Author Archives: bret
Yesterday we attended the elementary school’s 1st Grade Award Ceremony. During this hour long presentation, parents join the teachers and staff in celebrating our kids’ achievements. I spent most of my time vacillating between reflecting on the significance of what I witnessed and wishing the bench at that table was a little higher off the ground. When I wasn’t lamenting the pain in my back and knees, here’s what I noticed.
Celebration is important. It’s very easy to bemoan the fact that we seem to give awards away for everything these days. We hear complaints about “the entitlement generation” which seems to expect accolades and high pay the moment they grace a company with a job application – and we wonder if perhaps giving everyone a trophy just for showing up may have played a role in that.
HOWEVER, one of the greatest problems I encounter in coaching – whether in ministry contexts or business – is the frustration, discouragement and burnout that develops as a result of never pausing to celebrate progress and accomplishments. We rush from project to project and goal to goal with little or no awareness of what we’re actually doing.
Even knowing this to be true, about a year ago my own coach caught me saying, “I feel like I’ve just been spinning my wheels without any progress.” He immediately stopped the conversation and had me look back through the list of goals I’d set and completed throughout our coaching relationship (after several years, the list was pretty extensive).
We didn’t move forward to deal with the new set of obstacles until I acknowledged just how far I had come and how much progress I had made. When I stepped back and took a wider view, I found my perspective changing dramatically. At that point, I was much more equipped to deal with the new issues.
If we don’t celebrate; if we don’t appreciate the sense of accomplishment from a job well done or the wisdom gained from a glorious failure, the temptation to throw in the towel will become nearly unbearable. That’s just how it works.
So, hats off to the teachers who – despite constant pressure to prepare for the next ridiculous, government-mandated, standardized test – take time out to celebrate the individual progress and achievements of each student.
Adults…we need to take notice. What accomplishments can we celebrate today?
You might be thinking that sitting around patting yourself on the back is a great way to become complacent with your accomplishments. After all, don’t post-game interviews always include someone saying, “There’s no time to congratulate ourselves. This game is over and now it’s time to prepare for next week.”
There’s something to that. First of all, there’s the coolness factor…you know “act like you’ve been here before.” And it is well documented that cool guys don’t look at explosions.
“The more you ignore it, the cooler you look.”
Secondly, and a bit more legitimately, celebrating our accomplishments should not lead to a permanent encampment. Make no mistake, the cool guy jumps up and down and points at the flames as soon as he’s offscreen and the athlete leaves the stadium and goes to a party. But, the ones who want to keep winning or keep…er…blowing stuff up, have their party and then get back to work the next morning.
To return to my own example from coaching, after Anthony and I reflected on the goals I had achieved, we used that as a platform to begin figuring out how to address the current obstacles. He did not say, “Ah, don’t worry about these issues, you’ve already had some great success. Kick back and take it easy.”
Celebrating our successes helps remind us why we’re working on these goals in the first place, and this helps us maintain focus when difficulties arise.
I recently wrote about becoming more innovative by coaching others. I witnessed a similar principle at work today – one that brought me an incredible sense of pride along with a moment of insight.
As my first grade son stood in line waiting for his name to be called (sorry buddy, I passed on a “W” last name to you…you’ll be at the end of the line a lot), I watched as an uncommon thing took place. He was listening intently as each of his classmates were called up and honored for their achievements and then he would applaud enthusiastically each time.
Micah has always been considerably more reserved and less likely to show emotion than his two brothers, so this really stood out. I thought maybe he was just clapping loudly as a goof, but I soon realized that he was truly excited for each person.
Micah is one of those cool guys that doesn’t look at explosions. He puts a lot of effort into looking nonplussed when someone compliments him – it doesn’t really work, you can see it clearly…but he definitely tries. There wasn’t even an attempt as he climbed the stage yesterday. The sheer joy on his face was priceless.
His accomplishments were not in any way lessened by recognition of the accomplishments of others. In fact, I can’t help but be convinced that his practice of celebrating the successes of his peers significantly enhanced the experience of his own.
This too is an area where we adults need to take notice.
What accomplishments of your peers, friends, family or neighbors can we celebrate today?
Whether our goal is to raise well adjusted children, to lose 20 pounds, to start a new business or to reach a certain milestone in our career, there are going to be frustrations and set backs. We’re more likely to get there – and to appreciate the result when we do – if we acknowledge the significance of the small things we choose to do each day.
