Looking Ahead

According to Kaia it’s now Christmas time. Apparently as soon as the temperature drops below 40 degrees she thinks it’s time to put up the tree and start singing carols. I’d rather wait until after Halloween and Thanksgiving myself. But, I do think this is a good time to talk about all the special things we have coming during Advent this year.

Advent is one of those “church words” which refers to the four Sundays before Christmas and leads up to Christmas Day. This is usually about four weeks, but can be almost 5 like this year. Advent begins on November 27th and will continue all the way up to Christmas Eve. Since Christmas is on a Sunday this year, that’s as long as Advent can be.

Part of the confusion with Advent is that it lines up with the secular “Christmas Season” beginning after Thanksgiving and continuing through Christmas. (Let’s not get into the retail Christmas season…) But, the Christian Christmas season is actually AFTER Christmas! You know that song, “The 12 Days of Christmas?” Well it is based on the season from Christmas through January 6th (or the Epiphany.)

The Christmas season is a celebration of the birth of Jesus, where Advent is a time of preparation for that birth. Advent is a time of waiting, of anticipation. And, waiting is something that I don’t do well, and I don’t think I am alone. When I get into the checkout line at the grocery store, or at any busy retail outlet, I get anxious. Well, no, I get downright evil. I grumble about the slowness of the line and wonder why I am cursed to always choose the slowest line. I think the license bureau gets such a bad reputation because of this same thing, waiting.

It’s hard to wait. It can be even harder to wait for a birth. Talk with just about any mother in the last month of her pregnancy, and she is likely to express that she is “Ready to have this baby!” There are a LOT of emotions tied up in that statement. Those emotions of waiting and anticipation are what Advent is all about.

Each of the four Sundays has a different theme: Hope, Joy, Peace and Love. To help us think about those ideas we include the lighting of Advent Candles in our worship services. Each Sunday another blue candle is lit to remind us of that week’s theme. And we light the candles from the prior weeks to celebrate the building anticipation.

Then Advent comes to its completion on Christmas Eve as we celebrate the birth of Jesus. On Christmas Eve we retell the story of Jesus’ birth through the reading of scripture and the singing of Christmas Carols. And we light not only the four blue candles on the wreath, but the central, white, Christ candle as a reminder of Christ’s presence with us. Then we conclude our Christmas Eve worship by singing silent night and each person lights a candle and we surround the sanctuary with light, reminding each and every one of us that we carry the light of Christ with us.

This year, because Christmas is on Sunday, we get the opportunity to celebrate Jesus’ birth again on Christmas day. We will have an abbreviated service (no Sunday school) where we will hear the Christmas story again, sing familiar Christmas carols, and take communion together. I look forward to celebrating Christmas with my family, and my church family this year. I also look forward to celebrating Advent with you this year, as we anticipate the coming of Christ even as we remember the anticipation of Jesus’ birth.

The Not-So-Rapid Response

You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.
James 1:19-22, NRSV

Over the past few weeks this scripture has run through my mind countless times. With the political season in full swing, I cannot count the number of heated conversations in which I’ve been involved, witnessed in social media, or overheard. I am certain of one thing; this political season is testing our resolve to be civil with one another in a way I’ve not seen before. I’ve also noticed that we, by in large, have ignored the wisdom James conveys in his epistle.

We have seemingly reversed his advised speed ratings. It seems we are slow to listen, and quick to speak our minds, often in anger. And I certainly witness too little of the meekness with which we are to welcome God’s word into our hearts. It seems that we’ve focused on “speaking the truth” as we see it, but we forget that Paul continues to say, “in love.” (Ephesians 4:15, NRSV) Furthermore, Paul continues to insist we speak truth lovingly because, “we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” All-too-often the “truth” I hear proclaimed is not loving, nor does it build anyone up to be like Christ.

You may have heard it said, “God gave us two hands, two ears, and one mouth for a reason.” The gist of that saying is that we are to use them in proportion to their appearance on our bodies, using our hands to serve and our ears to listen twice as often as we use our mouths to speak. I imagine we have all known people who have reversed that image as well. If I’m honest, there are days when I talk too much and listen WAY TO LITTLE! I am often reminded of the saying attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the gospel always. And, if necessary, use words.” One way of presenting the gospel is to take the time to listen to others, to slow down, take a breath, and really listen to what others have to say.

