Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Taking the Fear Out of Performance Reviews

When I worked for a state Baptist convention, one of my responsibilities was to do annual “performance reviews” with staff both in my office and in the field.  I quickly came to realize that many of our staff dreaded these annual discussions.  One told me that when these reviews first started (before my tenure) that he got physically ill prior to his annual performance review!

After doing these evaluation sessions over two decades, I learned a lot about taking the fear out of performance reviews—both for myself and others.  For one thing, I tried to think of these as collaborative conversations in which I was an active participant.  As I talked with the staff member about his or her work, my role as a leader and supervisor was also under review.  I tried to keep in my mind this question:  “What does this person need from me to do a better job?”

As I think back, I realize that in many ways I was moving toward a coaching approach in these meetings.  In Growing Agile Leaders, Bob Dale defines coaching in this way:  “Coaching is a growth-oriented, strategic relationship.  Coaching links two peers, equals who are in distinct roles, to collaborate as though partners and to find the way forward for the person being coached.” 

Good leaders know that they are only as good as the people with whom they work.  They seek to invest in the abilities, gifts, and ideas of others.  Although in the strictest sense coaching is focused on the agenda of the person being coached, supervisors can use coaching techniques to advance the agendas of both the organization and the staff person in a collaborative relationship. 

Pastor Andy Stanley understands this.  In a recent podcast titled “Five Questions to Help Leaders Perform More Effectively,” Stanley suggests the use of these questions to guide and evaluate those one supervises:

1. What are you most excited about right now?
2.  What do you wish you could spend more time on?
3.  What's most challenging for you right now?
4. is anything bugging you?
5.  What can I do to help?

Of course, Stanley’s approach is that every meeting with a staff member is an opportunity to both evaluate progress and to coach that person, so all of these questions are not used every time.  They come into play at the appropriate time in the work of the staff member.

By using these open-ended questions, the supervisor is inviting the staff member to do deeper, be more reflective, and be more vulnerable.  This works only if the staff member sees the supervisor as trustworthy, committed to the staff and the organization, and willing to listen without judgment.

A good leader wants the best both for the organization and for those who serve it.  When seen as a collaborative relationship, the conversations between supervisor and staff member can be less threatening for both.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Adaptable Apostle

If I asked you to give me a word that describes your impression of the Apostle Paul, I doubt that “flexibility” would be one of those words.  We generally tend to see Paul as a driven, committed follower of Christ who overcame all obstacles to proclaim the Gospel.  Dedicated, yes. Willing to adapt his message to reach others, yes.  We might consider, however, this memorable passage that Paul writes to the church at Corinth:

Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings." (1 Corinthians 9:19-23, NIV)

Paul never wavered from his core understanding of the Gospel, but he was willing to change his presentation methods to reach his audience. This is clearly seen in Acts 17 where he uses (at least) three approaches to share the good news with a pagan culture.

First, after a harrowing visit to Thessalonica, Paul and his team went to Berea and, as was his custom, he spoke in the synagogue.  He found there a more accepting group of Jews who were willing to listen, dialogue, and examine the Hebrew Bible—their source of authority—to verify Paul’s claims.  Both Jews and Greeks responded positively to the message.

When people from Thessalonica arrived in Berea to make trouble for Paul, he was spirited off to Athens while Silas and Timothy stayed behind to disciple the new believers.  Paul found himself alone in Athens, no longer a dominant political center, but still important as a place of intellectual and philosophical debate.

We see a different approach to sharing the Gospel as Paul wandered through the marketplace in Athens.  While there, he commented upon and probably asked questions about the various gods whose images adorned the city.  He seems to have been engaging the common people in discussion about the popular culture, a culture overcome with a multitude of gods expressing innumerable human needs and concerns.

Finally, Paul was taken to the Areopagus (Mars Hill) to debate the Stoic and Epicurean philosophers there.  No longer a seat of government, the Areopagus was both a place and a group of people where philosophical debate occurred.  The site had become a place where the intellectuals presented their ideas and defended them. Just to be invited there was an honor!

Paul launched into a long presentation that reflected his Greek education and his knowledge of the culture in which he found himself.  He used various quotes from well-known Greek writers to both challenge his listeners and point them toward the Creator God who had provided a Savior for them.  Many doubted but several, including at least one member of the Areopagus, accepted his message.

Paul’s experiences recounted in Acts 17 show not only an ability to be flexible but a model for Christians in a postmodern society.  Paul used the authority that was appropriate to his audience to introduced the Gospel—scripture, popular culture (or superstition), and philosophy.  Did he change his core beliefs? No, but he used those things that were important to the audience to make a connection, creating a bridge to the Gospel.

I believe that our post-modern world is much like the pre-modern world in which Paul preached.  When Christians hear about postmodernism, many are moved to attack the concept and belittle it.  Paul is an example of how we should respond to the culture in which we find ourselves.  Do we curse the darkness or light a candle?  Paul did not fear the darkness but brought light.  He engaged his culture to fulfill his mission.

