Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Change One Word, Change Your Life


If you have done much counseling or coaching you've probably discovered that a good percentage of the problems revolve around communication or the lack of, and conflict resolution. Many find that in communicating we have a tendency to create conflict and then have difficulty resolving it once it starts.  Often this is because of how we approach conversations with others.   

Recently, my wife confided in me that one of the things that she wished I change was how I responded to her ideas.  She explained that I almost always responded negatively immediately to any suggestion she made.  She suggested that it would be much better if I responded in a positive, encouraging way even if I didn't think it was a good idea.  She would start a conversation with an idea and I would immediately throw it into a contentious discourse if she were to continue it.  She could verbally spar by arguing her case or end the conversation there.  So most times she discontinued the conversation.

As I thought about her request, I realized that getting it "right" was the most important thing for me.   So it was natural for me to respond by telling her what I thought about her idea.  I was not in the least thinking about how she felt.  My problem was my focus on the task over the relationship.  I imagine men in general, especially pastors struggle with this in their marriage and with their congregation and staff.  Do I hear any amens?  We are quick to make judgements, and have confidence that we can discern what is right or wrong.  Confrontation is often invigorating.  We've been taught to debate and feel the rush of a good exchange of ideas or opinions.  This personality helped mature our faith and understanding of the Gospel and the prophet in us is surely a strength in preaching and arguing in a theology class.  However, when it comes to relationships, the constant conflict can be a detriment.  Over time, it can damage a marriage, destroy relationships and hinder a pastor's ability to lead effectively.  One easy way to start to change is eliminating the use of "but".

I've found that the person with the confrontational or task oriented personality has the tendency to start a sentence with "but" or a negative and then proceed to share an opposing opinion or idea. Even coaching them is problematic because any suggestion or comment I offer is met with a "but" or "yes, but"...

One way to overcome the "but" mindset and help reduce conflict is to exchange the word "but" for "and" in your conversations.  It is a simple solution that can work wonders.  To show you the difference between "and" vs "but" dialogues, try this exercise.  Have a conversation with another person about a topic. Each person takes an opposing view, trying to convince the other that his or her view is correct. Each person takes turns making a statement for his or her case and starts the sentence with "but".  For example, "I like to vacation in the mountains".  The next person's statement would start with "but".  "But, I like to vacation at the beach."  "But, the mountains are so refreshingly cool."  "But, the beach is so relaxing and warm"

After five or six exchanges, try the same conversation only starting each statement with "and" instead of "but".  "And, I like to vacation at the beach."  "And, I enjoy the cool weather".  "And I like the hot sun".  Notice how the whole tone of the conversation changes from a competitive nature to one that is more informational and much less confrontational.  Instead of conflict, you look to find what you have in common, the positive.  Even when you are exchanging a differing opinion the conversation can be positive.

I recently coached a pastor who had a confrontational personality.  He admitted that he was a "contrarian" by nature and struggled with giving encouragement. He certainly had a "but" mindset.  The staff would tell me that their pastor seldom agreed with any statement, almost always challenging any suggestion, ministry idea or opinion.  If you mentioned that you liked a certain book, he would usually share something that he didn't like about it.  Planning sessions were long and often left the staff feeling confused, deflated and defeated.  Members of the staff complained that they had a hard time brainstorming ideas with him because almost all ideas were criticized from the start.  When they finally agreed, "it was like we had been through a battle".  After talking with the pastor, I realized that his objective was to help the person or team get it "right", and he always considered his opinion or idea the "right" one.  Therefore he always evaluated each statement and looked for the flaws or the negative.  He had no thought of the impact of the process on individuals or the staff as a whole. Building them up was not his goal, it was to get it right.

It is ironic that his laser focus on getting it right actually hurt the team's ability to get it right.  Without the encouragement, team members were less likely to give ideas and input, afraid of having their ideas shot down.  If the pastor would simply acknowledge each person's idea with a positive, "yeah, that is a good or interesting idea, then use the word "and" instead of "but", it would change the whole dynamic of the conversation. It is possible to be both encouraging and informational (1 Peter 3:15).  We are called to the ministry of reconciliation and it is hard to reconcile with someone when we are in conflict.  (2 Cor. 5:18)
  • If you are of a "but" mindset, begin with being honest with yourself and realize that you have that personality and commit to being more intentional about encouraging others. 
  • Find the person that can help you change the way you communicate, hold you accountable and remind you when you use the word "but" or start off in the negative.
  • As you become aware of how often you use the word, begin to exchange "but" with "and".  The object is to help you begin to add the relational grace to your conversations.  Remember, it's not always about being "right" but about being the most effective for Christ. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

What Do A Funeral and Olympic Ceremony Have In Common?