Unfortunately when we do listen it’s often to reply, not to understand. While the other person is talking, we aren’t really trying to understand their viewpoint or their motivation. Instead we are trying to find the hole in their argument, or formulating our next witty retort. Truthfully, that’s not communication. It is two people presenting their own opinions and arguments, with no intent of truly listening and no openness to the change which dialog can foster. It reminds me of Newton’s third law of motion: “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” It seems to me that we spend too much time reacting and not enough time listening, and not enough time responding.

So, on this rainy Wednesday morning, I want to challenge us to elevate our conversations to listening and response as opposed to planning and reaction. Maybe you’ve heard my “bumper sticker” phrase, objects react, people respond. What I mean is that when we react to something we hear, we are not fully engaging our humanity. When we respond, on the other hand, we are doing something that honors the image of God in which we are all created. I’m suggesting (especially during these last few weeks leading up to the elections) that we all commit to be part of the Not-So-Rapid Response Team. I’m suggesting we use our hands to serve, and our ears to listen, at least twice as often as we use our mouths to speak. I’m suggesting that we truly listen, instead of just formulating our next reaction. And, I’m suggesting that we honor the image of God in ourselves, and in one another, as we respond in grace and love, rather than reacting to our primal impulses

As we are quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger, may God bless the world through our love for God and for one another.



If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.
RUSH – “Freewill”

I usually reserve the space above these ponderings for a scripture. However, when I heard these lyrics again a few weeks ago, I started thinking about the importance of choice and choosing. I’ve been thinking about the choices I make since and want to share some of those thoughts with you.

I want to begin by offering you a challenge: listen to yourself over the next week and see if you can find out what you really believe about choice. I’ve been doing just that recently and I’ve found some interesting things. While I believe that I have free will, that I have the power to choose my thoughts and actions, some times that belief does not get lived out in my life.

Just the other day I was talking with someone about the repairs Jennie and I have been making to, and have planned for, our house. In the course of the discussion I said, “I have to do some touch-up painting and clean up the office.” I really should do those things, but what is requiring me to make those repairs? Honestly, nothing. Jennie and I have CHOSEN to make these repairs. Hopefully they will help the house sell more easily and subsequently bring a higher price, but the repairs are mostly cosmetic.

I use the same language when I am talking about appointments on my calendar. “I can’t do that, I have to (fill in the blank.)” If I am honest with myself, I don’t HAVE to do all that many things. Most days I can rearrange my schedule to fit those things I deem to be most important. Do you “have” to go to work, or do you “choose” to go to work? You might say, “I won’t get paid if I don’t work.” True. But isn’t that a motivation to go to work, not a requirement? You could choose not to work. There are consequences to that choice, but it is a choice you could make.

There have been times in my life where making a decision is almost crippling. There are so many variables, so many positives, and often just as many negatives. At times I have felt incapable of making a decision. At those times the lyrics above play in my mind, and sometimes I even sing part of the song. If I don’t choose, I am REALLY choosing the status quo. While that may be the choice I would make anyway, it is much more empowering to choose to stay rather than have the time for that choice pass me by.

Lest you think there is no religious component to these ponderings, choice is also important in our lives of faith. Throughout the Hebrew scriptures God makes covenants with the people of Israel. “I will be your God, and you will be my people.” Covenants are based on choices. The people could choose to follow other gods, and they did. Time and time again the people turned their back on God. They made a choice and scripture is full of stories which recount the consequences of those choices.

During the Last Supper, Jesus tells the Disciples that he is adapting the way he interacts with them. Although Jesus was a servant leader throughout his ministry, he tells the disciple that he is making a new covenant with them. Like all of those previous covenants Jesus’ followers have the choice whether or not they want to maintain the relationship. We choose to follow Christ. We choose to believe in God. Each and every day we make choices that either strengthen or weaken our relationships with one another and with God. I, personally, find that to be very empowering. We wake up every morning and choose God.

But what may be more astounding is that God chooses us as well. Even when Israel fell short, God chose them. Even when we fall short God chooses to restore the relationship with us. In John 15:16-17 Jesus reminds the Disciples that it was he that did the choosing. Jesus said, “You didn’t choose me, remember; I chose you, and put you in the world to bear fruit, fruit that won’t spoil. As fruit bearers, whatever you ask the Father in relation to me, he gives you. But remember the root command: Love one another.” When things get tough, when the world seems to be falling down around you, remember this, God chooses you


Don’t hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or—worse!—stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it’s safe from moth and rust and burglars. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.
Matthew 6:19-21 (The Message)

As many of you know, my family and I have been in the process of getting out house ready to go on the market. Before anyone gets too nervous, we aren’t planning a move away from Marshfield. However, as our family has changed over the past few years and will continue to change over the next few years, we have found that we simply have too much house for our family. It is time to downsize. And, what better time to do some of that hard work than over Labor Day weekend.

