This series is about coaching distinctions used with hundreds of clergy, from all corners of the church: Episcopal to Calvary Chapel, Foursquare to Presbyterian, Adventist to Nazarene. The desire or distress that brings them to hire me varies widely. But, the work we do doesn’t.
This series, now 48 entries long, illuminates distinctions that’ve been most helpful for these ministry leaders.
It’s offered to help you who coach, counsel, and shepherd the shepherds… and to support my clients, past, present, and future. Working these perspectives, postures, and practices into my own life has taken years. Many foundational beliefs and assumptions have been challenged and replaced as I’ve committed to live these distinctions. It’s required repentance—biblically normative, but increasingly rare these days.
True repentance that’s born of a broken heart.
Let me illustrate.
“Free is the man who wills without caprice… He believes in destiny and also that it needs him. It does not lead him, it waits for him. He must proceed toward it… with his whole being… He must sacrifice his little will, which is unfree and ruled by things and drives, to his great will that moves away from being determined to find destiny. The free man has only one thing: always only his resolve to proceed toward his destiny.” –Martin Buber, I and Thou
Reading this provoked an examination of the prevalence of the ‘little will’ in my motivations, choices, and actions. Sobering. But, evaluating the impact on those I love, left me undone…broken.
All was well until a hormone hurricane made landfall in our home. It seemed that invisible creatures, with diabolical intentions, had taken over our teens.
Shocked, frightened, confused, and shaken, I was suddenly “unfree”.
Vacillating between denial and fury, I was overrun by judgment and rigidity. I pined for the good old days and blamed them for their adolescence, using scripture as a bludgeon.
My ‘little will’ was in charge and my family suffered terribly.
Reading Buber, I began to wonder what they experienced living with me. Judgment. Isolation. Misunderstanding. Loneliness. Confusion. Distance. Injustice. Powerlessness. Frustration.
Pondering slowly, carefully, deeply, I allowed the devastating impact on my family to impale my heart. This slow, brutal work birthed repentance. And, it has lasted, now, for more than a decade.
If repentance has been elusive, this might serve you, too.
Coaching distinctions #48.doc
Today, we finish our discussion about creating meaning for the experiences of life, so they make sense. We humans have a pretty tough time just letting life unfold… especially when what unfolds is awful.
We want to be little “gods” reigning supreme over the affairs of our and others’ lives as if we’d been imbued with divine wisdom, consistently choose the moral high ground, and suspend self-interest when it invites us to break from principle.
But, we don’t have divine potency and still, we want to run things—and often live as if we do.
So, how do you decide what your life’s experiences mean?
Last time, I invited you to consider that, above all else, God’s intention is to grow you to maturity in Christ. [Jas 1:4] Second, that you who are in Christ, are (present tense) God’s poema: God’s masterpiece, prepared to do good in the world. [Eph 2:10]
The God of the universe claims you to be the work of his creative artistry so that good gets done through you.
To these, we add one final perspective to help you interpret life.
More common is the assumption of causality: what I get, I deserve. If something good happens, I merited it. If trouble, I earned that too.
Against these views stands Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
For those who sincerely love and follow God, in every experience of life God is working for good. This doesn’t mean everything that happens is good. It means, in the midst of it, God intends to work it out for good—specifically for your good.
When working with dozens of pastors who are my coaching clients, I challenge them to search for the good in the midst of trouble. And I coach myself this way too.
In Acts 14. Paul is in Lystra healing the sick and pointing to Christ, like a champ. Next thing you know, he gets beaten within an inch of his life! The cultural assumption is that Paul blew it. He did something to provoke that attack.
Yet, you don’t see Paul collapsing in a puddle of tears. He doesn’t give up the ministry because some mob almost killed him. He (apparently) gets prayer, then he and Barney head off to Derbe where they win a bunch of people to Christ.
Buoyed by the reality of Rom 8:28, you can face life’s setbacks with stamina in the hope that God’s at work for your good…if you choose to believe it.
Coaching Distinctions #29
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]
We all have this experience in life: what you’re doing isn’t working. Like most people, your impulse in those moments is to “double down”—to do what you’ve been doing, but do it harder, faster, more strenuously, more diligently.
And, most of the time, you end up in the same place, just more exhausted.
