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Christmas: God the slow learner, but thank Jesus, God learns!

Posted: December 20, 2014 by Rob Voyle

We get one choice in life and it has two options: To live in fear or to live in love.

According to neuro-biologists we have many more neurons looking for dangerous stuff (ie things we should be afraid of) than we have looking for good stuff that brings love and joy.
This makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. Miserable people can reproduce but dead people can't.

This is why the default position is to live in fear. This biological reality is expressed wonderfully in the Genesis fall narrative. All of humanity (Adam) lives in fear and wants to hide from God. And every theophany in the Scriptures begins with words like: "do not be afraid," or "fear not."

Its also interesting to note that those admonishments to not be afraid are useless. Find some one who is really afraid and try telling them not to be afraid. Or just remember a time when you were afraid and someone told you not to be afraid.

When someone tells you to "not be" something that you are they are telling you to be inauthentic and deny your reality, and because most of you are too polite you probably won't say anything but a big part of you is likely to want to scream "You don't understand!"

There are many ways to understand the relationship of the Old and New Testament. One way I think of them is that in the Old Testament God is a slow learner or the People of God are slow learners, not sure which, but clearly sending burning bushes and other messengers and telling people not to be afraid, just didn't work.

With anxious people what is done after you tell them not to be afaid is what will calm them down. Somehow you have to join with them, and help them know that you do understand, that you have trod this scary path called life as well and while your circumstances may be different you do know what it is like to have all your anxious neurons wound up and energized. And, this is what really works, from that shared experience you offer part of your humanity, perhaps a hand or a hug, or a soothing voice, or presence, to calm them down.

So back to the beginning of the New Testament. Finally, God figures it out, that telling people to not be afraid just isn't working. So what does God do? God sends his son to live as one of us. Now we have a God who does understand what it is to be human. Now God knows what it is like to be hungry, thirsty, rejected, beaten, and once again in a garden knows existential dread, and the following day, death. Bottom line: In Jesus, God understands.

And this Jesus who today offers us his hand of friendship tells us that in his presence we need never be terrified to meet God face to face for we have become like him a child of God, who was born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of human will, but of God.

Now we can live into that other option, to live in love. While it may be contrary to much of our biology, and therefore it may often feel counter intuitive, it is part of our biology to live in love. We no longer need die, hiding in a garden of fear, but live in the garden of love with the One who is Love.

I wish you and your families much love this Christmas and in the year to come.

Rob Voyle

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People in the Church Love Change!

Posted: November 21, 2014 by Rob Voyle

People in the Church Love Change!

People come to church to be blessed and a blessing is always a change from one state to another state.

Perhaps, if you don't believe that people in the church love change, then you need to get out of the change management business and get back into the blessing business.

Or rather we could change the question from whether people like change to: Under what circumstances do people like change?

People love change when they can perceive of the change as a blessing.

What they and I will resist like the plague is any change that deprives us of what we value.

Discovering and embedding change in the deep life-giving values of a community is essential if we are to engage in creating sustainable blessing.

This is the heart of the Appreciative Way a synthesis of:
• Appreciative Inquiry
• The Change Work of Milton Erickson and Steve Andreas
• Contemplative Spirituality

The Appreciative Way offers more than strategic visioning process; it offers a way of seeing, being, and creating change in the world that is consistent with our deepest beliefs about the goodness of God's creation.

If you want to grow your ability to be an agent of change and transformation then I invite you to participate in one of our Appreciative Inquiry Based Training Programs.

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Teach Them How to Forgive this Sunday

Posted: September 4, 2014 by Rob Voyle

In this Sunday's Gospel lesson Jesus admonishes us to stay in a constant state of forgiveness. His words come just days after another 9/11 anniversary and will fall on the ears of a culture that places a high value on revenge often couched in a spiritually dead understanding of safety and justice.

But what is missing in Jesus exhortation to forgive is no indication of how to forgive. Not only does our culture value revenge it clearly knows little of how to forgive and this lack of knowledge extends to our communities of faith as well. I have attended national church conferences on forgiveness and been surprised that the keynote speakers spoke eloquently about the misery of resentment and yet never taught the participants what forgiveness was and how to do it. The end result was that this noted pastoral theologian made us feel better about not being able to forgive rather than how to find freedom by forgiving.

Telling people to forgive without teaching people how to forgive is very unhelpful and contributes to their misery and is likely to them resenting you as well.

Forgiving is actually quite easy when you know how. When I was taught how some 30 years ago I spent several weeks "having fun forgiving" as I reviewed my life history and specifically forgave those whom I resented. It was a graceful time.

