Category Archives: Ministry

Quick Review: Leadership Coaching

Over the past couple of months I was going through the book Leadership Ccoaching: The Disciplines, Skills, and Heart of a Christian Coach by Tony Stoltzfus and it’s such a great resource for leaders. Here’s some of why it was so helpful to me.

First – it goes after the heart, both in the coach and as the target of transformation in coming alongside others. The approach to coming alongside others puts a high value on honoring people and what God may be doing in the deeper places as the roots of their behavior. It was a refreshing focus and right on.

Second – he offers a helpful framework and paradigm for coaching that I thought allowed me to get a really good handle on the main components of the theory.

Third – maybe this is the best part of the book, but the book includes so many questions to use and they are grouped and categorized in helpful ways. I had not put much thought into categorizing types of coaches for different purposes, but that’s been really helpful for me to think about different groupings of questions according to what they are really trying to accomplish in conversation or in coaching.

If you are not aware of the industry of “coaching,” this is a growing part of the leadership community and business world that is recognizing the power of non-directive coaching. Instead of “telling” someone solutions or answers, a coach helps the other person “discover” or find the solutions themselves mostly through questions. This includes accountability, listening, question asking as mentioned, and discernment.  It’s a really important skill set for any leader and there’s a lot of books that are trying to pass on those skill sets.  This book blends those skill sets with the Christian commitment to heart change as the center of all transformative work.

This book finds a permanent place in my leadership toolbox and I’ve already gone back to it to review certain types of questions relevant to different conversations I’ve been in.

Highly recommend it! I’m convinced that the core principles of this book involve areas of development for just about every person out there so chances are it will really help you even if you’re not functioning as a professional coach.

In Memory of a Dear Friend

It’s been just over a week since getting the news that a dear friend of mine passed away after a year-long battle with cancer. Danielle (Tschirky) Montiel was my age, with kids roughly the same age as ours. Yesterday, those who knew her gathered together to celebrate her life and mourn their loss. Given that I am on the other side of the world right now, I wanted to share a few words both to honor her and to give some kind of expression to my own journey as I grieve the loss of a friend.

It’s tough to lose anyone in your life, to know that they are gone and the opportunity to connect one more time gone with them. It is even tougher to lose someone who holds a special place in your heart and life.

She was a significant person in my life at a significant time. We were both from Long Beach but did not meet until we both arrived at UCLA in fall of ’93. Through her and a special group of friends during those years, I was shaped in immeasurable ways.

Danielle had a unique role in my development during those years. She was a kindred spirit in some memorable ways. She had big dreams and vision, was passionate, loyal, and long-suffering. She also had qualities that weren’t as natural for me at the time – she was gentle, kind, curious, and full of joy. As I explored my identity and emerging calling with intensity, seriousness, and deep inner reflection, she consistently pulled me outward to see, appreciate, and recognize the beauty and wonder that I so often missed. At the time, there were so many things I was trying to get “right,” but she was a key guiding light that pointed to a place of rest and enjoyment of life.

Beyond our four years together at UCLA, we spent every summer of our college years serving together.  After our freshman year we spent the summer in East Asia together with many from our UCLA tribe. The next summer we served together in the inner-city of Los Angeles, where we experienced our first taste of team and ministry leadership while learning about different contexts and cultures.

But the summer I remember most with her was the summer before our senior year of college when we helped re-launch the college ministry of Arbor Road Church together.  It was through the joy of serving and leading together – experiencing the beauty, possibilities, and power of ministry in people’s lives, that I sensed a call to ministry. Ministry as a responsibility, duty, or burden was replaced by something deeper and so much more meaningful. As a person prone to discouragement, disillusionment, and seriousness, I do not believe I would have entered the ministry without that shift. I know for certain that even if I had, I wouldn’t have lasted. She helped me see that ministry was not something to be achieved, but something to live and enjoy.

As life took us on our separate paths I did not see her frequently after college, but we kept in touch. The topic of our interaction in most recent years was what she was doing helping pioneer a charter middle school with a virtue-based curriculum. As my ministry took an unforeseen shift about 5 years ago into an educational context, I wanted to pick her brain when I could. I saw her passion for education in college, but it was amazing to see it materialize into a concrete vision. And I was amazed that as the topic of virtue-based leadership development has come up in the course of my ministry in Manila, I’ve even had someone mention to me that “there’s this school somewhere in Southern California that is doing some cool things that you should check out.”

