A Thanksgiving Rant/Meditation

26 November 2014

Thanksgiving-Bible-Verses

This past Monday night as I drove home from Bible Study Fellowship, I was listening to a local radio program “Think Out Loud.” On this broadcast they had the rabbi of the largest Jewish synagogue in Portland,  a Muslim educational leader, and the retired minister of a prominent downtown church all speaking about faith and its place in our lives.

At the very end of the broadcast, the host Dave Miller asked the three guests what they were thankful for as Thanksgiving approached.

What the Unitarian minister said really made me shake my head in wonder/anger/sadness. Marilyn Sewell is the minister emerita of the First Unitarian Church here in Portland. She is a prominent community fixture and the author of many books. When asked what she was thankful for, she replied, “You know I have trouble being thankful these days. I’m very concerned, for example, for global warming. I’m very concerned about the injustices in our world. So when it gets down to being thankful, I start getting very personal: I’m thankful for my dear husband, I’m thankful for my children, I’m thankful for the church that I led for many years. So those are the things I am thankful about.”

I am glad that she is thankful for her husband, children and church. But to say that she has trouble being thankful for anything because of global warming and world injustice is a crock. Now don’t hear me to say that I think that global warming and social justice are unimportant issues. They are very important. I have been willing to rant about the idiocy of fundamentalist preachers who use the Bible to minimize those valid concerns. But it is also important to criticize progressive preachers when they spout nonsense as well.

Thankfulness is something that we can (and are to) have regardless of circumstances. Her words fly directly in the face of what is taught and modeled in the New Testament.

I Thess. 5:16-18: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Ephesians 5:20 “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Philippians 4:6: Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

If my thankfulness is conditional about my situation or the situation of the world, I will NEVER be thankful. There is always more that I wish were better in my life and in our world. We live in a broken world and I am a broken human being. We are not in heaven yet: our hearts long for perfection. It is for that for which we were created. There is a holy discontent which will never be completely fulfilled on this earth…it will only be filled in the direct presence of the Father.

And I’m OK with that.

(That doesn’t mean we should stop working to better our circumstances and work for peace and justice in our world, but we need to realize that they will never be totally fulfilled on this earth).

But the New Testament doesn’t teach us to be thankful FOR our circumstances or FOR the condition of the world. We are, in the words of I Thess. 5:18 to “give thanks in all circumstances” and Phil. 4:6: “in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving present [our] requests to God”.

We see that modeled in the life of Paul who wrote these words:

  • When Paul was in prison…he was thankful to God.
  • When Paul was beaten…he was thankful to God.
  • When Paul was stoned and left for dead outside the city gates…he was thankful to God.
  • When Paul was shipwrecked and spent a night and a day in the open sea…he was thankful to God.
  • When Paul could barely see because of his bad eyesight…he was thankful to God.
  • When Paul was abandoned by those who were closest to him…he was thankful to God.
  • When Paul saw the huge social injustice and abuse that happened in the Roman empire…he was thankful to God.
  • When Paul saw the extreme poverty of his age and disease wracking the bodies of innocent men and women…he was thankful to God.
  • When he saw his Hebrew brothers and sisters (for whom he said he was willing to be cast into hell) still out of relationship with Christ…he was thankful to God.

Sensitivity to the hurts and needs of others did not keep him from being thankful. Deep personal pain and heartache did not keep him from being thankful.

Thankfulness is an attitude of humility. It is a recognition of our place in the world. It is a recognition that everything we have and are is a gift to us from God.  Even in the way that Rev. Sewell worded the personal things she was thankful for: “I’m thankful for my dear husband, I’m thankful for my children, I’m thankful for the church that I led for many years,” there was no recognition of the one to WHOM she was thankful. God is the source of providing and sustaining her husband, children and church. Now she may have meant that she was thankful TO her husband and TO her children and TO her church. But that is not the way she worded it. But if that is what she meant, that itself is a self-condemnation of her lack of her understanding of the source of all good things in her (and my) life and a willingness to express thankfulness to God.

OK…negative blog post. Hopefully I don’t do this a lot. (at least publicly!) But really I think Rev. Sewell’s words (no matter how embarrassing and insufficient) can teach us a lot: we are to (and we have the ability to) be thankful despite our own circumstances and the circumstances of our world. Thankfulness is not a day. It is a frame of mind…an attitude that is to permeate our entire life.

May that be our reminder this Thanksgiving.

On Being a Thought Leader

22 October 2014

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One of the (many) things I love about being a coach is that I learn from my clients and they inspire me.   Let me give you an example.

A while ago I was coaching a woman who has served in the international business world for quite a few years.    She currently also taught at a university and was wanting to make a career change, at least out of the business world, if not out of both.

When we began to explore where she wanted to go, she said, quite matter-of-factly “I want to be a national thought leader if not a world thought leader.”