To teach people how to forgive the first thing is to help discover the mechanism of resentment. Resentment is something we do, it isn't something beamed to us from Mars, or from people who have hurt us, it is simply something we do today in the darkness of what others have done yesterday.

Think of someone you resent... Become aware of the experience of resentment. Notice bodily sensations such as tightness in shoulders, neck, stomach, or some other part of your body. Now notice your emotional experience... What do you have to do to create these experiences?...

Think of a person you used to resent but for some reason no longer resent... What are you doing differently with respect to the person you no longer resent and the person you currently resent?

The answer is that resentment occurs when we demand today that yesterday they would have acted differently. When we think of the person that we no longer resent, we are no longer demanding that they had behaved differently.

To forgive we simply turn the demand into a preference. We can see the person in our imagination and say to them. "I would have preferred for you to act in another way." (Here we want to say specifically how we wanted them to behave.)

Turning a demand into a preference is important because it allows us to maintain our values. Forgiveness shouldn't be about violating our values with a comment such as "It doesn't matter." What people have done does matter, especially when our values are violated.

We then need to explore the value that was violated and then ask ourselves if we want to experience that value in the future. If we do then we can imagine ourselves sharing that value with others (not necessarily the perpetrator because they may be gone from our world.)

The last step is to wish the person well. In my experience I do so without every defining what that well might be. I simply surrender them into the goodness of God knowing it will be good for them and good for me. When I define the goodness for others there is usually a high probability that I am actually defining it in terms of what would be good for me.

Many people will object quite strenuously to wishing someone well, often because they confuse forgiveness with trust and reconciliation.

Forgiveness doesn't mean we have to trust people who have clearly demonstrated they are not trustworthy, for that would be foolhardy. Forgiveness doesn't mean we open the prison doors and allow people to endanger others. Forgiveness means we may keep in prison not as an act of resentment, revenge, or punishment but as a compassionate way to protect society.

Forgiveness is independent of the person who has hurt us. Forgiveness is purely about how I personally resolve what has happened to me in the past. Reconciliation is an agreement between two people about how they will live and work together in the future. And here is the big rule:

Never be reconciled to someone who does not share your values.

Jesus forgave the Romans, he forgave the Pharisees, but he was never reconciled to them or their mission.

So this Sunday I encourage you to not only talk about forgiveness but actually teach people how to forgive.

Teach Your Congregation to Forgive
Five Week Program

If you find there are many in your congregation who could benefit from a more detailed understanding of how to forgive then consider running the five week teach your congregation to forgive program. For the past 30 years I have been teaching people how to forgive and am continually amazed at how easy it is to set someone free from resentment.

In this program you will receive the resources to:

Teach people what forgiveness really is and what it is not.
• Teach people how to forgive.
• Resolve the internal resistance to forgiving,
   which often occurs naturally when they learn
   what forgiveness really is what it is not.
• Teach people how to be a compassionate presence in the world.

This material is taken from my book Restoring Hope: Appreciative Strategies to Resolve Grief and Resentment which can be found at:

For more information about the Teach Forgiveness program please see:

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Coaching: Paul's Conundrum Explained

Posted: August 28, 2014 by Rob Voyle

In his letter to the Romans Paul vividly describes his dilemma that the harder he tries not do the thing he doesn't want to do the more he actually does it. (Romans 7:18-20)

Passing laws against doing bad things doesn't stop people doing them, and it certainly doesn't ensure people do good things. As Paul vividly point's out the law is powerless to stop us doing bad things and it is powerless to get us to do good.

Why is that?

Last week I mentioned that goals need to be imaginable. Things that are not imaginable are intellectual abstractions and abstractions will not change people's behavior.

You have probably used the illustration "don't think of a purple cow," in fact you could take a moment and try really hard not to think of a purple cow...

The result is that you are holding in conscious the very thing you don't want. This little exercise demonstrates a profound point:

"It is impossible to image in consciousness a negation."

Trying to imagine a negation will result in a person "seeing" the very thing they don't want or they be conscious of an abstraction, or a very blurred pictures that is not compelling.

This is why negatively stated goals are rarely achieved. It is impossible to create in consciousness a picture of what you don't want. Negative goals are unimaginable and are therefore unachievable.

While that seems simple to understand we live in a society and participate in churches that are awash in negative goals. We put incredible effort into them and barely achieve a sustainable outcome.

Here are some classic negative goals.

Eliminating poverty
Child abuse prevention
Crime prevention
Conflict management
Deficit reduction
You shall not commit adultery
Non-violent communication
Non-anxious presence
War on terror
Fighting for peace
No child left behind

We can also list any goal that uses the word "less" as in "I want to be less depressed."

