Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Greatest Generation

I attended the memorial service today for Art Driscoll, a friend and mentor who helped me a great deal in my early days in collegiate ministry. Perhaps it was fitting that Art passed away on Memorial Day weekend. Art was a B-17 pilot in World War II, served as campus minister at the Universities of Oklahoma and Virginia, and worked for 20 years at National Student Ministries. He was in his early twenties when he entered the military. We forget how young these men were (my Dad was an "old man" in his unit since he was 28 when he was drafted!). Many of them left the senior prom and went right into basic training. They experienced conditions that most of us who served in subsequent conflicts did not have to endure. Their girl friends and wives heard from them only sporadically and had their own challenges to deal with at home.

When they returned from the military, men like Art remade our society and had a significant impact on college ministry as they entered college with the aid of the GI Bill. Students who had fought in Europe, the South Pacific, and other foreign locales brought new insights (and perhaps some attitude?) to college life. Many felt a call to ministry and their names joined those of others who shaped a boom in campus ministry during the 50s and 60s--Roselle, Baird, Rollins, Junker, Magee, Howard, Bramlette, and so many more.

Several people who spoke today identified Art as a "mentor." Art certainly served in that role for me. During his years at NSM, he was primarily responsible for the leadership development of adults who worked with college students--campus directors, state staff, and faculty members. I was pleased when he agreed to be the field supervisor for my doctor of ministry work in 1973. I drove into Nashville from Murfreesboro a number of times over the course of a year to meet with him, reflect on written assignments together, and receive suggestions about resources and approaches to ministry. Perhaps just as important was the way that Art facilitated the opportunity to learn from others. He would bring veteran campus ministers in to Nashville to share their "models for ministry" with colleagues from around the country. These were rich, rewarding sessions that challenged a young campus minister to broaden his horizons. Perhaps this was a carryover from Art's service as part of a bomber team--an awareness that the best learning often takes place as colleagues share with one another.

Of course, Art was not my only mentor. Another was Louie Farmer, my Baptist student union director. I could write much about him and his wife, Mildred. Nell Magee of National Student Ministries was another; Nell gave me great encouragement and opportunities to develop my teaching and facilitating skills. Another was Glenn Yarbrough who first employed me as a campus director and provided a healthy balance of independence and direction.

All of these folks were and are part of the "greatest generation" to me. They were willing to take the difficult circumstances they were given and made something out of them with faith and courage. Thank God for the blessing they have been to us!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Decision Making

My friend, Jerry Gaither, is a retired school administrator who has experienced all of the knocks and bruises that come from being a true "public servant." Some time ago, he shared with me a sheet he calls "An Administrator's Ethics Test." I think it serves as a good guide for any of us who are called to be stewards of other's resources. Here are Jerry's questions:

Will I be violating board policy, the law, or the rights of others?

Is it equitable?

  • Can I sit down around a table and face all parties concerned at the same time?
  • Does it promote wholesome relationships?
  • Can I look in the mirror and feel good about myself?

Is it explainable?

  • In a clear and concise manner that the general public can understand it? (If you can't explain it to all concerned, it may be perceived as being unfair.)

Will it leave me with a clear conscience?

  • Will it make me proud?
  • Will it stand the light of day--tomorrow, as well as today?
  • Would I feel good if my family knew about it?
  • Supreme test--Could I kneel in my bedroom and pray, "Dear Lord, I have done my best; give me what I deserve."

Jerry first wrote this down almost twenty years ago. It is still relevant today. Thank you, Jerry, for sharing these questions out of your own experience.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

What I Am Reading

I like to read. At any particular time, I may be reading two or three books (some with more enthusiasm than others!). Over the past year, a number of the books I have been reading have been connected to the two seminary classes I have taught. Right now, the books I am working on are completely my choice. One that is going pretty fast is a new book by Oliver “Buzz” Thomas, a former Baptist Joint Committee staffer who now lives in east Tennessee. The book is 10 Things Your Minster Wants to Tell You (But Can’t Because He Needs the Job). Thomas applies sound biblical scholarship to such issues as “What About Women?” “Other Religions” and “Why are We Here?” The thesis of the book is that your minister would tell you about these things if you trusted his/her ability to understand and interpret the Word of God and were willing to be challenged in your own faith!