About a decade ago, a friend taught me: When what I’m doing isn’t working, I’ll try anything else.
Any thing else.
And, while this might make intuitive sense, we almost never do it.
In a recent coaching session, Pastor Clay lamented that his sermon prep habits left him drained, embittered, and isolated from his family. The family from whom he disappeared every Saturday morning and to whom he reappeared days later. He thrived “in the zone” with God for 48 contiguous hours. And, he’d crash so hard after Sunday night’s service he’d be nearly comatose ‘til Tuesday. Every single week.
Kirk: Great! What else have you tried?
Clay: I’ve been doing it this way as long as I’ve had a church.
Kirk: When did you first notice it wasn’t working?
Clay: The very first week.
We spent the next several minutes imagining completely new ways to organize his work week. He began developing a plan to move from the intense concentration of sermon-prep-and-ministry of the past several years to a way that wouldn’t brutalize him and those he loves. One ground rule: never again will he do the three-day disappearing act.
And many are resigned to less-than-satisfactory experiences across great swaths of life.
Einstein is credited with having said: “The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them.” What must change, is not who is thinking, but how you are thinking your solutions.
Bring to mind an area of life where you’re unhappy and don’t see a way out.
What if you’ve given yourself permission to stay right where you’re stuck?
What if you’ve unknowingly negotiated this exact situation with yourself?
What if you’re the architect of this disquieting compromise?
I invite you to ponder these questions carefully. How might they be true?
When you realize that you’re powerful enough to have chosen your way into the conundrum, it’s possible to recognize that you also have the power to get yourself out.
Determine to do what you’ve not done before. Consider all kinds of possibilities. Experiment with alternatives. As many as necessary ’til you find something that works. Stay open to being surprised.
Leadership Courage Series # 43
Notice how little risk-taking the Church does today? Other than making a bold “leap of faith” to finance a 400-seat sanctuary for the comfort and convenience of their own people, when did any church you’re aware of attempt anything great for anyone?
For what greatness are we admired in society today?
As a young believer, the Signs & Wonders and Church Growth video series by John Wimber inspired me. It challenged me to believe that God would “confirm his word by the signs that accompanied it.” [Mk 16:20] when sharing Christ with those outside the Church.
Wide-eyed, I watched people receive prayer and several being healed of various medical maladies. Soon after, Annie and I signed up to be trained in “Power Evangelism” … the adventure was on!
Within weeks of the training, several of us were in Times Square chatting with pedestrians and offering to pray with them. I’d never done anything like it before. Many entrusted themselves to Christ and even more were miraculously healed: a punctured lung, alcohol addiction, paralysis, and other conditions were remedied before my astonished eyes. What an adventure.
Returning home, fearing we might’ve left behind the ability to minister God’s power, we threw ourselves into caring for the poor in our town—bringing groceries and offering to pray for anyone about anything. People began experiencing forgiveness, freedom, restoration, and healing. Uncontrollable hemorrhaging, severe infections, cancers, spinal meningitis was healed. Each encounter was a new adventure. We were walking in brand new territory. Biblical, but new.
Someone suggested we throw a Christmas Day banquet for the homeless, the poor, and those with no place to go. Without the time or resources, we leapt at the chance. People from all over town donated turkeys, hats, coats, and mittens, the use of a commercial kitchen, and a community center to hold it in. Adventures like this invigorate everyone. It’s now an annual event—where thousands are fed, clothed, and loved.
A couple years ago, somebody decided to “blow up” Vacation Bible School– realizing that by having it at a church almost all who attended were churched kids. That first year, against all odds, “VBS” happened in almost 30 locations off the church campus in parks, garages, driveways, community centers, and back yards across Orange County.
Of the nine hundred kids who took part, more than 70% were unchurched.
Adventures like this aren’t easy, comfortable, or predictable. When you are trusting God and taking leaps for the benefit of others—especially those who are not Christian—you are “living as Jesus lived” [I Jn 2:6] Jesus, in his humanity, got to trust the Father as he took risks—with the woman at the well, Lazarus, the Gadarene, etc, etc. He lived the adventurous life.
What about you?
The seventh of nine leadership characteristics needed in the Church today: Disengage from an unreasonable faith in reasonableness.
Let me ask you: How reasonable was Jesus when confronting opposition, faithlessness, and cowardice?
