Rob Voyle's Appreciative Way Blog
Agents of Change or Agents of God, and What's Christmas Got to Do With It?
Posted: December 21, 2015 by Rob Voyle
"Don't call me to be your pastor if you don't want to change."
I hear similar statements from clergy, and especially clergy at interim training
I have called myself an agent of change and can think of myself and others as
I was talking about change with a friend and colleague, Pam Mott. She is very
We are not called to be agents of change we are called to be agents of God.
We are not here to make it safe for people to change but safe for people to
Because ever since the Garden and the Fall our human instinct when confronted
And that's where we meet the heart of Christmas. As my good mate Ted Blakely
The Christmas angel's message was peace to the world. We can be in the presence
Many of our congregations need more than a few changes they need radical
So if you want to bring change to your congregation start making it safe for
And when a congregation asks you why they should call you as their pastor tell
I wish you a very blessed Christmas and pray that we all may know it is now safe
Teaching People How to Say Yes to Sex
Posted: October 2, 2015 by Rob Voyle
I am so tired of just say No Christianity!
There is absolutely no life in those things we say no to. As St. Paul proclaims creating rules against things brings death it is the Spirit that brings life. Yet too often Christianity is reduced to rules outlawing behaviors, and within the United States rules against anything that might be pleasurable, especially if it relates in any way to sex.
And what many Christians in the United States believe it is their moral obligation to impose their morality on the rest of us. I wish they would take their no-se out of my life and business.
What we in our communities of faith need to be doing is teaching people how and when to say yes to sex or other pleasurable things or anything else for that matter. It is interesting to note that some of the highest teenage pregnancy rates are in areas that mandate that abstinence is the only thing that can be taught. Just say no doesn't work, it didn't work for St. Paul and it still doesn't work for us.
So how would we teach people how to say yes to sex, without relying on a legalistic imperative such as the "Bible says so" or "God wouldn't like it." The last time I talked to God it was clear to me that God is not an idiot and so I wonder what he was up to when he was creating such things and inspiring books like the Song of Solomon.
I think we need to teach people they are free to say yes to sex or anything when they are prepared to accept responsibility for the outcome of the behavior.
And so what are the possible consequences of sex?
Now its relatively easy with a reasonable degree of probability to prevent pregnancy and disease, however nothing is ever certain and so we do need to consider and be prepared to accept responsibility for these potential outcomes.
But there are two other outcomes we need to consider.
• Fun and Pleasure
Sarah's response, in her old age, to the angel who told her she would have another child responded: "am I to have pleasure again?" Apparently Abraham was no spring chicken either and as George Burns once said: sex after 90 is like playing billiards with a piece of rope. So the old couple get a twinkle in their eye and apparently other parts as well...
Personally I am a bit of a hedonist and I have no problem accepting responsibility for pleasurable outcomes. However that doesn't seem to be the case with many Christians today. The writer H.L. Menchen once said Puritanism is the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy and it clearly seems that fear continues unabated in our society. So some folk will need to accept responsibility for the guilt they may experience for giving and receiving pleasure.
• You become one with each other
Many companies frown on or forbid workplace romances, yet fifty years ago, many bosses dated and married their secretaries or young clergy married choir members or the senior pastor's daughters. Now all of that is frowned on and the participants subject to censure. What has changed?
Fifty years ago, first dates meant coffee and a movie. Now it often includes sex. And when these relationships fail we have torn people in the work place. The pain and distress of being torn, of feeling betrayed, or used, seriously jeopardizes workplace effectiveness, not only for the couple but for their fellow colleagues who get to breathe the toxic fallout of betrayal and torn souls.
Can you accept responsibility for tearing your soul and the soul of another? What do you need to do to make it safe to become one with another and accept responsibility for the wonder of that oneness?
Just say no may be appropriate for children who don't comprehend consequences but it is not appropriate for adults. Its time for our communities of faith to teach the children of God to grow up and becomes the adults of God and know how and when to say Yes! to all the blessing God sets before us.
And in the meantime to all those so inclined, please take your nose out of my life.
