Sunday, May 01, 2016

Preparing for the Future

I put my foot in my mouth recently.  You know how that works—you make an off the cuff statement and suddenly realize that you may well have offended someone in the room.  I was leading a training session for lay leaders in a congregation and I said something to the effect, “I don’t really think much of long range planning.”

I immediately realized that this evoked a reaction among those present, and then it was driven home when one person said, “Well, I guess he just stepped on your toes, pastor.”  Rather than explaining what I meant, I pushed on. The pastor and I are still friends, but I should have clarified  the difference between several terms we use interchangeably.

First, “long range planning” is still a very popular term in corporate America, even though most companies have no idea where they will be a year from now much less 5 to 10 years down the road.  The world is too unstable to assume that plans and goals set today will have any meaning in a relatively short period of time (unless you think planning for the next six months entails long-range planning).

Second, “strategic planning” is basically the same as long range planning.  Strategic planning  is primarily analytic, assuming that change will be linear, the future is relatively predictable, and good planning will deal with any surprises.  This tends to be rather unrealistic, as well.

Third,  “visioning” is a process of understanding where you are now and discerning where you want to be at some point in the future.  For a church, this takes into account a biblical understanding of what the church is, the values of a particular congregation, the context in which the congregation exists, the gifts of the congregation—people, facilities, finances, etc., and potential challenges and opportunities.  The most effective visioning is rooted in prayer and spiritual discernment as well as demographics and assessment.

Fourth,  “strategic thinking” takes into account the opportunities that come our way and realizes that we may have to adapt to deal with surprises.  It takes into account the past (what we have done before), the present (what we are now), and the future (what we hope to be).  Visioning and strategic thinking are on the same path in assuming that things are going to change and the best approach is to be ready to respond positively to those changes.  A good tool for strategic thinkers is scenario writing—if this happens, then how might we respond?

The story of the church in the first century is a good example of visioning and strategic thinking at work.  Under the leadership of the Spirit,, the direction of the church was clear:  share the good news with everyone.  The way it happened, however, was not linear.  Gifted men and women listened, prayed and acted.  When one approach did not work out, they trusted that God would open another door.  Their role was to be faithful and use what God had put in their hands.  We would do well to follow their example.

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Changing Face of Senior Adults

Hardly a week goes by without someone posting an article or blog about reaching millennials for the church,  even though the real challenge may well be the internet generation, the next wave on the scene.  We recognize that younger generations have their own distinctive interests, values, and styles.  The face of the young adult population continues to change.  Few seem to consider the changing face of senior adults and the impact this has on the church.

If you watch television commercials directed to senior adults, you will see that the advertising community is much more savvy about this age group than is the church.  They realize that not all senior adults are going to be playing golf or bingo (not that there is anything wrong with that!). In fact, senior adulthood may be both the best of times and the worst of times for those who have lasted that long.

Although the traditional retirement age of 65 is no longer sacred, this is still the point of change for most senior adults.  When one crosses this threshold, however, he or she is just getting started on a number of transitions.

The first transition stage is made up of people who no longer “go to work” every day, but who are still very active and engaged.  Many see this as a time to travel, pursue hobbies, and to enjoy setting their own schedules. Seniors in this phase are usually healthy and proactive about their choices.  Many choose to invest their lives in working with the church, volunteering with not-for-profits, or taking care of family members.  There are an increasing number of seniors in this phase, of course, who must continue some kind of employment to supplement their incomes.  The church must be flexible enough in its ministries to find ways to connect with this diversity of life choices.

The second transition stage is into a more sedentary lifestyle.  Because of health concerns or having to care for an ailing spouse, this group of seniors tend to stay closer to home, but they are still very engaged in the life of the church.  In fact, participating in church-related activities and services may be the highlight of the week. This is also a time when seniors invest in ministry with other seniors, taking the time to visit those who are not as mobile or involved as they once were.  In this phase, seniors can perform a significant ministry on the part of the larger church body and their contributions should be recognized.

There is of course, a third phase, when the senior adult can no longer care for himself or herself.  Although family members and community resources come into play at this point, the role of the church is still important.  The church can continue to care for, honor, and support those who are no longer as active as they once were.

For those of us who are involved in church leadership, we must not forget that senior adults are an important part of the church.  They are not just recipients of ministry.  Most are still actively involved in serving and caring.  Many senior adults may be involved in the life of the church into their ninth decade of life.

In our efforts to engage a younger generation, we should not forget those on the other end of the life spectrum.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Finding a Mentor

Mentor was the friend to whom Ulysses entrusted his son, Telemachus, when he went off to the Trojan War.  We use the term “mentor” now for any trusted advisor, especially an older person who trains and guides a younger person.  The person guided by the mentor is often called a mentee or sometimes an apprentice but I think protégé is a better term.