I was attracted to Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why because of author Bart Ehrman’s personal story. Ehrman currently has three of the five top selling books from Oxford University Press. This one is a top seller from HarperSanFrancisco. Starting out as a born-again evangelical (he graduated from Moody Bible Institute and Wheaton), Ehrman’s study of textual criticism seems to have led him completely out of the Christian faith. I have read one of his other books and heard several of his lectures; he is certainly an expert on early church writings and “lost Christianities.” I will let you know what I think about this one once I have finished it!

Leading from the Second Chair by Mike Bonem and Roger Patterson is aimed at those who fill “second chair” or associate roles in churches and Christian organizations, but it also provides insights for those in the “first chair” to help develop the leadership skills of their associates. The book is built around three paradoxes, emphasizing both/add rather than either/or--subordinate-leader; deep-wide; and contentment-dreaming. The biblical content is drawn from the Old Testament story of Joseph. It is very practical, but it is probably much longer than it needs to be.

The final book I am carrying around with me is Organic Community by Joseph R. Myers. This is the second offering in a publishing partnership between Emergent Village and Baker Books titled “Emersion.” Since community seems to be the key feature of the emerging church movement, this is a very appropriate contribution to the conversation. Those of us who are church leaders may think we already know all about community, but Myers takes a different tack. I think I will enjoy this one!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Jack Bauer: Looking for Grace?

OK, I admit it. I watch 24. Although I have watched it on and off for several seasons, this is the first year that I have seen every episode (sometimes by recorded delay). I know it has violence and some pretty unlikely plot twists (who would have thought that Bauer's father would be the greatest threat to our national security?) and I know that many Republicans are fans, but it challenges me as it puts our hero into situations where he has to make some difficult choices. And quite honestly, his moral compass is usually better than the elected leaders represented on the show.

As I watched the last scene last night (I had recorded it earlier in the week), it became clear to me that here was a man who needed some grace in his life. He started the season willing to die voluntarily to save his country after being held prisoner by the Chinese for years, he found out that both his father and brother were traitors, he rediscovered his lost love only to see her in a near-catatonic state, he was shot and beaten (but that's nothing new), and he was double-crossed by his superiors more times than one can count. He ended the season asking former Secretary of Defense Raines, "Why have I trusted men like you?" Good question (of course, it would be a pretty dull program if he didn't).

At the end of a horrendous day, our hero is basically saying, "What's this all about? Why have I gone through all this? What's the payoff?" These are good existential questions for a person looking for meaning, purpose, and maybe some forgiveness for his crimes.

Although Jack may not realize it, he has received grace in the response of loyal friends time and again. Audrey Raines (Jack's lover) is in no shape to console him, but Bill Buchanan (his former boss) and Karen Hays (the president's advisor) are willing to put their reputations and careers on the line because they trust Jack. What's the payoff for them? Simply knowing that they have stood by a person who is making the right decision in saving a 16-year-old boy (Jack's nephew) from kidnapping and death.

Grace is provided to Jack in the person of people who are willing to reach out and do what's right. That's not a bad coda to the season. Are Christians willing to do the same?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

A Tale of Two Presidents

The CBF Leadership Team is meeting in Little Rock this week (this team includes state and regional coordinators as well as national coordinators). We spent some time today learning about two presidents. One is Dr. Fitzgerald Hill, president of Arkansas Baptist College, the only historic black Baptist college west of the Mississippi (founded in 1884). Dr. Hill spoke to our group this morning and hosted us for lunch on campus. The other president we had the opportunity to consider was Bill Clinton, 42nd president of the United States, as we visited the Clinton Presidential Center and Library.

