Category Archives: Gospel according to soccer

3 steps to effective collaboration — The gospel according to soccer: Part 8

Last week’s post ended with this exhortation: “Let’s work with each other as teammates to make each other stronger, in orphan care and whatever else you are doing in the world.”

That sounds great in a vacuum, but is it possible and realistic to actually work together in this vast and complicated world full of busyness and competition? Not only is it possible and realistic, but it is absolutely necessary if we’re going to tackle the problems in our world at the level they need to be tackled. But it’s really hard, takes a lot of time and commitment, and requires humility, among many other things. So how do we do it? Piggy-backing on the lessons we learn from soccer, here are some (definitely not all) of the things that are integral parts of true and deep collaboration.

collaboration puzzle

  1. Each organization and person needs to play the role it/he/she was created to play–do its/his/her part using its/his/her strength. While we sometimes must “play out of position” and cover for each other, we can’t try to be something or someone that we’re not. Not only will we not be effective, but we will create inefficiencies and competition that we can’t afford.
  2. Don’t compete against each other. We can’t get jealous if some other person or organization gets more publicity. Rather, we should always champion others doing great, kingdom-building work, even if our organization may be struggling at that particular time. We need to celebrate with each other when we have successes, and encourage each other when one of us is down. We need to start acting like we’re part of the team that we’re on. It comes down to whether we believe that we serve a God of scarcity or a God of abundance. If we do truly serve a God of abundance, as Scripture repeatedly promises, we will know that God will provide all of His people with everything they need, money and otherwise, to do the work He calls them to. This is why I celebrate and rejoice when one of my fellow orphan care organizations gets a matching grants, builds a new school, or meets any other of their many goals that further alleviates the massive orphan crisis we’re seeking to address.
  3. IronSharpensIron_01_2 Challenge and sharpen each other. While competition has no place in collaboration because it divides and weakens, challenging each other and sharpening each other to be the best we can be, with the goal to make each other flourish and effectively further God’s work as much as possible, is critical to any effective collaboration. It is by sharpening each other that we create synergies in our work where we can accomplish much greater things than if we worked alone.

The creation of In Pursuit of Orphan Excellence provides a picture of how we make each other better and can create synergies when we work together.

In Pursuit of Orphan Excellence Mockup-Stack

In the book, we have 15 co-authors from different organizations around the world. Instead of seeing each other as competitors and working parallel with each other in organizational silos, we committed to working together with humility toward a common purpose by sharing our experiential expertise in various areas. If I, or anyone else, would have tried to write the book by ourself, if each author tried to tell the reader why their projects and/or thoughts are the “right” or “best” ones, or if we decided to have each author publish their thoughts in 15 separate blog posts on different websites, the end result likely would have been of very little use to the average person. But by working together, I believe that God created an excellent work that will positively impact the lives of millions of orphaned and vulnerable children around the world for many years to come. I’ve told many people that it I am as proud of it as any professional accomplishment in my life to date simply because I didn’t write and couldn’t have written most of it, it absolutely has been spirit-led from the beginning, and it could not have happened without a bunch of incredible teammates working together with humility and common purpose.

I’m so glad that I didn’t view my co-authors and their organizations as competitors and try to write the book by myself. Not only did they vastly improve the quality of the end product . . . I also now have deep relationships with new brothers and sisters who I love and would go to battle for and with, and who continue to encourage me regularly.

Online CollaborationRemember–it’s not about us, it’s about the kingdom and bringing a little bit of shalom to the world around us, whether in our homes, in our churches, in our communities, in the lives of orphaned and vulnerable children around the world, or wherever you’re working.

And in the end, it’s simple. In the church, we cannot fulfill our kingdom callings without working together with other Christians in a unified manner. In orphan care specifically, we cannot reach our goals of loving every child in the world as God loves them without working together in a unified manner.

So let’s start putting these 3 steps into action in real and intentional ways!

I’d love to hear examples from you on how your collaboration with others has created synergies and otherwise sharpened you to be better, and any other thoughts you have about this all-important topic.

Why we need more teamwork in orphan care: The gospel according to soccer: Part 7

Last week, we talked about how great teammates play together as a team and ended by asking what it would look like if our organizations, the Church, and our ministries worked together like a great soccer team. Using the orphan care arena that I work in every day, let’s look at what great teammates and teams look like in the real world off the soccer pitch (a/k/a field).

In orphan care, the team members are spread out around the world and are doing a whole lot of different things. Orphan care workers are an extremely diverse, talented, and far-reaching bunch of people with a lot of different organizations of different sizes and different budgets, individuals with different skills, gifts, talents, and platform sizes.

bodyunityAnd that’s the way it’s supposed to be. While it’s often difficult for a team of far-reaching and diverse teammates to get on the same page and work together, and may often resemble the Bad News Bears more than a World Cup Champion (sorry to mix sports there : )), such teammates are exactly what the “orphan care team” needs if it’s going to effectively alleviate the orphan care crisis.

God has created each and every one of us to fulfill a specific role in His kingdom—he hasn’t created us for our (or our organization’s) own glory, but to be members of His team and use our skills and talents alongside others doing the same to bring Him glory and honor–to work together as co-laborers with Christ to make all things new . . . to help bring a little bit of shalom to our broken world.

This is nothing new. I didn’t make this up. It’s woven throughout Scripture. Paul talks about it quite a bit . . . take a look at Romans 12:3-8 and Ephesians 2:10 for a couple examples.

That we’re all different and get to work together with our different skills, talents, passions, and gifts is great news. If we were all the same, a lot wouldn’t get done, and a lot would certainly not get done well.