With love and Joy
Leadership is About Empowering not Controlling
Posted: September 23, 2015 by Rob Voyle
The revised common lectionary Gospel Lesson for this Sunday has the Disciples wanting to control who gets to do ministry in Jesus' name just as Joshua son of Nun wanted Moses to stop Eldad and Medad to stop prophesying. Jesus response was essentially the same as Moses.
"Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord's people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit on them!"
One of the core tasks of leadership is to empower others to act, it is not to control who acts.
"No you can't do that." Is the common refrain as people grasp control, rather than leaders response.
"What do we need to do to empower you to do that."
One of the last things Jesus did before the ascension was to give away his power to forgive. We have his total backing. Whom ever we forgive will be forgiven in heaven. I have this little cartoon image in my head of the Father and Jesus, in total shock and disbelief: "Did you see who Rob just forgave, how could he do such a thing!" Fortunately that cartoon will only be a cartoon and never a reality. We have been empowered and Jesus has our back.
It is interesting to ponder that Catholics and my own Episcopal tradition want to control that power and limit it to priests, and I hear the Spirit whisper: "Would that you all were in the world forgiving people their sins." I could also digress and say that Protestants also get this wrong by saying only God forgives when Jesus clearly empowered us to be in the world forgiving people.
But I digress and am more interested in the task of leaders giving away their power to empower others. Congregations who are always pondering over who is in control will always have power conflicts, and these conflicts will never be resolved by creating models of governance that describes who is in power.
The only way to resolve the issue is to change the fundamental question from:
• Who is in control/power?
• How do we share power to empower people for ministry in our community?
Take a moment and think of who you depend on for your success. (Note: If you are not dependent on others for your success you are not leading anyone.)
How do you empower those who you depend on?
How is it working?
If it isn't working you may need to change your empowerment strategy. Different people need different resources to be empowered. Some need a lot of "hands on" empowering, while others need a "hands off" form of empowerment.
Jesus never relied on a "one size fits all" mentality when leading or engaging with others. Likewise competent leaders need to know their followers and what they specifically need to be empowered to perform at their best. So one of the things you may need to do when giving someone a task is to ask them:
What will you need to be successful?
In the Appreciative Leadership for Transformation training program we will be looking at empowering others to act as one the five core leadership competencies for effective congregation ministry. The other four competencies are:
• Inspiring a shared vision
Who is the Greatest: Calling Forth the Best
Posted: September 19, 2015 by Rob Voyle
The revised common lectionary Gospel Lesson for this Sunday has the Disciples contemplating who amongst them is the greatest. What I find fascinating in this passage is that while the Disciples were embarrassed by their apparent egotism, Jesus never rebuked them for wanting to be great. Instead he taught them how to be great. Too often I have preached against the evils of vain glory and bitter envy, as James in the Epistle describes, rather than teach people how to be great by serving others, and as James describes, by acts of mercy and wisdom.
Take a moment and think of when you have been great, in your zone manifesting your best and notice how others were being served. What I find interesting about those time is that there is no ego striving. There may be great effort expended and at the end of the day I may be tired, but I am also inspired rather than exhausted.
There is good and bad within each one of us. Our task is to call forth the best from ourselves and one another. Focusing our efforts on trying to prevent or stop the bad won't make us great. The war on drugs and the war on terror have clearly not worked and have simply called forth the worst from many. St. Paul's conundrum of struggling not to do something he doesn't want to do is a great example of how all that struggle just makes things worse.
Helping people discover and be their best is at the heart of the Appreciative Way, for it is when people are at their best that they most closely manifest the image of God that God created them to be. This is the you God new before you were born.
To create a better church we don't need better people, we simply need to call forth the best from the people we have. Here are some questions to ponder:
What do you need to be your best?
I wish you great joy in being great?
What in God's name is Going On Here?
Posted: August 28, 2015 by Rob Voyle
One of the things I am most consistently asked for is an "Appreciative Alternative" for performance appraisals and mutual ministry review processes.
The request invariably is asked following a review that has been distressing and lead to poor performance rather than to improved motivation and performance. The worst example I have dealt with was treating a pastor for PTSD following a well-intentioned but highly abusive performance appraisal.
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.
When asked for a review process my first response is to explore two questions:
Why do you want to do a review?