This was one of the times when I am so thankful for my coach training to keep my mouth shut.  After a few minutes (less than a minute actually) I asked, “What would that look like for you?”

What I fortunately didn’t say was what was going on inside my mind: “How pompous!  You don’t choose to be a thought leader.  It’s not like saying, ‘I want to be a math teacher’.  Others choose YOU. Thought leaders are people like Warren Buffett, Madeline Albright or Tim Keller. It is not a job you aspire to, but a title bestowed on you.”

Oh, I was so glad I didn’t say those words.  I would have instantly lost my credibility as a coach and I would have put undue boundaries around her, even if subconsciously.

What IS a “thought leader”?

Forbes magazine gives two parts to their definition of “thought leader.”

  • Part One: A thought leader is an individual or firm that prospects, clients, referral sources, intermediaries and even competitors recognize as one of the foremost authorities in selected areas of specialization, resulting in its being the go-to individual or organization for said expertise.
  • Part Two: A thought leader is an individual or firm that significantly profits from being recognized as such.

We can be a thought leader at many level.  Most ministers I know are thought leaders in their congregation.  Most physicians are thought leaders among their patients (although more recently with WebMD and other sites, they have had to fight to maintain that title).

But that type of thought leadership (as important as it is) isn’t the type of thought leadership desired by my client.  She already was a thought leader in the corporation of which she was an executive and in the classroom of her university.

She desired a bigger platform.  She wanted her expertise (which is significant) to expand beyond her company and her classroom.  As she told me, she wanted to be a national thought leader, if not a global thought leader.

Why would one want to do that?

1. Because you care about people and about our world.  The word turns on knowledge.  And without knowledge and expertise many people do more poorly than they might or even fail.  If you have information that you believe can be of benefit to others, you will want to share it if you truly care about people and their well-being and success.

2. If you are in business (as she is, and as I am, as are most leaders) the purpose of business is to have influence and be profitable.  Forbes magazine puts it this way: “From our perspective, no one can possibly be a thought leader unless they’re capitalizing on the dramatically enhanced brand equity attained by being a thought leader.”   So, someone who just knows a lot is not a thought leader unless she/he is making an effort to distribute that and makes others aware of their expertise.

Likewise, a person will not be a thought leader who can simply regurgitate information that they have read and remembered.  The thought leader will have processed the information.  “What does this mean for those over whom I have influence?”  Most anyone with an internet connection and Google can find raw information. (whether the information is even true is often up for debate) The real question comes down to “How does this affect me?” or (as I used to end so many of my sermons): “So what?  Who cares? Why is this information important and actionable?” –although I never used the word “actionable” from the pulpit!

Kirby Prickett of  WPEngine lists a dozen characteristics of  Thought Leaders. (Thought leaders can be teams as well as individuals and on his list he notes that “empathy” is the only one that cannot be done by a group):

  • True innovator
  • Takes risks
  • Does the unconventional
  • Exhibits expertise
  • Has vision
  • Demonstrates leadership
  • Has an insatiable curiosity
  • Is fearless
  • Likes to think in new ways
  • Has empathy
  • Develops the best people only
  • Loves what they do

The level of your thought leadership will depend on the level of intentional visibility you have in a specific forum.  A minister who never teaches or demonstrate his expertise will not be a thought leader in his/her congregation.  A physician who never shares his knowledge with his staff and patients will eventually lose both because he will not be considered a thought leader.  As business person who only sells widgets will not be a thought leader.  The business person must ask (and be willing to share with others) “How does this work?” “How else can this be used?”  “How can I maximize the use of this widget?”  Can I visualize this process or action verbally, on paper or in diagrammatic form so that it is clearer to visual learners?

Someone may argue, “There are so many thought leaders in my field, there is not room for one more.”  I would counter with two things:

  1. Go deeper.  Become the thought leader in a niche within your field.
  2. You don’t give yourself enough credit.  None (read:NOT ONE) of them has YOUR experience and YOUR personality or your style of communicating!

What are the processes to becoming a thought leader?  Well, first of all…think! (don’t just “know” but “think”)

But second, ask…what is the best way for me to distribute this information? What is the best way for me to be an influencer on those about whom I care?

Is it one-on-one?  Face to face?

Is it speaking in public forums? Does that take the form of community meetings? Webinars? Workshops? Most NPR stations are looking for “subject matter experts” to interview about the local impact of a national event or trend.

Do those forums have to be in-person?  Contributing to on-line forums such as Linked-In forums or Wikis on your area of expertise can be helpful if done regularly.

Is it writing something for distribution to others?  Is that a pamphlet, an e-book (they’re incredibly easy to produce and don’t have to be very long), it is a full-length book?  A blog?

The list could go on and on.  In our day and age, information is gold.    But as the parable of the talents (Matthew 25.13-30) reminds us: he who sits on the gold that has been entrusted to him/her will be condemned.

Or to quote another verse (a verse that we too often unjustly limit to witnessing and evangelism) “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:14–16, NIV).

