FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Courage: The Missing Link to Spiritual Formation

with Paul Coughlin | August 26, 2011
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Sometimes we know what to do, but lack the courage to do it. Author Paul Coughlin talks about the Christian's role model and Savior, Jesus Christ, who refused to be a quiet bystander to injustice and cruelty. Paul explains how to help a child who’s being bullied.

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  • About the Guest

  • Sometimes we know what to do, but lack the courage to do it. Author Paul Coughlin talks about the Christian's role model and Savior, Jesus Christ, who refused to be a quiet bystander to injustice and cruelty. Paul explains how to help a child who’s being bullied.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Sometimes we know what to do, but lack the courage to do it.

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Courage: The Missing Link to Spiritual Formation

With Paul Coughlin
August 26, 2011
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Bob:  Are your children ready to stand up to bullies this year in school?  Not just when they are being bullied, but when someone else is being bullied?  Here is Paul Coughlin.

Paul:  We know we worry as Christians sometimes about our influence in public schools.  Let me tell you how we get influence.  We get influence by how the Christian kids, when they see bullying take place, assertively but non-violently intervene.  You get enough kids in any school who do that and now you’ve got a platform. 

The world will want to hear what you have to say.  It won’t say “Oh, we’ve got to let them in.”  No, no, no.  They’re going to want to know what made you different.  What made you different from the ninety-five percent of everyone else who won’t do a thing about this cruelty?

Bob:  This is FamilyLife Today® for Friday, August 26th.  Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine.  How can we respond and train our children to respond to a culture of bullies?  We’re going to talk about that today.  Stay tuned.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today.  Thanks for joining us.  I’m thinking some of our regular listeners may have picked up patterns of your bullying with me over the years because it’s happened on occasion.

Dennis:  This has not occurred.


Bob:  Would you like me to get…

Dennis:  You have bullied me though.  And we do have witnesses in the audience.

Bob:  Bystanders who have…

Dennis:  …who have listened to you make fun of my illiteracy with music.


Bob:  Now that you mention it…

Dennis:  Your superiority is clear!  You do not need to expose my lack of knowledge of music.

Bob:  Just change the program to “Bullying Today.”  And here’s your host Dennis Rainey!

Dennis:  You know we have had some fun with this over the years.  But Bob, for a lot of people they have been bullied either growing up as a young person, in fact mostly likely they were.  Nine out of ten, we’re told, elementary age students today are being bullied.  But I think a lot of adults have been bullied, too.  There is the misuse of authority in people’s lives with words.  It may not involve physical harm but certainly emotional harm.

Bob:  It can happen in the workplace.  It can happen in a church environment.  It can happen in all kinds of places.

Dennis:  And the interesting thing is in our lives, especially among those who try to follow Christ, we take a step back and we go. “I just want to love this person as Jesus Christ would love them.” 

I’m reflecting back on a relationship I had for more than twenty years as an adult and I was doing my best to be a vessel of love to another person who was bullying me.  It really wasn’t until I got some other friends involved that I was actually the one who was set free from a prison of being bullied as an adult.

I don’t want to make too light of this because it was a big deal in my life as an adult, just as it can be in the life of a young person.  Joining us again today on FamilyLife Today are Paul and Sandy Coughlin.  Sandy, Paul, welcome back.

Paul:  Great to be here.

Sandy:  Thanks for having us.

Dennis:  Paul is the founder of The Protectors which is a faith based approach to dealing with bullies in, really, in schools, Christian schools, public schools, right?

Paul:  Absolutely.  Also Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Awanas, summer camps, wherever kids congregate there will be bullying.  We train all of the characters in the theater of bullying how to change their role and to help people who are targets and to diminish bullying overall.

Bob:  You spent time earlier today…

Paul:  I did.

Bob:  …at a local school.  What did you do and what did you tell the folks there?

Paul:  Well, what I do is I’m kind of—the presentations—I’m kind of like a John the Baptist figure, right?  So I come in and I get some things excited and I really kick some stuff up in a very good way.  I speak to all four characters in the theater of bullying.  But I focus on the bystander because they have the most potential power to create change.

