Friday, February 22, 2008

Beyond Our Control

One of the best reads I have come across recently isn't available in the bookstore or on Amazon.com (at least not yet). It is Missional Mapmaking by Alan Roxburgh and may be accessed at http://www.allelon.org.

Most of us are familiar with the idea of paradigms. I was first introduced to the concept several years ago by a friend who had read Joel Barker's book with that title. Barker built on the work of philosophers of science such as Thomas Kuhn (see The Structure of Scientific Revolutions) in challenging leaders to reconsider the lens (or mental models) they used in viewing the context in which they worked.

Roxburgh takes the idea further by explaining how the mental maps we have inherited from the modern experiment have been applied (inappropriately he argues) to the church. The rational approach of modernism is characterized by the idea that everything--the universe, government, industry, denominational hierarchies--can and should operate like well-oiled machines. Plug in the right resources (money, equipment, people) in the right order and you get the expected results. It is a simple cause and effect process. There are two major problems with this command and contro approach.

First, it objectifies people--that is, they become commodities not persons. We neglect to see people created in the image of God as spiritual individuals and as integral parts of a value-laden community.

Second, it doesn't work (especially in the church)! People don't want to be controlled or used. They pick up on it when it happens (although it may take some time).

Roxburgh shares his testimony about trying to apply strategic planning in a church and discovering it was like trying to "herd cats." Many members agreed to the plan, but they had no passion for it and the plan sat on the shelf and gathered dust. Some just decided the plan wasn't for them and went elsewhere. He comes to the conclusion that it is alright to be a "cat" and that often the cats in the congregation are those who are speaking the words of the Spirit.

For some time, I have had hangups about strategic planning, especially in the church and those entities that support the work of the churches. In denomination-like entities, they tend to become self-surving, oriented more toward survival than ministry. I appreciate that Roxburgh has articulated some things that I could not put into words about my misgivings.

Now, he does not condemn strategic planning in some areas. When you fly on an airplane, you want it to be the successful end product of a thorough planning process; however, the production of an airplane and the journey of discipleship are not the same. One must allow for the work of the Spirit in the life of the believer and the faith community.

What is the Spirit saying to us about our maps and mental models? How can we be sensitive to the leadership of the Spirit while remaining accountable to those we serve? One way may be to seek to recover the mission of God and make it our own.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Three Signs of a Miserable Job

I recently announced my intention to leave the position of coordinator with Tennessee CBF at the end of the year. I have avoided the term "retirement" because I still have some things I hope to accomplish! There are still some things that I want to do. I am not leaving because I am unhappy, but while I am still happy!

When I shared this decision with one friend, he commented, "I am going to keep on for a few more years or until I cannot get up in the morning and go to the office because I have lost the 'fire'." I think that is a good observation. When we are no longer excited about what we are doing or think there is something more productive we could do, it is time to move on.

I have enjoyed my work with TCBF, but I have been thinking about those people who really don't enjoy what they do. What makes a job enjoyable? Author Patrick Lencioni comes at this from a different angle--What makes a job miserable?

In his Three Signs of a Miserable Job, Lencioni identifies anonymity, irrelevance, and immeasurement as key contributors to job misery. First, people don't want to be anonymous "cogs in a machine." They want to be recognized and appreciated for the unique qualities they bring to a task. Second, people want to know that their jobs matter. They want to make a contribution to someone, some group, or some cause. Third, people want to be able to assess their progress. Are they moving forward? Do they really know what they are being asked to accomplish? I have been most dissatisfied at work when I didn't really know if I was doing what was expected of me. You can be a "self-starter" but be headed in the wrong direction! Evaluation is good and provides a stepping stone not only to job success but to personal motivation and a sense of fulfillment.

How do you like your job? It may not make you miserable, but does it make you happy?

Monday, February 18, 2008

Table Fellowship

Episcopalian "worker-priest" Tom Ehrich is a great writer and observer of life. I look forward to his daily "On a Journey" devotional at http://www.onajourney.org.

In a recent posting, he made the following observations about "table fellowship":

I think we have made way too much of Sunday liturgy. Our people are hungry for engagement, friendship, personal faith encounters, story-telling, community - not for routinized, ritualized recitations of well-vetted words and stylized actions.

We have asked Sunday worship to do too much of our work. It would be as if Jesus experienced John's baptism and then stayed in the River Jordan and said, "Let's all be baptized today, and again next Sunday, and again the Sunday after that."

As you know, Jesus did exactly the opposite. He left the Jordan. He went off on an ever-changing ministry of teaching, healing and forming circles of friends. He allowed people to touch his life and to reshape his sense of purpose. He dared to get close to gentiles, women, children and other undesirables. He ignored Judaism's well-vetted rituals for who eats what with whom, and he simply sat at table with whoever wanted to eat with him.

That, in my opinion, is the missing element in our modern churchmanship. We have become purveyors of liturgy, not builders of community. Do we even notice that the energy level rockets higher when liturgy ends and people finally are free to engage each other?

Ehrich is on to something here. Jesus not only proclaimed his love for people, but he went on to demonstrate it by sitting down, breaking bread with them, and treating them as equals. This is the basis of community. We joke a lot about "Baptists meeting to eat" but that may be the best way for us to witness to the One who always enjoyed a party.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

New Baptist Covenant: A Postmodern Event?