It’s hard to reconcile the loss of anyone important in our lives, but it’s even harder to reconcile the loss of someone that really knew you.  She gave me the gift of being known time and time again during those formative years and it’s a gift that kept on giving in the years since.

Danielle knew me, at times better than I knew myself and better than many in my life. She affirmed things about me that at the time most people including myself maybe weren’t sure were even there. But those things began to emerge over time. She either knew me that well or had the gift of being able to speak some of those things into existence through warm encouragement and confident vision. This would be a gift for everyone, but as a deep-thinking, culture-challenging, justice-seeking, truth-teller like myself who has routinely been misunderstood and at times judged for it, it’s a grace that helped guard my heart against darkness and point me towards a vision of what could be.

In the moments I get to see and celebrate any impact I may be making, she saw it first.  You can’t put a price on friends like that.

This summer she gave me one more gift. I was back in Long Beach just for a few days and we were trying to find a way to see each other, but it it was getting complicated with schedules and commitments. But she spontaneously visited on one of our last afternoons before leaving the country. We spent some time catching up on her journey – the struggles, her hopes, and her fears. She graciously shared with me the details she had to re-count no doubt hundreds of times. But mostly, I think we just enjoyed the moment of presence, which was a gift we have not been able to enjoy as much in recent years.

Danielle was relentlessly positive and hopeful, but as I was leaving the country for at least another year I have wondered if she was giving me one last gift.  While I prayed faithfully for her complete healing and restoration, I was still mindful that I might be saying goodbye. And that brief encounter has meant the world to me since.  It’s one of the moments I get to remember her by – where more was said than words spoken and where the fears of the unknown were briefly alleviated through the presence of the familiar.

I told her that day that the world is so, so much better with her in it. And I was right. I rejoice that hers was a life well lived and mourn for the many, especially her family and children, that must find a way to do life without her physical presence.  Please join me in praying for them in their grief.

If you read through this, thank you. It’s a needed part of my own process as I grieve in geographic isolation. I’m grateful for some friends who have kept me updated on the events of the past couple weeks and have passed on some old pictures. The majority of my days spent with Danielle were before cell phones and digital cameras so the majority of my photos and memories are in a storage unit in California.

I’m thankful to have had such a person in my life and to have had so many memories and moments that resulted in life change and impact. I am thankful her suffering is at an end and she has received the object of her faith. Her example of faith, love, and vulnerability all the way to the very end inspires me to keep aspiring to the picture of graciousness and care that so many experienced from her.

 

Quick Review: Between the World and Me

Last week I finished Between The World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.  What a powerful book. I did this by audiobook, which was read by the author, and I think that made it even more powerful. The book is part autobiography and part letter to the author’s son, bringing a powerful personal touch to weighty topics.

The author documents his journey growing up African-American in Baltimore and the impact of systemic injustice and iniquity on him and others in his community. He provides the historical background to understand a more robust view of identity as it has been shaped over time. It’s a powerful read or listen even if it’s just out of a desire to understand more one’s experience in communities so shaped by power driven or overtly racist policies. But it’s much more than that.

One of the central metaphors that Coates builds his narrative around reflects a philosophical as well as poetic framing of how systemic injustice and racism impact identity. This metaphor is that of one becoming “disembodied,” where because of injustice or racism and the reality of one’s identity that he feels the shame of someone else having control of his body. That loss of autonomy, safety, and the self-worth that comes with security is an ever-present reminder of how power structures work against him.

This brings the reflection and discussion of racism from beyond abstract arguments or activism to the visceral truth that systemic injustice always has a fleshly impact. It touches the core of the marginalized identity because it is a fundamental reality that someone else can take control of their body and exercise power over them in a myriad of ways.  This way of experiencing and seeing the issues adds further heartbreak for the ways so many are shaped by injustice in deep ways to the core of their being.

