the best “you” there’ll ever be.

Ephesians 2:10 is clear: You are God’s poema, God’s one-of-a-kind work of art, created in Christ to bring a unique brand of good that’s perfectly yours.

Your impact.

Your fragrance.

Your gift. 

84 giftIt’s your gift to the corner of the world you’ve been given to. Where you have influence. Your family, your neighbors, golfing buddies, college friends, your department at work, parents at your daughter’s preschool.

Believe it or not, you are God’s gift to them.

To love them. To care about them. To represent Jesus in the most simple, natural, authentic ways.

In Christ, you have tremendous freedom to be the you God’s been shaping you to be all your life. It’s not about doing things so you can accumulate the wherewithal to finally be who you aspire to become. It’s simply being who you are. All-in, no holds barred, for the glory of God.

My friend Jean is good at a lot: coach, trainer, business consultant, strategist, communicator. Actually, she’s great at most of these. But when she encounters troubled teens she’s world-class. Maybe the difficulty of her own youth prepped her for this. I don’t know. All I know is when she’s working a room of belligerent, angry, jaded young people something amazing happens. And, it happens almost all the time.

Kids discover their hearts. They encounter God’s love in breathtakingly powerful ways that often produce reconciliation with the parents and family they’d been so disappointed by. When Jean’s in the muck and mire of the shattered pieces of these young lives God’s pleasure in on her. She’s fully alive. The results are dramatic. BE>DO>HAVE

84 boltWhen British sprinter Eric Liddell, in the movie Chariots of Fire, says that God “made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure” he describes this. Eric is a sprinter. So are Justin Gatlin and Usain Bolt. Sprinters can’t help but run.


They don’t run in order to be sprinters. They are sprinters, therefor they run.

My pal Rich is a ‘car guy’. Before he could drive he was tinkering in his parent’s garage with a dune buggy, then a Mustang, a Corvair, and God knows what else. And that was High School. Today, he restores Alfa Romeos. He’s great at it. It’s not work for him. It’s love. 84 alfa

For Rich, working on cars is natural, obvious, fulfilling. A reflection of who he is. As a car guy he does what comes naturally.  As a result, he has what an Alfa-loving car guy has.







Coaching Distinctions #84.doc


The Architect (part six)


This series covers themes common to my coaching work with pastors, church planters, and Christian influencers.

81 Architect

This sixth installment underscores the truth that you are the co-architect of all your relationships.

And, you’re the sole architect of the way you are in each one.

Consider the New Testament’s Saul: a fanatical, brutal intimidator of Jews who’ve converted to Christianity. He’s a champion, prominent among the Pharisees—the most committed adherents to Judaism.

In Acts 7, though a young man, Saul is superintending the stoning murder of Stephen after he’s pulled from the Sanhedrin. Acts 8 reveals Saul “destroying the Church”, dragging Christians from their homes to prison. As Acts 9 opens he’s “breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples”. Saul obtains approval from Damascene synagogue leaders to kidnap converts to Christ, transport them 700 miles to Jerusalem, and imprison them there. So menacing is his reputation that Ananias begs God to not send him to pray for the restoration of Saul’s sight. 

81 DamascusImmediately after his conversion, Saul, by himself, begins the most radical re-architecting of relationship with both Christians and Jews. In verse 20 he “spent several days with” the believers he’d been committed to destroy. He returns to synagogue, not as their favorite son, but preaching the supremacy of Christ. He’s so effective that the Jews conspire to kill him. At the same time, Saul has so thoroughly re-architected his relationship with the Damascene Christians that he has “followers”. They help him escape the city by night.

Arriving in Jerusalem, Christ’s new champion is rebuffed by the leading disciples. They’re skeptical of his alleged conversion. Befriending Barnabas, Saul begins reinventing his relationship with Jerusalem believers and the Jews who will, in short order, want him dead.

Your estrangement from your spouse, child, or parent might, like Saul’s, have been years in the making. You may have caused harm by things you said or failed to say, by actions you took or failed to take, and by attitudes you embraced and failed to relinquish when you knew better.

Look, your past is indefensible. Mine too.


81 oopsWe’ve done what we did. We’ve said what we said. We’ve failed—all of us—many times, in many ways.


Yet, life is always lived from now on.

Up ‘til now, maybe you’ve been a coward. Self-consumed. Unforgiving. Tightfisted with tenderness. Effusive with criticism. Bound by fear. Immersed in acrimony.

None of that decides how you’ll live the rest of your days.

You do.

Right now.

