Tuesday, February 20, 2018


Responses to the adoption by the CBF Governing Board of a new hiring policy and the announcement of the policy’s implementation plan have been mixed.  Most seem willing to accept the new hiring policy, but many argue that the implementation plan will simply perpetuate a discriminatory approach in matters of sexuality. 

This is a compromise which, in the long run, will make no one happy.  If the present implementation plan stands, the CBF “denomi-network” must be prepared to face significant consequences. 

First, CBF will continue to lose those young adults who will not accept a discriminatory sexual ethic. In a letter to the editor of Baptist News Global, divinity student Adam McDuffie wrote: “With the implementation procedure as it currently stands, excluding children of God from serving as they are called, the CBF is risking an exodus that is already beginning, and may in fact be irreversible.”  The approach adopted by the CBF Governing Board may well assure that CBF will be, at the most, a two- generation movement.

Second, implementation of the hiring process will do nothing to stop the exodus of gifted clergy to other Baptist and non-Baptist groups.  They are fed up with the vacillation of CBF.  As I wrote in “The Baptist Diaspora” last year, “I wonder what CBF would be like if those who are blessing other denominational groups were leading healthy CBF churches and ministries.  Losing these gifted people certainly weakens our cause.”  My opinion has not changed as I have seen the continued departure of clergy from CBF life.

Third, some churches who have been committed to the CBF movement will leave, especially those churches that have been courageous enough to have the necessary conversations about sexuality and have become welcoming places for LGBTQ+ persons.  It is understandable that they will feel betrayed and disrespected and decide to leave.  Several churches have already initiated conversations about departure.

Fourth, CBF is turning its back on parents in our churches who have LGBTQ+ children.  Over the last few years, a number of friends have come to me and said some variation of this statement: “My child is gay (or lesbian).  I love my child and I want my church to love my child, too.”  Hopefully, they are in a church that does this, but CBF is saying, “Your child is a second-class citizen when it comes to significant places of ministry in our organization”

Fifth, in our missionary partnerships, we are abdicating the opportunity to provide a proactive model in dealing with sexuality.  In reality, our mission partners overseas are simply parroting the exclusive, condemnatory approach to human sexuality that western missionaries have perpetuated over the years.  Our sins have come home to roost in our missional relationships.

Sixth, with the new plan, the CBF movement has lost integrity.  We have continually affirmed the phrase in Galatians 3:28 that we “are all one in Christ Jesus” (NIV), but we are failing to practice this truth.  Our inconsistency dishonors us.

A friend asked me this question: “With our Baptist polity, should we expect a denomination (or denomi-network) to take a stance that stretches our churches or should the larger entity just reflect the majority opinion?”   I would hope for the former but realize that the latter is more likely.  At the least, I would hope that the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship would not be a stumbling block to those who are actively engaged with LGBTQ+ persons.  I fear that the present approach does not further the mission of those churches but inhibits it.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

What’s Really Important?

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40, NIV)

Like others who identify with the Cooperative Baptist movement, I have been reading both the report of the Illumination Project and responses on social media.  My only conclusion so far is that we don’t all agree on this decision.  I have friends who express widely divergent and opposing opinions, so I continue to reflect on the implications of the decision, pray about it, and even look at scripture like the passage above.

Of course, Jesus was not trying to start an organization.  If anything, what he was creating was a very messy, chaotic organism which was to be led by the Spirit of God.  The two statements above, however, might be identified as the core values of the Jesus movement:  Love God and love your neighbor.  These are both very relational statements provided in a cruciform structure--one dealing with our vertical relationship with God and one dealing with our horizontal relationships with other human beings.

In like manner, my experience with CBF has always been built on relationships.  While I served as ..coordinator of the Tennessee CBF, our most significant endeavors were based on strong relationships.

Wayne Smith, director of
 Samaritan Minstry
We worked with Wayne Smith to support Samaritan Ministry, an outreach to HIV/AIDS  victims and their families in Knoxville.  We partnered with Emily and Eliot Roberts as they established a new church ministry, Neverfail Community Church,  on the Cumberland Plateau, an area where meth production and addiction continue at one of the highest rates in the US.  We came alongside Martha and Chuck Strong to assist with a new church start in Olive Branch, MS, a suburb of Memphis.  The door opened for a relationship with Central Baptist Theological Seminary to offer theological education to students through a satellite in Murfreesboro as a result of personal contacts with friends in Kansas City.

All of these ministries were born out of relationships characterized by trust, respect, persistence, and love. Their partnership honored us because of what they were doing and by giving us, as Tennessee CBF, an opportunity to be a part as friends and coworkers. 

Wayne Smith has reminded me a couple of times about a conversation we had while establishing the Samaritan Ministry partnership.  Wayne remembers saying to me, “There’s one question you haven’t asked me.”  Supposedly I replied, “What’s that?”  He said, “You haven’t asked me my stand on homosexuality.”  My response: “Is that important?”  We trusted Wayne to do the right thing and he did.
The partnerships we established were based on relationship. It is amazing what you can accomplish when you love and trust the people with whom you work.  They make you a better person by expanding your vision, affirming your gifts, and sharing their lives.

At the CBF General Assembly last year in Atlanta, Brian McLaren suggested that the Fellowship and its churches should be saying to potential adherents, “If you become part of this community, we will help you become a more loving version of yourself.”  In other words, we will enter into a relationship that will help you become what God wants you to be.  I would add that we will be blessed in that partnership as well.

