Why I Love Leadership & Ministry Coaching

This past week I spent 2 days in downtown Atlanta with 29 other Pastors from around the country as part of a yearlong journey of growing together. For the last several years I have been a part of this coaching group in various forms through the ministry and efforts of NextLevelCoaching & NextLevelChurch.

You should know in full transparency that I’m pretty high on this church, their ministry and their staff. They are led by Pastor Matt Keller and others like Pastor Kyle Jackson. These men, and others on the Next Level team have sharpened my leadership, cared for my soul, and become my friends in the process.

My philosophy on coaching for Pastors and leaders in business is that

coaching isn’t an admission of weakness, it’s a sign of strength.

In my attempt to be the best Pastor I can be, best leader I can be, best husband I can be, best father I can be, and on, and on, and on, I want to surround myself with people who can make me better in these endeavors.

Even professional athletes at the highest level have a coach. The best golfer in the world has a coach. The best baseball player in the world has a coach. These athletes know what they are supposed to do. They understand the basic fundamentals of the golf swing, baseball swing, etc but having someone on the outside looking in to notice a little change that could make all the difference. You are still ultimately accountable as to whether or not to apply their suggestions, but I don’t think you ever get to the place where you can afford not to have someone coaching you.

The thing I love about Matt, Kyle and the team at NextLevelCoaching is that they don’t teach you HOW they do things at their church. They teach you WHY they do what they do. There’s a big difference.

If they teach me HOW they do things and I try to apply those things in my context I’m going to have to eventually change things or get frustrated because I don’t have their giftedness, personalities, context of ministry and more. But if they teach me WHY they do things I can understand the transferrable principles and adapt them to my place of ministry or choose not to because I realize it doesn’t fit.

As I coach pastors and leaders myself I have tried to apply this same model of WHY instead of HOW.

At various times over the last few years I’ve been inspired by a new thought on leadership. Other times I’ve been challenged by something they share from Scripture that I’ve never noticed before. Still other times I’ve been moved to tears as they pray over me, my family and my church. And still other times I’ve been convicted as they call out things in me that need to change.

An enemy to being coached is pride. To think that I know better, and to refuse to be teachable.

I never want to find myself in that place.

Thanks Matt, Kyle & Next Level Church for investing in guys like me. It makes us better, and it’s a worthy investment of all that God has sown into your ministry in southwest Florida.

We are launching new coaching groups this fall at ForwardLeadership, I will lead one of those and if you are interested in being part of my group you can click HERE. You can also click on the links above for more information on the groups starting this fall through Next Level.

Fresh Eyes

Corrie and I have 4 kids. I realize that doesn’t make us 19 kids and counting or even the Brady Bunch, but at times it’s overwhelming to me. She handles our lives with a grace and poise beyond explanation.

I recently wrote about our new habit of making our bed every morning and how it changed to the rhythm of our household.

One of the things that is crazy in our house is socks. From conversations with others I realize we are not alone, but 6 sets of feet produces lots of dirty socks and the washing machine really does seem to eat them from time to time.

When we do laundry we have a sock basket that we throw all the socks in since pairs don’t always get washed together (yes we realize there are ways to insure this, but we like our system just fine). Then every few days we dump the whole basket out in the middle of our floor and pair them up and separate them into everyone’s drawers.

Last week when we were doing this I had a stack of white socks in front of me, Corrie had a stack of dress socks in front of her, and the older boys had a stack of their socks in front of them. Eventually I came to a stopping place where I couldn’t find anymore pairs…and then Corrie looked in my stack and pointed out 2 socks that were a match. At first I was somewhat insulted, until I looked over in her pile after she got stuck and I immediately saw a pair or 2 that she had missed as well.

I previously wrote about our dust pan being broken for an “extended period of time” and repairing it with duct tape in a post on Forward Leadership. You can read it HERE. Here’s a portion of what I wrote:

The sad thing is we’ve used the dustpan tons of times since I added the tape, but always seem to forget we need one when it’s time to go shopping. It just doesn’t bother us anymore. Then a few days ago my mother-in-law was at our house and went to get the dustpan and started laughing. She said, “You know these things are only a couple bucks to replace.” It wasn’t that we didn’t know, we just got used to it, and didn’t think about changing it until an outside set of eyes noticed something we had long overlooked.