Dennis:  Wait a second.  Go back and explain to our audience what those four characters are.

Paul:  Well, of course the star we think is the bully and it shouldn’t be.  They actually don’t have the most power.  And then of course you have the target, you have authority, and then you’ve got the bystander.  Primarily what we do, though, is we help everyone. 

We help the bystander become what we call an “along-side-stander” of a child who is the target of ongoing cruelty.  That’s what I did in these schools.  I had these wonderful kids come up to me afterward and said, “I’m going to be a protector.  I’m going to protect people who are being picked on.  I’m going to intervene with assertive, but non violent, words.”

Dennis:  You really believe today that one of the missing ingredients in the family is courage.  It’s too bad that my wife Barbara is not here at the table with us because none of us would get a word in edgewise.  She is passionate about calling the Christian community to courage, especially moms and dads with their children.

Bob:  She wrote a devotional book for families called Growing Together in Courage where she highlighted stories of courageous individuals and, really, the passion here was to try to inspire courage in the lives of young people and parents.

Dennis: She really believes that what’s happening today is the culture is just sucking the courage out of families, epically families of faith.

Paul:  Earlier I said that cowardice is a sin.  Courage, rather, is the virtue the underpins all other virtues.  We look at the life of Christ and we look, for example, at the woman caught in adultery and we weep over the grace and the mercy--and rightly so.  It has captivated the entire world, this amazing story, where Jesus protects this woman, all the while forgetting that if He didn’t have the courage to stand up to the biggest bullies of His day, the Pharisees, there would have been no mercy and compassion.  If He didn’t have the courage to stand up for her there’d be no mercy and compassion. 

Courage is the virtue that underpins all the other virtues.  Pontius Pilate wanted to be merciful to Jesus until it required courage.  He found no fault in Jesus.  He said, “This man is innocent.  I want to let Him go.”  His own wife has a dream and says, “Honey, I’m pretty sure He’s divine.  You probably want to leave this one alone.”  But it became politically difficult for him to let Jesus go.  He knew the right thing to do.  He felt the right thing to do.  He just didn’t act upon what he knew and he felt.  And the reason, more than any other reason, is a lack of courage, the virtue that underpins all other virtues.

Dennis:  Okay, Paul.  So you’re a father of three teenagers, two boys and a girl.  Let’s take this courage down to where the rubber meets the road.  How have you been challenged?  And Sandy I want you to answer this question as well.  Have you guys been challenged as parents to be courageous…

Paul:  Absolutely!

Dennis:  …in not being bystanders as you raised your sons and your daughter all the way through the teenage years?

Paul:  We expected our kids to not be passive, fearful, cowardice bystanders and we expected them to be courageous, along-side-standers.  And what is remarkable is a lot of kids, in particular, think, “Well, I can’t do the right thing because I’m feeling fear.”  And your wife hits upon it in this book which I…  No one’s taking this book from me.  She hits upon it, is that, you know what, you actually can’t be courageous unless you feel fear.  So we’ve taught our kids do the right thing, afraid.  Do it afraid. 

Fear is a jail cell locked from the inside.  When we give in to fear, over and over and over, we become smaller, diminished people.  Literally our souls are darkened in a kind of strange and tangible way, but it’s still true. As soon as you learn to push back against fear and realize that it’s often false evidence appearing real—a great acronym for fear—the sooner our kids realize that the larger their lives are going to be when they grow to be adults.

Bob:  I’ve said to my kids, I’ve said courage is not the absence of fear.  Courage is actually fearing one thing more than you fear something else.

Paul:  Yes, usually the right thing.

Bob:  So you fear God and as a result, you respond in faith.  We’re going to experience fear.  The question is how debilitating is it and how do we respond to it?

Dennis:  Courage is doing your duty in the face of fear.

Paul:  That’s absolutely right.  It’s what stops most of us from moving forward.  It stops us from being a courageous along-side-stander and it keeps us a passive bystander.  By the way, when we give in to the fear of cowardice, it’s almost indelible in our lives.  If you want to talk to someone about one of the hardest things to talk about, ask someone when were you a coward?  We can almost not even talk about it.