Coates uses some new phrases besides the typical language. He refers to majority culture folks who find comfort in the current unjust systems as “people who think themselves white.” White is synonymous with offender or perpetrator.  He uses another word which forces one to wrestle – plunderer. He is using these words of those who find comfort in the benefits of injustice or in various ways perpetuates the system. He is not equating all white people with plunderers or racists. He uses “white” as not just an ethnic designation, but rather as an ideological tribe of sorts that through self-interest perpetuates contemporary injustice. It’s not a rejection of white people, but of an establishment that is benefitting from various forms of violence that continually keeps those outside down through the various forms and threats of disembodiment.

There’s so much here and the whole thing is a skillful and beautiful expression of deep pain and righteous anger. My summary is wholly inadequate. I would have loved more spiritual reflection or engagement. It’s hard to read things like this when there doesn’t seem to be hope or meaning anchored in a larger worldview. But that’s not where the author is coming from and in the meantime, he does convey some form of hope, albeit alongside a strong dose of reality without sugar coating what it means to journey in this world on the other side of institutional power.

I recommend it as a powerful journey into the depths of just how dark the impacts of systemic injustice are in the U.S. from a history of racism and racist policies.  This isn’t my story, but these are stories that need to be heard.  There are parts that are hard to here as one who has lived a more privileged existence in the U.S. from an ethnic standpoint, but it’s important to look, feel, and reflect on how I live and the broader communities and society that I am a part of.

 

Quick Review: The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting

I have recently done several reviews on Brene Brown’s books  – you can search this blog for reviews on The Gift of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, and Braving the Wildnerness.  Before the end of the year here I’ll add one more since I just finished her short audio book called The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting.

This is short, but from a life and value standpoint, it might even by my favorite of her books because we’re deep into the parenting life stage of life, on the verge of having teenagers. Ten years ago I made a commitment to reading a marriage and parenting book each year.  Now, I’m ramping that up to 3-4 books each year on marriage and parenting because there’s no point in saving that learning until after our kids are out of the house.

This book provides short summaries of Brown’s work on shame and vulnerability, but there are just tons of nuggets that are awesome and life-giving for parenting and they often are directly backed up by research as well.  More importantly for me, most insights I believe reflect Biblical truths about leadership and parenting based on grace and truth.  The book is full of insights and principles that parents just need constant reminders so this is a book probably worth doing an annual review of because it’s that practical and helpful. It helps illuminate poor thinking patterns based on the surrounding culture and re-set for the sake of healthy and empowering relationships.

Some of the key sections relate to perfectionism and shame in parenting, over-functioning and control in parenting, struggle and hope, creativity and play, gratitude and joy, boundaries, and a variety of other things.

Beyond just being a general parenting book, the powerful piece still is the connection between shame and parenting which I believe also extends to leadership. Shame can be a factor in hindering play, increasing perfectionism and image management, and levels of control and comparison among others. This is important and reinforces one of her initial principles – who we are is more important than what we do.  That idea is really tough for a lot of folks, but it’s critical!

We have to deal with our own hearts. This is another reason why the question of where we get our worthiness from is crucial. People seek worthiness in all sorts of things – but I believe worthiness is ultimately only found unconditionally through a God who offers unconditional forgiveness in grace and truth. We need to be transformed first before we can be agents of transformation for others. If we have unresolved shame, that will translate to our efforts in shaping and molding those entrusted to us.

Here is a great specific summary of the audiobook that outlines principle by principle what Brown covers. This gives a real concrete picture of what is in the recording and the content.

 

Quick Review: Crucial Accountability

After reading Crucial Conversations a couple months ago I wanted to also read Vital Smarts’ Crucial Accountability: Tools for Resolving Violated Expectations, Broken Commitments, and Bad Behavior. It used to be called Crucial Confrontations, but the name change was probably a good thing.  I’m supervising a lot more people and coaching some others on supervising and have been looking for more tools on how to establish supervising relationships characterized by development and accountability.

There’s some overlap with crucial conversations, but there was sufficient new content that was really helpful. However, there are so many small pieces or elements of this book that a review is tough.  A lot of the book functions like a flow chart to supervising – which is really practical from a reference standpoint.  The book covers a lot of ground – from personal storytelling and identity to conversational dynamics to supporting structures and mechanisms.

There is also a lot of added content borrowed from the Vital Smarts book Influencers when discussing how to coach people for change. There are some aspects of non-directive coaching, but given supervision and accountability dynamics – not all coaching will be able to be non-directive. But the book offers a lot of suggestions and ideas to help address these conversations. It discusses basic conflicts as well as ongoing patterns that merit intentional engagement.

