Archives For Leadership


“What seems nasty, painful, evil, can become a source of beauty, joy and strength, if faced with an open mind. Every moment is a golden one for him who has the vision to recognize it as such.” ~ Henry Miller

Now coming into my 14th year of coaching, one of the key lessons I’ve learned is this: The greater part of happiness and joy in life comes not from circumstance but from choice. One man looks at the mountains before him and sees an impossible task. Another looks at those same mountains and sees nothing but beauty and adventure. The only difference is in how they choose to see their lives, but that subtle difference makes all the difference in the world.

I remember a six-day hike through the high country of southern Colorado a few years ago. I remember the biting cold rain that never left us alone on that trip. And I remember the unbelievable beauty of the land, the magic of a shepherd’s appearance to show us the way forward right at the moment of our need, and the massive sheltering tree that kept all of us dry and laughing on the wettest night of the journey. (The photo above was taken on the trail, during one of the few breaks from the rain that week.)

I remember how all of it was a lesson for me, Divine training to help me see how the path I walk can be hard and dangerous and rarely as easy as I wish, but how it’s also so rich with immense beauty, serendipity and adventure. Which one I chose to focus on will determine the quality of my experience and either feed or starve the faith that gives me life.

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What is it to “have heart”?

It is the passion, the faith, and even the stubbornness to stay in the game even once it seems certain that all is lost. It is the resolute refusal to ever quit or give up, regardless how grim the outlook or how certain the defeat. It is to believe beyond all hope or reason for a turning of the tide ~ what J.R.R. Tolkien called a “eucatastrophe,” a “sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears.” (He believed there ought to be a word equal in strength to catastrophe, but opposite in effect. So he coined one. Gotta love that guy.)

To have heart, then, is to never stop hoping for the eucatastrophe to come, and even if it does not, to rip and tear at the darkness until the very last drop of blood drains from your body.

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Simpson Web Friendly-6I’m honored to welcome my friend and former coaching client Amy Simpson to the blog this week. Amy is the award-winning author of Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission and Anxious: Choosing Faith in a World of Worry (both InterVarsity Press). She’s also a certified life and leadership coach and a frequent speaker. You can find her at and on Twitter @aresimpson. Welcome, Amy!

Schizophrenia was a member of my family before I was—but while I had a name from the day I was born, my mother’s illness went unnamed for decades. In fact, it went largely undetected until I was 13. A year later, at 14, I made my first visit to see my mom in a psychiatric hospital. At 18 I still thought Mom was simply going through a rough patch. At 22 I began to understand a bit about what I, and the rest of my family, was going through. At 30 I realized my mom’s illness still had the power to hurt me. At 35 I realized it would always hurt. I’m still learning that God can heal us without closing our wounds. And I have begun to understand how much God can use pain when it’s placed in his hands.

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Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
~ Psalm 139:23-24

(This is part 5 of a series on essential prayers for faith leaders. You can find part 1 here.)

In my experience, the number one problem faith leaders struggle with as leaders isn’t lack of money or resources. It isn’t lack of good people to serve on the team. It isn’t resistance from outside forces or relational strife within the ranks. It isn’t a lack of good strategy, or a shortage of people with the skills to carry it out. All of these are important. All can be greatly helped by working with a leadership coach. But none of them is the root problem.

I believe the root problem all faith leaders struggle with is this: Lack of self awareness.

It’s the thing the leader doesn’t realize he’s doing that gets in his way. It’s the unintended impact she’s having on her team that undermines her effectiveness. It’s the blind spot in his personal development that eventually sabotages all the good he’s working to achieve.

This is only one of the reasons why the Prayer of Self-Examen is so important. But it’s a really good one.

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The Prayer of Authority

November 23, 2015 — Leave A Comment


“Then Peter said, ‘Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.’ Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong.” ~ Acts 3:6-7

(This is part 4 of a series on essential prayers for faith leaders. You can find part 1 here.)

There’s a kind of prayer we all know how to pray. Particularly when we’re in dire straits, it rises up within us unbidden, like an automatic response to our great need. We might call it the “prayer of supplication” or the “cry of the heart,” but although it may sound different on each person’s lips, it’s always some form of riff on this singular sentiment: “God, help!”

It’s a beautiful prayer. The Psalms are full of prayers like this. I’m guessing maybe your life is too. Mine sure is.