From my perspective, the only reason to conduct a review is to create a better future. But most reviews are so focused on the past that the future is ignored. People repeatedly tell me: "the person being reviewed needs to know how they are failing." My response is: "no, they need to know how to succeed!"
The underlying organizational culture is critical when conducting any form of review and future planning. If the culture is adversarial and/or punitive any review process, whether appreciative or otherwise, will be used to punish which will further degrade rather than improve future performance.
The alternative to an adversarial system is a collaborative learning system, where the commitment is to learn how to do things better and to create a preferred future. Love replaces fear and curiosity replaces contempt.
So back to Mutual Ministry Reviews. My preference is to call them Mutual Ministry Valuations because I want to move from simply reviewing the past to valuing and grow what was valuable in our ministry.
But before we do that we need to define ministry. What is Ministry? Do we have a mutual understanding of what ministry is? In many situations when I ask for a working definition of ministry it is clear that the people do not have a mutual understanding of what it is that they will be reviewing or valuing.
Here is my definition of ministry: "ministry is joining with God in what God is already doing." So the first part of any review is to discover what God is doing and then we can ask how are we doing in joining God in doing that? Its about really discovering "What in God's name is going on here?" This shifts the review/valuing process from simply reflecting on human performance to spiritual discovery.
You can find a more detailed version of the MMV process at:
I have also posted a parable:
I have also converted my in-person Mutual Ministry Valuation training program to an online webinar. For details and registration please see:
I wish you great blessing as you discover what God is up to in your world and ponder how you can join God in doing more of that.
I Tried, But I Just Can't Forgive: Part II
Posted: March 3, 2015 by Rob Voyle
In the previous newsletter I described How to Forgive.
Whenever we work on any kind of change process such as moving from a state of resentment to a state of forgiveness some part of us is likely to object, often quite strenuously, to making that transition.
To ensure that the transition is sustainable we need to:
• Discover the Objection
Notice the language. We do not want to "overcome" the objection we want to "satisfy" the objection.
When we overcome an objection we will do violence to ourselves which will further aggravate the resentment. We need to "satisfy" the objection.
So if you have a resentment that you can't resolve, take a moment and ask yourself if you, or a part of you, has an objection to forgiving...
If the answer is yes then ask that part of you that has the objection what would satisfy the objection...
Here is what I have discovered:
There are two kinds of objections:
• Safety objections, such as: "If I forgive him he will hurt me again."
Responding to Safety Objections
Resentment is actually a very draining and highly ineffective mechanism to stay safe, however I consider it unethical to teach someone to forgive if they are using resentment as their strategy to stay safe unless I have also taught them an alternative way of staying safe.
When we are in an ongoing relationship with someone such as with a boss who is a bully there are a variety of strategies to build internal resilience that is beyond the scope of this newsletter but can be found either in my book Restoring Hope: Appreciative Strategies to Resolve Grief and Resentment or that I teach in the forgiveness workshops and retreats.
Responding to Justice Objections
Or a response from the world that they know what a bad thing was done to me by the perpetrator. This may be in the form: "How will the world know he is a jerk, if I forgive him?"
Notice the dynamic in these situations: We are using our resentment as a strategy to get other people to change their behavior. What I have also discovered is that people will not change, at least in the direction I want, because I resent them. So resenting is a highly ineffective strategy that just makes me miserable.
If we are waiting for others to change the real question is: "How do you want to wait?" "Do you want to wait miserably or do you want to wait happily by getting on with your life?"
Bottom line: Never put your happiness in the hands of someone who has demonstrated that they can not treasure you. I recall Jesus saying something about "not casting your pearls before swine..." and he seemed to be a smart character when it came to forgiveness and dealing with offensive people.
In my experience it is impossible to satisfy the justice objections directly because, there fundamentally is no satisfaction to them. What we need to do is to discover how we are using the resentment and to recognize that it is a highly ineffective strategy, and at the same time a highly costly strategy to us in the form of ongoing personal misery.
So having reviewed your objections have you been able to satisfy them or set them aside as a highly miserable and ineffective strategy to achieve an impossible goal.
If you have resolved (not overcome) the objection then return to the previous email and go through the forgiveness steps.
If you haven't resolved the objections or you have but after doing the steps you still feel resentful then I would encourage you to attend a forgiveness workshop where we can explore in more detail some of the issues that are beyond a simple newsletter.