Perhaps celebrating those things in the lives of others will strengthen our ability to do the same, and make the process more palatable along the way.
It may not be EVERYTHING I needed to know about coaching…but I’m telling you, we can learn a lot from 1st graders if we’ll pay attention.
I have been involved with ministry and professional coaching for over five years now. I have a coach, I coach people and I serve as a coach trainer. I think it’s fair to say that I believe in its value. And yet, while the industry is growing rapidly, there are still tons of people who ask me “what sport?” when I tell them about my coaching work.
Coaching is the process of helping others solidify vision, establish goals, identify obstacles and move forward. I’ve coached people to write books, change careers, plant churches, start new businesses, develop organizational and time management strategies, lose weight, resolve systemic conflict issues in their organization, and relocate overseas as missionaries.
In case you’re wondering, no, I haven’t done all these things myself. So how is it that I’m qualified to help someone else? Because the role of the coach is not one of expert, mentor or advice giver. For the most part, coaching is a non-directive practice – which means that the client sets the agenda and owns the process. My role is to listen deeply, ask probing questions that deepen awareness, consider all the options, move conversations toward action plans, evaluate effectiveness…and repeat as needed.
This doesn’t mean that the answers to all questions are already present in the client’s mind. Often my role includes helping them figure out where they need to go to find information they are lacking…and then I help make sure they actually do that. This tool is particularly well suited for the missional-incarnational impulse which acknowledges that each of us are called to follow God in our specific context. And the truth of the matter is, while I can help you dig deeper, you are always going to be more qualified than me to discern what is going on in your context. You are the “boots on the ground.” You’re the one who is there every day. As a coach, my task is to help you be fully present and more effective.
Being coached has helped me tremendously. Having someone to help consider blindspots, ask me the tough questions that I’d rather avoid, consider alternative viewpoints…these are all very powerful. It’s even more powerful when you add to that a consistent reminder to move toward implementation, but also to periodically stop and evaluate what is and isn’t working – and celebrate accomplishments.
What I find interesting though, is how often coaching someone else provides break-throughs in my own work. By focusing all my attention on the other person, trying to get out of my own head and enter their story for a brief period, my perspective is stretched. After a coaching call I often find myself rapidly typing out realizations and insights from the conversation that have implications for my context. Angles I’d never considered, solutions that had avoided me.
I find my own creativity stoked, imagination unleashed and ideas generating at a pace beyond any hope of implementing them all.
As I think about this serendipitous by-product, I cannot help but think that every minister, every business leader, every entrepreneur, church planter, or community developer, every person who needs to be (or wants to be) more creative, innovative and effective should not only have a coach, but set some time aside to coach others.
Almost every single person I’ve worked with as a coach mentor has commented that the training has made them better listeners and more effective in all areas of life. Group projects at work, household plans with their spouse, helping friends through difficult times or big decisions…all of these are areas in which coaching principles can be incredibly beneficial.
So what about you? Could you benefit from greater creativity and innovation? Would being a better listener and conversationalist improve your work and home life? Would you like to be more equipped to help when the friend calls and says, “I don’t know what I’m going to do!” Then there’s the added benefit of an opportunity for extra income….
If you’d like more information about coaching fill out the form below, contact me on facebook or just leave a comment on this post.
I don’t mind putting effort into communicating well. I may not always be successful, but I will try. I’m stronger in some mediums, and I continue to work on those areas where I’m less effective. I don’t mind reading articles about how to use social media like a pro. I periodically work through online courses on writing effectively and understanding my audience. I’ll take advice from marketing experts and communications gurus. I work with a great one and I take her counsel very seriously.
I understand both sales and fundraising; I’ve done quite a bit of both over the last five years. I realize that my salary as a director of a non-profit depends on our ability to partner with supporters, just as my work as a church planter has for years now. Furthermore, the ability to tell our story well is essential to equipping others to unleash the missional imagination in their own lives.
So, I will continue to give careful consideration to how well I’m telling our story. I will try to be very aware not only of what we’re trying to say, but how others are actually hearing it.
But there’s a limit to how much I am willing to cater the message to the whims of the audience.
While there are certain aspects where it is helpful and imperative, I do not feel obligated to boil EVERYTHING down to a 30 second elevator pitch. We’re not selling widgets here. My calling, both in church planting and working with Missional Wisdom, is about reorienting lives and that takes more than 30 seconds. Always.