One of the more helpful components is the authors’ identification of common ways leaders take alternative paths to hard conversations or holding others accountable. There’s an in-depth section exploring the ways leaders bypass accountability for safety and security or certainty. It also covers elements such as passivity, blaming, manipulation, passive-aggressive, and other common approaches used by leaders to avoid having the hard conversation.

This is a good one for the toolbox of the leader – every leader needs a clear philosophy and system for how to supervise others and hold people accountable in ways that empower and hold up grace and truth instead of the alternatives such as control, manipulation, avoidance, condescension, and fear-based strategies.  This book can help you evaluate your approach and generate a lot of ideas for a fresh vision for your leadership moving forward.

The vital smarts website has a great companion pdf download as well that can walk through the more collaborative problem-solving dimensions of a crucial accountability discussion.

 

Quick Review: Braving the Wilderness

It’s been a month or two since I read Brene Brown’s Braving the Wilderness. I’ve delayed writing something up on it because I’ve had mixed feelings about it. It’s both the book of hers I’ve liked least, but it’s also the most intriguing related to some of my areas of research and study.

A lot of the book is similar to her other works – shame, worthiness, and vulnerability. I recently reviewed Rising Strong and there’s some overlap. It’s good stuff and there’s several stories and anecdotes from other books. However, there’s also a lot that is new and there is a different emphasis on this book. This focus, as I would describe it, is the connection between identity and belonging in a reactionary and tribalistic society.

What I liked was that at the core of this book, it really is a tackling of identity between individuality and community. Essentially, Brown is unpacking what family systems theorists call self-differentiation, the grounded identity that is both connected and separate even in the midst of an anxious and reactive society.  I kept thinking of one of my favorite authors, Edwin Friedman and his book Failure of Nerve as I read this. If you want to take a look see my post linking to a couple summaries here and also here.  It is one of my top 5 books of all time and has profoundly impacted my views on leadership and leadership formation.

Anyway – back to the wilderness. Braving the Wilderness is really a metaphor for self-differentiation. It’s living in between the polar extremes of reactivity and anxiety. Friedman calls one extreme emotional fusion. Christian psychologist PaulTripp calls this immersion. Harvard negotiation expert Daniel Shapiro calls this defaulting to affiliation.  It’s the surrendering of individual identity to the group out of fear of rejection, judgment, or shame. It’s compromising the integrity of personhood to belong – belonging becomes being part of a tribe.

Friedman calls the other extreme cutting off. Tripp calls it isolation. Shapiro calls it defaulting to autonomy for the sake of identity.  It’s surrendering community and relationship to preserve personhood. It’s to some degree distancing from those that provide a threat or challenge to be able to feel secure again in one’s self.

Brown is unpacking these dynamics. I think initially I was irritated because it felt like it was being unpacked as new data or phenomena, but these concepts have been out there getting discussed in a lot of places. But I like that she connected shame and vulnerability what can lead people towards surrendering their identity for either reactive extreme. People feeling anxiety and shame tend to seek security and certainty and if they cannot stand on their own and hold their ground for their higher values and their integrity – the emotional forces of society will bounce them around.  Thus Brown is directly addressing in this book how to foster civility and empathy in a society that is looking to dehumanize others and where everyone is trying to strengthen their tribe at the expense of the other.

Worthiness is at the heart of Brown’s books – that people who feel and act worthy and like the belong, actually believe that they belong.  The elephant in the room is the question, “Where does that worthiness come from?” I do not believe Brown offers an answer for this, but to describe that we need to do our best to be civil and understanding and do our part to help extend hospitality across difference.   Added to this though, Brown also discusses a lot about curiosity and civility as key to fostering civil discourse and belonging across difference.

Brown is advocating for people to connect as humans, fighting the tendency of people to dehumanize for the sake of certainty and tribal belonging. As I read this, it’s a perfect apologetic for the Christian worldview as the image of God, loving your neighbor, and the call to grace and truth are core foundational pieces. It’s a shame that Christians tend to be just as tribal, if not more, than others. It’s a sign that the gospel has not taken root. But Brown is pointing to a question that is theological in nature. Can we achieve our own worthiness? Or do we have to receive it from someone else?  Can we get it from other people or does it have to come from a higher authority?