A Contrast of Confrontations

15 October 2014

confrontationTonight I was reminded of an event that happened 35 or so years ago and it stood in contrast to an event that happened tonight.  It may show the different ages in which we live, or it may show different leadership styles in confrontation, but whatever it shows, I found it profoundly interesting.

Tonight the minister of our church, Guy Gray, spoke on “Understanding Militant Islam”. Guy (after 20+ years at our church) had taken a sabbatical over the late spring & summer.  In addition to some time in Israel and time in Western Europe with his wife, Guy spent a month at Oxford University in England studying Islam.  He arrived back the middle of August and was asked (with all the news of ISIS and the Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Qaida) to help church members understand some about Islam and specifically about militant Islam. (He noted that militant Islam is a small minority of Islam, but gets almost all of the press).   It was an excellent presentation and may (but also may not because of what happened) be up on the church website soon.

But I want to write about not what happened in the first hour and a half of his presentation, but what happened in the last five minutes.

Guy said something to the effect of “In conclusion…” and a young man (maybe late high school age?) got up, move quickly to the platform and declared that he wanted to speak.  You could feel the tension pulse through the congregation like electricity.

Two things happened: one, Guy invited him up to the platform and two, the security team sprang into action.

The security team was formed after an Easter service a couple of years ago when a mentally unbalanced man rushed the platform and tried to take control of the service.  I wasn’t in that service, but the description from those who were was that it was very disturbing and that there was a feeling of “Oh no, what do we do now!?”

Beginning in the next few weeks and months a security team was formed.  To the best of my knowledge they are not armed, but they are a defined group and they have defined organization, training and tasks. Several times I have seen the security team touching base at one side of the foyer before/between services.  They wear ear pieces (like you see on Secret Service men and women around the President) and are just distributed around the building and the sanctuary, very unobtrusively.

A few months ago, as Loretta and I walked into the main doors of the church, there was a man who came storming out of the church screaming the most profane things and cursing. He was dirty, disheveled, unshaven and definitely out of control.

All of us froze.

Immediately, there were two members of the security team by his side talking calmly, but definitely moving him in a direction where they could speak to him privately.  The greeter at the door quickly jumped into action and called the names of people that he knew, welcomed them and asked everyone to come on inside.  It was handled as smoothly as could be expected.

Tonight, Guy invited the young man up.  When the young man kept saying,  ”I want to say something.” Guy very calmly asked him, “What would you like to say?” and the young man went into a speech about people misunderstanding Islamism and how Muslims love God and how the god they serve is the same god as the Christian God.

What I noticed was that 7-8 guys (mostly BIG guys!) were immediately up.  One was about half way up each of the aisles, 2 were at the front of the stage (but still on the floor of the auditorium).  They were almost within arm’s reach, but there was no attempt to grab or take the young man away.   The staff person who is in charge of the security team was over at the side of the auditorium surveying the room (and I wonder if he was communicating with the team members through their ear pieces). The young man on the platform spoke for maybe 60 seconds and at a breaking point, Guy stepped in, asked his name, offered his own name and shook his hand and thanked him for speaking.  In doing so he led him off of the platform.  The young man walked, accompanied by the two security men who were at the front of the stage and one of them walked with the young man to the back of the auditorium where they sat down together.   When we left, the young man was still sitting in the back with a few people (mostly security people) visiting with him calmly.

Pastor Guy made a comment about how these things were exactly like the things he had heard from Muslims during his time at Oxford and he thanked the young man for his words.  Guy said a few more sentences and then closed in prayer and the session was done.

I believe it was handled masterfully.  Guy was gracious.  He did not try to shut the young man up, but also he didn’t let him go on and on.  He let him say the essence of what he came to say, extended friendship to him, but also helped move him off the platform where people who could accompany the young man stood. If the young man had bolted off of the stage, or harmed the preacher and run…almost anything, there were enough security people to stop him and control him.

This stands in contrast with a similar session when I was in college.  Because it is not a very favorable comparison, I’ll keep names out of it.    The Way, International (led by Victor Paul Wierwille) was a cult that was growing in popularity in the late 1970s.  They were based out of Iowa which was just a few hours’ drive away from where I went to school.  During one chapel time, the school had a seminar on the teachings of The Way. Part way through the presentation a couple of young men got up (who were not from the school) and said that things were being misrepresented and they wanted to speak.  What resulted was a shouting match in which the presenter ordered them to leave the room, said this was a private meeting and that they were trespassing and if they did not leave immediately the police would be called.  This incited the two who began to shout back at the presenter.  They eventually were escorted out and the meeting ended badly.

