Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Apostolic Entrepreneurs

Faith-based social entrepreneurship is gaining traction.  Visionary leaders, many of them young adults, are seeking to meet needs outside of ecclesiastical structures.  Their motivation for doing this might be addressed in another blog, but the trend is growing.  In a recent article published by the Association of Theological Schools, writer Linda Kay Klein identified the top five qualities of a successful faith-based entrepreneur.

Purpose-driven.  Faith-based social entrepreneurs are driven by internal rather than external motivation.  Rather than seeking recognition, money, or freedom from guilt, these trailblazers have a clearly identified positive goal in mind. They see a need and want to meet it.  When they encounter barriers, they are driven to overcome these difficulties because they have a clear focus on what they want to accomplish.

Resilient.  Successful social entrepreneurs have often overcome personal challenges in their past.  Therefore, they are ready to meet the challenges of a start-up--limited funding, lack of support in the community, changes in leadership.  They realize that flexibility is a virtue if you still can accomplish your goal.

Two-channel thinking.  Klein writes, “It’s as though they are simultaneously on two channels--at once seeing the muck and mess of today, and the beauty that could be tomorrow.”  They can own the vision and communicate it to others while developing pathways to achieve the vision and inviting others on the journey.  They are the chief advocates for the vision.

People-centered.  They are not simply serving people and fulfilling their needs but inviting others to co-create the best solution.  They learn from those affected by the problem or possibility.  They also seek to network with those in various fields--business, government, social services--who share a common interest in achieving the goal.

Outcomes-oriented.  Successful social entrepreneurs realize that they must address the root causes that create the need and not just the symptoms.  The only path to permanent, life-giving change involves changing the system. 

Churches, judicatories and theological schools are beginning to recognize the impact these faith-based social entrepreneurs can make, but these entities usually lack the flexibility and creativity to support their work.  If the 21st century church is to be truly missional, we must find ways to empower, encourage, and resource those who can be our contemporary apostles to the world.  They will make a difference, but will we help or hinder their work?

Monday, December 11, 2017

Holiday Stress—Dealing with the Contradiction

We are now immersed in the “holiday season’ that is inaugurated with Thanksgiving, reaches its peak with Christmas, and then closes out with New Year’s Day.  This is a time of feasting, visiting, giving, reflection, and worship for most of us.  As McIntyre notes, however, it is often a time of stress as well.

So how do we deal with the stress?  What are some things we can do to deal with the stress?

First, we can set priorities.  What do we really value not only during the holidays but everyday?  If we value family, we will make sure that the holidays are times of sharing and creating positive memories together.  If we value giving time to others, we will structure such time into our lives.  Holidays are different from the normal flow of life but they can still reflect the values we embrace and put first.

Second, we can take the time to give back. During the holidays, we become even more aware of the gap between the haves and the have-nots.  Many struggle in a number of ways—to have food on the table, to have safe and comfortable housing, and to provide for their families.  Those of us who have so much become more aware of those who have little.  Providing meals, support, and assistance for those in need may give us a head start on a new way of behaving in the New Year.

Third, we can take the time to nurture and enjoy relationships with family and friends. Take the time at parties, dinners, and other gatherings to really connect with others and show appreciation for them.  Even if we are geographically separated from those we love, we can call, write (remember old-fashioned cards and letters?) and find other ways to communicate.

Finally, we can commit time to prayer and reflection.  This is a holy season. We give thanks for the fulfillment of God’s promise in the Son, Jesus Christ, and consider what it means for our lives.  Although the change in calendar from one year to another is totally arbitrary, the move from 2017 to 2018 provides opportunities for us to assess where we have been and where we might go in the future with God’s help.

Holiday stress is a reality, but we can commit ourselves to emphasize the first part rather than the latter part.

(A version of this blog was originally posted December 2, 2013.)

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Stephen: Breaking the Paradigm

My Dad was a great story-teller. He had to go to work as a teen-ager to help support his family and finished high school GED, but he was an avid reader and knew the Bible better than many of us who have studied it all our lives.  He told stories about Bible characters that made them come alive.

Stephen was that kind of story-teller.  When he was called upon to give a defense of his faith before the Assembly (Sanhedrin), he began with Abraham and told the story of the Hebrew people up to the time in which he lived.  The point of his story was not the one that his accusers were used to, however. The difference in his story and that of those who opposed him was that their story ended at a particular point with the Law and the Temple.  They considered the status quo as God’s ultimate expression.  Stephen shifted the paradigm and said, “The story doesn’t end there.  God is still working among God’s people.”

In his story-telling, Stephen shifted the paradigm or way of seeing things.  A paradigm shifter sees the same thing as everyone else but sees it in a different way.

The priests, scribes, and Pharisees accepted and defended a static view of the world.  They had God in a box and were happy with the ways things were.  Stephen, as a spokesperson for the Way, proclaimed that God’s story was still unfolding.  God’s plan of redemption goes on.

God is a paradigm breaker.  During the “conservative resurgence” in the Southern Baptist Convention, I heard one prominent leader in the movement say, “God can’t do that. It would go against what He [sic] said in the Bible.”  In other words, this person believed that his particular interpretation of the Bible held God hostage.  God is not so easily restricted and continues to work among God’s people in unusual and unexpected ways.  This was Stephen’s message.

Stephen also proclaimed that God had sent spokespersons in the past who pointed the people in a new direction and every time those persons were rejected.  Joseph was rejected by his brothers.  Moses was criticized and opposed as God’s leader by the refugees from Egypt.  The prophets were scorned by their people.  Now finally, Jesus the Messiah had been rejected.  And Stephen, as a witness to the emerging Kingdom, would be rejected as well.