Consider his arrest, in Gethsemane. Jesus is betrayed with a kiss by one of his closest confidants, an armed mob seizes him, binds him, and Peter hacks off the guy’s ear.
He’s not reasoning with his captors—he’s in the moment, training his disciples about spiritual warfare and teaching the mob about God’s sovereignty: they are powerlessness to oppose the Father’s will. Would you call this reasonable behavior, in light of Jesus’ circumstances? [Mt 26:46-57]
Thomas, I suppose, is a premier example of faithlessness. Hearing about Jesus’ appearance from the disciples, he’s unconvinced. A week later Jesus steps into the room and begins to soothe poor Thomas in his doubt and distress: “Sheesh, Tommy, I know how hard it must’ve been for you to believe these guys… here, let me give you a hug.” Reasonable, in light of the circumstances, right?
No, Jesus expected Thomas to believe. “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” [Jn 20:25-28]
Maybe most unreasonable is the Lord’s response to cowardice. The term appears only once in the New Testament:“To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” [Rev 21:6-8]
Scripture portrays the human race as engaged in a very real, very important, very high-stakes struggle between the forces of darkness — which conspire to enslave us in destruction unto death — and the power of God which offers to free us to “life that is truly life”.
Those who understood this were unreasonable women and men.
Moreover, God’s intent is that we grow into the way-of-being of God’s Son. To this end, God is continually pressing us beyond the limits of what we know, what we can do, and what we can control. So that, like his Son, we’ll trust God more and more confidently, immediately, and unwaveringly.
If you’re trying to make Christians to be people who live like Christ.
Leadership Courage Series # 28
Within a larger conversation concerning courageous leadership we’ve been examining the outworking of placing “an unreasonable faith in reasonableness” – a central tenet of much of post-Enlightenment Christendom in the West. I am indebted to Edwin Freidman’s A Failure on Nerve for illuminating this characteristic of the anxious, shallow, quick-fix orientation to leadership.
This kind of leadership is ruining the Church in North America in our time.
We’ve pointed out that when you preach what you don’t practice, the dissonance repels people – not just from your sanctuary – but from Christianity and Christ. The implications for a society are deeply profound and can infect it for generations.
See, Christianity is nothing if not a call to courage. When her leaders bow before the idol of reasonableness, a dry, humdrum philosophical religion results.
Or haven’t you noticed?
I subscribe to an excellent book reading service called Leader’s Book Summaries [www.StudyLeadership.com]. I highly recommend it. In a recent summary of David Murrow’s Why Men Hate Going to Church I learned that only one third of church attendees are men—and most of them are over 50. It’s almost impossible to find adults – of either gender — under age 30 in church.
And, the green list: Competence, power, efficiency, achievement, skills, results, accomplishment, technology, goals, success, and competition.
Which list of values are most consistent with the culture that predominates the North American Church today?
The two lists come from John Gray’s Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus and distinguish culturally “masculine” from “feminine” values.
What do you see?
In our commitment to be reasonable, among other major shifts, the Church in the west has been emasculated. Neutered. No. It’s been feminized.
The Leaders Book Summary points out that numerous studies reveal “there is widespread agreement among both the religious and the secular that to be a Christian is to embrace feminine values.”
Consider this: those most absent from church (men and young adults) value challenge over security. Again, taken from the Summary, the key values of this missing population include adventure, risk, daring, independence, variety, and reward.
Since values are revealed in behavior, not belief systems, what does your lifestyle reveal, pastor?
When the time has come to take a courageous stand, what does your behavior reveal?
- When the opportunity came to stand up to that manipulative, obstructionist power-wielding elder, what did you do?
- When you thought to lead your parish out into the city to serve and love and impact those outside your tight-knit congregation – and push-back came, as it always does – did you lead courageously or cave-in under pressure?
- When a clear biblical injunction has become as unpopular in your denomination as in the culture at large, have you censored your own voice?
- When the Holy Spirit stirred you to put your hand to the plow in pursuit of some great, challenging work for God’s glory, did the fearful complaints of the cowards prevail in the end?
As leaders, we get to champion our people to become who they always wanted to be, by taking them where they never wanted to go.
And, since life is always lived from now on, your past behavior is no predictor of the greatness you’ll accomplish before you breathe your last.
