Don’t be a “Know-it-all”: No matter what you know

What if someone asks you a question and you don’t know the answer?

First of all, recognize that this will happen, especially of leaders or people in positions of real or perceived authority. No one appreciates the person who acts like he or she knows the answers, but does not.  Know-It-Alls are quickly dismissed by others. Don’t assume you’re NOT a Know-It-All; ask your friends, family and colleagues if you EVER come across this way. Recognize there is at least a kernel of truth in whatever feedback you receive.

Make sure you understand the question clearly before you answer. Repeat the question, paraphrase it, or ask for clarification.

Certainly feel free to answer the question based on your experience. If you are speaking as an authority, you should be able to back up your answer with facts and data. If you are not an expert in the subject of the question, say so quickly before giving a response based on your experience or opinion, and qualify your answer as such.  Respond with your own question about who the person knows that might be an authority in the area, or refer them to such an authority who you know.

Even if you are an expert or authority in the subject of the question, giving away your “expert” answer immediately may not be the most helpful response. “There must be a reason you are asking this question.”  Use this or a similar statement to get the person asking the question to say more. Or simply ask, “Could you say more about that?”  This achieves much: first, it will evoke context, more meaning and the underlying purpose of the question being asked.  Second, many people hold the answers to their own questions but ask others out of habit, self-doubt or the need for reassurance.  Directing the question back at them encourages independent thinking and brings out their own hidden potential for innovation and solutions.

Before you answer a question:

The more you get the person who is asking a question to think and say more about their question, the more helpful a leader and coach you will be.  And, the more likely you will provide a truly helpful response.

Directing the question back at them encourages independent thinking and brings out their own hidden potential for innovation and solutions.

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Your Agenda for Change

 “…a dream that lies somewhere ‘beyond your reach’ yet within the horizon of your beliefs.”


Reflecting on a coaching call from earlier this morning, I am again reminded of the critical role I serve as a coach.

I typically begin a coaching session with something like, “How do you want to use your time today?” It is amazing how difficult this question can be to answer for the un-coached individual, despite the typical “to do list” of the average person.  Of course, my coaching clients want something better than average.

This morning my call was with a long-term client, now a dear friend, who nearly always has had an agenda ready to address. This morning, his response was something like this:

“I really don’t have an agenda ready, but Mark, you know me well. What do you see with me or my business that I’m not addressing?  What are my blind spots?”

This is a brilliant question, by the way, if not asked too often; a brilliant agenda, even though he knew I wouldn’t simply tell him MY answer without exploring HIS answers first.  Thus began our coaching conversation this morning.

As I look back over the past 28 years of coaching hundreds (maybe thousands?) of people, I am amazed – when a client arrives with “no agenda” ready to discuss, this can be the seed of a powerful movement toward desired results from coaching.  It can also be a total cop-out.  Oh, the many stories I could tell…

Of course each person does have an agenda, but not everyone is able to articulate his or her agenda. They just need a little help in identifying and articulating their want or need in the moment. They may also need to learn, or be reminded, that I am not responsible for either their agenda or their goal achievement, success, happiness, or however one might label his or her desire.

This is what I do. I help people achieve dreams that are greater than their current reality. Not everyone is clear at the start, either about their dreams or about their current reality.

Yes, there are folks who are unable to articulate their agenda (but not incapable), whether it be for a coaching call, for that day, or for their life in general. That’s why my coaching model requires some intensive upfront work. Ultimately, coaching is impossible without an agreed-upon agenda, a goal, a dream that lies somewhere “beyond your reach” yet within the horizon of your beliefs. Most things involving two or more people are difficult, if not impossible, without an agreed-upon agenda.

This is what I do.
I help people achieve the dream
that is greater than their current reality.

Admittedly, I have run across folks who have been unable to open their thinking enough to be coached. Coaching is about change; some folks just aren’t ready to change.  You and I are the same: I have to be ready to seek opportunity, to enhance my current results, to tweak my attitudes, to address a significant challenge, or to achieve new results by doing something different.

Readiness is critical. Yet, some of us struggle to move from our “As Is” to our desired “To Be” because we have yet to identify and articulate either one. In these instances, we either allow our circumstances to dictate our reality, or we settle for merely “brainstorming” ways to get new results from an assessment of our circumstances that, perhaps, is too-readily accepted. We miss the world-changing power of a simple shift in perspective, what I call Choice #3.

Most people want to learn to articulate their agenda for change in order to work on it. Some will act on this desire; some will not. Some people recognize the value of a coach in doing so. In order to change our results we must change perspective, and a coach helps.  I cannot speak for my clients view of these instances, only for my own experience.

However, after a coaching call that begins with no apparent agenda, its not unusual for my clients to say something like “this was very helpful” or “this was a great call”, and even “this was one of the best coaching conversations I’ve experienced,” or “that was powerful.”  In fact, I’ve heard these very statements.