It’s the same reason potential buyers and real estate agents can spot a crack or water spot in a house they walk into for the first time, or you don’t notice how bad your car smokes until you go to sell it. We get comfortable with how things are, and don’t notice potential issues until we look at it through a different set of eyes, or someone else does that for us.

In our churches we are comfortable with the stacks of chairs over in the corner until we are walking through with our friend who finally agreed to come to church with us after months of invites.

It takes the new staff member to point out that grass is growing through the cracks in the parking lot.

It takes a visiting family member to ask why we still have copies of last week’s bulletins in the back of the pews.

Corrie wasn’t insulting me by finding a pair I’d overlooked, anymore than my mother-in-law was insulting me by pointing out the duct tape on our dust pan.

Looking at the same things over and over dulls our ability to see them for what they really are.

Andy Stanley says “Time in erodes awareness of.”


Consultants walk in and help point out overlooked things to reshape conversation.

Counselors ask questions to help marriages or people get back on the right track.

Coaches help you make small adjustments to find more consistent success.

It’s why I love consulting with church leaders, counseling hurting people, and coaching pastors. The answers are often right in front of them. They just need fresh eyes to help them see it.

What have you been staring at for a while that needs a fresh set of eyes? Who can you ask to look over your shoulder and make observations?


Look Again

I previously posted this on ForwardLeadership but wanted to share it here as well.

Recently while sitting in the waiting room at my kid’s dentist I played a game of Tic-Tac-Toe with my son Branson. It was a wooden set they had in the waiting area and the size of the board and colors of the X’s and O’s made it a little confusing at first, but we figured it out.

(Just as an aside. It’s almost impossible for me to play Tic-Tac-Toe without hearing the words in my head “Whoopi Goldberg in the center square for the block.” Some of you may get that.)

The first 2 games ended in a draw with no one winning. The third game though was different. Branson started with a different opening move and while I was sincerely trying, it became obvious to me that he was going to win the game…but Branson didn’t see it yet. We continued to play the game out over the next few moves and after Branson played his last piece he had won…but he still didn’t see it. I played my last piece and waited.

Branson looked up and said, “good game.” Because I know the way he is wired I knew that if he were aware that he’d won his reaction would have been much different. So I told him to look at the board again. He did…and he finally saw it. He looked up at me with a mixture of joy, surprise and pride and said “I won. I beat you.”

It turns out that he was trying to win in another part of the board and hadn’t seen the events play out to give him the win.

I immediately had this thought, “I wonder how many times I’m trying to execute my game plan and end up disappointed when it doesn’t turn out like I thought, while being oblivious to the fact that I’ve already won?”

I don’t want to over spiritualize a child’s game, except that I wonder if it in anyway connects to the childlike faith Jesus referred to in the Gospels.

Many times I get mad when my plans don’t work out like I thought, but it could be that the Father is watching the plan unfold in a completely different way…and I still win.

Just because your plan didn’t work doesn’t mean things didn’t work out.

It could be that you just need to “look at the board again” while your Father waits for you to see what He’s seen all along.

Investing in Others

I sing a certain song when I rock my daughter to sleep because if my mom were still alive it’s what she would sing.


That probably sounds hokey to some of you, and that’s okay. While mom was alive any time she would rock my three boys to sleep she would sing, “You are my sunshine”. Now that she’s not here I want to extend that song and the emotional connection, to my daughter Kinley, who mom never got to meet. When I sing, I tell her “this is what Mimi would be singing if she was holding you”.

I was recently talking to a friend in ministry who has made it a point to pour into my life, lessons on leadership, ministry, and family. He is in a rough season of discouragement in his present ministry context, and it pained me to hear him talking about his lack of things to offer anymore. I said to him, “what you don’t realize is that when we launched a new campus with great attendance, awesome volunteers, and what we believe to be the beginning of fruitful ministry…and that is in part because of you. You’ve never been here or met these people, but you are leading through me. Some of the things you taught me, I’m teaching these people.” I reminded him of other ministers he had influenced over the years and what God was doing in and through them in recent days. I reminded him that he made it a point to pour into us, and we were now pouring those things out to influence others. I said, “your influence reaches far beyond what you can see when you stand up on Sundays at your church”.