I recognize that these were two different situations in two totally different time periods.  In the wake of church shootings and such, many churches have security teams. That would have been unheard of in the mid to late 1970s.  I think today it is appropriate. But the security people tonight were both visibly present when a situation arose, but also understated in their actions.  No one spoke except the minister and the young man whom I presume was Muslim.  Guy was very calm, allowed him to share briefly, but was definitely in control of the situation the entire time.   He ended the confrontation (if you can call it that) with extended friendship and agreeing with those things that he could agree with in what the young man said, but emphasizing that this was an example of what many Muslim people would say.

A church service is by nature a public meeting and anyone may attend. 35 years ago, the presentation was in the college chapel service, and while visitors are always welcome, it could (I suppose) be said that it was “a private meeting”…although if they had been friendly visitors they would have been totally welcome.

But the speaker back then was immediately confrontational, he escalated the conflict and basically shut off dialog.  The meeting ended badly and people (at least I) left with a very bad taste in their mouth. That stands in huge contrast with what happened tonight.   The discussions I heard after the service was on the content of what had been presented…little was said about the confrontation at the end other than about how well it was handled.

We live in an increasingly pluralistic age.  That means that we must expect people who don’t agree with us to show up at public meetings.  Not all will act in (what we would consider) an appropriate manner. There is a balance between keeping control of a meeting and being gracious hosts.  Thought and care had been put in place for a security team so that when something happened (both a few months back as well as tonight) key players knew exactly what to do and the spirit to use by which to diffuse the situation.

In the time in which we live, we need to have a well thought through safety plan in churches.  There need to be people who know both that they ARE to respond, but also be trained in HOW to respond (and diffuse situations if possible).  Those people who are leading from the platform, likewise, need to be trained in how to respond to interruptions by non-friendly attendees.

An interesting night, but one that sparked both remembrance as well as reflection within me.

Does your church have a similar plan?  I would love to hear about it if they do.

A Need is Not a Call

12 September 2014

A principle that I have lived by for quite a few years is “A Need is not a Call”. By that I mean, just because there is a need out there, even a need that you could conceivably meet, that doesn’t mean that you should or that God is calling you to meet it.

That flies in the face of so much recruiting and fundraising that we do in churches and non-profits. We think that if we simply can convince people of the NEED that they will respond. Or at least that they SHOULD respond.

I simply do not believe that is the case.

I believe we see this demonstrated in the life of Jesus:

That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”

Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” (Mark 1:32-38)

Jesus’ purpose (and by extension) the purpose of his disciples was to be faithful to the call of God…not to every need that possibly could exist somewhere.

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I have known several individuals who severely limited their effectiveness in leadership because they spread themselves too thin. Whenever a need arose, they felt that they “should” do something about it. Especially if they had the means or ability to do so, they were even more compelled.

But in spreading their financial resources or energy resources or time resources so thinly, they really didn’t have enough to do ANYBODY any good. They give a little here and a little there of their money, time, influence and energy and nobody really benefits to any substantial degree. It may have made them feel good about themselves, but is feeling good about ourselves without genuinely doing good what God calls us to do/be?

Of course, this thinking is predicated upon the assumption that you know what your strengths are, you know what resources are under your control and you have a sense of vision or a sense of God’s call on your life. WHY (specifically) did God put you on earth? Was it to meet your own selfish pleasures only? (Most of us would say no). Was it to do as much general good in the most general way that we can? (I suppose that is better). But God put you in specific relationships, in specific geographic locations, in a specific time period, with a specific gift set. Is it not possible that he has something greater in mind for you than to simply to do as much general good in the most general way that we can?

There is generally a wealth of ways we can benefit others within a specific need point. That doesn’t mean that we only give to one cause or only volunteer for one cause. But we have to ask…if I say yes to giving to this in time or money, what am I saying no to? Is this really how God has called me to spend my time, money, resources, energy, influence?

I recognize that for those of us who have made our living trying to get as broad a base of financial donors and volunteers that we can, which makes our lives harder in one aspect.  But on the other hand, it can make our work easier. We as leaders of organizations recognize that our organizations are not called to be all things to all people. We can’t. WE must focus like a laser beam as an organization to be most effective.

We should expect no less in the lives of our donors and volunteers.

Thoughts on that?

Leadership and Expertphobia

20 August 2014

fear-of-public-speakingIt happened a couple of times in the past week.  Two very different people whom I respect, expressed deep fear and agitation about being in front of someone whom they respect as an expert in their field.

One was a business coach who had gotten called to coach an executive whom she knew only by reputation.   While she normally was a very confident and competent coach, the caliber of this person scared her to death.    She was afraid that her awe of this person would come out and that it would discredit her as a professional coach.  On the other hand, she didn’t want to come across as cocky and overly familiar.

Another was a friend of mine who was going to speak for his church.  Now my friend speaks at other churches and for large groups regularly.    But the church he attends is filled with former ministers and current university/seminary professor types.    He was afraid both about the quality of his style of presentation, but also that he had sufficiently crossed his theological t’s and dotted his hermeneutical i’s.