Notice how each statements causes us to hold in consciousness what we don't want, but does not evoke in consciousness what we want in its place.

All of these statements will either inspire continued action in what we don't want because that is what we see in our minds or will be perceived as an abstraction and not motivate any behavior.

The first step when dealing with something we don't want is to define the problem from the perspective of what we want more of in place of the problem.

The shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson has lead some to call for more anti-racism training. Here I am not only sad for Michael, his family, and the people of Ferguson, but also a total pessimist. Anti-racism training will not help and it may actually hurt because it will hold in consciousness racism the very thing we don't want. The problem isn't racism, the problem is the lack of respecting the dignity of all and cross-cultural collaboration for the benefit of all humanity.

Take a moment and create a picture of anti-racism training in your mind...

Now take a moment and create a picture of training that helps you respect the dignity of all and collaborate with people of other races and cultures...

Which creates the more compelling and motivated response for good.

Notice Dr. King didn't say. "I have a dream of a place where there is no racism..." instead he created a picture of a place where children of different races could eat together.

Likewise, we don't need another cease-fire in the Middle East we need a radical outbreak of peace and justice.

And at your local level, as a coach or as a leader the first step is:

"Get a goal"

and the second step is:

"Make sure the goal is positively stated."

And if you are in a conflict or problem situation reframe the problem by asking:

"What is it that we want more of?..."

And make what you want more of your goal

In next weeks newsletter I will explore how to clarify values with respect to the goal to increase motivation.

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Check the Training Schedule for the latest listing of coach training programs.

Goals Must Be Imaginable

Posted: August 22, 2014 by Rob Voyle

How many times have you heard or said:
I can't imagine doing that...

This may often occur for preachers who often hear parishioners say I can't imagine, tithing, forgiving, selling everything, giving to the poor, or a host of other things they can not imagine.

What the person is saying: "I can not create in consciousness a picture of my self doing that behavior," or possibly I can't "hear myself" say I am sorry.

The first step to achieving anything is to image in consciousness a sense of doing the actions or steps to achieve the outcome.

One of the reasons many people did not leave New Orleans before hurricane Katrina hit was because they could not imagine the devastation that was to occur. Even though their were technical reports describing what could happen they remained intellectual abstractions rather than vivid pictures in consciousness.

If you are a preacher and you want people to change their behavior then you will need to help them paint a picture in their minds of what you want them to do. This is why stories, and testimonies can be very powerful. They help people see the possibility of what they could do.

Anything that is unimaginable remains an intellectual abstraction, perhaps a very fascinating idea, but it will not motivate new behavior. I used to think I had done a good job as a preacher when people responded, "you really got us thinking this morning." But stirring the intellectual pot and actually getting people to do change their behavior are two entirely different thing. I now spend more time on getting people to imagine themselves doing something different and not simply thinking about something different

So whether it be preaching or coaching, or leading a group of people one of the key aspects of creating goals is to ensure that people can imagine the outcome. Notice that I use the word imagine rather than visualize. While visualization is important and typically our most well developed sensory activity, imagining a goal may also include being able to "hear" themselves engaged with someone such as talking to a neighbor, or if you were working with a cook they may need to imagine tastes and smells.

When people are setting goals invite them to imagine achieving the goal as a movie with themselves as the primary character in the movie. One advantage to creating a movie rather than using a "still" picture of the goal is that the movie, includes both the steps to achieving the goal and also the consequences of achieving the goal. Seeing the outcome in this way will help clarify the value of the outcome and whether it is worth pursuing.

In next weeks newsletter I will explore one of the main reason many organizational goals are rarely achieved and how to create achievable goals in their place.

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Check the Training Schedule for the latest listing of coach training programs.

Coaching Next Steps to Achieving Goals

Posted: August 15, 2014 by Rob Voyle

In the coaching world great emphasis is placed on getting the client to take the next step. Yet despite taking lots of steps people often don't achieve their goals for two primary reasons:

• The goals are poorly formulated.
• Despite having a goal, they keep heading in the wrong direction.

This week I want to look at the direction we need to head. And here is a big secret that is often poorly understood in the coaching world:

If you really want to achieve your goal the next step may not be forwards,
and all the talk of "moving forward, breaking through, overcoming obstacles, etc." may be a waste of time and at worst could be a real hindrance.

To begin:

Think of a goal, that you would like to achieve, that just seems out of your reach...

Close your eyes and imagine reaching for the goal...

Now notice how your are reaching, with both hands, one hand, and if so which? ...

Now notice in which direction your hands are reaching...

In groups I often get people to stand and physically demonstrate reaching for a goal that is just out of your reach, and it is interesting to notice the wide variation in ways people reach and the direction in which they reach.