I have benefited from a number of mentors in my life.  Most of these were on an informal basis; others were supervisors who guided my work.  On a couple of occasions, I purposely sought out a person to be my mentor in a particular area of expertise.  They agreed to share information, suggestions, and life experiences with me.

Benjamin Franklin is reported to have said, “There are two ways to acquire wisdom: you can either buy it or borrow it.  By buying it, you pay full price in terms of time and cost to learn the lessons you need to learn. By borrowing it, you go to those men and women who have already paid the price to learn the lessons and get their wisdom from them.”  I have been fortunate to have “borrowed” the experience of some gifted men and women.  In so doing, I have saved myself a great deal of time and disappointment.

Who do you choose to learn from?  Someone wrote, “Show me your mentors and I will show you yourself.”  Those people we spend our time with have great influence on our lives, especially if they are people of experience.  Therefore, we should choose our mentors carefully.  We tend to become like those whose influence we value.

Who have been your mentors?  Is there someone you should seek out to mentor you in a particular part of your life and ministry? Choose wisely but don’t be afraid to reach out to someone.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

You Need Four Kinds of Mentors

Mentoring is a very popular term today with a number of definitions and formats.  Mentoring allows us to benefit from the skills and experiences of others as we identify our own strengths and areas of potential growth.  The practice is important not only in corporations but for churches and not for profit organizations as well.  Several of types of mentoring are suggested in a blog from the Harvard Business Review, and I have added one more.

1.  Buddy or peer mentoring is much like an “apprenticeship” that helps a person “learn the ropes” in a new setting.  Formal peer mentoring helps a new person to mesh into an organization, but much of this type of orientation and assimilation takes place informally.  In a ministerial setting, we often find this type of mentoring with fellow students in seminary, other staff members, or in lunch or coffee groups with ministers in the community.  Although this may be done informally, the process is very important to becoming oriented to a new ministry setting.

2. Career mentoring is very intentional in large organizations but ministers often must seek it out for themselves.  The career mentor, who is usually not the person’s supervisor, serves as career advisor and internal advocate in an organization.  For those in ministry, the career mentor is often a former pastor, a seminary professor, or an older friend in ministry. Although this type of relationship develops naturally among male ministers, women in ministry often have to seek out such advocates.

3.  Life mentoring is very important as one’s responsibilities grow.  Everyone needs someone in whom he or she can confide without fear of bias.  Such trusted mentors are sounding boards for career challenges such as changing jobs or pursuing a new place of ministry.  Several years ago, I was asked by a realtor friend to join with two other people—both businessmen—to be his personal “board.”  As trusted friends, we walked alongside him as he launched a new phase of his career.  We were serving as life mentors.  

4.  Reverse mentoring provides the opportunity for a seasoned leader to learn something from a younger person and for the younger person to contribute to the organization in a special relationship with a leader.  The concept is discussed by Earl Creps in his book Reverse Mentoring.  For example, you might match a young leader to a senior executive to teach him or her how to use social media.  The executive will learn about social media, and the young adult will experience how the organization works.  This happened in a church setting when the minister to students was given an iPad and given the task of helping the church office become “paperless.”

We all can and must take advantage of the opportunities to both learn from others and share our own knowledge and skills with them.


“Empowerment” has become something of a catch phrase not only in businesses and other secular organizations, but in the church as well. We talk about being “empowering leaders” who call forth the best in others.  We want people to “feel empowered” to exercise their gifts.  We hope those with whom we work will “become empowered” as the result of our leadership.

Recently, I came across this quote from Robert E. Quinn in Deep Change: Discovering the Leader Within that changed my paradigm completely.

"We do not, however, empower people. Empowerment cannot be delegated. We can only develop an appropriate empowering environment where people will have to take the initiative to empower themselves."

This caught my attention.  Empowerment is not something I do to someone else.  Just as I cannot motivate another person to do something, I cannot empower that person to release his or her gifts.  I cannot force them to be all that they can be.  The power is not in my hands; it is in theirs.  That’s what empowerment is all about; it is internal not external.

I was visiting with a friend who was interested in coaching, and I hoped to enlist him as client.  In the course of the conversation, he said, “Tell me about some of your success stories.”  This caught me off guard and offended me a bit.  Quickly, I realized that my concept of coaching was not based on my own success but on that of those I coach.  If there is a “win,” it belongs to the person being coached and not to me.  I did not share any “success stories” with my friend, and I must not have done a very good job of explaining my approach since I did not get him as a client.