Andy Stanley talked at a Catalyst Conference about apprentice relationships. He said, “You aren’t responsible to fill someone else’s cup. You are only responsible to empty your own into others.”

The only way to insure that your influence surpasses your current context is to make it a priority to invest in people who will carry that influence elsewhere.

1) Don’t, not do it, out of fear for your own position. Invest in people. Replacing yourself is the most selfless thing you can do in leadership.


2) Don’t, not do it, because you don’t think you have anything to offer. Your experiences, both big and small, set up the next leader to be prepared when they face similar things.


3) Do it because they need it. Every human being on the planet wants to be affirmed, valued, and chosen. As you choose and invest in them you help validate their potential.


4) Do it because you need it. If your life is only about what you accomplish with your own hands, when you die, your influence dies with you. But if you invest in others…if you empty your cup of leadership into as many people as you can…neither your dark days of discouragement nor your ultimate passing can stop the influence that God has entrusted to you.


I sing to my daughter because my mom’s not here to do it. I sing her song, because it keeps her alive just a little bit longer.

Who can you teach a “song” too, that someone once taught you?

Polish vs Raw

A few nights ago I went to the Y to play basketball.  The usual suspects were there, mostly “streetballers”, guys trying to relive the glory days, and some guys trying to get in cardio to lose weight without the use of a treadmill.  (I won’t tell you which group I belong in)  Since the local high school teams have finished their seasons there were also several of those players and it was obvious who the HS players were and who the “streetballers” were.

From the first game there was a glaring discrepancy between the two different systems that existed on the court.  One system existed on the team of high school players.  They had a structure that hasn’t existed in my previous visits to the Y.  Each player upon receiving a pass, faked a pass into the paint, made a pass, and cut through to the other side of the floor.  They called out when a player was about to set a screen on their teammate.  They took good, calculated shots.  They were polished.  It was a beautiful thing to watch.

They got absolutely KILLED in most games, losing everytime.

The other team didn’t call out screens.  They usually laughed if there teammate got picked or fell down.  They turned the ball over a few too many times.  They attempted passes that were risky at best.  They tried to recreate scenes from AND1 videos.  They missed on a lot of these attempts, but ultimately made more shots than the other team.

This same thing played out again and again throughout the night.

So what?

I work at a very polished church.  While we don’t do everything perfectly, we do a lot of things well and with excellence.  Because I’m demented, as I watched the 2 differing styles I thought about some raw churches I know.  They “make some mistakes” (in some people’s opinions).  They aren’t polished in many areas, but they are just flat out getting the job done.  That isn’t to say that all “raw” churches get it right, and churches with structure, excellent systems, etc aren’t getting it done.  This is about me.

My prayer is that I don’t become so polished that I lose the raw.  The raw for me was really falling in love with Jesus, which didn’t really happen until college for me, though I was raised in the church.  The raw for me was my first few years in student ministry when I made a lot of mistakes I’m sure, but I just loved kids, spent time with them, and constantly looked for ways to get better at my job. The raw for me was in the first few months of our portable church experience when we were committed to “whatever it takes” to get the job done.

My church is great, and I believe I’m still doing effective ministry.  I just hope I never get satisfied executing within the system, but find myself on the losing end when it’s all said and done.

It’s All the Same Game

A few weeks ago I had a really cool day that revealed an amazing truth to me as a leader and Pastor. The staff from both of our campuses took an outing to go see the Rome Braves play the Asheville Tourists in a Single A Minor League Baseball game. Every few months our staff will get out of the building to do something fun together and to celebrate all the amazing things God is doing at our campuses.


On this day that outing was a 10am baseball game featuring mostly 18-22 year olds on their quest to make it to the big leagues. Our tickets were up in the 2nd section, but I’ve never attended a ballgame I couldn’t “move down” and find a better seat, so I ended up sitting on the 1st row right behind the visiting team’s on deck circle. It gave me an opportunity to do a little “trash talking” and to take in the game from a very close vantage point.


After the game was over we returned to the church to continue our workday. Later that evening I again found myself at a baseball game. This time, though, I wasn’t watching I was coaching. And it wasn’t 18-22 year olds, it was 7-8 year olds. I did a lot less “trash talking” and a lot more encouraging from my even better vantage point on the field.


At some point it dawned on me…


They were playing the same game.