The problem is that very often in our lives, it’s not the prayer we need to be praying.

Imagine there’s a governor serving under a great king. The king has given this governor a specific territory to oversee, and though it’s a beautiful country, it’s also plagued with violent rebels who’ve entrenched themselves in the land. Part of the governor’s mandate from the king is to root out these rebels and remove them, and to restore the villages and communities that they have overrun. The king has given the governor access to all the resources at his disposal. He’s given the governor his full authority to enact his will within the territory he’s been assigned.

Now what would you think of this governor if every time he encountered a rebel or saw a village in distress, instead of acting under the king’s authority, he ran back to the king and begged him to come and take care of the problem? At worst, you might think the governor is a coward. At the very least, you would think he doesn’t understand what it means to be a governor, or how to wield the authority of the king.

Yet, way too often, I think we act like that governor. We don’t understand the authority we’ve been given by God or how to apply it to the challenges we face. We feel powerless, helpless, impotent, when in fact we are anything but.

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The Prayer of Listening

November 16, 2015 — Leave A Comment


“A man prayed, and at first he thought that prayer was talking. But he became more and more quiet until in the end he realized that prayer is listening.” ~ Soren Kierkegaard

(This is part 3 of a series on four essential prayers for faith leaders. You can find part 1 here.)

There was this one training session Jesus had with Peter that was so important Jesus took him through it twice. On two separate occasions in the Gospel record, Jesus caught Peter out fishing, and used the situation to teach the disciple what it means to listen to God, and follow His lead (Luke 5:1-11 and John 21:1-11). I describe the scenario in my ebook Leading Wide Awake:

Peter is a skilled fisherman ~ skilled enough, anyway, to make it his livelihood. He has at least two boats in his fleet, and a small cadre of men working for him. I think it’s safe to say he’s a professional fisherman.

On two separate occasions, though, we find Peter out on the water with his nets and his men, applying all of his considerable skill to catching some fish, but despite all his efforts he can’t catch a thing. On both occasions, Jesus comes onto the scene, and suggests to Peter a new strategy. “Try casting your nets out now,” (strategic timing) or “Try casting your nets out in the deeper water” (strategic targeting).

Now keep in mind that Peter is a professional fisherman. He knows how to fish. He knows what he’s doing. Nevertheless, he follows the strategy Jesus suggests instead of relying on his own experience and know-how, and on both occasions lands such a catch he can barely pull it to shore.

What’s the lesson Jesus is trying to get across to Peter, and through him to us? I think it’s simply this: Following Christ begins with listening. We need to learn to hear His voice, and follow His lead, even when it seems counter-intuitive or doesn’t make sense to us. Jesus himself modeled this way of following when he described His own relationship with the Father:

So Jesus answered them, “I tell you the solemn truth, the Son can do nothing on his own initiative, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. ~ John 5:19

Of course, it’s hard to follow God if you don’t hear Him, and you probably won’t hear Him if you haven’t taken time to listen. That’s what the Prayer of Listening is about: Taking time with God to really listen.

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“I have a point of view. You have a point of view. God has view.” ~ Madeleine L’Engle

(This is part 2 of a series on four essential prayers for faith leaders. You can find part 1 here.)

In her outstanding book, Pursuing God’s Will Together, Ruth Haley Barton writes that one of the key prayers a leader must pursue in order to effectively follow God’s will is the prayer of indifference. She writes:

“In the context of spiritual discernment, indifference is a positive term signifying that ‘I am indifferent to anything but God’s will.’ This is ‘interior freedom’ or a state of openness to God in which we are free from undue attachment to any particular outcome…We ask God to bring us to a place where we want ‘God’s will, nothing more, nothing less, nothing else.’” (p. 63)

This is the essence of the Prayer of Surrender. As you can tell, it’s not an easy prayer to learn.

God created each of us with the capacity for desire. We want, and this is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s one of the central qualities by which we reflect the Imago Dei. Some say that Buddhism stands on the idea that all desire & attachment lead to suffering, so the way to fulfillment is by killing your desire and thereby relinquishing all attachment to any outcome. That is not what the prayer of surrender is about.

The Prayer of Surrender is not about killing desire; but rather, surrendering it to God. It includes these four parts:

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