Bob:  It’s interesting because Dennis always asks them the opposite question.  What’s the most courageous thing you’ve ever done?  He’ll ask that.  You ask that around a table at dinner, in part to just inspire people with stories of courage.

Dennis:  And it does.  I think it was Billy Graham who said, “When someone does a courageous work the spines of others are stiffened.”

Paul:  That’s so true!

Dennis:  In other words, we are encouraged by hearing stories of other people’s courage.  Sandy, I wanted to go back to you and find out, as a mom, when were you courageous in helping your boys or your daughter perhaps deal with bullying or something they encountered as they were growing up?

Sandy:  I think for our youngest daughter, she stood up for a child on the playground.  She came home from school with a big scratch on her cheek and we were like, “What is that, Abby?  Where did you get that?”  It happened to be a girl that had just one arm that some girls were going after, I guess picking a fight with her.  Abby intervened and jumped in there.  So she came home and we talked about it around the table.  That was a lesson.  She was probably about eight years old at that time.

Paul:  If I could add to that.  I was asked to speak in her class from her teacher a little later on, who didn’t know about this incident.  So as an author I get to go in there.  And then at the end, the teacher says, “Does anyone have any questions for Mr. Coughlin?”  The girl, with her only arm, raised her only arm and she said, “I think his daughter (and there’s a beautiful little pause) is a good person.” 

I think that girl saw the character of Christ, who stands up for the weak and the timid and the shackled and the broken and intervenes on their behalf.  My daughter just wasn’t a passive bystander.  She used some courage and she intervened. 

They studied the lives of the people who rescued the Jews under German occupation.  They found three character traits in particular.  One of them was that their parents expected them to do the right thing.  I think, from a universal historical perspective, those rescuers of the Jews are considered among the greatest of all time.  And one of the reasons why is their parents expected them to do the right thing.  The number one story they were told?  The Good Samaritan.

Dennis:  Paul, one of the things that surprised me as I was reading through your literature is what you’re talking about right now.  I actually thought we’d be talking about how you help a child who’s being bullied.  You are talking about that.  But you both have illustrated from your own parenting of helping your children intervene on behalf of others.  Protect them.  Be a protector.

I think as parents, we don’t necessarily think of ourselves as equipping our children to know how to handle situations when they see another person being bullied.  I don’t know that I even had a conversation with any of my kids about that.  But that’s what you’re talking about doing here.

Paul:  It is.  Most of it is assertive but non-violent words.  “Leave him alone.  Leave her alone.  That’s’ wrong.  Stop it.”  And you can do that same thing on line with cyber-bullying.  You can type that in and defend that target, that kid whose been an ongoing target of campaigns of cruelty. 

Yeah, we all focus of the bully.  We think if we can just reform the bully, everything will okay.  Wouldn’t that be okay, if we could do that?  It doesn’t work that way unfortunately.  Most bullies are highly resistant to change.  They’re not interested in changing.  What will change them is when their peers denounce their behavior,  to use peer pressure to bring about change. 

We call it positive deviance.  Right now bystanders are most likely to support the bully than to disagree with the bully.  We are trying to use peer pressure, and we’re doing it throughout schools.  We have schools that are literally changing across the country, where bullies are apologizing to targets.  Usually by the time I leave the school, they’ve already apologized to their target.  So we’re changing this theater of bullying.  But we’re focusing on the bystanders as opposed to the bully.

Dennis:  Okay, I want to go back to a question I asked earlier.  Your ten year old son or daughter comes home from school and explains how they’ve been bullied during the day.  You’ve first of all said you need to document through other eye witnesses what took place.  What are you going to say to that son or that daughter, though, as they go back to school the next day.  How do you equip them to handle the situation?

Paul:  That is a great question.  The number one character trait that bullies look for in a target is that they’re non-assertive.  So they’re kind of shy.  They don’t hold eye contact.  They walk kind of like a penguin.  So what you have to do is you’ve got to coach your child out of the theater of bullying. You have to make them appear stronger than what they might already be. 