Stronger Together - Lifting the WordsBut it’s only great news if we don’t want to do it all on our own . . . if we’re not worried about getting the credit for our work . . . if we see ourselves, our Christian brothers and sisters, and our various organizations, churches, and ministries as ONE unified, kingdom-building team.

It’s only great news if we work together as a team, and create synergies by unifying our efforts around the common goals and success measures we have discussed earlier in this series.

Unless everyone in orphan care ministry is on the same page and works together, our work will not have a synergistic, multiplicative effect.

Instead, at best, we’ll just have different things working parallel with each other.

At worst, we’ll have confused people and organizations fighting among each other, distracting each other from the complex and huge amount of work before us, and potentially negating the effect of any work that we’re doing.

Of_Three_StrandsIt’s interesting to me what simple math can teach us about the importance of working together. While 3 x 3 equals 9, 3 x 0 equals zero. When you choose to not work with others, you not only fail to multiply your efforts . . . you could potentially wipe out the effectiveness of your work.

Let’s not do that.

Let’s work with each other as teammates to make each other stronger, in orphan care and whatever else you are doing in the world. You with me?

What makes a great team?–The gospel according to soccer: Part 6

Over the past few weeks, we’ve discussed what great soccer teams can teach organizations and ministries, and the orphan care movement in particular, about the importance of defining our terms and establishing common success measures that unify our teams. Without such commonly defined terms and success measures, it is really hard, if not impossible, to effectively work together as a team. But simply defining terms and success measures isn’t enough.

Much more goes into great teams, whether on the soccer field, in businesses, in the church, or the non-profit world.  And this leads us right into the second lesson that soccer teaches all of us.



2) Great players on great soccer teams work together as one to achieve their well-defined goals.

They play their positions to the best of their ability every time they step onto the field.

They don’t try to do everything or be somebody else.

They use their unique set of gifts, skills, and talents to make the team better.

They keep ego/envy out of the equation.

They pass to each other, cover for each other, encourage each other, and do other things to make each other better throughout the game.

Great teammates push each other to do better, to strive for more excellence. They sharpen each other. And when teammates sharpen each other, they often do things that they wouldn’t do otherwise. They often do things that they don’t think that they’re even capable of. They push each other to another level.

Man United celebrationGreat teammates don’t compete against each other. They don’t get upset when a player better than them joins the team, even if they play the same position. They don’t get jealous if a teammate gets the credit for a goal or other things (assists, saves, etc.) during a game. To the contrary, they celebrate these things with each other because it makes them better and helps them to achieve their common goals. Just watch some post-goal celebrations in major soccer matches and you’ll see what I’m talking about (here’s a fun example).

When teammates really work together and want each other to succeed, there is a synergy—the whole is usually much greater than the sum of its parts. Anyone who has watched soccer knows that soccer teams full of average players that play as a unified team and truly care about each others’ and their team’s success very often beat other teams full of great players who try to do it on their own are competing among themselves.

In the end, great teammates win together.


Great teammates lose together.

As a team.

As one.

What would look like if the Church, our organizations, and our ministries worked together like this?

Ambiguity and uncertainty in orphan care–The gospel according to soccer: Part 5

Today, we’ll pick up by discussing the question that ended last week’s post: Why are ambiguity and uncertainty in the foundations of the orphan care movement not good? And what can we realistically do about it?

Ambiguity and uncertainty lead to a lot of miscommunication, dysfunction, in-fighting, and arguments–most of which wouldn’t happen if we actually took the time to define our terms before having a conversation. I firmly believe that most of the arguments I’ve heard at orphan care conferences over the past few years involved people who agreed on a whole lot more than they thought they did, but they were using different vocabularies.

That needs to change.

But it won’t change on its own.

In Pursuit of Orphan Excellence Mockup-StackIt was these ill-defined terms and success measures that gave me the impetus a few years ago to begin the process that led to the book, In Pursuit of Orphan Excellence. As a lawyer by trade, I had a hard time going to conferences and seeing that too many people were leaving discouraged and frustrated because we simply were speaking different languages and failed to have common measures of success. The book started as a simple effort to provide a glossary of terms and it turned into an attempt to provide a starting point for a conversation amongst our orphan care movement to commonly define our terms and success measures. It’s not a “how-to” book, but the start of a conversation about how everyone can better work together to seek to love orphaned and vulnerable children as God loves them.

To maximize our efficiency and effectiveness, everyone involved in orphan care needs to do a few things with intentionality:

  • MediationWe need to actually get together and develop a common vocabulary.
  • Then, we need to sit down and talk with each other about what we agree on–which I believe is way more than we disagree on–and hopefully work through any disagreements we have. Doing these things will help us to work together more effectively and efficiently.
  • Then, whether we agree on the “how”, we need to take the time to figure out our common, unified, ultimate goals that we will strive for together.

In orphan care, team members are spread out around the world and are doing a lot of different things. Field workers, adoptive parents, foster parents, people working to strength families and disciple men, people working to re-unify families, people working with orphanages and orphan care communities, people fighting against trafficking, mentoring organizations, prayer warriors, and a whole lot of others working the front lines and “off the field.” It is an extremely diverse and far-reaching team with a lot of different organizations and people from different cultures, demographics, and backgrounds.

Because of this, we really need to be careful about how we define our terms, measure our success, and unify our efforts together.

Confused peopleWithout doing that, at best, we’ll just have a bunch of different things going on around the world working parallel with each other.

At worst, we’ll have a bunch of confused people and organizations fighting amongst each other, distracting each other from the complex and huge amount of work before us, and potentially negating the effect of any work that we’re doing.

So let’s avoid disaster and start defining our terms and success measures together.

Are you with me? If you are, I’d love to see some comments about how we can get where we need to be.

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.