Category Archives: Enrichment

Common goals in orphan care–The gospel according to soccer: Part 4

Last week, in part 3 of this series, we discussed the first lesson we can learn from soccer–All great soccer teams are unified by common, well-defined goals and success measures. In this post, we’re going to take a look at how important that foundational lesson is and how it actually plays out in the real world of church ministry. We’re going to focus on orphan care because it is the area that I’ve been working in the past five years.

First, we need to agree on a couple of key premises:

  • All Christians involved with orphan care are a team.
  • We need to work as a team if we’re going to have any chance of loving the orphans in our world as God loves them.

define your termsSecond, the orphan care movement needs to clearly define the terms and success measures that are critical to its mission.

All involved need to agree on terms like “orphan”.

And “family”.

And “orphanage.”

CAFO Summit 2014 buttonAs it stands today, we simply don’t have clear and agreed-upon definitions for these foundational terms. If you don’t believe me, just hang out at an orphan conference or two and really listen. You will hear these terms being used by many people to mean many different things.

A recent study comparing children’s lives when they are raised in “orphanages” vs. “families” highlights the lack of clear definitions. The study defines “orphanages” to include anything from a state-run institution with 100 kids in a room to a family-model home with a married couple raising the children as their own (though not legal, adoptive parents). The study’s “definition” of “family” is just as cloudy.

That same study shows that we have a long way to go in creating agreed-upon success measures for our work in orphan care. That study used measures such as height-to-age ratio and caregiver-reported physical and emotional health over a three-year period to conclude that quality of care is as important or more important than the setting for the care. Without getting into details, I’d argue that those measures don’t really measure the things that I’d use to define success in raising those children.

Whether or not you agree with the study’s conclusions, I hope that you agree with me on this: Ambiguity and uncertainty surrounding these key terms and success measures is not good.


We’ll pick up on this important topic next week. Until then, I’d love to hear your answers to “Why Not”, and any other thoughts you have on this important topic, through the comments.

Why we need common goals — The gospel according to soccer: Part 3

In parts 1 and 2 of this series, we discussed how soccer can provide insight into many areas of our lives and why it’s important for anyone in working cross-culturally to become fluent in the world’s most universally spoken language. Today we’re going to dive into the first lesson that soccer can teach us about leadership, teamwork, and collaboration in church ministry and orphan care (and other areas of our lives).

This lesson is first for a reason, as it provides a foundation for many of the other lessons we’re going to learn. It needs to happen before any team can work together effectively. So, without further ado, here it is:

Lesson #1: All great soccer teams are unified by common, well-defined goals and success measures.


A team performing at its highest level requires a whole lot of people unified in common, well-defined goals, working together to achieve commonly-defined success and excellence. Though not always, success and excellence is usually defined in terms of winning a championship, such as the World Cup. Without well-defined goals and success measures, a team likely will have a lot of internal conflict, be very inefficient, and will not attain excellence.

Think about what it would look like if a soccer team had a bunch of players with different goals or ill-defined goals, and they didn’t communicate with each other about what those goals actually are. Instead, they assume that they’re all on the same page.

over35menleague4What if some of the players defined success as winning the World Cup, others defined it as winning a couple of games, and others simply defined success as getting a good workout and not getting hurt—which incidentally are my goals when I play in my over-35 league.

Such a team would not win the World Cup without divine intervention, and a lot of it.

And such a team would have a lot of internal conflict.

Women's World CupAmong other things, the guys dreaming of winning the World Cup would get upset at the other players because they are “slackers” who aren’t working hard enough, and the “over-35 guys” would be thinking that the other players were taking it way too seriously and working way too hard. Winning a World Cup requires much more training, commitment, teamwork, and demands a much higher level of excellence than a bunch of old men playing together once a week for some exercise, fun, and post-game “rituals” at the local pubs.

Essentially, for a team to actually work together as a team and reach its full potential, it absolutely needs to be on the same page as to its goals and measures of success.