Not much.  Actually, both were celebrations, one of a life and the other, an event.  But I cannot remember ever sitting through two more contrasting versions of life as I experienced this past Sunday within hours of each other.

The first celebration was the funeral of my good friend and colleague, Steve Stoner.  He was taken to heaven after a long bout with cancer and his funeral was definitely an experience that touched me beyond words.  Steve had time before he passed away to write his own funeral and the message was very clear.  It was all about Jesus.  There was a beautiful flower arrangement at the center of the pulpit saying TO KNOW HIM, TO MAKE HIM KNOWN.  The whole service was about that from the songs to the testimonies of friends, to Steve's own story which he had written and requested that it be read by his son, Tim.   There were 400 + who came to give honor and celebrate the life of a man who had impacted their own lives.  

Steve lived from his purpose: to know God, and to mlake Him known. He lived so that others would know the power of Christ not only to save lives but to also make a life infinitely more fullfilling and joyful because he had experienced such a transformation in his own life.  Almost every person I talked with afterward expressed what an impact Steve had made on their life.  The funeral was truly a celebration of a life lived well, that influenced literally hundreds of people. I went home with a lot of emotions, certainly a sadness for a friend that I'll miss dearly, but also a feeling of awe of the influence that Jesus Christ can have through the life of one individual.  

As I got home that night I turned the television on to watch the closing ceremony of the 2012 Olympics, which I had taped.  I was stunned as I watched a spectacle that was literally beyond words. The production was bizarre to say the least. I felt as if I was watching some scene from a movie about life on another planet. Some of it I couldn't watch and just fast forwarded past it. At one time when the whole stadium was turned to a crimson red, the floor of the stadium was filled with fire, and actors were dressed in various shades of red, I told my wife that this looked like what I envisioned hell to be.  When it was done, I had a totally different feeling than what I had experienced just a few hours earlier. I was confused and saddened because this stunning display of lights, colors and sounds didn't make much sense. If there was a theme it seemed to be about self and a secular world of odd sorts.  I couldn't remember seeing or hearing one thing about spirituality, faith or Christianity in either the opening ceremonies or the closing.  And the opening ceremony centered around British history and life.  Surely Christian faith played as strong a role in forming their society as anything else, but not a mention.

Was the closing indicative of a society without God?  Was this one man's (the producer) worldview, or is it a closer representation of the real world than I ever thought possible? Has culture changed and passed me by this fast?  

As I thought about the contrast between the ceremony and the funeral, I thought about Deuteronomy 30:19  This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life.

I imagined God laying the two before me.  You can choose either a life lived in pursuit of pleasure and all the world has to offer or a life lived like Steve Stoner, a man who lived for God and others.  It's not much of a choice for me.  I pray that I would always choose life!  

Did you see the Olympics?  What were your thoughts about it?

Friday, August 3, 2012

Finishing Well


I've had a couple of days to reflect on the life of my great friend Steve Stoner who battled throat cancer for three years until last Wednesday when God called him home.  I am not surprised but I must admit that I didn't fully realize the impact that his ministry had on so many people. Those on Facebook get to see, even though just the tip of the iceberg, his ministry and personal impact with so many commenting about how important he was to their spiritual growth. It is ironic that neither Steve or Peggy do Facebook. 

I could go on and on about Steve's ministry but at the moment, what has moved me the most about Steve in these last few months was how well he finished the race.  Watching the Olympics, you get a good appreciation of how important it is to finish strong, often the difference between gold and silver or medaling or not.  And the Apostle Paul used that metaphor of running the race to encourage us to preserver to the end as in 2 Timothy 4:7, I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  And Acts 20:24. But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.  

Steve, in the midst of the most difficult trial that one will ever face, finished extremely well.  Even in his last few hours, Steve continued to think more about others than himself.  As people poured in to visit him in his last days, even as he was in and out of consciousness, Steve often would recognize the visitor and ask them about their life, job or ministry. 

He was always positive, never complained and remained the rock of man we always knew.  One tender moment I'll remember near the end, as Peggy nursed him, he slowly lifted his arm around her neck and pulled her close up to his cheek and whispered, "I love you".  I can honestly say that Steve embodied the characteristics of the Holy Spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, as well as anybody I've ever known, all the way to the finish line!  And I know as he crossed the finish line of this life and entered into that glorious next adventure he was greeted with a "well done, good and faithful servant"!

How to choose the right path

“This is what the Lord says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and ...