So what does that mean?  Maintaining eye contact for at least eight seconds.  Sometimes parents are going to have to practice that with their kid.  It means that they learn how to walk with their shoulders further back.  It means that they need to walk with a little longer stride.  Fearful people take short strides.  Confident people take little longer strides. 

It means that they need to not be so isolated at school.  Most kids who are targets of bullying are isolated.  They need to make at least one good friend.  They need to stay out of areas where there’s more bullying that others. 

Really quickly, if you would take a blue print of the school and ask the teachers and others where does bullying take place?  You’d find a lot of “x”s but you would also find a high concentration in certain areas.  Avoid those areas.  They’re usually certain parts of a locker room, certain bathrooms, certain hallways, certain parts of a cafeteria, and a playground. 

And, another thing is targets tend not to smile.  They tend to be a little bit gloomy.  So they need to smile more.  They need to remember a very funny word.  The word is “cheesewhiz.”  So after you say the word cheesewhiz it puts a slight smile on your face, bullies don’t like to go after people who tend to be happy and confident.

Sandy:  Paul, I also like your analogy of the power of two.

Paul:  Yes, this is great, where you make an agreement with another person at school.  If I see you being picked on, I will intervene.  If you see me being picked on, you will intervene with me.

Dennis:  I like that.

Paul:  But, see, even the world will do that, right?  Even the world protects itself. This is the Christian part.  When the two of us see someone else being bullied, we will intervene with assertive but non-violent words.  Bullies do not like other people to intervene.  In fact, they bank on other people not intervening. 

Let me put the worries of some of our listeners at bay.  I’m not talking about having our children walk between two rivaling gang and say, “Leave!  Stop it!”  That’s criminal activity and that’s not bullying. That’s not what I’m talking about. We’re talking garden variety bullying that takes places just everywhere.

Bob:  But you know there’s something inside of us that when we see it happening and it doesn’t involve us, we think to ourselves, “That’s not my deal.”

Paul:  But it harms us, Bob, it harms.  Studies have shown that children who see bullying take place oftentimes take on the emotional radiation, so to speak, of the target and it actually fills them with great fear and dread themselves.  When we see it happening and we don’t do something, we are harmed as well by that.  We all make a choice.  If I see it happening and I intervene, that’s a choice.  If I see it happening and I don’t intervene, that’s a choice as well.  The Christian choice is intervention.

Bob:  I think because people are made in the image of God, because there is a fundamental dignity of all human begins, that’s what elevates it and, all of a sudden now, it is your deal because there’s a spiritual principle that’s being addressed.  You may not be right in the middle of it but testifying, standing up for God, is to say, “This is wrong.”

Paul:  We know we worry as Christians sometimes about our influence in public schools.  Let me tell you how we get influence.  We get influence by how the Christian kids, when they see bullying take place, assertively but non-violently, intervene.  You get enough kids in any school who do that and now you’ve got a platform.  For those people of faith who really feel very strongly about evangelizing, you get kids doing that, the world will want to hear what you have to say. 

It won’t say, “Oh, we’ve got to let them in.”  No, no, no.  They’re going to want to know what made you different.  What made you different form the ninety-five percent of everyone else who won’t do a thing about this problem?  God gave us His dignity and His value and His worth.  It needs to be defended.  You’re cooking with gas right there!

Dennis:  Yes, you really are.  As you were talking…  this is one of Bob’s favorite verses.  But he doesn’t own this passage in Scripture so I want to read it! 


It’s Philippians, chapter two, verse three, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others.  I just think what we need to challenge our young people with today, to be others oriented and now so self-absorbed, so self focused, that as they watch something unfold in front of them, it does call something out of their chest…

Paul:  It does.

Dennis:  … that courage.  Barbara’s not the only one in our family that’s…well, gets on her soapbox about courage.  I just finished a book for men and the subtitle to the book speaks about courage.  The book is called Stepping Up, a Call to Courageous Manhood.

Paul:  Excellent.