So, before you see Him face to face, what great, rewarding, daring adventure will you and your people give yourselves to?
What’ll it be?
You get to choose.
If you do, I welcome your feedback on an article just published in their Jan 16, 2011 issue, on the subject of listening and asking questions in the process of professional Christian coaching.
It’s an honest explanation of the process I try to use with every client on every call. Thank you!
Here’s the link to the article: http://christiancoachingmag.com/?p=1297
Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part ten)
Where and when did the role of Pastor become so closely associated with the characteristics of terrible leadership: anemic, people-pleasing, comfort-oriented, weakness-honoring, safety-bound, consensus-collecting, approval-seeking, distress-abating caretaking?
How did we move from the frightening judgment of Ananias and Sapphira [Ac 5], the power of God resting on Stephen at his stoning [Ac 6], and the early church leaders arrested for “turning the world upside down” [Ac 17:6] to a religious experience so predictable, routinized, and boring that men of any age, and people under the age of 40 stay away in droves?
Maybe you saw the Flo TV ad that debuted in last February’s Super Bowl.
Sports announcer Jim Nance voice-overs the sad spectacle of Jason Glasby being led around the lingerie department by his girlfriend. Nance says: “Hello, friends. We have an injury report on Jason Glasby. As you can see, his girlfriend has removed his spine, rendering him incapable of watching the game.”
I’m wondering about the injury report on the Church in North America. Who has removed our spine?
Over the last nine installments in this Leadership Courage series, five principles have been offered for pastors who find themselves leading amidst a culture of cowardice.
One: Courageous leadership is not about skill, technique, or knowledge. It is, most of all, about the presence of the leader as he or she moves through life.
Two: Take full responsibility for your own emotional being and destiny.
Three: Promote healthy differentiation within the church or system you lead.
Four: Stand, as an exemplar, in the sabotage and backlash that must come.
Five: Don’t “push on the rope”: the unmotivated are invulnerable to insight.
To this, a sixth: Re-introduce yourself to the adventurous life. Edwin Friedman, in A Failure of Nerve, observes: “What our civilization needs most is leaders with a bold sense of adventure… Our nation’s obsession with safety ignores the fact that every American alive today benefits from centuries of risk-taking by previous generations…every modern benefit from health to enjoyment to production has come about because Americans in previous generations put adventure before safety.”
Do you find incomprehensible the pathway from the behavior of the Church described in the Book of Acts and that of most any Sunday morning gathering in the US today?
How on earth did the Church get from vibrant, exciting, world overturning, status-quo challenging, Kingdom of God advancing powerhouse to predictable, regimented, backward-looking, tradition-bound, safety-dominant, repository of religious relics?
When were ministers of the Gospel transformed from courageous, God-trusting, whole-hearted, catalytic change agents to … to … well… providers of religious education and entertainment, chaplains of religious tradition, scholar-rhetoricians, and caregivers to those who claim to follow Christ?
What has become of adventure?
I’m not advocating that we risk for the thrill of it, that we put ourselves in harm’s way for the emotional rush some get when they do dangerous things, or that we behave erratically just to break up the boredom. I’m inviting you to the adventurous life for the advancement of God’s reign and rule in your community. This is not adventure for adventure’s sake. It’s returning to the biblically-normal life of risk and trust as we presence the way of Jesus in a culture more dark and desperate than any of us may fully appreciate.
The Adventurous Life
What an adventure it could be to…
trust Christ as you call people to distinctively demonstrate the way of Jesus to the world.
trust the Father as you lead your people off the church campus to love people and meet real needs right in your community.
trust the Holy Spirit as you confront sin so clearly and confidently those within your sphere of influence regain their capacity to blush. [Jer 6:15]
invite your people to take responsibility for their own well-being and destiny in Christ, serving their commitment to mature in Christ-likeness.
love your spouse so consistently and spectacularly that no one would wonder if the congregation had taken her spot in your heart.
break up whatever fallow ground there is in your own heart [Jer 4:3], to commit to love as if you’ve never been hurt [Lk 23:34], to reach to reconcile with those from whom you’re now estranged [Rom 12:18]…and do it all in full view of your congregation, so they can learn to live like Jesus from your example as well as your preaching [1 Pt 5:3].