To make a long story a bit shorter, with the help of some friends we found out that we had at least 30 cubic yards of stuff we didn’t really need anymore. Yes, that much. What looked like a huge construction dumpster quickly filled to capacity and there was quite a bonfire (that lasted for two whole days) of paperwork and wooden things. I knew there was a lot of “extra” stuff in our barn, and stashed in closets in our house. I just had no idea how much.

Jesus told the assembled crowd during the Sermon on the Mount that where we store our treasures is important. I certainly wouldn’t say that what went into that trash container, or onto the burn pile, was treasure. However, as I’ve reflected on it over the past few days, I’ve come to understand that all that stuff did represent things that can keep us away from being the best version of ourselves. In other words, I had to clear up the clutter in my house to make way for our dream of building a home for ourselves.

But clearing up the physical clutter didn’t just make more room in our house, or in the barn. The amazing thing was how cleaning out that stuff has opened the space for more creativity in other parts of my life. I’m thinking more clearly. And that’s not all, I’ve been more “in tune” with God over the past couple of days as well. It really is astounding how a little bit (or a lot) of physical cleaning can clear out the clutter in other parts of our lives as well.

And that has prompted me to think about how the spiritual, psychological, and physical are all interconnected. My family and I had collected 30 cubic yards of extraneous stuff throughout the years. It took a lot of hard work, a few uncertain moments, and several friends, to help us clean up. I’ve noticed that the physical realm isn’t the only place where that is true. For me, seminary was a time to do the hard work of clearing out spiritual things that I didn’t really need anymore (with the help and support of friends and family) so that I could create the space needed for a renewed and strengthened relationship with God. And several years ago I read a book on organization for executives that suggested keeping physical notes as a way of clearing your mind to allow for more creative thinking.

With fall bearing down on us, I suppose it is a little late in the calendar year to suggest some spring cleaning. But there is no time like the present to gather some friends and family, and start doing that hard work of clearing the clutter out of our lives. I think you’ll be surprised by how far a little cleaning can go toward improving your outlook. And, in the process, you get the chance to build and strengthen your relationships with others, and even with God. And I can’t think of a better way to store up some treasure where it’s safe from moths, rust, and burglers.


Elijah was told, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
1 Kings 19:11-13 (NRSV)

The last few weeks have been a distinct adjustment here at the church office. I did not appreciate the difference Jennifer’s retirement would make in the atmosphere of the office. I knew I would miss her, but I wasn’t prepared for the silence to powerfully transform the workplace. Although I do appreciate quiet times, especially for prayer, the silence was nearly deafening.

Silence is something we don’t experience all that often these days. It seems we are never far from a phone to ring, or chime some notification. There is a background hum of electricity, or computers, or the drone of cars passing on a nearby road. We have become so accustomed to the background noise of life, that when that soundtrack suddenly disappears, we notice the silence.

For the two weeks between Jennifer retiring and Linda Summers starting as our church secretary, I felt strangely alone while at the church. Sure the hum of electricity was still there, as was the occasional phone call, and the sound of the traffic on the highway. All that silence started me thinking, was it really the noise I was missing, or the sense that someone else was there?

As Elijah stood on the side of the mountain, anticipating God, he experienced all sorts of things we would anticipate to accompany the almighty, strong winds, raging fire, and the earth literally shaking. But God was not in any of those things. God’s presence was in the silence, the stillness, the quietness. I wonder how often we miss out on the presence of God because we are focused on the ways we expect God to show up.

I expect to see God in the sunrise and in the sunset. I’ve seen God’s glory there before so I’m not as awestruck when I sense God’s presence there again. I have seen the wonder in a child’s eyes as they learn and experience new things, so I’m not startled by God’s presence in those moments. I regularly experience God’s presence in worship, so it comes as no surprise when the spirit enters the room on Sunday morning. Those, and countless others, are examples of earthquakes, and fires, and hurricane winds; places we expect to find God.