In both cases, I was reminded of a lesson taught me by one of my mentors, W.F. Lown.   Dr. Lown (former president of Manhattan Christian College) spoke of being in ministry early in his career, preaching as a student in a little out of the way rural congregation, filled with very uncritical elderly people.  They were just happy to have someone filing their pulpit.

One Sunday, however, as he made last minute preparations for the service, two men walked in who struck fear in him!  One was the president of his college and the other was a nationally known speaker.  The two were on their way to an evening joint event somewhere, but since it was Sunday morning, they picked this little out of the way church to attend because it was on their way.

At first Bill Lown tried to get either of the two to speak for the worship service instead of him.  Both demurred.  Then he confess to them his total fear at exegeting the text for the morning.  He said, “Surely both of you have preached on this text many times and would say much more important things than I have to say.”

One of the two (he never said which) gently took him aside and said “Yes, I have preached on this text many times.  Yes, I know what many scholars and commentaries say about this text. But what I don’t know is how God has impressed this text on YOUR heart to share this morning.  And I don’t know how this text has impacted your life and behavior.  So, in fact, you are actually much more prepared to speak to your people on this text than I am.  Please don’t allow our presence to quench what the Holy Spirit wants to do through you this morning.”

Brilliant.  With those simple words Bill Lown was able to go into the pulpit, not only with much reduced fear, but also believing that he had something to contribute to these two men, as celebrated as they were.

Whether you are coaching a celebrated client who (frankly) intimidates you, or you are speaking to an audience that you think is above you, or in some other situation that is unique to you, remember: there is no one else in the world that brings the unique combination of abilities and experiences that you bring to that setting.   No one else can speak from the unique vantage point that you can.   And, as a Christian, I believe that God has not brought anyone else but you to be in that situation.

Use it, not in a proudful way, but in a way of humble confidence.

 

Resilient

17 August 2014

Glen Eden 009I was thinking about my upcoming book on Being Teachable last week.  And a discussion of being “resilient” came to mind.   Here were my thoughts….it may or may not make it into the book, so I’ll record them here:

What is the relationship between being teachable and being resilient?

What does it mean to be resilient?  It doesn’t mean stubborn.  If one is too hard and fixed, life happens and we get shattered  Resilience implies a bit of flexibility.

On the other hand, resilience doesn’t imply being amorphous.  If something either has no defined shape or substance, resilience means little or nothing.  If someone/thing easily changes from one form to another what part of it (if any) can be said to be resilient?

I think of many of the trees that line the Oregon coast.  The ones that are there a long time have had to be resilient.

With the shifting sand, the the strong winter winds, the harsh salt spray, a tree that doesn’t have both a strong root system as well as some level of flexibility will not stand.  And often, the area right off the beach is littered with the remains of trees that were not resilient.  But the few that remain, although bent and often sparsely covered, are truly resilient.  While in other places they would not be considered beautiful, in THIS place they are remarkably beautiful.  Strong and beautiful.

So, if we are to be teachable, we must be resilient.  That means pretty much what it means for the beach trees:  we must have a strong root system.  Being resilient doesn’t mean being gullible and following every trend that comes down the street. We know the difference between being solid in what we believe and being rootless or shallow.  (I think James uses the word picture to describe doubt, but I think it also describes not having a stable belief/root system:”like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind….  Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.” (James 1:6b-7)

On the other hand, the teachable person must be flexible.  They must know when to bend, when to question their presuppositions, when to listen to others.

The teachable person may not be the most beautiful person in certain situations (people on both sides of the aisle will condemn them), but in the end they will survive…they will be resilient!

 

Beach photo by Loretta Habig, Glen Eden, OR (2006)

Encouragement in Discouraging Times of Ministry

13 August 2014

DiscouragedWorkerI don’t know if it was Robin Williams’ suicide earlier this week, but there was an interesting conversation today at a ministers’ luncheon I attend.  One of the members asked, “What do you do when you get discouraged in ministry?”  (I am not saying either that any of them were suicidal, or that Robin Williams’ suicide was caused by mere discouragement instead of significant mental health and substance abuse issues) but it seemed an interesting time to bring it up.  The discussion was interesting and I though worth sharing.

The first (and quick) reply was that one minister has “two atheist friends who I go to when I’m discouraged.”  (That caught MY attention).  This pastor said that conversations with those two friends reminded her of why she does what she does.  In return one of them has said, “We need you to keep doing what you’re doing.  You are the only reason I don’t go bomb a church!”  Hopefully the atheist friend was speaking in hyperbole.   But it helps my pastor friend keep focus.

Another said that she focuses her attention on her family and marriage.  She’s is in a very stressful place in the church’s life where she serves in an associate role. The ability/opportunity to really focus the bulk of her attention on making good things happen in her marriage and family get her through the difficult times.