Yes the minor leaguers had more experience and looked a little more polished in their efforts. Yes our 7-8 year old game didn’t offer the same amenities that the minor league stadium had…


But the objective was still the same: Throw it, hit it, catch it.


Every player all day long was trying to get outs on defense and score runs on offense.


In the midst of my day leading my team, preparing my sermons, or planning events if I’m not careful I will look at the bigger church across town. I’ll think about the Pastors I follow on Twitter.

I might be tempted to get frustrated and think “I’m not as good as they are.” “If only I had the budget/building/people/etc they do.”


Take pastoring and leading out of the equation, and the process is the same. I look at others and don’t think I measure up or that they are somehow doing things so much better or different than I am.

Author Seth Godin says, (paraphrase) “No matter what business you think you’re in, everyone is actually in the people business.”

This is a great reminder that WHAT you do doesn’t change WHY you do it. 

It doesn’t matter if you Pastor 50 people or 5000 people. It doesn’t matter if you make widgets or sell cars. It’s all the same game. That church that’s bigger than yours is driven by the same motivation yours is: reaching people with the life-giving message of Jesus Christ. That Pastor that has lots of staff members and gets opportunities you can only dream about started with the same desire you started with: reaching people with the life-giving message of Jesus Christ.

Those people you look at and think you’ll never measure up are looking at someone else living with the same insecurities.

Don’t allow yourself to think that just because they look better doing it or you can’t offer the same things they do that somehow they’re playing a different game than you.


God created you, just like He created them. God called you, just like He called them.


To my 7 year old, his game that night was just as big a deal as the minor league game…you know why? Because it was.


And so are you!

How to Get from Here to There

As I write this I’m leaving tomorrow to go on a trip. I know where I’m starting and where I’m heading so it is easy for me to put the information into my GPS. I wish things were that easy as a leader in getting from point A to point B.
Dr Ike Reighard recently came and spoke to our staff and said, “The number 1 job of a leader is to define the present reality.”
I bet if you surveyed a hundred leaders you would get a pretty healthy list of things as their number 1 priority before they said something similar to defining the present reality, but it makes sense doesn’t it?
I can cast all the vision I want and tell everyone where I think we are headed. But if we don’t have a clear understanding of where we are, we don’t have a starting point as we set out for our destination. Let me give you a practical example.
Suppose I’m pastoring a church that averages 50 in attendance on Sunday mornings, but because of “pastor math” I “know” we are a church of 90 people because I can always think of 6-8 families I don’t see on any given Sunday. Now suppose I have a goal of growing our average to 100 people. We don’t need 10 people…we need to double our church! That’s a different endeavor altogether.
I’m doing myself and my team a disservice by attempting to build on a false sense of reality.
Here’s another example that is a current conversation the team I lead is having:
We currently have 2 rotating serving teams on a Sunday to set up, serve and tear down (we are a portable church meeting in a school). In theory one week team “A” serves and the next week team “B” serves. We have set a goal to grow from 2 teams to 3 teams to allow our current volunteers to go from serving 26 times per year to approximately 17 times per year and to create more serving opportunities for people who aren’t involved yet. If we need just shy of 60 people serving on a Sunday “to do church” then we need 60 more people to create our 3rd team, right? Well what we’ve discovered is that we don’t have 2 clearly defined teams. We have a core group who serve on each team, and then they are surrounded on any given week by a number of volunteers who serve one Sunday per month. We really have a team “A”, “B”, “C”, and “D”, and it just so happens that some of our volunteers serve on 2 of those teams each month.
What we found out is that we know where we want to go…we just didn’t know where we were starting. To create the plan of action we had to more clearly define the current reality. When we did, it actually caused us to change where we’re headed, but that’s another post.
So here’s my challenge to you as a leader, or an individual. This week define your present reality. Take a break from looking to the future, casting vision about where you’re headed or setting any new goals for the coming year.
Put words to what you are right now.
Don’t be scared to say that things are as good as you want them to be. You’re not staying here, you’re just here now.
If you’re honest with yourself and with those you lead they’ll respect you. They can see what you see. They know the reality anyway. They’re probably questioning your leadership as you continue to paint a different picture than what they see around them.
Be honest with who you are. Pick out the next destination. Then get to work!