If you are reaching forward then taking a step forward will probably be helpful.


• If you are reaching up to achieve your goal you will never achieve it by stepping forwards: You will need to step up...

• If you are reaching to the right you will need to pay attention to what is right for you to do, and I think you know what is truly right for you to do...

• If you are reaching to the left you will need to pay attention to what is left to be done...

• If you feel above it all and the goal is beneath you, then you will need to take a step down...

• If you feel you are on a precipice or a cliff and that danger lies ahead, then you probably need to take a step back... You definitely wouldn't be helped by "break through coaching."

What I find fascinating is that when people struggle to achieve goals and I get them to demonstrate reaching for the goal and I respond by telling them they need to take a step up or do what is right, or what is left to do, they most often have a profound sense of knowing exactly what that is even when we have not discussed the specific details of what that might be.

Listening to the language people use and the way they organize their experiences is at the heart of competent coaching and leading. The English language has many words that have multiple meanings and at the deeper regions of consciousness our minds don't seem to know that words have multiple meaning. So we will put what is right for us to do on our right and what is left to do on our left.

Competent coaching often requires that we explore the direction people are traveling and not just assuming that they need to go forward with their plans.

Leading people is often about getting all the members heading in the same direction. If you are leading a group take a moment and think about what direction are you heading and notice what direction the members of the group are heading. Some are always stuck on what is right, others on what is left, others just want to press on regardless of what is right or left.

For many congregations that are dying, pressing on, going forward, or being more faithful and committed to the chosen path, will just get them dead quicker because they are heading in the direction of death. They need to change direction!

The technical term is repent, but I will leave that for Lent, in the meantime it is always time to discover and head in the direction of life.

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Check the Training Schedule for the latest listing of coach training programs.

Mutual Ministry Valuation

Posted: May 12, 2014 by Rob Voyle

Creating Cultures of Excellence

Within the Episcopal church we have gone from performance reviews to a process called Mutual Ministry Review (MMR), sometimes to good effect and at other times they are conducted much like a performance appraisal and the outcomes worthless and in some cases downright diabolical.

I have treated one pastor for PTSD following a botched process and in other cases made thousands of dollars cleaning up the mess after botched MMRs so perhaps it's against my financial interest to be writing the following.

Personally I prefer the title Mutual Ministry Valuation (MMV) to move from the idea of reviewing to discovering and growing what is valuable and use a secondary title of Creating Cultures of Excellence to put even the valuing process into a wider context.

So here are some steps to creating an MMV process.

1a. Get Mutual

MMV or MMR is not a substitute for conflict mediation. The first word is "Mutual," we can't do an MMV when there is no mutuality.

In fact I strongly advise people to not engage in any kind of review in the midst of conflict. What is needed is reconciliation work prior to the review. When a review is conducted in the midst of conflict, the process will simply be used as an additional weapon in the conflict. I am not a fan of arming people who are in the midst of hostilities.

1b. Create a Learning Community

While some systems may not be in conflict they may be adversarial and punitive. (This is actually very prevalent in American society and sadly in most of our churches.) Bad behavior and bad performance must be uncovered and punished. This is an incredibly impoverished learning theory that rarely creates the desired outcome. If you are in such a system then stop now, there is no mutuality, and you will use the following or any other process as another club for the one group to beat up on the other.

People need to be free to fail if they are to have the freedom to learn and succeed. Creating cultures of curiosity and learning rather than judgment and punishment is essential in creating cultures of excellence.

1c. Create Mutual Expectations

One of the repeated failures of most review processes is a failure to begin with mutually agreed to expectations. People are reviewed on activities that they never agreed to, or the parameters are so vague they are impossible to review. One of the big outcomes of a MMV is to establish the goals for the coming year which in turn become the parameters for conducting any review.

2. Define Ministry.

Take a moment and define ministry. What is ministry? I ask this question at a lot of my training programs. It is rare to get a workable definition. Too often the process fails because people misunderstand the essence of ministry.

Here is my working definition of ministry:
Ministry is joining with God in what God is already doing.

3. Discover What God is Doing

The first review or valuing is about discovering and valuing what God is doing not what people are doing. One of the questions I love to ask people, especially in conflicted situations, is "What in God's name is going on here?" Most of the time I get all the nonsense that is not happening in God's name, which actually is none of my business. My business is to discover what in God's name is going on.

The science of creating great questions is more involved than this article, but in general:

Ask for stories not digital yes/no questions. For example ask:
• Where were you most aware of God's presence this past week?
   rather than:
• Were you aware of God's presence this past week?

