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 2 – The universal language

Last week, in Part 1 of this series, I introduced the idea that soccer can teach all of us a lot about teamwork, leadership, and collaboration (among other things) in virtually every area of our lives, and invited you to join me this week to continue our conversation. Today, we’re going to take a quick look at why it is extremely important for anyone working in cross-cultural ministry to be fluent in the universal language of soccer (football for those outside of the USA).

According to a 2006 survey by FIFA, soccer’s global governing body, over 265 million people around the world regularly played soccer that year–and this number is expected to be increasing every year.

World Cup LogoIt is estimated that over 1 billion people watched the final game of the World Cup between Germany and Argentina earlier this year.

Every year, nearly 400 million people watch the UEFA Champions League final.

Compare these numbers to the viewership for the Super Bowl earlier this year: about 112 million people.

These statistics simply confirm what we discover when we travel to nearly any country in the world: Soccer (football) is not only the world’s most popular sport, but it is played, watched, and understood by more people in more countries around the world than anything else, sport or otherwise.

Ivory Coast Civil WarIt is amazing to see how far a ball (or anything that remotely resembles a ball), a piece of land, and a couple goals can go to bring people together who have never met, are from different cultures, speak different languages, and who seemingly have very little in common. Soccer also can break down walls between people who are told by the world that they shouldn’t “mix with,” get along with, or relate to each other in society. It even has the power to stop civil wars, as we learned in 2006 when the Ivory Coast soccer team’s involvement in the World Cup caused a hiatus in its country’s civil war.

I have experienced the cross-cultural relational impact of soccer first-hand on many occasions. when I was playing with a soccer team in Ukraine in 1995. We were set to play one afternoon against a local team, but they didn’t show up. Fortunately, though, we were meant to play against another “team” that day–a band of gypsies who happened to be passing through the area that day at that particular time. They saw a team on a soccer field without an opponent and stepped into the fray.

No shoes, no uniforms, no game plan, no problem.

By the end of the game, which ended in a 1-1 tie (we weren’t a very good team : )), players on both teams had connected in ways that we never would have outside the confines of a soccer field. And that opened the door for great conversations after the game that likely never would have happened if we had simply seen each other on the street or at a park.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThese examples are just a few of the reasons why it is so important for anyone working cross-culturally to be fluent in the universal language of soccer. Playing and understanding the game opens doors, creates immediate common ground, and gives us platforms with people in cross-cultural settings that might not exist otherwise. And our common language of soccer will also enable us all to have deeper understanding of the powerful lessons we can learn from the beautiful game, which can help us to collaborate and work together with brothers and sisters around the world in ways that we might never be able to do without a common vocabulary.

With this understanding of the importance of speaking “soccer”, we’ll get started with Lesson #1 in our series next week: All great soccer teams have common, well-defined goals and success measures.

Until then, I hope that you join the conversation with your thoughts on the importance of fluency in the world’s most universal language.

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?

Why I make Q a priority every year

Because it is as true today as ever, I am re-posting what I posted last year about the Q conference (with a few necessary changes).


One theme seems to be permeating our culture more and more today – we are busy.  Just ask someone, “How are you,” and you’ll probably find out that, among other things, they are “busy.” Or maybe they are “super busy.” Despite my many efforts to slow down, my life unfortunately is no exception to the tyranny of busyness.

So with all of the “noise” in this world competing for my time, energy, resources, and attention, why am I spending three days next week in Nashville at Q? What makes a conference identified by only a letter and describing itself as “a place for Christian leaders from every channel of society to become informed by and influential in the lives of one another” so special? With the thousands of conferences that I could attend each year, why do I make attending the Q conference a priority year after year?

Three reasons:

  • q-interviewQ inspires and challenges me to think deeper and better about myriad topics, some that I think about every day and others that I’ve never thought about before. The wide range of excellent speakers and experiences on topics from all areas of society, some of whom and which I strongly agree with and some of whom and which I vehemently disagree (and everywhere in between) with, stretch me to step out of my comfort zone, see the world from different perspectives, and engage in our world in different ways.  (I also love the 3, 9, and 18 minute time limits on the talks : ))
  • Q equips me to to be a better and more well-rounded organizational and thought leader through its speakers and conversations with like-minded innovators, church leaders, social entrepreneurs, and cultural pioneers.
  • Q collaborationQ is a hotbed for collaboration . . . from its intentional smaller number of participants with a common passion for advancing the common good, to intentional small-group reflection times, to small Q&As with speakers, to its “Experiences” and “Learning Communities”, Q provides an environment ripe for collaboration with people and organizations inside and outside my normal sphere of influence and involvement. It provides a rich environment to share ideas and opportunities with each other. Over the past couple years alone, my conversations at Q have resulted in meeting co-authors that have joined me on a collaborative book project, In Pursuit of Orphan Excellence, which released this week (one of those co-authors coincidentally is leading a “Learning Community” this year at Q talking about the perils of “Mission Drift”).

And Q offers much more beyond these things . . .

It’s not too late to join me and a few hundred other leaders at Q Nashville next week, April 23-25.  You can get more information and register at

As the Q website so eloquently and succinctly has put it, if you join me there, you will engage in “an intense experience meant to expose, engage, shock, and deepen your awareness of current realities and opportunities.”

I hope you join me because it won’t be the same without you.