So I conclude with a few questions for you today:

  • How do you want to use your time today?
  • What do you really want?
  • What is your “As Is”, your current reality? How do you know?
  • If you could change anything, what would it be?  What is keeping you from making that change? (By the way, “nothing” is a less than truthful response. Think about it.)
  • What is your “To Be”, your desired future?
  • What is the one action you can take in the next 24 hours that will move you toward your desired future?

Remember, change is inevitable. Growth is optional.

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Introduction to Design for Glorious Living: Faith-Based Change for Christian Leaders

The final draft is ready for review and this is the Introduction to Design for Glorious Living: Faith-Based Change for Christian Leaders.  I will be sharing the complete manuscript with select reviewers soon (if you want to review, contact me privately), then piloting within the ministry reach of Lifting Arms Ministry.  Enjoy this excerpt and, please, share your comments.



Never doubting the ingenuity of God or God’s people, there are many ways readers might use this text and action plan. While creating this content and process, I conceived a few ways, and I am sure there are more:

  1. As a stand-alone study or devotional tool, much like any other you might use.
  2. As a tool for an in-depth articulation of your own affirmation of faith and purpose.
  3. As a “Fourth Day” supplement for those familiar with the Walk to Emmaus, Great Banquet, or Cursillo movements. Des Colores!
  4. For pastors and lay people new to ministry, perhaps right out of seminary or college, or in a new role.
  5. For experienced pastors and lay people — renew your passion for ministry.
  6. As a self-study, perhaps as a supplement to your Faith-Based Change 40-day coaching experience with a Lifting Arms Ministry Coach.
  7. As a platform for coaching during or following your Faith-Based Change 40-day coaching experience. [RECOMMENDED]

What ministry leaders really need is a real live person committed to coaching them along the Path to Enduring Ministry.  Tools and assemblies are certainly vital to continuing development, but you need direct sustained support, not a repairman or therapist, and more than a mentor teaching from his or her own perspective.

What you don’t need is just another “how to” or “self-help” resource that instructs you to “follow these (pick a number between 1-10) easy steps, and we guarantee you will (insert financial gain, ministry expansion measure, relationship status, goal or redemption obtained) in only a matter of (pick a number between 1-5) (insert a measure of time).

Our selves need help if we are to better our lives, if we expect better results, if we are to influence others and live on-Purpose, but we need more than a five-step elixir.

You know what you want to change. You may even know something is wrong, but no self-administered prescription works; so if you are here because you are trying to help yourself make significant changes, this material is not for you.

If self could help, then we would all have been fixed a long time ago. Genesis 3:7-10 illustrates how no one is ever quite the same after sinning with knowledge. We cannot return to the Garden from the wilderness on our own recognizance.  We think we know too much.

Isn’t it time you learned you cannot self-medicate your way to being a leader?

So let me be clear: Design for Glorious Living is not a self-help process. It’s the antithesis of self-help…This journey begins with a rejection of your self’s offer to help. Say this out loud, “I cannot make myself right with God.” (Romans 1:16-17; 2 Cor. 3:1-6) Instead of self-help, we are asking for the help of Christ in a spiritual experience that brings about supernatural transformation, which brings glory to God — even at this stage of your life. 

In fact, we cannot demand our “right” to our selves AND live into His Design for Glorious Living — the process that began in that moment you were willing for God to change your nature, and His re-creating forces began to work. As Oswald Chambers writes, “He has already saved us completely… and it is an insult to Him for us to ask Him to do what He has already done.” Living an atoned life of intercession is now your business: that this atonement may be exemplified in you and as fully understood in the lives of others as it has been in yours.

Design for Glorious Living — the process that began in that moment you were willing for God to change your nature, and His re-creating forces began to work.

Yet His work in you is not finished with atonement, it is just beginning. He works in you so you will go to work in ministry to others. Change is inevitable. Growth is optional. Change that leads to growth requires leadership. Personal change requires personal leadership. As for organizational change — there are only two ways to change an organization:

  1. Change leaders, or
  2. Change the leaders

That is, you can replace the leaders OR they can seek personal change and be open to God’s designs and continued work in their lives. Organizational change must begin with personal change of people in leadership positions, especially “top” positions, although that does excuse any of us. 

Quite frankly, many leaders are easier to replace than they are to change. Sometimes leaders are resistant to their own development. As a leader, you CAN be replaced OR you can seek personal change and be open to God’s designs and continued work in your life.

See note on the original inspiration for this book below.

Too often, leadership development is seen as a way to “fix the followers”.  Get over this now.  If you are a leader, then I guarantee YOUR continued development is the key to improved results. Just ask your followers.