In our present context, perhaps it is asking too much to expect a “denomi-network” to do the work on relationships and inclusivity that we should do in our churches.  Vital relationships grow in community at the local level where we live, love, and struggle together.  No one else can do that work for us.  But I do have to ask the question right now, “Will being part of the community called the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship help me to become a more loving version of myself?”

I haven’t answered that question yet.  What do you think?

Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Old Time Religion

I led a retreat over the weekend challenging lay leaders in a congregation to think about a shift to  new paradigms more appropriate in a post-modern context.  My commitment for the weekend concluded with preaching in the morning worship service on Stephen as a model for innovation in faith and ministry.  My colleague, Terry Rosell, was in the service and pointed out that it was a bit ironic that the postlude was an arrangement of “Give Me that Old Time Religion.”

After we laughed about that interesting contrast, I began thinking that there really is a lot we can learn (or relearn) for the “old time religion” that could help us to be more effective in congregational ministry in the 21st century.

For example, church congregations in the past, especially rural, small town, and parish-based examples, provided more of a sense of community that we find in many churches today.  For good or ill, people knew each other and tended to look out and care for each other. There were strong congregational expressions of hospitality and encouragement.

Another positive aspect of the “old time religion” was a spiritual vitality, often based on spiritual disciplines such as prayer, Bible study, silence, and service.  This vitality enabled our forebears to function in a a world where life was often short and difficult.

Churches of an earlier time can provide us with effective examples of stewardship.  Many times these involved not only finances, but time and physical resources.

Finally, the church of the past has given us a rich heritage of music, art, writing, and architecture that can continue to bless and inform us today.  We have two thousand years of source material with which to work!

As we seek to be more faithful disciples in the 21st century, let’s claim our heritage and appropriate some of the practices of the “old time religion.”

Thursday, February 08, 2018

What are the Qualities of a Coaching Leader?

Do you have what it takes to be a coaching leader?  A coaching leader is someone who encourages another person to identify his or her goals, discover the resources available to pursue those goals, develop action plans together, and then walk along beside that person in the process of achieving the person’s goals.  A coaching leader can apply these skills in working with groups and teams as well, multiplying his or her impact as a coach by including others in the process.

A coaching leader is strong in the elements that Daniel Goleman attributes to emotional intelligence:
  • Self-awareness.
  • Self-regulation.
  • Motivation.
  • Empathy.
  • Social skills.

These are skills that can be learned once a person understands his or her own emotional intelligence profile.  The more that you, as a leader, can manage each of these areas, the higher your emotional intelligence.  Emotional intelligence is essential to be an effective coaching leader.

These skills influence the qualities that make a good coaching leader.

First, a coaching leader possesses self-knowledge and uses it effectively.  The coaching leader understands his or her strengths and limitations, knowing how to use those strengths as well as minimize limitations.  By doing so, the coach sets boundaries for herself or himself so that the coaching leader’s own personality enhances rather impeding the coaching relationship.

Second, the coaching leader sees the best in others.  The coaching leader is always looking for the potential in the other person, believing it is there until it manifests itself. If the coaching leader is a Christian that understanding is based on seeing each person as made in the image of God.

Third, a coaching leader is patient, exercising self-control.  The coaching leader is willing to listen and reflect rather than give answers.  He or she manages the process rather than the agenda.  This requires both empathic and engaged listening.

Fourth, the coaching leader exercises his or her curiosity not simply for information but to empower the person being coached to dig deeper into his or her own resources and abilities.  Using powerful questions, the coach helps the person being coached enter into dialogue with himself or herself.

Five, a coaching leader is proactive, taking the initiative to push the person being coached onward and modeling forward movement. 

Finally, the coaching leader has the heart of a teacher.  The teaching model is the “guide by the side” rather than the “sage on the stage.”  The coaching leader’s goal is to draw out rather than pour in.

Every organization will become stronger, more productive, and more sustainable if it encourages its leaders to use coaching principles with individuals, groups, and teams.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Why Be a Coaching Leader?

Leadership is a vital need for any endeavor.  Whether we are talking about a church, an organization, a working team, or a group, someone needs to step up and provide some structure.  Of course, there are many types of leaders--autocratic, democratic, lassiez-faire, participative, facilitative, charismatic--to name a few.

I would like to make the case for being a coaching leader.  A coaching leader is one who challenges, calls out, and encourages the best in those she or he leads.  For the coaching leader to be successful, those with whom the leader works must be successful first.

What are the advantages of being a coaching leader?

1.  You allow space for people to discover the strengths they bring to the table.  Each of us is very different with unique skills and abilities. Rather than forcing a person to fit into a certain box in the organizational chart, the coaching leader helps the person discover how she or he can make the greatest contribution.

2.  As a coaching leader, you unleash the creativity and resourcefulness of the person with whom you are working.  They may provide fresh insights, perspectives, and understandings of which you are not aware.

3.  If you are a coaching leader, you help a person to develop self-leadership skills.  If you give people answers, they will always expect you to provide the answers.  Although a leader may be tempted to do this (it does feed one’s ego), the leader should realize that once you become the answer person, you will always fill that role.  As a coaching leader, you help each person to development assessment, brain-storming, problem solving, and accountability tools that will enhance their own abilities and service.

4.  When you become a coaching leader, you work yourself out of a job or at least free up time to exercise your own creativity and pursue your passion or pet project.  This not only expands not only your time but develops new leaders.

The dividends of being a coaching leader are many if you are willing to invest the time in people.  The investment we make in others is never wasted.