Ask about what you want more of rather than the cause of what you want less of. For example:
• Tell me about a time when you have collaborated
   rather than:
• Tell me about the conflict you are having.

4. Discover How We Can Join God to Do More

You and I will spend the rest of our lives in the future. The purpose of the process is to create a preferred future so we need to ask questions about the future not about why we failed in the past. So we would ask:
• Where do we join with God?
• How could we do more of that?
   rather than:
• Why didn't we join with God?

5. Set/Re-Set Goals for the Area Under Consideration

Cultures of excellence require continual rather than annual review. Each area of activity needs clear goals that clearly describe the desired outcomes. Note: not all goals are measurable, but they can be described. For example: creating worship that enables an experience of transcendence.

Goals must also be set within the overall vision and purpose of the organization.
For example: We want to double the size of the Sunday school is typically unhelpful.

On the other hand a more effective dream and goal statement is: We have a dream that every child in our congregation will know they are loved by Jesus and so we have a goal to engage at least 50% of our children in our Falling in Love with Jesus Sunday School program.

6. Plan Strategies to Achieve the Goal/s

Giving people a goal without establish a plan and giving them the resources to achieve it is worthless. In addition to a plan people need access to the resources to achieve the goal. If the goal was not achieved we need to ask:
• What else do we/you need to achieve the goal?
   rather than:
• Why didn't you achieve the goal?

The latter question only fosters a culture of excuses and blame, we need to focus on goal accomplishment not on goal failure.

For a non-measurable goal such as transcendent worship, we need to explore the times people have experienced transcendence, such as moments of silence, and intentionally plan moments of silence into the service.

Practical Summary

Imagine you were to create a personal culture of excellence in preaching.

As you prepare the sermon consider:
• What do I want this sermon to achieve?

After the sermon ask yourself and/or a learning community the following questions:
• What did I value about preaching the sermon?
• What was the outcome?
• What would I do differently next time to increase the value of the sermon?
• Is there anything else I need to achieve the desired outcome?
   (Training, extra time in preparation, practice etc.)

Leave a Comment...

On August 28, 2015 Larry Glover-Wetherington responded to Rob Voyle:

I'm under the impression that doing the MMR on a quarterly basis would be even more valuable than an annual basis, that is within a church without conflict. When people only talk once a year, I wonder about the quality of communication or strategic mission planning.

I Hate Performance Reviews: Creating Cultures of Excellence

Posted: May 1, 2014 by Rob Voyle

I hate annual performance reviews, both giving and getting such reviews.

I am totally unappreciative about them.

Leadership is about creating a better future not about fixing past failures.

When I taught at the College of Executive Coaching I would conduct a brief one question survey of our students: "Have you experienced a performance review that left you inspired, motivated and equipped to do a better job in the future?" Consistently the answer was only 8% of the participants had experienced such a helpful performance review, yet virtually all thought they were important to do.

Edwards Deming said many years ago: "The worst thing in American business is the annual performance appraisal. It evokes fear and robs workers of the right to pride in their workmanship."

Unfortunately Deming couldn't get American industry to listen to him about the need for quality, dignity, and workplace without fear and the soul destroying process of annual performance appraisals continues, and now people want to bring them into the church! For those who don't know of Deming's work, when American industry rejected his ideas he went to Japan, and subsequently had a huge influence on rebuilding Japanese industry and above all the quality of Japanese products after world war two.

While I have no time for annual performance reviews I am deeply committed to creating cultures of excellence, and continual improvement. I want to do a better job in everything I do.

So how do we take stock of where we are and ask how can we do that better. At the beginning of this article I said: "Leadership is about creating a better future not about fixing past failures." We need to pay attention to what we are doing with staff and how that is impacting their future performance. Too often leaders focus on past performance unaware that what they are doing, often with the best of intentions, is degrading future performance.

Critique of the past, also known as feedback, whether criticism as in: "that was useless" or praise (as in: that was great) doesn't change future performance. Criticism just annoys and demotivates performance, while praise just makes people feel good but doesn't ensure they do good. What does change future behavior is getting the person to see themselves doing something better in the future.

So we could say: that was useless and next time I want you to do something useful. And then have a conversation about the specific useful thing you want done and include having the person visualize themselves doing the useful thing. Or we could say: that was great and next time I want you to continue to do that great thing.

There are several other things leaders need to pay attention to if they want to create a culture of excellence.

1. We need to create a learning culture, where the goal is to celebrate learning rather than punish failure. Its impossible to learn if we are not free to fail.

Sadly we live in an adversarial culture that focuses on blame and punishing bad behavior. I am not advocating ignoring bad behavior, what I am strongly advocating for is creating a culture where people can be learned and empowered to perform effectively.