But our leadership aim here is much broader than people in formal leadership positions: leaders come from many places, with many personalities; they serve many roles and with a great diversity of gifts.  There is no such thing as a born leader; leadership qualities and abilities are developed, and anyone can develop them. This includes you. 

Our aim is broad, but also precise in the Body of Christ, which is our concern; ministry leaders come from pulpits and from pews.  Christian leadership is not the privilege of a few but the responsibility of many.  Christian leaders are those who influence others to praise God with all glory, disciples who are vocationally called to make disciples in many professions, not just pastoral ministry.

We also want to help you go beyond simple change. Change fixes the past. Transformation creates the future. I will use the terms interchangeably going forward, but it is important to understand the distinctions. Do you want a better version of now, or something new? Both paths are difficult and produce rewards. Choose wisely. 

A butterfly is a transformation, not a better caterpillar.

Note: We will say more about the transformation of caterpillars in the On Earth as it is in Heaven chapter.

Author Chris McGuff writes, “Change requires becoming familiar with the current situation, and working to make things better, faster, bigger, or some other ‘er’ word.” The intent of change is to alter what already happened in the past. The success of change is measured by efficiency and economy realized at the end of an effort compared with the start — what happens next. Change creates a reconditioned or improved version of the past.  (For example, your ministry may grow, but is it growing disciples?)

Transformation is different; it is an assertion that our actions today create our future tomorrow. A transformed future can only be realized when you free yourself from past constraints — something we call Choice #3, which is described in the What is Coaching chapter.  In transformation, you recognize that God has a design in mind and He works with you to change you, to see what He sees, and to live into and co-create His design.

The apostle Paul describes transformative change best, and provides a singular inspiration for my role as a coach, as a Christ-follower, and as an author:

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. ~ Romans 12:2 (NIV)

The purpose of this book is to facilitate (to make easier) this transformation — after thoroughly considering current reality. It becomes easier to leave the past behind when you choose a path of transformation.  You permit yourself to envision the future freely; you make specific promises, with full integrity, about how things shall be. You take action to ensure that you live into your declarations about the future. Leadership expert Simon Sinek puts it this way: “What you do simply serves as the proof of what you believe.”

Transformation does not describe the future by referencing the past any more than we can describe heaven by referencing earth; it is a quest for a whole new world.  However, transformation begins with a firm grasp of current reality. Without an intimate understanding of current reality, we’re delusional about the future from the outset.

Great leaders not only see things as they are, but as they could be. Leaders can manage change, but they see the potential for transformation. They know from experience that even a highly refined ability to see what is needed is limited by one’s assumptions and beliefs. They recognize that transformative change requires more than just new skills, new ideas, new actions, and produces more than just improved results; transformative change produces a whole new world. Such change requires new thinking, new perspective, new habits, new behavior, new goals, improved processes, focused effort, sustained action, support from others, sincere desire, vision, hope, new levels of faith…

Rather than evolution or evacuation, through the incarnation God took on flesh and entered into the wilderness of the world, and there he started to cultivate order, beauty, and abundance that could be experienced in the present. He reached across the gap of time and space to grab hold of the garden city of tomorrow, and he yanked pieces of it into the wilderness of today.
~ Skye Jethani, Futureville: Discover Your Purpose for Today by Reimagining Tomorrow

Transformative change requires less of you and more of God; He requires all of you.  In short, transformative change requires new possibilities for new actions that lead to new results, which cannot be achieved alone or without intentional design.  Through His Design for Glorious Living, God works in you and through you to yank pieces of His garden city of tomorrow into the wilderness of today.

Coaching with Lifting Arms Ministry helps you, your ministry team, and your organization close the gap between:

  • Innovation and stagnation
  • Isolation and integration
  • Growth and decline
  • Inspiration and desperation
  • Confirmation and exasperation
  • New possibilities and limited options
  • His desired future and your current reality…

Join me here in the search to be remarkable — that by God’s grace you might have a valuable influence in the lives of others. Reconnect your thoughts and actions with your deepest values and purpose, and engender the same in others. Have the courage to take action now on the most important things. Achieve what may seem just beyond your reach, yet is within God’s plan — His Design for Glorious Living. Join me at the Intersection of Purpose & Now.

Mark Sturgell
Lifting Arms Ministry coach
May 2015

NOTE: The original inspiration for this book and the author’s interest in coaching church leaders is the void of leadership development that exists in too many churches and ministries.  The typical pattern is to recycle leaders: someone calls individuals within the ministry and persuades them to commit to specific roles. Once in those roles people hang onto them until they are completely drained, move to another role, or they leave, and the process of filling the void begins anew.  The same pattern occurs in filling pulpit positions, as well. There is no intentional development plan and, as a result, not nearly as much discipleship training as some ministries claim.
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