So there’ s a lot that I like and it’s the most I’ve thought about any of her books so it’s a sign that it maybe it ranks higher than I initially thought. But there are things that are hard. I understand why some reviews complain about her being too political, but I didn’t think it was that bad – but an example of tribalism in the reviews.  There’s also a stronger tone of anger and “screw you, I gotta keep it real” to this book that wasn’t as evident in her other books.  On one level – I get it – I think Brown has to have some of that edge to play the role she is playing.

However, I’ve seen too many applications of her work where people are rejecting shame and community accountability to defend their positions (an ironic example of what Brown is speaking against). People can find justification through some of the concepts to defend their personal choices.  Not all shame is bad – when people reject the voice of community completely to “keep it real” they then run the risk of cutting off and getting lost in a myopic view of life. This connects to a series I did many moons ago called “Prophets vs. Posers.”

All in all – it’s a good book and I’m still thinking about a lot of it. But it is a clear reminder that there are deep solutions to questions of shame and belonging and vulnerability. Will people humble themselves to really find those solutions outside of themselves and receive the dignity, belonging, security, and love that can anchor one firmly in that identity so they can freely love and serve others across difference?  This is the Christian life.  Now more than ever, followers of Christ need to embody this self-differentiation in Christ so they can brave the wilderness where is increasingly anxious, hostile, reactionary, and tribal.

So I recommend it, but I recommend Friedman’s A Failure of Nerve even more.

Quick Review: Negotiating the Non-Negotiable

The best of the negotiation books I’ve read this year has been Daniel Shapiro’s Negotiating the Non-Negotiable: How to Resolve Your Most Emotionally Charged Conflicts. Shapiro heads the Harvard International Negotiation Program and was also the primary author of the book Beyond Reason, which I reviewed a couple of weeks ago.

One of the things I loved reading this book is that it reflects other streams of relationship theory that I’ve been pursuing for years, especially the application of family systems theory to leadership. Shapiro never refers directly to family systems theory, but does consistently discuss identity and relationships in ways that reflect the concept of self-differentiation as a foundational character foundation of mature and healthy relationships. In fact, themes like anxiety, cutting off, emotional fusion, and self-differentiation are all over this book.

Shapiro’s book focuses on identity-driven conflict – conflict that because of its deep connection to how people see themselves and what is most important to them. He doesn’t like using the language of identity-driven conflict because he sees all conflict impacting and flowing out of identity. But this book fundamentally is a roadmap of navigating deep-rooted conflict that tends to lead towards entrenchment.

Shapiro has some very helpful sections on emotions in negotiation, taboos – those things considered sacred and untouchable in every context, and some of the helpful components of integrative bargaining (i.e. the win-win bargaining). But one of the really interesting aspects of the book is that it’s not just about negotiation in the integrative bargaining kind of way – there’s a large section focused specifically on reconciling relationships. He explores apologies and forgiveness in a way that is quite helpful when considering the overall context of high conflict negotiation. There’s just really solid stuff throughout the book and this will be a go-to resource for me.

An additional note is that one of the awesome things about this book is the 75 pages or so of endnotes that discuss additional research and clarify smaller ideas or concepts. It’s a gold mine. I can’t remember a book where I spent an hour or two just reading endnotes because they were so interesting and helpful. Several of them have led me to other resources that will be super helpful for my research right now on negotiation.

From a leadership or relationship standpoint – highly recommend this one!

 

Quick Review: TrueFaced

This past spring I read TrueFaced by John Lynch, Bruce McNicol, and Bill Thrall and I just re-read it again this past week.  I was interested in this book because I was impacted a lot by the book Ascent of a Leader by the same authors a long while ago. I owned this book but just never got around to reading it.

The book is really about authentic leadership as compared to performing or “false” leadership. It is not an attempt to do a deep dive on new self, false-self theology. However, there is a good basic foundation of theology in this book for how identity impacts character, behavior, and leadership. The book explores how performance mindsets and approaches to dealing with vulnerability, limitations, and especially sin can lead to false faces – or masks.