What I was going to say was that doing hospital calling or nursing home calling always encourages me when I am down with church work.  But before I said it another minister offered it. For both of us, seeing the people with REAL problems as well as seeing the genuine encouragement that our presence almost always brings helps me to face the discouraging things in ministry elsewhere with a better attitude.  I found it interesting that the one who offered this and I were the two oldest ministers in the group.  None of the younger ministers mentioned this or chimed in that they found this helpful as well.  Whether this is a matter of age, tempediscouraged womanjpgrament, or demographics of congregations, or coincidence I’m not sure.

Similar to this, one person reported that a pastor friend of theirs had always said, “Getting back to the basics of ministry” is what encouraged them.  What that looked like, my lunch-time peer did not explain.  I suspect that relates to what I have said above and what I will say next.  Doing the things which are the essence of our call (whatever that is) helps get us back in touch with why we do what we do.

A fifth person stated that making sure that he worked out of his spiritual giftedness was always the thing that got him out of his discouraged places.  In ministry few of us have the opportunity to only work in our area of giftedness.  There are always things we are called to do that we’re not great at, but which still require our attention.  Those can be the things that discourage us.  He said that the answer is not to quit doing the things in your area of lesser strength, but to make sure you are spending plenty of time in the areas in which you are especially spiritually gifted.

A sixth person spoke of the need to manage expectations.  Both the expectations of the congregation and the rest of the staff, if you are in multiple staff church, of our families, but also the self-expectations.  Because ministers are (as a lot) too often people-pleasers, they (we) tend to become discouraged when someone (anyone!) is displeased with what we do.  And if no one is ever displeased, then frankly, we are not going anything of much importance.  When you are doing important things, people will have differing solutions to the problem.  Many times people become displeased if THEIR solution is not used.  We must manage the expectations…of the members of our congregation, of the staff around us and of ourselves.

An interesting perspective came from a local church minister who also works in a conflict resolution ministry.   He said that he usually get discouraged when he is out of sync with someone.  “Having the tough conversations” (in his words) is what gets him from a place of discouragement to a better place of balance.   It may not resolve the conflict, but you know that you have done everything within your power to make the relationship right.  As scripture says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18).  It may not always be possible, but do what you can to live in peace.

Last, related to this, I commented on the need to monitor our time with negative people.   Another person chimed in, “6% of church people are life-blood and energy sucking vampires, but they demand 80% of our time!”  I might have worded it differently, but the truth is  in there.  There are negative people and spending too much time with them is not only not our call, it is destructive to our call.   When those people are in key leadership positions, the problem is acerbated, but it is still true that you must be putting lots more positive people in your life to counter balance the “vampires”!

So..in the comments section… would you share…what do you do when you become discouraged in leadership and/or ministry?

On Approaching the End of a Fast

3 June 2014

I know what Jesus says about talking with other people about fasting.

Matthew 6:16-18: “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

On the other hand, Scripture freely reports that Jesus fasted (Matt 4.2), Moses fasted (Exodus 34.28), Israel fasted (Judges 20.26), the early Christians fasted (Acts 13.2) and Paul fasted (2 Corinthians 11.27). (Plus many others). If the fact of it is reported so freely in scripture, then probably I am OK in reporting the fact of it and some of the reasons behind it.

And so, if in writing this I forfeit the benefits of fasting, I guess so be it. But I don’t think that is the case & I believe some observations are warranted and might be helpful to others.

For the past twenty seven days I have been on a coffee fast.  When I have fasted before it has been from all solid food and usually for a day or two.  In our American culture of entitlement, I actually l felt more noble than humble when I fasted from food (humility, not pride is supposed to be part of the purpose of a fast).

But on May 6, the idea came to fast from coffee for 30 days.  It was suggested by someone else in a very round about way:  “You can ask me to fast from anything but coffee!” But whose words struck my heart and I decided to fast from coffee for thirty days.  I don’t think I have fasted from one specific item for any length of time.  I have recommended it, but when I have fasted it has always been a total solid food fast. coffee-cup

The plan was this:  whenever I thought of coffee, I would stop and pray for two things: the first is the finances of a Christian ministry I am involved with and that they will have wisdom on how to use the finances at their disposal, and the second is a personal matter.   I knew I would certainly  think of coffee if I couldn’t have any!

That (according to my understanding) is the purpose of a fast:  It is not to earn brownie points with God for denying yourself.  It is to take that time that you might spend doing something (like eating) and instead use it for prayer and Bible reading.  It is NOT simply denying yourself something. When I have preached on fasting, numerous people have said,”Oh yeah…I fasted when I wanted to lose weight fast.  It was a great way to lose weight.”  (BTW: it is NOT “a great way to lose weight.”)  Fasting is replacing that thing (eating, coffee) with something that can better attune you to God’s heart and will.  It is not bending God to your will. It is bending yourself to God’s will, believing that he will act when our will is aligned with his.

I don’t have a lot of memories of my dad…he died when I was a kid, but one memory I have is of him fasting.  He was in the living room reading his Bible while the rest of the family ate in the dining room.  I thought it was kind of weird at the time (like most kids do), but it made an impression.