Forgiveness will not change your past, but it will change you and your future
At the forgiveness workshops and retreats we will:
• Create additional internal resources to provide a foundation for forgiving.
You can simply bring your resentment and leave it behind.
For training programs for teaching others how to forgive go to:
For forgiveness retreats to personally resolve resentment go to:
With Lots of Love and Forgiveness this Lent
I Tried, But I Just Can't Forgive: Part I
Posted: March 2, 2015 by Rob Voyle
Have you ever tried to forgive and the resentment kept coming back?
And yet you would like to be free of the resentment?
From my experience there are two reasons people don't forgive and free themselves from the burden of their resentment:
1: They don't know how.
2: Some part of them objects to forgiving.
In this newsletter I will teach you how to forgive and in Part II I will teach you how to resolve the objections to forgiving.
How to Forgive
Remember this is about forgiveness, which is how you resolve your past. It is not about reconciliation which is an agreement between two people about how they will interact in the future. While we may long for the day when all are reconciled, in this temporal world that may be impossible. It would be foolhardy to be reconciled to and trust people who have demonstrated that they are untrustworthy, and continue to behave in untrustworthy ways.
A couple of things:
Don't talk to or communicate about the experience with the person you are forgiving. Forgiveness is about your internal experience that is totally independent of the other person. Typically when we want to talk about it with the person we are wanting them to acknowledge what they have done, which they are not likely to do, which will continue to aggravate the resentment.
If the above didn't work read Part II dealing with objections.
With Lots of Love and Forgiveness this Lent
The Power to Resolve the Past Is Within You?
Posted: February 15, 2015 by Rob Voyle
Take a moment and think of something such as a resentment that you would like to resolve...
The word "resolve" is very interesting to me. It simply means to "re"-"solve" or solve again. Likewise resolution means "apply the solution again."
So if we go back to the thing you would like to resolve, all we need to do is find out how you solved the situation or something similar in the past and use that solution to bring resolution to the current predicament.
The challenge is that in most situations we don't know how we resolved things in the past. We just seemed to do it over time, and we then assume that "time heals."
What I have discovered is that time heals absolutely nothing.
I have known people in their eighties who were still traumatized and having flashbacks of what they experienced as young men in the second world war. If time healed anything these men would have been well and truly healed.
On the other hand what I have discovered that what brings healing is what we do during the time.
If we were to think of resolving a resentment we can reflect on other people that at one time we resented but for some reason when we remember them today our memory of them no longer leads to feelings of anger or distress. Some how we resolved that resentment, which technically we call forgiveness.
The key here is to pay attention to "how" we remember the person we resent and the person we have forgiven.
Like the word resolve, the word "remember" is made of two parts "re" and "member" it means "put back together again in consciousness." Remembering is a huge part of our faith experience. We remember Biblical stories. We celebrate Eucharist to remember Jesus.
So "how" do we remember a person we currently resent and a person we have forgiven. Do we "see" pictures of them in our mind, do we "hear" conversations with then again in our mind, do we just have a "sense" of their presence.
Within these general categories of "seeing," "hearing," or "sensing" we also have sub-categories. Our internal pictures may be big or small, clear or fuzzy; internal sounds may be loud or quiet, fast or slow; and our internal sense may seem close or distant, vague or precise etc.
What we need to do is get very specific and precise with "how" we remember. One of the best ways to determine the specifics is to listen to the metaphoric ways we describe our memories. For example we may often say: "It is very clear to me..." or "My memory is a little fuzzy on what happened..."
In this situation if we were to check we would find that our "internal pictures" of the event are clear or fuzzy.
Likewise if someone were to say: "We used to be very close, but now we are quite distant." You would find that the first "internal picture" would be closer than the second "internal picture."
Now if we were to go back to the situation you would like to resolve and determine how you are "re-membering" that and how you "re-member" a similar situation that you have resolved you will find that there are quite distinct differences in "how" you are "re member." The solution is to "re-member" the unresolved situation the same way that you "re-member" the resolved experience.