The mask metaphor has grown quite common in the last couple decades since this book came out. The reality has always been true – that leaders develop a false face or imposter identity that is aimed at pleasing others or performing for God and end up creating culture and environments that replicate that kind of falseness and allergy to the truth and authentic vulnerability. The authors here specifically attack the ways a Christian approach to orienting life around “pleasing God” leads to a spiral of inauthentic ways of relating to others. This is a book for sinners and legalists – which is all of us so I recommend it!

The authors talk about 3 groups of masks – one is the “doing fine” folks who hide behind shallowness and avoidance of intimacy; another is the “fixers” who go hunting from one technique to the next to solve what they sense is wrong or not working; and the third they call the “pedigreed masks” which are masks anchored in self-righteousness or performance.

Then they dive into chapters specifically on Grace, Love, Repentance, Forgiveness, and Maturity.  The strength of the book I think is some of the unpacking of what grace is and what it is not and how that impacts love, repentance, and forgiveness.   There are great discussions on how grace based love impacts others, what authentic grace based reptentance looks like, and what forgiveness is and is not.

Fundamentally, they argue that our motive to please God must be submitted to our calling to trust God with who we are and what He has done for us. This could be a topic for some healthy debate, but I tend to agree with them.  The Scripture points us to the truth that without faith it’s impossible to please God. So if we try to please without trusting God with ALL of who we are, then we are entering false-self territory.

At the core, I believe one of the great many reasons why the Christian church in the West and elsewhere has lost a lot of its credibility and its voice in the culture is because the focus of “church” has been pleasing as opposing to trusting and resting in God’s grace. Pleasing leads to self-righteousness and condescension. Trusting in the identity God has given us leads us to a freedom in our limitations and with the limitations of others. That would have significant impact.

There are a lot of versions of this book out there and it may be hard to get the original version of this book, but there are some versions available. If you want to read the full original book you may need to find a used book online.

 

Negotiating Bed Time

Over the last couple of months, I have been taking a doctoral course on negotiation and conflict. On my daughter’s 7 year birthday I got a chance to test my new skills.

I was at her school and we were having lunch together on her birthday and I asked her, “What are you looking forward to about being 7?”   She answered, “Staying up late with the big kids (her older siblings).” She gets way tired and I knew this was a bit unrealistic.

I decided to test my new learnings out and try some “integrative bargaining.” I asked her, “What time do you think you should go to bed?” (Her bedtime was 6:30 pm).  She answered, “7 o’clock!” This was her opening position. But then she added, “But Mom won’t let me, but I’m 7 and it makes sense that I should to bed at 7!”  I liked the argument from even numbers.

I asked her then what was important to her about staying up until 7 pm (finding out what her interests are). She shared, “Having fun, playing with the Kids, playing with Oreo (the dog), and not missing out.” Using Daniel Shapiro’s core need categories from Beyond Reason, she expressed a desire for affiliation (with her siblings) and status (staying up later so she is no longer going to bed like a “6-year-old.”

I asked her to think about why her Mom might not want her to go to bed at 7 pm. As we talked, the thing that came up was that she sometimes is grumpy when she goes to school after not getting enough sleep (Her mom’s interests). I asked her if that was true and she admitted it was. I asked her, “Do you like being grumpy and tired at school?”  She answered, “No.”

I then attempted a “joint problem statement” along the lines of “What would a good bedtime be that allows you to stay up later like a 7-year-old and that also would allow you to get enough sleep so that you can have a good day at school given that you have to wake up at 5:15 am?”

She thought for a second and then answered, “I think maybe I should go to bed 10 minutes later.”  I asked her if she thought her mom would be ok with that. She said she wasn’t sure, but asked, “Will you talk to her?” I asked if she was ok with having her bedtime be at 6:40 pm and she gave an enthusiastic, “Yes!”

When we were home later she looked at me and gave me the wink wink nod nod to go talk to her mother to see if this was an agreeable plan. We discussed it together and came to a quick agreement that as a 7-year-old, KK would now go to bed at 6:40 pm instead of 6:30 pm.

KK drives a hard bargain 🙂

Sounds like a lot of work for 10 minutes, but it actually was pretty fun because you could see her enjoying the conversation, being taken seriously, and being a part of shaping the solution.

Negotiation is pretty fascinating – there’s a lot of principles relevant to high-level business or conflict that are just as applicable to something as benign as figuring out a 7 year old’s bed time 🙂