The team doesn’t need to agree on everything—just the important, foundational things . . . like whether winning or beer runs are more important to the players. Agreeing on the things foundational to the team’s success will lead to each team member using his or her gifts, talents, passions, and methods to do all the other things necessary to pursue those goals. And the level of excellence in their performance will be determined by the goals and success measures.

So, “What’s this got to do with churches and orphan care?”

Do you think that the orphan care movement has well-defined, common goals, and success measures?

If not, do you think the lack thereof has an impact on the effectiveness of the movement?

Leave a comment with your thoughts and next week we’ll tackle these questions together.

The gospel according to soccer – Part 1


A few months ago I was talking with Brian Fikkert, who wrote an incredible Foreword to the book, In Pursuit of Orphan Excellence, which I had the opportunity to co-write and edit. At one point during our conversation about how God brought together 15 people from all over the world to contribute to our book and make it happen, I thanked him for being such a big part of the team.

Rather than simply saying “You’re welcome,” though, he responded, “You’re giving me way too much credit—I hardly did anything. I just wrote a few pages.”

Whether or not he actually believed his words, I felt obliged to set the record straight, saying, “Yes, you only wrote three pages, but they were an extremely important three pages that set up the entire book. You were a huge part of the team. The book wouldn’t have been the same without those three pages. And nobody else could have written those three pages as you did, with the credibility that you brought to them. Sometimes the seemingly little things play a huge role in the bigger picture.

Goalkeeper“It’s like a goalie in a soccer game. Sometimes a goalie only makes one save in a game and only touches the ball a couple times. Sometimes a goalie never even touches the ball during a game. But nobody who knows the game would ever say that the goalie is not a critical member of the team—even in those games that he doesn’t even touch the ball. Think about it, if he’s not there protecting the goal, the game is completely different. The other team would simply be able to shoot from anywhere and score a goal.”

That simple goalie analogy that came to me during our conversation got me thinking about the parallels between soccer (“football” for anyone outside the US) and other areas of life, including how soccer relates to excellence in leadership, church ministry, and orphan care. (This gives you a bit of insight into my life–I might think about soccer a bit too much). The more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve realized that everyone who works with others (pretty much everyone in the world) has a lot to learn from the sport of soccer. For example, in the orphan care movement that I’m involved with, the teamwork, leadership, and other principles core to soccer can teach us many valuable lessons about how we need to collaborate and work together as a healthy team if we are ever going to reach maximum effectiveness and make a dent in the extremely complex orphan crisis we’re all facing in our world today.

Over the next several weeks, I will be going through many of the lessons that we can learn from the beautiful game, starting next week with why it’s so important for anyone doing cross-cultural work to be fluent in the universal language of soccer.

Join me on this journey . . . share a comment with something you have learned from soccer that makes you more effective in your life off the soccer field?

Two books you need to read

Last week was a special week.

It’s rare that I finish a book and think, “Everyone needs to read this book.”

Spiritual DangerLast week, I had the pleasure of finishing two such books: The Spiritual Danger of Doing Good, by Peter Greer, and More or Less: Choosing a Lifestyle of Excessive Generosity, by Jeff Shinabarger.

Both books will engage you with insights and personal stories that will make you laugh and cry, and think deeply about things that we need to be thinking about at deeper levels . . . but often don’t want to think about at any level.

In The Spiritual Danger of Doing Good, which will release in August 2013 (you can pre-order it now here), Peter tackles tough issues that, whether we like to admit it or not, easily and often are in the minds of anyone doing ministry or any other work for others at any level.  Through short, easy-to-read chapters and probing questions, he thoroughly covers the “Spiritual Danger” of things such as:

  • “Giving leftovers to loved ones” (e.g., sacrificing your family at the altar of ministry)
  • “Doing instead of being”
  • Superficial friendships and lack of real accountability
  • Using the wrong “measuring stick” to define success
  • “Justifying minor moral lapses for a good cause”
  • Constant worry over what others think about us
  • “Elevating the sacred over the secular”
  • Forgetting your true identity
  • Thinking that only good things happen to good people
  • Pride that makes us think of ourselves more highly than we ought, keeps us from listening to others, and makes us pretend to “have it all together”

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book to give you a “taste:”

“I recognized myself as playacting for people far away, not thinking about loving the people in front of me.”