The role of the coach is not to empower or to make someone a success.  The role of the coach, as Quinn explains the role of the leader, is to create an environment where those with whom we work can come to empower themselves.  It is not about me; it’s about you.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

I Still Like Ike

Experts in psychosocial development  claim that the experiences we have between the ages of 12 and 15 shape our values, world view, and beliefs.  When I was that age, the President of the United States was Dwight D. Eisenhower.  Because of that and the fact that he was the first Republican my parents ever voted  for, my visit today to the Eisenhower Museum and Library in Abilene,  Kansas, was especially moving.

Eisenhower is the quintessential American success story, one of seven sons born on the wrong side of the tracks in a small Midwestern town who went on to become a military hero as leader of the Allied forces in Europe during World War Two, worked alongside figures like Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Charles DeGaulle, and served two Presidential terms during a time of both prosperity and unrest.

Those who were part of the Greatest Generation—men and women who fought and won the Second World War—saw “Ike” as one of them and rewarded him with their trust and admiration, overwhelmingly electing him twice to the Presidency.  When he left after two terms due to Constitutional limits, one  columnist wrote, “Eisenhower could be dead and he could still  be reelected.”  He was not only the President but a father figure in an “Ozzie and Harriet” and “Father Knows Best” world.

Perhaps one of the greatest gifts he gave to the nation was the warning as he left office of “the military-industrial complex” that threatened the well-being of our nation.  (He wanted to use the term “military-industrial-congressional complex” but close confidants advised against it.)

This symbiotic relationship among power brokers  is one that controlled much of public policy for the latter part of the last century and still does to a great extent today.  What I had missed before was a statement made early in his administration  that is engraved on the wall next to where he is buried:

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. . . .
 This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”

Only a military leader, a warrior, one who had seen the tragedy of war could make such a statement with such deep impact..  Unfortunately, we have not heard that message and we continue placing  our faith in the wrong things and ignoring the needs of our neighbor.  I am reminded of the words of Isaiah 31:1:

‘Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help,
    who rely on horses,
who trust in the multitude of their chariots
    and in the great strength of their horsemen,
but do not look to the Holy One of Israel,
    or seek help from the Lord.”

As we think about the selection of the future leader of our country, perhaps we should reevaluate our priorities in light of President Eisenhower’s warning.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Resurrection: Opening a Door

Reading:  Acts 10:34-43

“We have inherited a large house, a great ‘world house’ in which we have to live together—black and white, Easterner and Westerner, Gentile and Jew, Christian and Protestant, Moslem and Hindu—a family unduly separated in ideas, culture, and interest, who because we can never again live apart, must somehow learn to live with each other in peace.”—Martin Luther King, Jr., A Testament of Hope

A friend had recently seen the film Selma, depicting the civil rights marches in 1965, and asked me, “Where were you when this was going on?  Were you marching?”  No, actually, I was in my final semester at an all-white college in the South, preparing to get married, and about to receive a commission as an officer in the U. S. Army. To be honest, I was more concerned about being sent to Vietnam (which eventually happened) than in the marches led by Dr. King in my native state of Alabama.

To be very clear, I was not hostile to equal rights for all people.  I had been involved in biracial student meetings on a national level and was ready for change to happen, but I was not an activist.  My paradigm had not shifted sufficiently that I was moved to action.  My reality was rather limited.

In some ways, I was like Peter before the Spirit of God led him to share the Gospel with Cornelius, a Roman centurion and a Gentile.  Peter was not necessarily hostile to the idea that God’s message was for all people, but he didn’t see it as his problem.  His world had to change as did mine. He had to come to see that “God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.”  (Acts 10:34-35, NIV)

The words of Dr. King are prophetic as we consider the full implications of the Resurrection story for our world today.  When Christ entered into the world, He came not just as a Jew, a citizen of Palestine, but as a human being.  Thus, the message He proclaimed was not just for Jews or those who lived in Palestine but for all people everywhere for all time. The Book of Acts depicts how that message began to impact other cultures and peoples, sometimes with incendiary results.  Once unleashed, the Resurrection message could not be stifled.

The challenge for us today is to be faithful with the Resurrection message in a way that reaches out to all of the peoples of the earth—many of whom are now our neighbors.  Living out this Resurrection faith in our time and place may well require a fresh infusion of the power of the Spirit of God bringing with it a new paradigm of relationship and hospitality. If you are not both enthused and frightened by this possibility, you fail to grasp the full implications of the Gospel. Perhaps God will give us the vision that Peter received.  I pray it would be so.