Years later, this same Saul is so dearly loved by Christian leaders nearby that they embrace him with kisses, grieving his departure. [Acts 20:37]


Coaching Distinctions #81.doc

The Architect (part five)


Many years ago I attended a faith conference featuring a pair of prominent Christian ministers. In a stunningly vulnerable disclosure, one of the keynote speakers confessed to the other—before the shocked audience—that he’d only loved the man conditionally. In tears, he admitted his fondness and esteem for his colleague was always dependent on the man’s performance professionally and religiously.

His repentance was so thorough, sincere, and heart-felt.

It unnerved me.

80 family 1985We who attended that conference were, at the time, invested in an exceptionally legalistic approach to our faith. I subscribed to a mind-numbing list of acceptable and prohibited activities and disciplines to keep me on the straight and narrow—on good terms with God.

Or so I thought.

Punctilious as an ancient Pharisee, I examined myself and my friends scrupulously, ceaselessly, suspiciously.  Intolerant of capitulation, I zealously severed long friendships in response to minor deviations from the code. 80 amish mafia

You’d have to watch the folks in the background of Amish Mafia to understand the extent our little religious community went to secure compliance and conformity.

So, this admission was unnerving. In one bold, courageous step he sought to re-architect his relationship with the other speaker—and begin to re-architect the way our whole community did relationship.

I don’t remember anything after the confession. In that crowded ballroom I was anchored to my chair, memories about my marriage scrolling through my mind.  Soon as it ended I took Annie up to our hotel room. On my knees I confessed that I’d loved her only conditionally. I had pressured her to comply with my set of rules. In the process, I’d withheld my heart from her.

I promised this: “I will love you with all of my heart for all of my life whether or not you change in any way. I will never again withhold my heart from you.”

In those moments, I re-architected my marriage. Actually, I re-architected the way I was in it from that day forward.

Her reply: “Yeah, sure. I’ll believe it when I see it!”

From the moment of that declaration, I re-architected my role as husband to live in conformity with my promise.

“Promise” comes from the Latin promittere meaning “to send forth”. When I promise I send myself into the future in conformity with that declaration.

80 K&A nowOver the months and years that followed just about everything about the way I was with Annie was re-architected for the better. And, in time, our marriage changed fundamentally, completely.

Releasing my wife to be the woman she chose to be, and embracing her as God’s gift to me provided freedom. In that freedom Annie chose to be what had always been in her heart.

Wow, am I glad!






Coaching Distinctions #80.doc

The Architect (part four)


You are co-architect of all your relationships. Because you are, you 79 architectcan redesign every one. And, though you can’t choose what anyone else will do, you have 100% freedom to change the way you are in it.

Therein lies the rub. Most of us would agree to re-architect our role in the relationship as long as you’ll re-architect yours.  Oh, and by the way, you go first.

Unwilling to be duped yet again, I’ve decided it prudent to withhold my participation until you go first!  And, when you don’t, another offense is tossed onto the pile. And, I get to be right about you again.

I get to be “right” about how “wrong” you are.

And so the marriage dies. The staff dynamics die. Our small group dies. A once-happy home dies.

79 nailMaybe you remember the rhyme:

For want of a nail the shoe was lost;

For want of a shoe the horse was lost;

For want of a horse the battle was lost;

For the failure of battle the kingdom was lost.


Because of our unwillingness to redesign the way we are being, many, many relationships are lost.

79 broken heartHomes wrecked.

Churches split.

Moves of God undermined.

Kingdom advances stalled.


Must break God’s heart.


If you let it break yours … you’ll discover that you are a willing and capable architect in all the relationships that matter.




Coaching Distinctions #79.doc

The Architect (part three)


78 divorcedEver sat with a person headed for divorce? Long before the ‘D word’ was uttered, the marriage was over.

Long over.

It happens much the same way every time. “Spouse A” takes offense at something said or done, or unsaid or undone by “Spouse B”.

“A” pulls back, subtly shifting the architecture of the relationship.

Noticing, “B” responds.

And this changes the architecture some more.

As “A” discovers more offenses “A” shifts further away from intimacy with “B”.  “Spouse B” notices.

More distance.

More offenses.

More isolation.

Coolness becomes coldness … which becomes an arctic winter. And, when the permafrost becomes unbearable, one or the other demands a divorce.

All along the way, the two have been re-architecting the relationship. They could choose a wholly different path, with the restoration of intimacy as the finished work. To have this though, they’ll need a whole new marriage.

After the offense, the marriage can’t simply go back to what they once had.78 gravestone

The old marriage has to die.

Or rather, be put down.