Where do you expect to find God in your life? Maybe more importantly, where does God show up unexpected? What is your silent place that allows for God’s voice to speak?

I didn’t anticipate that God would use those two weeks to get my attention. But it happened. I realized, more clearly than ever before, the importance of teamwork in all that we do. Simply having another set of eyes to look over newsletters and bulletins, or having someone available to answer the phone when you need to leave the office for a few minutes… Even just having someone else in the building to remind you that there is someone else in the world, matters.

Although that silence was loud and (at times) oppressive, it was also a reminder that God is ALWAYS near. We may not always sense God’s presence, we may not always see God’s glory, we may not always hear God’s voice. But God is near. May you sense God’s presence today and every day.

Learning and Knowing

Point your kids in the right direction —
when they’re old they won’t be lost.
Proverbs 22:6 (The Message)

Yet another school year is just about to begin in Marshfield. In just a few days students will be returning to the halls of the local schools. Some will be excited by the prospect of learning new things in the next several months. Others will be anxious about whether or not they will know anyone in their class, or in their lunch period. Still others will dread the return to the classroom, preferring the relaxed summer atmosphere to the expectations and pressure of classes.

The pending return to classes, and an invitation to a high school reunion, have prompted me to reflect on my own days in school. I can name several teachers who lived out the proverb of pointing us in the right direction. Those names make me smile, because they truly touched my life and are much of the reason that I haven’t been too lost as an adult.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve made a few wrong turns on the road of life. For the most part those “scenic detours” have led to momentary confusion, not a full-blown case of being lost. And those early teachers, at school, at home, and at church, are the ones I owe my thanks. They pointed me in the right direction. Which has been more beneficial for me than any of the actual coursework they assigned. I may not remember the texts we read, or the assignments I completed. But I do remember the lessons I learned.

I learned that how you treat others is important. I learned it is best to be honest and caring. And I learned that no one ever knows it all. That may have been the most important lesson of my childhood. Because we never know it all, we can never stop learning. There is a corollary as well, no one is ever perfect. That means we can never stop trying, practicing, or reaching. We can, and should, work to be life-long students, and always seek to improve in every aspect of our lives.

The ideal of learning something new throughout our lives is a way of constantly enriching our minds. Exercise and diet help us to maintain our physical bodies in the best shape possible. Engaging in spiritual disciplines, worship, and Bible study helps us to continue to grow spiritually. And, regular interaction with others through friendship and fellowship aids in maintaining a strong emotional support system. Taking care of our whole being empowers us to love God with our heart, mind, soul, and strength.

Life-long learning allows us to know a good many things. However, there are some things which we simply must rely on our faith to “know.” Hebrews 11:1-2 says, “The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd.” (The Message) As much as I want to learn those about the things that I can experience with my senses, I also want to know God, who transcends all of our senses.

In Psalm 46:10 the psalmist writes: “Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.” (NRSV) Even with the hustle and bustle of life. With the myriad of tasks which lay before us in the coming days, it is so very important to take time to be still. For it is in that quiet stillness where the voice of God is most clearly heard. When the noise of life becomes overbearing and the challenge of learning new and exciting things threatens to drown out the Author of All Things, take the advice of stillness. Be still and know God.

Plowshares and Swords

God shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
Isaiah 2:4 (NRSV)

My mood is as dark and dreary as the weather as I write this article. I awoke this morning to news of yet another senseless shooting, and news of more lives lost. Although I know I need to write this article, I honestly don’t want to. It isn’t that I don’t want to talk about the topic, but I honestly have hoped and prayed that we would have found a way to stop killing one another. It is past time. The violence simply must stop.

At the same time, I find myself wondering; “What, if anything, can I do about it?” I’m not the one holding the gun. You’re not the ones going on shooting sprees. I am sure that you, like me, are praying daily for the victims of the violent attacks that are becoming all too frequent these days. Orlando, Dallas, Baton Rouge, and now Fort Myers… And, I know I’ve missed some. Why is it that we seem to be reading from Joel where plowshares are beaten into swords and pruning hooks into spears, instead of the other way around?

This world we live in is broken, fragmented even. People near and far are hurting and afraid. We, as Disciples of Christ, claim to be a movement for wholeness in the midst of this pain and fragmentation. So, what are we doing? How are we moving to bring that healing and restoration into reality?