2. People need to know the purpose of what they are asked to do. Without an ennobling vision many tasks becoming soul destroying and radically demotivating. Within an ennobling context, even the most menial of tasks, can be fulfilling and life-giving.

3. People need to have a clear job description or have specific goals that they have agreed to before any review can take place. As Edwards Deming also said: telling people to do their best is not very helpful if you don't tell them what it is that you want them to do their best at.

4. Review, reflection, and learning needs to be continual. An annual review is very poor psychology. People need to know immediately if they have done well, so they can continue. that behavior. Likewise people need to know immediately if their performance is ineffective, waiting months for a scheduled review is just plain wasteful.

In next week's newsletter I will explore some strategies for conducting a Mutual Ministry Review or Mutual Ministry Valuation as I prefer to call them within the context of a congregation.

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Why did Christianity Flourish: The Power of Your Easter Story

Posted: April 25, 2014 by Rob Voyle

Did Christianity Flourish because 11 guys got together and took an anonymous survey and 10 voted for the resurrection?

Or did it flourish because people shared their experiences of encountering the Risen Lord and how it had transformed their lives?

Sharing stories rather than gathering data is at the heart of the Gospel and it is at the heart of the Appreciative Way. In Jesus we had a master story teller in his followers we have people who delighted in sharing their own stories of Jesus.

I think I am a lot like Thomas, I want my own experience. And Jesus met Thomas in both his grief and in his need. Faith is not a second hand experience. We may see and meet Jesus in others but ultimately in the contemplative life we go beyond these temporal experiences and meet the eternal Jesus.

One of the things I deeply value about being a follower of Jesus is that I am known by name. It is personal, I am not anonymous, I am known personally by God. For me that is another fundamental aspect of the Gospel: like Thomas we are known by name, and we get to share our story of the Risen Lord and not just tell other people's stories of Jesus.

Many clergy have received anonymous letters telling them how miserably they have failed in some aspect of life or ministry. Such letters are never helpful because the anonymity makes it impossible to engage in a process of forgiveness and reconciliation. Anonymous letters or comments violate this fundamental aspect of the Gospel: that we are known by name.

Yet here is what confounds me: When Christian Communities want to make decisions at critical junctures of their lives such as in the calling of a pastor they often rely on anonymous surveys. We teach congregations to violate one of the core values of being a Christian and also do something we have tried to teach them not to do.

At critical times in the life of our communities we need to tell personal stories not become anonymous. You may get some interesting data from a survey but you will never change lives. You can find a brief article and podcast on why I don't use surveys anymore at:

As I reflect on the Easter story I am reminded that Jesus didn't come to give us less death, He came to give us life and we need to focus on and use life-giving strategies if we are to be an Easter people. Knowing what questions to ask, to get the right stories told is a core part of the Appreciative Way.

In general we ask questions about what we want more of (success, life, etc.) rather than what we want less of (problems, death, etc.) We also want people telling these stories to one another and not just a select group of leaders so that we grow a culture of appreciative story telling. And if there isn't much life going on then we need to be even more intentional in discovering the stories of the little bit of life we do have.

We can't build the future on less of what we don't want. We can only build the future on what we want more of.

Next week I will explore how to use the appreciative approach as part of creating cultures of excellence, rather than engaging in the soul destroying practice of annual performance reviews. Until then I wish you a truly blessed Easter season.


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Easter and Three Stories When Bad Stuff Happens

Posted: April 17, 2014 by Rob Voyle

Whenever a bad thing happens three stories can and need to be told.

1. The victim story.

This is the story of the bad thing that occurred told from the perspective of the victim of the bad thing. This is the Bad Friday story. A story of crucifixion. Interestingly, victim stories are almost always devoid of any reference to what part the victim had to play in the bad thing. Notice all the Bad Friday stories about Jesus. It is all about how he was flogged, spit upon, and crucified. There is little reference to the fact that he had royally annoyed a bunch of influential people by pursuing justice rather than maintaining an unjust society. He did a lot of other annoying things such as healing people who didn't deserve to be healed, not to mention having the audacity to forgive people of their sins, and really did he have to act like God was on his side not theirs? And after all they had given him clear warning that he was on the wrong path and something bad would happen if he continued on that path. Notice all these stories are missing in the victim story.

This is not to go down the unhelpful road of blaming the victims. But if we want to help people who are feeling victimized we need to get them back in the story by being aware of what they were doing and are now doing so they can make changes to what they are currently doing to move from being a victim to being a survivor.