Those of you who know me well know that this coffee fast is kind of a big deal.  Coffee is an important part of my life. I really like coffee.  That is in part because I live in the Pacific Northwest and there is a huge coffee culture here. (It has something to do with staying warm in the rainy bone-penetrating damp-cold winters).  But l also like the taste. I like tasting the differences in coffees grown in different parts of the world, or in different climates or roasted and blended in different ways.    But I also realize that there is some either physical or psychological addiction to coffee within me.  I didn’t do it to be especially spiritual.  I did it because I knew I would miss coffee and so that would be a great prompt to pray.

Now let me make one thing clear…this was not a caffeine fast.  It was a coffee fast.  I still drank my fair share of caffeinated hot tea, cold Coke Zeros and chocolate!  I knew that if it was caffeine fast that this would be an entirely different matter, involving some physical withdrawal that I thought would distract me from my purpose.  That may have been rationalization, but so be it.   I wasn’t even sure I could do a thirty day coffee fast…going without coffee for thirty days seemed almost undoable.  But I really wanted something that would remind me to pray.

Several observations:

1. My plan worked…for the first couple of weeks.  The first couple of weeks I thought of coffee a lot…many times a day.  And I always (as far as I can remember) turned to prayer when I thought of coffee.  I don’t know if it jazzed the effectiveness of my prayers with the Lord, but it did serve the purpose of reminding me to pray more regularly.

It did NOT work so well, however in Weeks 3 & (so far) 4.  But the reason may not be what you think.  I just don’t think of coffee that much anymore.  It simply didn’t come up.  Oh when I would meet someone for a meeting at a coffee shop & smell the coffee it would bring back those longings, but generally (since I was getting my caffeine fix from other sources) I came to not miss it so much.

2. I actually felt estranged from many parts of my life.  As I have said, coffee culture is very big around here.  And to not be participating in that felt like I was isolating myself a bit. And that didn’t feel great.  I spend a lot of time working in coffee shops.  And I reduced that a lot this past month.  And I missed it.  I’m not sure where that sense of estrangement came, but that is an interesting observation about me.

3. It was surprising how many people automatically felt that the only reason to go off of coffee was for health reasons.  Whenever someone offered me coffee and I declined and said I was “laying off coffee for a while” everyone just assumed it was for health reasons.  “Oh I need to cut back on my coffee consumption as well.  It’s not good for you.”  “Yes coffee raises my blood pressure too. I really should cut back.”  Not one person asked “Why are you laying off coffee?”  They just presumed it was for physical health reasons.   Interesting that we don’t think there can be any other reason.

4.This whole thing that I began this article with—not telling anyone that you are fasting—has been a growth area for me as well.  I didn’t tell my wife.  I genuinely thought it was best not to even share that you are fasting.  But it came up in conversation with someone else and my wife was “concerned” that I had not shared this with her.  That scripture from Matthew does not say we can’t tell anyone we are fasting.  It says, don’t make a show of it and try to impress people with how “spiritual” you are.  Just do it and otherwise go on with life normally.  But (as I also have noted above) the scriptures are pretty open about Bible people fasting.  It isn’t some deep dark secret.

So…three days to go.  This has been a good experience. We’ll see what happens with the finances of the ministry I am involved in and in the issue in my (Loretta’s and my) personal life.  I will say, however, that I am really looking forward to having a cup of coffee on Saturday.  Please excuse me…I have a couple of things I need to go pray about….

Why a Senior Minister/Executive Director Should NOT Coach an Employee

17 April 2014

It happened again last week. A minister spoke bitterly about a former senior minister (the same situation could have described an executive director of a non-profit). The employee needed some coaching and his supervisor said, “I’ll just coach you!” The supervisor had served as a “coach” to some ministers in other churches, and so this seemed to be a natural fit.

It was a disaster.

The employee eventually left, a long-time friendship was shattered and the supervisor felt misunderstood and confused.

There were two problems

The first was “Hat Confusion”. We all wear different “hats” in our lives: boss, friend, husband, wife, coach, etc. And there are times when we are in a relationship with someone on several levels. What happens is that it is impossible (at best, extremely difficult) for both sides to understand what hat each is wearing at any specific time. Intent and perception can greatly differ.

In the case cited above, the senior minister was also friends with this church staff person. You had each wearing three hats. One wore friend, pastoral shepherd, and supervisor hats, the other wore friend and member of congregation and employee hats. The senior minister tried to add a fourth hat (coach) and put the coachee hat on his friend/employee.

It is too easy for the supervisor to slip from one hat to the other or for the employee to think that the supervisor is wearing one hat when he/she intended to be wearing another.

Second, this was added to the problem that this senior minister saw “coaching” as telling rather than asking (a common but dangerous misunderstanding) and a wall of resentment and anger was built.