“[T]here is no such thing as a minor moral lapse for a good cause.”

“If you believe that ‘it couldn’t happen to me,’ then you are in the most danger.”

“An elevated view of full-time ministry is thoroughly unbiblical.”

More or LessIn More or Less, Jeff will challenge you to dig deep into your heart, mind, and soul, and answer the question, “What is ‘enough’?”  Like Peter, Jeff uses personal stories to probe into how we can be more generous with our excess of material things, money, time, and other important areas.

He does not use a “guilt approach,” but rather invites us all into a life defined by giving that will result in more joy than we can ever achieve through a life of accumulating or hoarding.

I have the honor of knowing both of the authors personally, and know first-hand that these books are written by men who are walking the walk.  They aren’t just “talking heads” spouting off a bunch of things from an “ivory tower.”  They are both in the trenches, loving and leading with humility and boldness, struggling with us through the things that they are writing about.

So, buy the books, read them, and put into practice the wisdom that you drink up in their pages.

A counter-cultural sabbath rest – Month 5

In last month’s update (“A counter-cultural sabbath rest – Months 2-4”) on our family’s attempt to take a 2013 “counter-cultural sabbath rest,” I talked about our family’s need to recalibrate after hitting reality in the face with our “experiment” in slowing down in our fast-paced world.  As I talked about last month, slowing down has been a struggle, and in that struggle we’ve learned lots of lessons together as a family.

For instance, cutting things out of your life doesn’t guarantee that you’ll connect more as a family.  You have to continually work at connecting with each other (this holds true with Becca and me, as well as with the kids).

IMG_3549Spending more time together as a family doesn’t necessarily result in better family dynamics or better relationships — in fact, sometimes it has the opposite effect.  You have to make better dynamics and relationships a priority, and continually work towards those goals.

When you are intentional with relationships with your children, as well as between and among your children, and actually take the time to use the teachable moments to teach, coach, and lead your children, incredible things can happen.  Family relationships flourish, minds are shaped and formed in positive ways, character is developed, and disrespect for others decreases dramatically.


In addition to our family lessons, I’ve learned some personal lessons through this experience. One thing in particular is that it is really easy to let “important” things sneak into our lives to distract us from the really important things in our lives.  And I constantly have to be on guard to ensure that I say “no” or “no more” to the non-essentials so that I can give 100% to the essentials.

Acting on what I’ve learned so far this year, I have successfully said “No more” or “not at this time” to two of my major commitments.  And I’ve taken a step back from everything that I’m doing right now and asked a simple question of myself: “What are the things in this world that only I, Phil Darke, can do?”

In answering the question, I came up with a very short list — a list of only three things:

  1. Self-care – i.e., take care of my mental, emotional, physical, social, psychological, and spiritual health.
  2. Be the husband to my bride.
  3. Be the father to my children.

dark family shoot 143 darke family shoot 168

Nobody else can do these things.

So, with God at the center, these are the three things I always have to give 100% to . . . no matter what.

Everything else in my life is secondary (or tertiary, or further down the list of priorities).  I know that God has created me to do other things, such as work to bring excellence to orphan care through Providence, and I’ll strive to do those things with excellence as long as I’m called to do them.  But not at the expense of the the things that only I can do.  As many have said before me, I won’t sacrifice my family at the altar of ministry or my job or any other “important thing.”

I encourage you to ask yourself the same question, “What are the things in this world that only I can do?,” and do whatever you have to do to make sure that you give 100% to those things — every minute of every day . . . no matter what.