The Adventurous Life
What might be gained were you to love that elder enough to challenge the irritating and demeaning way he engages those around him?
What benefits could accrue if you were really to challenge your people to a lifestyle of financial sacrifice until it becomes the norm? What do you think we in the Church are perpetuating when 60-80% of long-time church attendees give nothing in return for the services and benefits they receive? When fewer than ten percent of Church members actually tithe? Why, I wonder, do we take pride in attendance numbers when most of those who come contribute neither time nor money to the welfare of the community of faith, let alone the waiting and watching community outside our doors?
The Adventurous Life
If you are in the religious education and entertainment business I can understand why you’d eschew adventure and risk. But, if you’re in the people-development business, committed to make mature followers of Jesus, I’m not sure there’s any other way.
Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part six)
We’re examining what may be a unique kind of leadership—and I’m advocating that such leadership is compulsory if the Church is to provide the redemptive influence in American society that she was given, by Jesus, to bring. For fourteen segments, you’ve considered the regressive and infantile culture that I assert has become normative in the Church. For the last five, you’ve been invited to reinvent yourself as a distinctly courageous leader.
Last time, we began to consider a fourth leadership characteristic: Stand, as an exemplar, in the sabotage and backlash that must come. You were invited to recognize that, like Jesus, every leader is an exemplar.
It can be no other way.
A leader is not simply someone who gets things done or who gets other people to behave in desirable ways. A leader is different. She presences herself in life and relationships in a uniquely beneficial way. This uniqueness transcends behavior, skill, and knowledge. It can better be described in terms of being. A courageous leader’s way-of-being is distinctive. It provokes maturity in those she influences. The differences are palpable.
One difference is the way a leader is in the midst of sabotage and backlash. Fuller Professor Dr. J. Robert Clinton has identified Leadership Backlash to be one of the most common methods God uses to develop leadership character. Backlash occurs when once-enthusiastic followers turn against their leader in the face of unexpected difficulties. In A Failure of Nerve, Edwin Friedman elaborates: “Mutiny and sabotage came…from colleagues whose will was sapped by unexpected hardships along the way.” It is the leader’s person and posture amidst this collegial sabotage that is so stunningly effective.
A courageous leader recognizes how common backlash and sabotage is, and that both are the product of evacuated courage in those disheartened by difficulty. The leader interprets backlash as an opportunity to model a way of leading that inspires confidence [from the Latin, literally “with trust”] toward God, and to deepen the maturity and faithfulness of colleagues and followers. Further, this kind of leader chooses to interpret the opposition as provision from Heaven.
Consider Jesus. In John 6:66 we read that many of Jesus’ disciples turned back and no longer followed him. Immediately, Jesus turns to the twelve and asks: Don’t you want to go away as well? He saw the departure of the many as an opportunity to test the resolve of the leaders closest to him.
Embracing the reality of God’s sovereignty and apprehending the security of God’s unconditional love, she leans into the resistance with a posture of confident curiosity. “God has this!” she might remind herself while stepping toward those who, unnerved by fear, have turned against her.
Just a few verses later, Jesus is teaching in the temple courts. When those who hear him begin to applaud his brilliance, he says: “My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me. If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. He who speaks on his own does so to gain honor for himself, but he who works for the honor of the one who sent him is a man of truth…” Humility.
The leader recognizes that he is not powerful enough to have caused the upset nor the circumstances that many say upset them. Aware that each person connected to the disappointment has a contribution, he faces small temptation to assume he’s responsible for the unwelcomed turn of events. He has grounded himself in the understanding that he is not significant enough to have produced the organization’s successes nor its failures. He has a part. His colleagues have a part. The system has a part. And, factors beyond anyone’s control have also contributed to the outcome.
Rather than encouraging carelessness, the leader’s decision to interpret life this way empowers responsibility to one another and to the ministry’s mission and goals. Scapegoating, so common in an anxious, immature culture is antithetical to the stand of the leader and the developing ethos of the organization. Even when the less-mature succumb to its pull, the leader is not provoked to respond in kind.
Keeping in mind how consequential it is to shift the culture of any church, the leader has developed stamina to live into Paul’s charge in 1 Cor 16: 13-14: “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong…”.
I love the King James Version’s ancient rendering, which, I believe, has nothing to do with gender: “Quit ye like men.”