In talking with the (former) employee lights went off in his head when I described how what his Supervisor had done was Consulting…not Coaching. We talked about the difference:

· Consulting is coming along side someone and telling them what they should do in a situation or how to solve a problem. The hope is that the employee will learn the task or the lesson and be able to perform it on his/her own in the future.

· Coaching is basically about asking questions—drawing the answers out of the coachee to help them solve the problem for themselves. (You are building people, not simply accomplishing a task).

Here are some reasons why a supervisor should NOT coach an employee:

· The employee will likely come up with only those ideas that he or she knows his supervisor will approve of. Creativity is stifled. Brainstorming depends on coming up with lots of ideas—good and bad–in order to come up with the best idea.

· The employee will be hampered in what he/she says because the supervisor (usually) holds the power to hire/fire and promote/demote. What is said by the employee will be calculated to make sure that nothing comes up that will jeopardize his/her position.

· If the supervisor is the problem, it is highly unlikely that the employee will bring up that fact…and the problem continues to go unaddressed.

· Coaching is much slower than directing/managing. Many supervisors get exasperated with the time it takes and just slip back into “tell mode”. Tony Stolzfus tells the story of leading a workshop where he demonstrated a coaching situation with a church employee. A few senior ministers walked out of the session. When he followed up with them later, they said, “I don’t have time for that. I know what they should do and so I would just tell them!” Coaching is much more time intensive and most senior ministers/execs of non-profits don’t have that kind of time and so they will “cut to the chase.”

What is the answer? To have an outside coach who works with the employees. Whoever pays for the coaching gets the right to set some of the desired results of coaching. Depending on the situation, the coach gives periodic reports to the group “sponsoring” (paying for) the coaching. Initial guidelines are established about what may and what may not be shared with the sponsor/employer. (It is very common for me to send reports bi-monthly or quarterly to a board or elders or a pastor relations board describing where we are in the process. This is, of course, balanced by my commitment to confidentiality for the client).

While not a minister or non-profit leader, John Russell, Managing Director of Harley-Davidson Europe Ltd. has said: “I never cease to be amazed at the power of the coaching process to draw out the skills or talent that was previously hidden within an individual, and which invariably finds a way to solve a problem previously thought unsolvable.”

Process Items-An Introduction

24 February 2014

Since 1981, Dr. Bobby Clinton, has directed the Leadership concentration in the School of Intercultural Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary and served as professor of leadership.  Before and since then, he has been a student of how leaders are formed and how their leadership skills develop.

In his years of study Clinton has identified what he calls “Process Items”.  Process Items are events, people, situations, or relationships that significantly contribute to the shaping of a specific leader.

In investigating and plotting the leadership growth of well over a thousand leaders, Clinton has been able to categorize these into 52 categories with “like properties and functions”[1]

The purpose of this is far from theoretical (although it also has a highly theoretical justification).  Knowing process items can be used retrospectively as well as diagnostically.  By that I mean that a man or woman can look at their life history and see the events, people, situations, or relationships that God has put into his or her life and see God’s hand in shaping them.  This should be of interest to Christians, both current leaders and potential leaders, because it is possible to see what God has being doing to shape one.

But just as important is the way that process theory can affect how we look at current events.  As we go through life, there can be a lot of confusion.  There can be difficult decisions.  It is easy to get distracted or discouraged by “what life throws” at you.  But knowing these process items can help us to see the sense in many of the senseless things that happen to us.  We can see how God is currently bringing events, people, situations, or relationships into our lives to fashion us into the leaders that He wants us to be.

My goal over the next several weeks (perhaps months) is to go through many of these “process items” and describe them both theoretically, but also practically…how have I or those around me seen these work out in our lives.

I could list them all out with a one sentence definition and be done with it. But I don’t think that is at all helpful.  It becomes one more piece of relatively useless information for us to stick away somewhere in either a physical or mental file and seldom (if ever) retrieve.

My hope is that by slowing us down, I can help you to begin to ask the questions like: how have I seen this lived out in my life?  Has this been my experience?  Is God doing this in my life right now?  How should I react to it?

Much more than intellectual theory, my purpose is to encourage you:

  • To encourage you to see God’s active involvement in your life both currently as well as in the past.
  • To encourage you to consider that perhaps God is calling you to be more of a leader than you have previously seen yourself.
  • To encourage you to look at the people around you with expectant eyes:  how can you help THEM to see God’s active work and development in their own lives?

Process items won’t be the only thing I write about (my ADD keeps me from staying on one specific track too long!).  But my main goal is to go through most of these process items, while at the same time interspersing them with other insights and challenges.

And so with that brief introduction, let’s begin…next time I will post the first of the Process Items in our look at Clintons 52 Process Items in the Life of the Christian Leader.


[1] All quotations come from Bobby Clinton, Leadership Emergence Theory: A Self-Study Manual.  Altadena, CA: Barnabas Publications, 1989.

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