Some of what I do and teach is very simple. It can be communicated quickly and is easily understood (if not always easily implemented.) Our life in God involves our whole life, not just certain parts. Easy enough. Missional means that we are sent on a mission, therefore a missional orientation means that the faith of each disciple involves joining in God’s mission…wherever we are, and whatever we do. Got it (sorta). Alan Hirsch talks about the power of the phrase “Jesus is Lord.” It is simple and yet dense enough to be passed along easily. In fact, he compares it to a virus that is “sneezed.” Anybody can spread it, anybody can catch it. Some may find that analogy a little gross, but it makes the point.
But it isn’t all so simple. The statement “Jesus is Lord,” has a lot of implications, some of which look very different depending on your cultural situation. So, communicating that Jesus is Lord can be done simply and quickly. Unpacking that statement takes a while, doesn’t it? It isn’t always simple to sort through the ways that Christian culture itself may be working against living on mission with God. Examining (and helping others examine) the many ways that words like missional are used, and the implications of those usages, is complicated. There is no simple, universally applicable, detailed instruction on how people in each particular context live “missionally” – except in the most general terms.
And honestly, its okay that some stuff requires work to understand. The work leading to understanding is a large part of the understanding itself. Refusing to do that hard work may not have any immediate negative consequences. You may draw a large crowd, you may see transformation occur in people’s lives. That is fantastic. The impact of skipping out on the hard work of theological reflection will always catch up to you. They will undermine discipleship, rip apart communities and generally mess stuff up. I’ve seen it firsthand, I’ve heard the same stories repeatedly from church planters and church leaders…and I see it in consumer driven Christian subculture in our society.
Growing up and then later ministering in the Churches of Christ we had a saying that inadvertently applied to this issue. “Dunk ’em and chunk ’em,” refers to the sad reality that often our efforts in evangelism consisted of getting people to accept the sneezed part of “Jesus is Lord,” culminating in their baptism…but then they were mostly left to their own devices to figure out the “now what?” part. The sound-byte approach to evangelism and discipleship leaves us ill prepared and sometimes dangerously malformed.
So, I can’t really justify turning everything into a brief commercial length sales pitch. If you don’t quite get what I’m saying in a sound byte, that’s okay. I’ll try to rephrase. I’ll use a different metaphor. I will consider ways that I am causing noise in the communication. But what I’d like – what I believe must happen – is for us to continue this conversation tomorrow and the day after. I want to invite you to come and see what I’m talking about for yourself. If you don’t have time for that or if you disagree and have no desire to pursue it any further, that’s fine.
Giving careful consideration to how I communicate is certainly part of what it means to remain true to my own particular calling. So, I’m not just trying to be difficult or stubborn here. Igniting and unleashing people’s imagination is a central component to helping others reorient their lives around God’s mission. So I want to do that well, and I don’t want to let my ego hinder the process.
But in order to actually unleash people’s imaginations we have to resist the temptation to become “answer people” who tell others what to do. And we also need to avoid the inspirational but relatively meaningless sales pitch which gets people to sign up without knowing the implications. Both approaches cripple the imagination. Both do more damage than good in the long run.
As with nearly everything, this isn’t a cut and dried issue. We need to keep our communication simple, but never simplistic. The two are not always easy to distinguish from one another. What seems simple to one person may not be so to another. However, that which seems confusing or convoluted may not need simplification, but may actually require diligence and tenacity of pursuit. Einstein is often credited with saying that if you can’t explain something in simple terms you don’t really understand it. (I don’t know if he actually said that or not…remember, Abraham Lincoln said that you can’t trust everything you read on the internet.) But the thing is, Einstein may have been able to explain a concept in simple terms so that you could catch the gist, but he couldn’t teach you to be a serious physicist in one brief conversation. If he could we’d have had thousands upon thousands of Einsteins trained and unleashed during his lifetime. I get the gist of physics (by that I mean that I watch Big Bang Theory and Discovery Channel shows on string theory and the multiverse), but that hasn’t equipped me to contribute anything to those wanting to live like Einstein. If I believed that living like Einstein was my calling in life then there would be no way around putting some effort into the process.
I’ve had this post half-written for a couple months now. Yesterday I began reading my latest review copy book from IVP, Virtuous Minds: Intellectual Character Development. By page 40 I was hooked and looking forward to finally publishing this post and writing a review of the book (which I’ll do in the coming days.)
The book addresses what I believe to be a significant problem behind the demand for constant sound-byte communication and simplistic sales pitches. Our thinking is broken. Or, at the very least, bad thinking habits have caused mental atrophy. The good news is, we can correct the problem in our selves.