I’ve already mentioned the first step in the process, prayer. All too often we turn to prayer as a last resort. When we don’t know what else to do, we pray. I believe we are called to do the exact opposite. Instead of trying everything in our human power then turning to God, we are to turn to God first. Then we use what we discover in prayer to direct our human efforts. Although it may not seem like prayer is all that “effective” in bringing about change, one thing that happens when we pray is that WE are changed. When we pray we begin to see things through God’s eyes, and understand more clearly how we are to then ACT in response to God’s will and spirit.

Another tangible way to effect healing in the world is to train ourselves to recognize and celebrate the humanity of the “other.” You have likely heard me talk about the “radical objectification” which is running rampant in our society. We look at others (and sometimes ourselves) as objects, not people. Furthermore we have a tendency to treat objects as disposable. We care for them while they are useful to our purposes, but when their usefulness is over they are set aside or discarded altogether.

Where objects are useful for completing a task, people have inherent worth. When asked which of the commandments was the greatest, Jesus replied, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-39, NRSV) Jesus clearly commands us to love our neighbors, to treat them with dignity and respect. It is clear we are to treat our neighbors as human beings, not as objects.

But, who is our neighbor? Jesus answers that question with the famous Parable of the Good Samaritan. That well-known story reminds us that everyone, even the person with whom we disagree strongly, is to be treated as our neighbor. In other words, all people deserve to be treated with love and respect.

Our response to the violence of the world begins with prayer and continues as we love and respect others (and ourselves). Those swords and spears won’t become plowshares and pruning hooks overnight. But, we do have God’s promise that one day there will be an end to the violence. Until that day comes I’m going to do my part. I’m going to work each and every day to be the hands and feet of God in my sphere of influence. I pray that you will as well. Together we are a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world.

God is Always with Us … BELIEVE IT!

If you joined us for Vacation Bible School you heard that phrase repeatedly throughout the day. The focus of our stories, our crafts, and our games, was to remind us that God is always with us. In the darkest of valleys, in the mundane everyday, and during those mountain top experiences, God is with us.

That’s an important message for us to hear, no matter how old we are. God is with you. A major component of Jesus’ message was that the kingdom of God is in our midst. He repeatedly encouraged the disciples, and all who would listen, to notice God’s presence in our midst. Matthew 4:17 recounts the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, “This Isaiah-prophesied sermon came to life in Galilee the moment Jesus started preaching. He picked up where John left off: ‘Change your life. God’s kingdom is here.’” (The Message)

Jesus reminds us that God is not “somewhere out there.” God is right here, in our midst, with us, right now. However, just because God is present with us does not mean that everything will go smoothly. There will still be trials and tribulations, heartache and brokenness. The recent news from Minnesota, Louisiana, and Dallas just goes to confirm that. We are living in a time where God is presence, but not fully realized. It is like an extended pregnancy, there is new life, but it is not yet fully realized. The child is there, but we can’t yet see or hold her. It is a time of great anticipation, and sometimes substantial discomfort.

Though we cannot see the child, we see evidence of its presence. As the mother’s body changes to accommodate the new life growing within her, we know that there is something new and beautiful taking place. The same is true in our world. I believe, with all of my heart, that there is something new and beautiful taking place. I just don’t know exactly what that looks like, yet.

What I do know is that God’s present, and coming, kingdom requires something on my part. I have to change my thinking, my behavior, and my attitudes. I have to repent. Did you notice the importance of repentance to recognizing God’s presence? Jesus didn’t say, “Hey, the kingdom of God is here if you want it.” He said, “Repent.” We have to change our way of thinking, of acting, and of being to be able to appreciate God’s presence among us.

In just a few weeks we will begin a 30-week journey to do just that. Beginning on August 21st we will be working our way through “Believe: Living the Story of the Bible to Become Like Jesus.” This is the follow-up to “The Story” and will give us the opportunity to answer the question, “So what?” The story of God’s work in and through humanity is a remarkable tale of love and redemption. But if it doesn’t change us, doesn’t move us to be more like Jesus, then what good has that remarkable story done? It’s a great story. So what?

That is the question we will seek to answer as we journey through the 30 weeks of “Believe.” We will begin with 10 weeks asking “What do I believe about …?” During that time we will address what we believe about God, Church, the Bible, humanity, and more. Once we have begun to get a grasp on what we think about those topics, we will address how we act as a response. The question for the second set of 10 weeks will be, “What should I/we do?” During this time we will discuss topics like sharing our faith with others, worship, and prayer.