And then, a completely new marriage can emerge. A new marriage founded on forgiveness, agape (self-giving love), honesty, compassion, searching for common ground, openness, and celebrating the best in your spouse.

I assert that all successful marriages undergo this death-and-rebirth process. Some marriages do this multiple times.

78 staffOr, let’s say relationship dynamics on your staff have become toxic. People tiptoe around combustible topics. Sometimes they tiptoe around you.

Lots of important conversations never happen.  A shallowness that defies the work we’re in has taken over. Rarely does anyone share from the heart—except privately.

Alliances dominate the landscape. Two here. Three there. Junior staff vs. senior staff. Operations team vs. pastoral team.

You may not be able to describe it exactly, but you can feel it.

And it feels wholly ungodly.

You are a co-architect of all your relationships. As such, you can redesign every one.

Every one.

And, while you can’t choose how anyone else will respond, God’s given you 100% freedom to change your way of being. The way you are in it.78 trust

Yes, you’ll get to trust God in ways you haven’t.

You’ll get to experience Christ as your comfort, your anchor, your shelter, and your strength. He will get to prove to you how incredibly trustworthy he is. You’ll learn how central to the Christian life this kind of trust is.

Always has been.


Coaching Distinctions #78.doc

The Architect (part two)


77 plansYOU are the architect of all your relationships! Said another way, you are the architect of the way you are in all your relationships.

If not you, then who?

With your husband, you’re often demanding and distempered. With the company CFO, you are unsure and timid. With your siblings, you’re more withdrawn and brooding. With your college friends, you’re affable and light hearted. And with your children, you’re somber and serious.

Inventory your relationships and you’re likely to see variations in your predominant mood, style, and demeanor. Think of it as your way of being. You may not be as mercurial as I’ve illustrated above, but you will definitely discover differences, however slight, in your way of being.

And, this is very good news.77 wright

It shows that you have “architected” the way you show up in the world. And, because you have, you can re-architect your way of being in any relationship.

See, every relationship is governed by unwritten rules. Rarely spoken.

Think of them as alliances: you’ll treat me this way, and I’ll treat you that way. I’ll never mention this in your life, and you’ll overlook that in mine. We’ll cross this boundary together and no one will ever know!

They’re conspiracies, actually.

It’s how the mothers of horrible men continue to embrace their sons and the wives of notorious philanderers continue to stand by their men. Sadly, it’s also the way many of us are in our relationships. We conspire together to overlook specific flaws of character, inconsistencies in behavior, compromises to integrity, illicit alliances.  Often, these start small…and they GROW.

By the time you’re engineering a Benghazi-sized cover-up or London Whale sized securities fraud you’ve been coloring outside the lines for years.

Decades. 77 house of cards

Seen the fabulous drama series House of Cards?

I’m convinced the backroom cloak-and-dagger dealings—devoid of any concern for what’s right, honorable, or in the best interest of the nation they feign to serve—is the way-of-being for professional politicos.

While we’ve grown to accept this from our politicians, how tragic when it commandeers churches and denominations.

Since life is always lived from now on, you can choose at any time to change the way you’re in whatever you’re in. And, unless it’s the mob, a drug cartel, or the government, you’ve a good chance of surviving with both your integrity and your life.

Sure, you’ll have a lot of explaining to do. But, coming clean is great for the soul … and the soul of your relationships.

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”   1 John 1:7


Coaching Distinctions #77.doc

The Audition Delusion (part four)


73 listenI’ve been inviting you to consider how you listen…and to what you listen most often. I assert that, without intentional discipline, you’re listening to your internal dialog—the voice inside your head—and not to the one you’re with.

I call that voice “The Competitor because it so adequately describes the challenge you face as a listener: your internal dialog is competing for your attention with the person you think you’re listening to. The Competitor takes many roles: analyst, protagonist, antagonist, and defense attorney, to name a few.

All your life, you’ve been training yourself in the ways The Competitor functions…and to the degree that you indulge The Competitor.

Because you’re human, you have “hot button” topics that always activate The Competitor.



Your worth.

A secret you labor to keep hidden…

73 angerOr, strong emotions—anger, blame, rage, judgment, fear, grief—directed at you may be what provokes The Competitor into action.

Soon as these topics or emotions arise you stop listening to anything but The Competitor.

The only way out is to strong-arm The Competitor into submission.

Once you’ve interrupted your internal dialog, it’s essential to tell on yourself: explain that you distracted yourself and missed the last several sentences. What that person has to say is important to you. Ask her to back up and go again.