So if we were to apply that to resentment, we would discover and contrast the way you remember a current resentment and the way you remember a resolved resentment. We would find that there a very specific and distinct differences in the way you remember. Re-membering a present resentment the way we remember a resolved resentment will instantly bring relief from the resentment and its present distress.
This approach is at the heart of the Appreciative Way of Resolving. We simply discover how you have resolved experiences in the past and then use your own unique way of resolving to current predicaments.
In Restoring Hope: Appreciative Strategies to Resolve Grief and Resentment I have detailed protocols for exploring how people remember and how to create sustainable solutions to truama, grief and resentment by simply changing the "how" people remember.
You can find Restoring Hope in the bookstore.
With Transfiguration Blessings
Are You Using the Right Map?
Posted: February 6, 2015 by Rob Voyle
Imagine you and your congregation are lost in the rain forests of Brazil...
And a learned man from your group says, don't worry friends I have a map. I have spent many years and dollars getting educated and preparing this map. Its a beautiful map. With this map we will find our way home...
Unfortunately its a map of the rain forest Washington State USA. Now the man is quite right it is a beautiful map and it has lots of trees and clearly there are lots of trees in Brazil, and there is lots of rain and there are lots of streams everywhere.
So yes there are many indicators that you are mapping the right things. You have those little aha moments that convince you that you are on the right path, yes there is a river, and there is a river on our map.
Two things can happen:
You will become increasingly lost and confused. You may become angry with yourself because of your inability to read maps and vow that if you ever get out of the forest you will go and get extra training in map reading...
Or by chance you may continue walking down hill and follow the streams until they reach a river and by chance a village on the river. Not being aware of the unconscious strategy you were using you are now convinced that your success was because of the map and your incredible map reading abilities...
Fear based rather than love based.
Designed to prevent bad things from happening rather than ensuring good things happen.
Eloquently descriptions of the causes of problems rather than elegant descriptions of how to achieve solutions to problems.
Incongruent with our ultimate purpose and values.
The annual performance review, which gets prettied up and re-presented as Mutual Ministry Review.
Conflict management: We have not been entrusted with a ministry of conflict management, we have been entrusted with a ministry of reconciliation.
Premarriage counseling designed and motivated by a desire to prevent marriage failure rather than ensure couple enrichment.
Family systems theory, especially when applied to program and corporate sized churches.
The veneration of Spirit inspired innovators that have been boiled down into tradition, rules, and laws in a "one-size fits all" mentality that preserves the temporal innovation yet denies the Spirit and the spirit of innovation.
And then there are all the personal, cultural, maps that abound in our society such as the:
The map of revenge couched in terms of justice, or the map of revenge honored as a sign of strength.
And I wonder, in this so-called Christian culture, whatever happened to that hardest map of all: love your enemies...
And I wonder too if I have the wrong map...
So what are we to do?
Instead of studying and using old maps what if we came up with a map to create maps. Granted there is, as with all ways of knowing, a paradox in the idea of having a map to create maps, however here is my basic way or "map" for making maps.
It has to be based on love and compassion. My beloved Kim calls compassion the "temporal manifestation of eternal loving kindness in the world." If I am making a map it needs be a compassionate map.
It needs to be an open map. Open to the Spirit, open to possibilities, open to the wisdom incarnate in us all.
It needs to be a courageous map, rather than a fear based map. In many situations I need courage to be compassionate.
It needs to be a map that ensures that good things will occur, rather than is designed to prevent bad things from happening.
That sees history and the past as a wonderful treasure trove of resources to build a better future. It is a map that looks on the past from the perspective of what did I learn to do rather than simply what not to do.
And some of the tools of the map maker, beyond a solid analysis of what is, include: paradox, asking crazy questions, absurdity, a huge bunch of laughter, and a profound curiosity and openness to what shall be...
And the proof that we created a good map. Where would we end up if we followed the map?
For me I know I am using the right map if I and the people I am playing with are:
Free to laugh, love, and live from the very depths of their being.
As the season of Epiphany unfolds I trust the light is continuing to shine on the maps you are making and using.
The Appreciative Way
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About the Author
The Rev. Dr. Rob Voyle is a leader in the development and use of appreciative inquiry in church and coaching settings.
Rob's Approach to Writing and Training
Practical Appreciative Inquiry based strategies to effectively resolve grief and resentment.