Evaluation and response continues on the recent Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant in Atlanta. It is being compared to early meetings, but there are some who say that there is nothing in recent history to which we can compare it. I agree with the latter stance. I think we can make a pretty case that this was a truly postmodern meeting. What do I mean by this?
First, the NBCC was unlike most denominational meetings conducted in the modern era. It was not a linear activity. Those earlier meetings emphasized outcomes which were already clearly stated (or assumed) before the meeting even began. With this kind of thinking, participants would come away with a commitment to a particular program or activity (such as “Bold Mission Thrust—remember that?). There was a specific purpose to be achieved by the closing service. The emphasis at NBCC was more on process than outcome. Everyone keeps asking, “What next?” More important that the next step is that the first step was taken.

Second, the NBCC emphasized community more than agenda. Certainly, there was an agenda---that is, there were meetings with music, speakers, etc.—but the central focus was for people from many different backgrounds to come together in a worshipping community. It was about relationships, sharing with others, and being present together before God. It was a Baptist “meet-up” on a massive scale.

Third, although there was a metanarrative—“Jesus is Lord”—that overarching story was approached from many different perspectives. Everyone brought his or her story to the table and it was valued and respected. It was not assumed that everyone would be on the same page, and there was sufficient freedom to allow participants to express divergent views.

Some will say that this is very messy. My reply to this is, “Yes, seeking to follow Christ in the postmodern context is very messy.” Anytime we attempt to overcome barriers to join in Kingdom work, it will be messy . . . and fun.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

The Future of the New Baptist Covenant

The first Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant is now history. A diverse group of Baptists gathered at the Georgia World Congress Center for three days of preaching, singing, talking, eating, hugging and celebrating (and maybe a little politicking, too). This event would not have been possible without the leadership of the most well-known Baptist layman in the world, President Jimmy Carter. Carter used all of his skills of persuasion to mobilize over 30 Baptist groups (denominations, schools, and organizations) to conduct this historic meeting. He, Dr. Bill Underwood, and Dr. Jimmy Allen were able to marshal the personnel and financial resources to call a significant number of God’s people together for an historic event.

So what’s next? I believe that the New Baptist Covenant faces at least five major challenges. First, very quickly the leadership of this nascent movement must be passed on to a new generation (or generations). President Jimmy Carter and Jimmy Allen are personal heroes of mine. They represent the best of the builder generation. They have defined a way of “being Baptist” that makes me proud. This meeting was a testament to their personal commitment and leadership, but others must accept the mantle of leadership. Boomers like Daniel Vestal, Bill Underwood, Charles Wade, David Goatley, Robert Parham and Albert Reyes must be called upon to move this effort forward. (Underwood emerged as a significant force on the national level with his leadership of this meeting.) Generation X folks and Millennials must be included as well. Women leaders such as Julie Pennington-Russell, Joan Parrott, Colleen Burroughs, and Lauran Bethel need to take a major role. If this movement is intended to reflect the diversity of the Kingdom, it must be multi-generational, multi-cultural, multi-racial, and gender-inclusive.

Second, lay involvement must be front and center. It was refreshing to see laypersons like Jimmy Carter, Grant Teaff, John Grisham, Charles Grassley, and Al Gore featured so prominently in the program. Lay persons need to be key players in this movement. Steps must be taken to encourage more lay involvement. I suggest that future gatherings be Friday and Saturday events that will allow more lay persons to attend.

Speaking of Al Gore, involvement of the former “next President of the United States” may be crucial to bringing young adults into this movement. Young adults (like my college junior grandson) have been touched by Gore’s crusade to combat climate change. He is a “rock star” to them. His involvement in the New Baptist Covenant meeting was a coup on a par with enlisting his old boss and running mate, Bill Clinton. Hopefully, his involvement in the celebration will be the first step into bringing this scarred Baptist to a higher profile role in the denomination.

Third, can this become a truly national movement? East coast involvement was strong, but the western part of the country must not be neglected. There were a number of speakers and conference leaders from west of the river (the Mississippi, that is) but a conscious effort must be made to assure that this is a nationwide effort.

Fourth, can this movement generate a clear focus? Each of the entities represented have their own agendas and emphases. Can one “big idea” be articulated and embraced? This would cut down on information overload and competition for the already overtaxed resources of churches and individuals. Perhaps the New Baptist Covenant could embrace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted by the United Nations and already being addressed by many faith groups.

Fifth, can the leaders of the New Baptist Covenant prove that a distinctive Baptist voice has a place in the 21st century? This is by no means a foregone conclusion. It may well be that the only way to redeem our heritage is to emphasize “baptist” (intentionally spelled with a small letter) principles much as one might talk about “evangelical” values—more of a theological than a denominational stance.

Not only must the New Baptist Covenant address these challenges (and others), but it must DO something! If the New Baptist Covenant has a future, we must do what Bill Clinton suggested in his closing address: first, find some things we can do together; second, respect each other as we do them. We need actions more than structures.

God blessed this time in Atlanta. Let us pray that God will continue this blessing in the coming days.