This time, rivet your attention on every word, as best you can. Make yourself hear what she’s saying. Each time The Competitor gets in the way, interrupt it. Tell on yourself. Ask the person to go again. 73 cementCement your focus on her words.

It’s tempting to pretend you’ve been following the conversation all along. But, you’ve missed essential information. Maybe a lot of it.

Pretending you’ve heard what you haven’t introduces deception that breeds misunderstanding. This produces distance and isolation you don’t want.

Do you?

So, slow and clumsy as this process is, it keeps you both in one conversation, not several. Admitting that you’ve not been listening and that you want to actually honors the one you’re with.

Difficult as it is, you want to get this right.

You really, really want to hear her.

Because you care. 

Don’t you?



Coaching distinctions #73.doc

The Audition Delusion (part two)


71 argumentThe first delusion of audition (i.e. listening) is this: most of the time, you are listening to what you’re saying inside your head…and not to the person you think you’re hearing.

It’s a delusion to think I’m hearing you when, in fact, I’m listening to my own commentary on whatever it is I may think you’re saying.

How many times have you been in an argument with someone and discovered that the messages became so garbled it was impossible to comprehend one another?

You walked away wondering if you were having two conversations, not one…

Unless both of you have trained yourselves in the rigor of generous listening, it’s almost impossible to have had the same conversation. And this is the second audition delusion: especially in emotionally-charged situations, you two are having separate (and private) conversations.

You each are reacting to the private conversation inside your heads—conversations the other person cannot hear! That’s a significant source of the misunderstandings that so commonly accompany relational breakdowns.

I learned this when being trained to conduct character development workshops, which today are offered by Reinvent Ministries [http://www.reinventministries.org] and Gap Community [http://gapcommunity.com]. I commend them to you.

Think of the voice inside your head as “The Competitor”.

It’s locked in a fierce competition the one you think you’re listening to.

71 pretendImagine this: After an unusually challenging day, your spouse greets you with the words: “I’m very upset about…” and recites a recurring grievance about you.

Instantly, your brain says: “Oh, no!
Not now.
Not today.
Not this again…”

And while your mate is talking your head is nodding the way it does when you pretend to be listening and you’re not.

Automatically you’re thinking about your spouse’ inconsistencies, or loop holes where the accusation wasn’t true, or the pattern of complaints that seem to dog your marriage…maybe, at that moment, you recall the voice of a critical parent or sibling from your childhood…

The Competitor has taken you down!

71 nuclearWhat happens next is a familiar but bewildering outburst of words and emotions that always ends badly for both of you.

When the nuclear dust settles you recall having said things you regret (things you don’t actually believe) and you have great difficulty recalling, in detail, what the fight was really about.

You were having separate conversations.

It happens all the time.

Doesn’t it?




                      Coaching distinctions #71.doc

Impact, not Intention (part three)


When things go wrong, attend to your impact, not your intention.

The key is managing yourself. In my work coaching pastors we refer to this as “self leadership”. 60 MikulakIt’s among the most important disciplines for any leader to master.

Paul said: “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I … make [my body] my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified…” [I Cor 9:25-27]

‘Mastering your own self’ is, I think, Paul meaning. And, while it certainly includes the mastery of your physical being, 61 disciplinethe “self leadership” most necessary has to do with mastering your thinking and emotions.

The failure of Christian leaders to govern their emotions and thoughts has led to the greatest Kingdom-undermining catastrophes in Church history.

When you intended something good to come from a decision that, instead, caused injury or hurt, your impulse will be to defend yourself based on your good intentions.

That, my friend, is all about you. 

Defending your intentions always fails to produce reconciliation because it leaves the injury—and the injured person—unaddressed.

To interrupt the self-serving autopilot that runs in every human, capture your thoughts in real time. I’ll often say to myself: “OK, Kirk. We’re not having that conversation. We’re having this one.” Then I re-frame the scenario to address my impact without reference to the supposed nobility of my intentions. It’s amazing how rapidly you can move toward reconciliation when you’re not at all interested in defending yourself. 

I get to choose what I think about and what I think about it.

So do you.

You have your thoughts.

If not you, then who?

Also, to attend to your impact, you’ll choose to take captive your emotions. A mentor told me: “Kirk, you can have your emotions, or your emotions will have you.” 60 gethsemane

He then pointed to Jesus’ example in Gethsemane. Wresting with his impending crucifixion, he was in intense emotional agony. Yet, he subordinated his feelings to his commitment to put his Father’s will first.

Jesus had his feelings—all of them.

They didn’t have him.





Coaching distinctions #61.doc

Go to Top