Finally we will conclude our journey by examining who we are becoming as people of faith. These last ten weeks will be focused on what Paul identifies as the “fruits of the Spirit.” After thinking about what we believe, and how we are to behave, we finally settle on how we know we are becoming more like Christ. We will cover topics ranging from love, to patience, to humility, to self-control.

We will take a short break during Advent to focus on the important message of God’s presence with us through the birth of Jesus. Our Advent celebration will include a special, casual, worship on Christmas morning. (I’m still working on what that looks like, but am considering something which I think will be fun, unique, and significant.) And we will take a break at Easter to focus on the importance of the resurrection in our lives. Our Journey through “Believe” will conclude on May 21st, 2017.

In the next few weeks you will have the opportunity to sign up to purchase materials which will allow you to follow along with us as we work through “Believe” as a community of faith during Sunday school and worship, and throughout the week on our own, or as a family. I am excited about this experience and the potential for transformation in our lives as individuals, and as a community of faith.

Put Me In, Coach!

This past week, I had the joy of attending a coaching training sponsored by the Hope Partnership for Missional Transformation. This coaching academy prepares pastors and lay leaders of the church to coach pastors and church planters. The truth is, the role of the pastor in church transformation and church planting is a difficult one. Hope Partnership knows that, and equips and provides coaches to pastors of churches in transformation, and new church starts. The coaching relationship provides needed perspective which helps the transformation or new church stand a better chance of success.

In talking with people about this training, I have found that many folks have never heard of clergy coaching. As a result there is a good deal of confusion about what the relationship is supposed to look like, and the benefits of being coached. So, I thought I’d tell you my perspective and we can start a grass-roots campaign to understand the importance of being coached (both as a pastor, and really in all aspects of our lives.)

As you may expect, my greatest experience with coaching, and being coached, is in the area of athletics. I still remember many of the drills and workouts my swimming coach assigned to my teammates and I in high school. I remember the hours upon hours spent on rowing machines and on the water during my time on the Kansas State Crew. And I shudder to think at the hours I’ve spent running, swimming, and cycling under the direction of Coach Debi my triathlon coach from a few years ago. I have a lot of experience being coached, and the last several years I’ve had the pleasure of coaching a number of junior high and high school cross country athletes.

I have found, however, that there are some differences between the realm of athletic coaching and professional coaching. In both situations it is the participant; the athlete, the pastor, or the professional, who is responsible for doing the work. A coach cannot win a race, or a game, because they are standing on the sidelines. The coach’s job is to prepare the person being coached so that when they are “in the game” they are ready to succeed.

In sports, the coach has a plan to achieve a certain goal (winning) and it is the athlete’s responsibility to follow that plan. That is where the professional coach (or clergy coach) is different. The coach doesn’t need to be an expert. The coach doesn’t even supply the “workout.” Instead the coach prepares the pastor by asking good questions. “What will make the biggest difference here?” “Which of your core values does this goal express?” Professional coaching believes that each one of us has a great deal of potential, but we sometimes get in our own way of reaching that potential. The coach asks questions to help expand and clarify the possibilities.

Which reminds me of a story where Jesus expanded the possibilities by asking good questions. In Mark 12, some Pharisees and Sadducees approach Jesus with a problem. They say, “Teacher, we know you have integrity, that you are indifferent to public opinion, don’t pander to your students, and teach the way of God accurately. Tell us: Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” (Mark 12:14, The Message) They present Jesus with a dilemma with only two possible solutions, pay taxes, or don’t pay taxes.

But Jesus, knowing that it’s a trap, asks them to produce a coin for him to see. (The coins used for paying temple taxes were not supposed to have any person’s picture on them.) When they give him the coin, he asks a coaching question? “This engraving—who does it look like? And whose name is on it?” (Mark 12:16, The Message) He has just opened the door for another solution. The image on the coin is Caesars. So Jesus answers their question about paying taxes with one of the most famous scriptures of all time; “Give Caesar what is his, and give God what is his.” (Mark 12:17, The Message.)

The beauty of coaching is that it is not limited to pastors, or athletes, or even professionals. We can all benefit from having someone else who is willing to genuinely listen and ask us good questions. It may seem like a miracle, but God has already prepared each of us with the answers we need, just when we need them. Sometimes, we just can’t get out of our own way to see them. That’s when good coaching helps