2. The Survivor Story.

Even though a bad thing happened we survived. The bad story can be told from the perspective of how we survived. This puts the victim back into the story, and back into it in a resourceful way. Telling the story immediately after the trauma, in the third person, from the perspective of how the person survived as in "I see Rob climbing off the roof into the rescue boat..." can dramatically reduce the subsequent levels of distress when compared to simply telling the story from the perspective of the victim.

But surviving isn't enough. The survivor story is the Holy Saturday story. "We survived but so what, what future do we have now that Jesus is dead, or we lost our house, or any other bad thing that may have happened."

Many congregations in transition, regardless of whether it is the transition from one pastor to another, or the transitions caused by changing demographics are in this survivor mode. It is a limbo land. It is the people of Israel who have left the land of slavery but have yet to reach the promised land. They wander aimlessly in the desert.

But notice what is lost, it is the future, not the past. When bad things happen we still have all of our past what we lose is the ability to perceive of a worthwhile future. Simply talking about the past will be unhelpful. What we need to do is rebuild hope which is the ability to realistically perceive of a worthwhile future. This the third story that needs to be written and told.

3. The Thriver Story

This is the Easter day story that tells us that God's capacity to redeem a situation is greater than the combined capacity humanity's ability to screw up. There is no place on this earth that God's love does not shine. It is in the light of that love that we can help people to begin to write their thriver story. It is the story of how in the midst of a very bad thing a new much greater thing began to emerge and come into being. This is the essence of resurrection. It is when people say: "I wouldn't have wished this bad thing on my self or my enemies but I know I am a better person for having been through it." It is Easter day which turns Bad Friday into Good Friday.

The art of Transition Ministry is essentially about helping congregations work through these three stories. This is what I teach in the Introduction to Appreciative Transition ministry training program, which would be of benefit to anyone in the midst of transition. In fact I would say that the vast majority of congregations are in transition as we as a society transition into and create the post-modern word.

I also outline the appreciative strategies and techniques behind the telling of these three stories in Restoring Hope: Appreciative Strategies to Resolve Grief and Resentment, which you can find at:

I look forward to seeing you at a future training program and in the meantime I wish you and your communities of faith a very blessed Easter.


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See Restoring Hope for healing and change strategies based in the Appreciative Way.

Shaman 101: Change the Question

Posted: April 11, 2014 by Rob Voyle

I want to be a healer just like Jesus.

All of my ministry I have been fascinated by the transformational conversations Jesus had with people. Initially I thought he had super-human power or awareness. Now I don't think so at all. I think he was incredibly perceptive, strategic, and skilled in his use of language and that we can learn to effectively use these strategies and skills as well. At least that has been my experience.

Prior to becoming a priest I was a mechanical engineer, and in many ways "engineering solutions for people" is my preferred way of doing ministry. Learning specific, repeatable skills and strategies is essential to my engineers mind and heart.

Especially important is learning the off-beat or crazy strategies of parables, paradox, or spitting on the ground to make mud to put on a blind man's eyes. I've got the making mud figured out but I am still working on understanding walking on water. I think it has something to do with lightening up but I have an awful tendency to get weighed down by taking things way too seriously...

All the great Shaman, Jesus included, seemed to use bizarre non-linear approaches to teach and create opportunities for enlightenment or transformation. One of things they are really good at is asking different questions. Consider Jesus with the many born blind. The disciples asked whose sin caused the man to be blind, his own or his parents? Jesus doesn't ask questions of blame and sees the mans blindness as an opportunity for the glory of God to be manifest.

In addition to asking different questions they all seemed to see things from a different perspective. At this time in the church year I like to ask: What did Jesus come for? Was it to give us less death or to give us life? The answer seems very obvious yet in our churches and in our communities most of our programs are "less death" programs. They are designed to stop or prevent bad things from happening rather than being designed to ensure good things happen.

Think of some situation in your life that is unresolved...
What question are you asking?
Are you working to have less of something you don't want?

Steve Andreas, one of my teachers, says: It's easy to spot wrong answers, it's not so easy to spot wrong questions. When we get stuck in a problem we need to start asking different questions.

In your unresolved situation:
What would an alternative question be?...
What would the paradoxical question be?...
What would a really crazy question be?...

Do the questions shed light or darkness?
Keep asking different questions until you find the light?

Learning the art of asking good questions, and changing the perspective by which we view things are essential skills for both leaders and shaman.


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The Search Process: It is not Dating

Posted: February 14, 2014 by Rob Voyle

Are you searching for a new position?
How do you metaphorically describe the search process?
Does your metaphor help of hinder you?

Recently I worked with a pastor who described her experience and frustration of not being selected for several senior ministry positions after going through several layers of interviews and selection processes. Now she even dreaded going on an interview which she described as: "Going on a first date."