Dennis:  I do think there are a lot of things today just filling us with fear.  Cowardice is not a politically correct word to use today because it somehow means you’ve really failed.  We don’t want to admit failure.  But, you know what, there is a lot of cowardice in the Christian community.  There is a lot of cowardice in families today.  If anyone ought to be stepping up and standing up on behalf of another person and the dignity that God created in that person’s live, it ought to be a follower of Jesus Christ.  Personally, I’m really thrilled you’re doing this work in training schools, Paul, because honestly I think the subject of bullying is going to become much more front and center in a lot of different realms.

Paul:  You’re so right.

Dennis:  We may find ourselves protecting people that we disagree with.

Paul:  Absolutely.  No one should be bullied for any reason at all.

Bob:  But I think for that to be a reality we have to be proactive.  We have to think it through.  I don’t think our instincts will lead us in that direction.  I think we have to reflect on the subject, like we’ve tried to do today with what we’ve talked about here on the program or what you’ve done in your book, which is called Raising Bully-Proof Kids.  We’ve got that in our FamilyLifeToday Resource Center. 

Dennis, the whole issue of courage that we’ve talked about today is at the heart of the book that you wrote for men called Stepping Up, A Call to Courageous Manhood that a lot of guys are reading through with their sons now to help them understand what it means to be a courageous man and to stand up to injustice when that’s happening.  That’s really what’s at the heart of all of this, somebody treating somebody less unjustly, unrighteously.  God calls us to stand up to that.

We also have an additional resource we want to mention and that’s the devotional book that Barbara Rainey write called Growing Together in Courage that’s deigned to be read as a family devotional. Seven stories of courage and, in some cases, heroic actions, on the part of people who, in some cases, you may be heard of them and in other cases they are people you haven’t heard about.  These kinds of stories will inspire and spark courage in the heart of your own child. 

All of these resources are in our FamilyLife Today resource center and you can find the information online at is the website or call 1-800-FLTODAY. That’s 1-800-358-6329.  Ask for information about Paul’s’ book about bullying, about the book that Dennis has written for men called Stepping Up, a Call to Courageous Manhood, or Barbara’s devotional on courage and we’ll make arrangements to have any of those books you need sent to you.

Now as we wrap this week up and as we get close to wrapping up the month of August, I want to quickly remind you about the efforts we have had going on all month long.  We’ve been asking those of you who are regular listeners to FamilyLife Today, but who have never called in and said, “Hey, I’m listening.  I like what you guys are going and I’d be happy to support you, either with a onetime donation or as a legacy Partner,” we’ve asked you to make August the month in which you do that.  We’ve set a goal of trying to hear from two thousand new folks.  Many of you have called and made a donation.  We appreciate that.  We’re keeping tabs on that with a thermometer that’s on our website at 

But we’re down to the wire so we’re asking you, if you haven’t called this month, would you still do that?  Would you go online at and make a donation?  Or call 1-800-FLToday and make a donation over the phone. 

In either case, we’d love to send you, as a thank you gift, a CD sampler that features messages from our Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway.  Dennis and I spoke at one recently.  There are six of those messages that are included in this CD sampler.  That’s our thank you gift to you when you help support the ministry this month.  So if you’re making a donation online type “SAMPLER” in the key code box and we’ll know to send you those CDs.  Or if you make your donation over the phone just ask for the CD set and we’ll get that out to you as well.

If you’re making a first time donation and it’s a hundred dollars or more, you can request a certificate to attend a Weekend to Remember marriage getaway as our guest.  We’ll cover the registration costs for you and your spouse or for another couple you know.  All you have to do to receive that is to type the word “HUNDRED” into the key code box on the online donation dorm. 

Or when you call to make a donation over the phone, just mention that you’d like the certificate for the Weekend to Remember.  Let me just say again how much we appreciate your financial support and your partnership with us here at FamilyLife Today.

We hope you have a great weekend.  We hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend and I hope you can join us back on Monday.  Mary Flo Ridley is going to be here to talk about how we can talk more easily and more effectively with elementary aged students about where babies come from.  She does this in school settings and she’s got some great ideas for us.  So I hope you can tune in for that. 

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today

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