So now I need to think carefully about how I’m going to write that review…
There isn’t anything else going on April 5-6, I checked.
So break open the piggy-bank, dig under the couch cushions and come see me in Fort Worth. Wes Magruder and I will help you figure out once and for all what missional and monastic have to do with each other. We’ll also be talking about the Missional Wisdom Foundation’s experiences with forming missional communities. I’m quite positive other people will say good things too…but mostly, you don’t want to miss Wes and me. 🙂
Find out more about TransFORM at their website.
A few weeks ago it was a red velvet cake, today it was a giant chocolate chip cookie. When The Gathering, um…gathers… for worship, there is ALWAYS food involved. If someone is having a birthday, there’s cake; maybe left over, or it might be made especially for the occasion.
And so recently we stumbled across what is rapidly becoming one of my new favorite traditions. Seeing the red velvet birthday cake near where we were preparing the communion elements, someone jokingly asked, “Are we having birthday cake for communion?”
I stopped dead in my tracks and said, “Yes. Yes we are.”
To help our children understand the meaning of the Eucharist, we have a slightly modified way of describing the bread and cup. We talk about the bread as Jesus’ body that GIVES life – as food does. And we talk about the cup as Jesus’ blood that SAVES life – just like it does in the hospital. Communion is our practice of proclaiming to one another, and recommitting to the One who gives us life and saves our life.
And the purpose of a birthday cake is to celebrate a life given and kept safe through another year. So today it was time to celebrate Rachel’s birthday. I lifted the giant chocolate chip cookie, breaking it in front of the community and proclaiming the familiar words, “On the night that Jesus was betrayed…”
Then the birthday girl, in celebration of the gift of life, shared the gift of life with others. She broke off bite sized chunks, handing them to each person in turn saying, “This is Jesus body which gives life.” After everyone else was served, I got to break off a piece for Rachel – and her cake, celebrating God’s gift of life to her became Jesus’ body….celebrating God’s gift of life to her.
The symbolism was incredible.
So I asked Conner (9) and Micah (7) what they thought about our practice of birthday cake communion.
Conner: “The cake is, well, for one thing, its yummy. And two it celebrates people’s life and you know, this is Jesus’ body that gives life. Its important for us to do this together because Jesus loves us and we love Jesus.
Me: So why do you think we involve everybody in communion and not just the adults?
Conner: Its better to have all of us take communion instead of just the grown ups because everyone should be able to share Jesus with each other. Jesus loves kids too, not just adults that have been baptized, so we should all celebrate Jesus together.
Me: Micah, what do you think?
Micah: Its really good, especially when there’s cake… Its important to let kids take communion too because it helps us keep it in our minds when someone asks us why people take communion…we’ll just know the answer right away. The juice is the blood of Jesus and the bread is the body of Jesus. Jesus’ blood saves life and Jesus’ body gives life. That’s why we do it.
The decision to incorporate our children fully into the life of the community has meant that our worship gatherings are hectic…sometimes stressfully so. Conner and Micah are two of the liturgists and worship leaders in our community. We typically use the Common Prayer liturgy in our gatherings and its often Micah or Conner who lead that time. They find people to read the scriptures, they lead us in the Lord’s prayer, they lead the responsive readings…and often they’ll lead a song or two (and so will several other people…including their little brother and the other 4-5 year olds).
The impact has been phenomenal. An intergenerational community that is truly an intergenerational COMMUNITY. My role, as “the minister,” has shifted to be one voice among many. I will often capitalize on teaching moments as they arise – for instance when we’re reading a passage from the Old Testament, I’ll follow up with some comments about the cultural setting or that particular story’s role in the larger narrative. And the others are quick to interject their own reflections on the readings or a prayer. Our times of prayer become an opportunity to lament, rejoice and wonder together. Each of us are able to share stories of God at work and frustrations for the areas in which God seems painfully absent. And it is absolutely normal for a child to respond with uncanny wisdom to a presented problem, or ask a probing question in response to a shared story.
We take time to pause and help the kids understand that the colon in the scripture reference separates the chapter from the verses; the dash tells us to read from one part through to the next and a semi-colon tells us to jump to the next passage. And these simple teaching moments have often provided unintended insight for adults as well.
And as Micah said, all this keeps our faith in our minds so that whenever someone asks, we’re ready to answer right away…even if we’re 7 years old.