I have heard that "dating" metaphor applied to the search process many times before and just ignored it. Having spent the last few years learning how to pay attention to my clients metaphoric communication this simple metaphor of dating quickly brought into focus her resistance about going for another interview and some of the difficulties she was having in finding a new position.

If the job interview is a first date, then she is picturing her ministry as a romantic entanglement with a congregation.

Think of the implications and how often you have heard these expressions:

* I am always the bridesmaid
* The honeymoon is over
* I am divorced from the parish
* I am married to the job

Think also of how clergy spouses often feel betrayed by the relationships their partner has with their congregation.

And even going back to the interview process.
Do you remember "first dates." - yikes!

It means that the job interview evokes all the anxieties and emotions of a date, and a first date at that, rather than the intellectual curiosity of exploring professional possibilities.

The solution was also simple: This client loves to walk. Seeing the search process as: "taking a walk" with the interviewers, "walking through various options," makes profound sense to this client and it evokes her curiosity rather than her anxiety.

She also knows that some people are creative to walk with, and others are not. In her discernment she can simply ask:

"Would I like to walk with these people?" "Would walking with these people be life-giving for me and for them?" or "Would we just stumble around and get lost?"

So if you are in a search process how are you defining it?

Think about what you deeply love to do, especially those simple things like reading, walking, cooking, etc. that brings you deep satisfaction.

What would it be like to reframe your search process as an opportunity to engage in what you love to do and explore whether the essence of what you love to do would be welcome in this congregation. If it would not be welcome or wouldn't be life-giving: leave! This is not the congregation for you.

If you would like to learn more about using your parishioners or clients metaphors I encourage you to check out the Metaphor of Movement Training with Andy Austin


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See Assessing Skills and Discerning Calls to access the clergy search resources.

Discovering the Power of an Ennobling Dream

Posted: January 20, 2014 by Rob Voyle

As many commentators have pointed out Dr. King didn't start his speech with "I have a plan," instead he began with "I have a Dream." He then went on to describe the dream in a way that lifted people's spirits and opened the possibility of making the dream reality.

I rediscovered the power of "I have a dream, not a plan," last year when I was working with the people of St. Francis Community Services in Kansas.

St. Francis began in Kansas as an Episcopal home for boys in 1945. It has subsequently grown to provide a wide range of family and child services in Kansas, Nebraska, Mississippi, and Oklahoma. This past year it was awarded a multi-million dollar state contract to provide child welfare services for the western part of the state Kansas. See for more information about their incredible work.

I was working with a group of about 80 of St. Francis' leaders conducting a day-long appreciative inquiry summit. During the afternoon the energy seemed to leave the room as the participants were working on their plans to increase foster-care services for the children in their care.

As I was meditatively pondering what to do about the low energy, the word's "I have a dream not a plan" came into my mind. I invited the groups of people to restate their work, beginning with; "We have a dream," and then "We have a plan to make the dream a reality."

As the groups of people shared their dreams the energy in the room became palpable and moved me to tears. Imagine being in a room with 80 people who shared the dream: "That every child in Western Kansas would have its own safe, secure, permanent bed." It was truly amazing. They were ordinary people called into this place of extra-ordinary compassion through the sharing of an incredible, simple yet profound, and imaginable dream that every child should have its own safe, secure, permanent bed.

Now the plan for increasing the number of foster-care beds focussed on discovering and inviting others to share in that dream, and to share tangibly that dream by becoming foster parents.

I have subsequently incorporated "What is the dream?" into all of my planning processes.
Often discovering the compelling dream may take several steps. For example many people may dream of a large Sunday School of children and will be working on recruiting teachers, or painting classrooms. Asking iteratively, "What's the dream?" "Why do you want a large Sunday School?" may lead you through, "because that's what we had years ago," to "because they are the future of the church," (bad theology and self-serving in my opinion) to eventually a dream: "We want every child to know they are loved by and have a friend in Jesus."

Now recruiting Sunday School teachers isn't looking for well intentioned people who should teach Sunday School it is about finding the people who know they are loved and have a friend in Jesus and long for every child to know that in their lives.

The next time you are at a Board meeting or with a group working on a plan to achieve some goal, step back and ask "What is our dream?" Clarifying the dream will not only increase energy but it provides a vision based way to decide on specific plan alternatives rather than defaulting to fear and the power of personalities to make decisions.

And in the meantime I wish you my personal dream that you be free to:
love, laugh, and live from the depth of your being.


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The Appreciative Way

The Appreciative Way
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About the Author

Rob Voyle

Rob Voyle

The Rev. Dr. Rob Voyle is a leader in the development and use of appreciative inquiry in church and coaching settings.

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