Christians today should not be afraid to enter into dialogue with the authority structures of the world, but we must do so with intelligence, humility, and commitment.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Saved? From What?

As I work through the Book of Acts for Sunday morning Bible study, I am becoming more aware of the similarities between the pre-modern world of the first century and the post-modern world of the 21st century.  For example, we have assumed certain things about the Philippian jailer that may not be justified.  You know the story.  Paul and Silas have been thrown into prison because of an act of generosity.  This is what happened next: 

 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”  The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:25-30, NIV)

We have usually jumped to the conclusion that the jailer wants to be saved from his sins.  But how would he know that he needed to be forgiven?  He was a pagan, perhaps a retired Roman soldier who had been rewarded for his service with a nice government job.  There is no indication that he had ever heard about the God of Israel or the teaching of Paul and Silas about Jesus.  So from what was he asking to be saved?

I believe he was asking to be saved from his fear of the unknown.  Something unexpected had entered his life.  His world had been turned upside down.  There was an earthquake which threw the doors of the prison open.  What had caused this?  Were there hostile gods or spirits behind this?  Had the prisoners escaped?  If so, he feared retribution from those in the Roman government he served.  His fears were rooted both in the existential and the material.  His fragile sense of security was in shambles.  All seemed to be conspiring against him.

This is certainly the postmodern dilemma.  Bad things happen and people have no framework with which to understand them.  Sometimes they cannot even give a name to those fears.  They are cast adrift and need to be saved.  They fear the unknown and unknowable.

There is a God who understands that bad things happen and who helps us to deal with those things, a God who provides a base for building a life of faith and hope.  This is the Good News that Paul and Silas proclaim:  You can be saved from your fear of the unknown.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Going Against the Grain

My friend Mark Tidsworth recently shared this quote by Hans Kung in The Church as the People of God:  "A church which pitches its tents without constantly looking out for new horizons, which does not continually strike camp, is being untrue to its calling. ... [We must] play down our longing for certainty, accept what is risky, and live by improvisation and experiment."

You will rarely hear this preached in a Sunday morning worship service.  Most of those who step into pulpits feel compelled to preach about certainty, stability, and safety.  Even those who do not proclaim a gospel of prosperity are reluctant to tell their congregants, “Don’t get too comfortable.  Not only are things going to change but, if we are the people of God, we should expect them to change.”

When rightly lived, the message we proclaim of the Kingdom of God is about instability, change, and new challenges.  My pastor preached on Luke 13:18-19 yesterday.  In this passage, Jesus says, “What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to?  It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds perched in its branches.” (NIV)  The sermon emphasized the potential in the smallest of seeds to grow into an expected expression of the Kingdom.  The preacher got the message of the passage and delivered it clearly.  The Kingdom is about surprises.  When we least expect it, the Kingdom will break in among us and upset our best laid plans, calling us to new opportunities for ministry.

If the church today is to be an expression of the Kingdom of God, then we had best pack our bags and be ready to move. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Developing Emerging Leaders

I have had the opportunity to serve in ministry leadership roles in several situations.  I keep in touch with most of those ministries, and I am always interested to see how they have changed over the years.  This is a good thing.  If the ministry is still doing the same things it was doing when I was there, something is wrong.

No matter how capable you may think you are as a leader, your time will pass.  You move on to another responsibility in the organization, respond to a new opportunity elsewhere, or retire.  You may have implemented important policy changes, developed sound programs, and designed creative processes, but these will change over time.  The only lasting investment you make in any situation is your investment in the people with whom you work.

The primary goal of any leader is to develop other leaders.  This does not mean simply reproducing yourself in others but calling out and encouraging each person’s unique gifts and abilities.  How do you go about developing emerging leaders?

First, you take the time to mentor others.  Mentoring is time consuming, but a good leader does not seek to hold on to information or skills but freely shares them with those who are teachable.  In so doing, the leader may find ways to improve his or her own performance.

Second, you coach others as they implement what they have learned and as they make new discoveries.  Good coaches encourage emerging leaders to stretch themselves and set challenging goals.  Emerging leaders often do not know their capabilities unless they are pushed to do more.

Third, you give others not only the responsibility but the resources and authority to make things happen.  You can give emerging leaders the opportunity to do something, but you must also be willing to provide the time, money, and other necessary resources to get it done.  

Fourth, you trust others.  Avoid micromanaging and give emerging leaders the freedom to succeed or fail.  Emerging leaders need the chance to learn from success and from failure.  Certainly there is risk involved here, but risk is necessary to really learn.  After the fact, you celebrate successes and process the failures with the emerging leader.

Fifth, you recognize the successes of emerging leaders in the way that is most appropriate to that person.  Not everyone wants personal recognition.  Some desire quality time with supervisors or peers, freedom to pursue their own ideas, or opportunities to learn and grow.  

Who are the emerging leaders around you?  Who are you investing in today?