Hill, a former football coach, has a vision not only to revitalize a formerly declining institution, but to raise up a new generation of male African-American leaders. A committed father, he has rearranged his priorities to place his family first. He is a believer who is committed to challenging young men to grow mentally, spiritually, and physically. He presents his vision clearly, with fervor, and with faith. He is already seeing results as enrolment grows, financial resources are procured, and partners are coming alongside. CBF of Arkansas and Millard Fuller are partnering with ABC to make this happen. I think it will!

Clinton, a poor Arkansas boy who used his drive and savvy to rise to the highest elected office in the land, is a tragic figure. He was raised on the Bible as a Southern Baptist, and he can still "talk the talk" when he is in a church pulpit better than any other Democrat alive. I accept that he has repented of his foolish personal behavior while President and I sincerely think that history will treat him kindly as both a national and world leader. There is much about him that I admire. Even so, as I walked through the Clinton Center, I was burdened with thoughts of the opportunities wasted and what might have been.

Two leaders. Two challenges. Both believers. But choices do matter.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Missions Matrix

When it comes to Christian missions, we live in interesting times. I thought about this last night as I listened to a young American woman talk about the ministry that she and her husband do in southeast Asia (I will not refer to her by name or to the location where the couple works.) She is an articulate and attractive person who is using her creative gifts to reach out to people through a holistic ministry grounded in her Christian faith. Her parents have both been involved in Southern Baptist causes for years. This woman served with Cooperative Baptist missionaries in southeast Asia for two years after college. While there, she met a young man from another country working with an independent missionary agency. After her term of service, he came to the states, met her parents, they became engaged, married, and returned to their new home to work with the aforementioned missions group.

To understand where we are in missions work today, let's get this straight. Here is a young woman from a Southern Baptist background whose missions vision was broadened by her work with CBF missionaries and she is now working with a non-denominational group. Here's the next layer--her parents have been supportive of her work all along and have not been "turned off" by her involvement first with CBF and now with a non-denominational group. In fact, they are seeking out individuals and churches who will support the work. Here's the third layer--the state CBF coordinator arranged for her to speak to his church's missions committee and youth group about her work!

Does this seem strange to you? Maybe it's because I am still shaking off the old denominational paradigm of missions service, but I don't think this would have happened even ten years ago. Could it be that our vision of missions and being a missional people is changing and growing?

I could go on to make comments about the creative, cutting edge ministry that this couple is doing in their new home, but that is a story for another day. Right now, I am still amazed at how God works. Surely God has a sense of humor!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Parental Responsibility

While listening to a call-in radio program on media censorship recently, I overheard a comment to this effect: "Having children is a choice. If you choose to have children, it is up to you to monitor what they see and hear." My immediate response to this was, "Really?" I think that the speaker might want to rethink this comment. What if we applied this to public education? Does the public have the responsibility to educate someone else's children? I have a problem with those who argue against support for public education with the comment, "I raised my children. Why should I have to pay higher taxes to educate other people's children?"

I presuppose a couple of things. First, when we agree to be part of a society, we agree to accept certain responsibilities. One of those is nurturing an educated populace. You may call this social planning, but in frontier America the first institution planted after the church was (sually) the school. Why? So people could read write, and "cipher" so that they could make a living and not be a drain on socieity. Also, they could inform themselves to be good members of the republic. Second, if I am to have a better life, others are going to have a better life, too. That won't happen unless they are educated to be good workers and good citizens.

What does this say to the church? Baptists don't "baptize" babies, but their parents do come to many of our churches to "dedicate" their children. In this process, the church agrees to aid the parents in the Christian nurture of their children. What does this involve? It is more than providing a children/preschool minister and a budget for children and preschool ministry. This means that we are concerned about growing them in the Christian faith. We will volunteer to work with them through the program organizations of the church, we will work to keep them from harm, and (beware) we will be good examples to them in the way that we conduct ourselves inside and outside of church gatherings.

It would be easy to say, "Hey, you had the kid. He's your problem!" As a Christian, I can't say that--not if I believe in the future of the Kingdom.