When a new paradigm comes along, not everyone accepts it.  Most of us are blinded by the familiar and too comfortable with the status quo.  Stephen was not that kind of leader.  He saw what God was doing, proclaimed it, and gave his life for that new reality.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Stephen: Innovation and Opposition

In regard to Stephen, theologian N. T. Wright comments, “You never know, once you lay hands on people and pray for God to work through them, what new things they will get up to, or rather what new things God will do through them.”

In Acts 6:8-15, the ministry of Stephen, a deacon (servant) in the church at Jerusalem, expands.  He moves from administering aid to the needy to healing and teaching.  As Wright notes, once the Spirit starts to work in a person’s life, you never know what will happen. 

When Stephen saw need, he responded.  He saw the sick and, through the power of the Spirit, offered healing.  He saw spiritual ignorance and responded with teaching about the Messiah.  As he did so, he was raising the profile of the Way and the church as well as himself. 

Throughout Christian history, there have been men and women like Stephen, who saw a need and responded.  They saw sickness and started hospitals.  They saw ignorance and started schools.  They saw children without families and started orphanages.  These innovators stepped outside the paradigm that the church had embraced and addressed the needs of the world in creative ways. 

When you do a new thing, you will upset someone.  Although his dissenters “could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke” (Acts 6:10, NIV), this did not stop them from trying.  They brought him before the Sanhedrin or Assembly and asked him to justify his work.  Although they had the ability to coerce him, there is every indication that Stephen willingly accepted the challenge as an opportunity to share the mission of God.

The church today needs women and men like Stephen who will respond to the leadership of the Spirit of God.  John’s gospel explains the work of the Spirit in this way: The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8, NIV)

For those of us who are control freaks, this can be frightening.  For leaders like Stephen, it was exhilarating.  He was ready to listen, act, and witness through the power of God’s Spirit.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Stephen: A Person of Faith and Wisdom

Throughout the history of the church, men and women have stepped up to renew the church and stretch its ministry in new directions.  These are pathfinders, entrepreneurs, or pioneers who see new opportunities for Kingdom work and respond accordingly.

Stephen, one of the first deacons in the church at Jerusalem, provides a good model of a true “thought leader,” one who moves things in a new direction. Although originally chosen as one “to wait on tables” or care for widows, Stephen had the ability and the opportunity to do much more than this simple task of service.  A servant leader in the best sense of the term, he was ready and willing to follow the leadership of the Spirit.

In the descriptions of Stephen in the Book of Acts, a pattern is clear.  He was “known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom” (6:3); a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (6:5); and “a man full of God’s grace and power” (6:8). 

There was a spiritual vitality in Stephen that issued forth in service to others.  His walk with God empowered and motivated him to perform “great wonders and signs among the people” (6:8).  In the familiar phrase, he walked the talk.

Stephen was also deeply rooted in the Hebrew scriptures.  In the lengthy discourse credited to him in Acts 7, he shows a deep understanding of scripture, the history of his Jewish forebears, and a remarkable grasp of the role of Christ in ushering in a new age for all people.  He was an articulate and faithful spokesperson for the Kingdom of God.

A person of faith and wisdom, Stephen exhibited the key personality characteristic of a leader--personal integrity.  People responded to him because his actions backed up his words.  He understood his motivation and lived out his values.  We want to follow people like Stephen.

(All scripture passages are NIV.)

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Leadership Opportunity: Lateral Leadership

What does it mean to be a leader of leaders?  There is no lack of books about leading those who are responsible to you due to your designated position in the church or organization.  A leadership subject that is not often addressed is how to be a leader among those who are your peers.  I was recently introduced to the term “lateral leadership” to describe this competency.  We may know how to work with our supervisors or how to supervise others, but how do we work with others who are at the same level as we are?

 Here are some things to consider in exercising lateral leadership.

1.  Be a person of integrity.  Of course, this should be true of any leader, but when you work with your peers, trust and respect are essential.  Peers must know that you will follow through on your commitments and share not only responsibilities but recognition as well.  Competency in your work is important, but consistency in word and deed is essential.

2.  Cultivate and value relationships.  In his book, Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time, Keith Ferazzi explains that successful people develop and use the power of relationships so that everyone wins: “You can’t get there alone.  In fact, you can’t get very far at all.”  This is not just a transactional process where there is a direct one to one exchange of “You give me this and I will give you that.”  This is a genuine investment in the lives of others.  Relationships enrich our lives and pay off in unexpected ways.

3.  Give to others. In Give and Take:  Why Helping Others Drives Our Success, Adam Grant poses this question: “Every time we interact with another person at work, we have a choice to make:  do we try to claim as much value as we can, or contribute value without worrying about what we receive in return?”  We are dealing here with one’s reciprocity preference.

 Grant observes that people tend to be givers, takers, or matchers in social relationships.  Takers like to get more than they give.  Givers go the other direction, preferring to give more than they get.  Matchers seek an equal balance of giving and getting.  The surprise in Grant’s research is that givers ultimately are more successful than matchers or takers.

Most important, Grant writes, “Givers succeed in a way that creates a ripple effect, enhancing the success of people around them.  You’ll see that the difference lies in how giver success creates value, instead of just claiming it.”

In summary, the best way to exercise lateral leadership is to be a servant leader.  As Jesus said, “For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.” Luke 9:48, NIV)  When we care for and support others, they will value us both as colleagues and coworkers.  When we help them win, we win, too.