Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Facebook Friends

“You love it or you hate it!” Well, maybe that is too strong a statement, but when it comes to digital media—especially social networking media--people tend to have strong feelings. Facebook is a good example.

A friend recently commented on the fact that Facebook was a time wasting activity. People were always inviting him to play games, accept gifts, and sending him messages. It was more than he wanted. On the other hand, another person recently noted how she used Facebook to keep family and friends up-to-date on her husband’s recent surgery. To paraphrase her comment, “I just sat at the computer this morning with gratitude for our God who transcends time and space and for Facebook which has allowed almost instant access to so many friends.”

The difference in attitudes, of course, is in how you chose to use the application. Games can be fun or addictive. You can spend so much time with Facebook friends that you neglect family and folks right in your home or community. This is a matter of choice and may require some discipline. I write this to remind myself that I need to provide a proper balance in my own life!

Social networking applications are a matter of choice. I love Facebook and use it to keep in touch with family and friends as well as for professional networking. I am not a fan of Twitter. I tried it and was getting more information than I could process as well as invitations from some folks who wanted to “follow me,” and I was not particularly interested in that happening!

If you have not tried out Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social networking sites, give them a try. Once you have evaluated their value (or lack of value) to you, you can remain connected or disconnect. Aren’t you glad that the “delete” button is on your computer?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Third Floor Seminarians

On two or three weekends a month in the fall and spring, the third floor of the middle education building at First Baptist Church, Murfreesboro, Tennessee, becomes a theological seminary. Like all good seminaries, there are lectures, discussions, papers, and community (including meals). In all honesty, I am not sure that the other components would be very effective without the last one. These students spend at much as 12 hours together on Friday night and all day Saturday, so they come to now each other as friends, colleagues, and follow pilgrims. When a team from the Association of Theological Schools made a site visit last May, they were particularly impressed by the sense of community that had developed among these students.

Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Shawnee, Kansas, has offered classes in Murfreesboro as part of its “teaching church seminary” emphasis since September 2005. This arrangement is the result of a commitment among three parties—the seminary, First Baptist, and Tennessee Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Classes are taught by professors from the main campus and local adjuncts. The adjuncts are professors, pastors, and PhD candidates from the area with the necessary academic credentials to teach in a particular area.

Students are men and women, African-American and Euro-American, and are from three denominations this semester. They are pastors, church staff members, or lay leaders in their churches. Many are biprofessional with secular employment. All have families and homes that require their attention.

They bring two things to their seminary studies: a common sense of calling and a desire to be equipped as effective ministers. They are blessed to have found the support of spouses, families, and churches in order to pursue their ministry preparation in a non-traditional way. These students are fortunate that they do not have to leave their jobs and relocate their families to continue their education, but they do make sacrifices to follow their calling and desire.

This is not your grandparents’ seminary! This is something new. The third floor seminarians are at the forefront of the reinvention of theological education. God bless them!

Friday, September 18, 2009

A Dose of Reality

I love my GPS unit, but I have discovered that I need to update it on a regular basis due to new construction and changes in the names of streets. I have learned that I can’t assume that what it says (it does speak) is always accurate. This reminds me of author Alan Roxburgh’s comment that our maps define our reality and his warning that maps are only representations of reality, they are not the real thing. They can help us but they can also mislead us.

In The Age of the Unthinkable, Joshua Cooper Ramo observes that theorists come up with beautiful ideas, but when they have to deal with reality, they often shelve those ideas. As he notes, “When they [policy makers] finally do get their hands on real power, many foreign-affairs academics or economic masters are quick to leave their beautiful scholarly ideas behind.” Their ideas are wonderfully constructed, but they do not always work in the real world.

My point in all this is to express appreciation for those who temper their theoretical concepts with an appreciation of real life situations. The real world contains too many variables that resist control. Ramo explains that “systematic irrationalities” (the environment, the economy, politics, people) always imperil constructs developed apart from reality. Organizational development consultants have to deal with real organizations and real individuals. Academics should consider how their disciplines actually impact the lives of people. Pastors must finally make an application of a biblical text to the lives of their parishioners. Spiritual directors help their clients to get in touch with God, but then those clients live out their spirituality in the real world.

Given that God chose to engage the world through Jesus Christ, we should not be surprised by this. The Christian faith may be of divine origin, but it does not deny the reality of the world. We are called to be "in the world," although not "of the world."

In recent days, I have suggested that CBF needs to take a fresh look at the real world it finds itself in. This is good advice for me as well. I am convicted that what I learn or attempt to teach must finally intersect with real life. Theory without action has little value. What difference are we making? We could all do with a good dose of reality.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Biting the Hand

Given my background with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, some readers of this blog may have been surprised by the comments I made in yesterday’s posting offering some unsolicited advice on the future of CBF. You may be thinking, “You didn’t say that when your paycheck came from a CBF state organization.” Well, actually, I did. Some of the suggestions I offered were articulated to administrative and planning groups. I also attempted to create an innovative and resilient environment in the organization I led so that we could be more responsive o the needs of individuals and congregations.

I need to be clear on several points. First, organizations are created to serve a purpose. Whether for-profit, not-for-profit, or church-related, each organization was created to accomplish one or more tasks. For the Southern Baptist Convention, the initial task was to unite Baptists behind missions. Of course, the task may change over time. When an organization no longer serves the purpose for which it was created or fails to find a more worthy purpose, it is already dead.

Second, the church was ordained by God, but too often it is an organism that has taken on the structure of an organization. Each local expression of the church is unique whether its polity is congregational, connectional, or hierarchical. When a local congregation becomes more concerned with its organizational structure than its mission, it is in trouble. Congregations are based on relationships not rules.

Third, organizations are not inherently good or bad within themselves. Like every human creation, they are initiated by sinful human beings. Sometimes they succeed in spite of those who lead them. I believe that one of the Niebuhr brothers expressed the belief that there is something of the demonic in every organization! In spite of that, we can do good through our organizations if we accept their—and our—imperfections and use their ability to change.

Fourth, every organization must continually evaluate its actions and their results to make sure that they align with the organization’s mission and core values. When there is misalignment, it is time for change.

By the way, the responses I have received so far on yesterday’s post have been encouraging. Most seem to understand and agree with the need for new approaches. It is good to know that there are those who care enough about the CBF movement to share these comments.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Some Unsolicited Advice

I was having lunch with a friend recently when he asked the question: “Does CBF have a future?” He knew that I had served as coordinator for the Tennessee Cooperative Baptist Fellowship for ten years. He was asking out of his own experience as a partner who works with CBF leadership on the state and national levels. He realized that, like many denominational groups, CBF is experiencing financial tightness. He also observed that the CBF movement seems to have plateaued.

I wish that I were wise enough to answer his question, but I am not. I do think his observations contain some truth. In many ways, CBF is struggling through its adolescence and trying to make good decisions along the way. With some humility, I can offer some observations about how the CBF movement may regain its momentum. From my perspective, CBF will be a one generation phenomena if it does not do two things—relate to more churches and reach more people. CBF leadership may respond, “Well, that is what we are trying to do.” I would suggest that there are different ways to do it.

First, CBF has put a lot of effort into “winning over” churches that have traditionally related to the Southern Baptist Convention. Cecil Sherman readily admits in By My Own Reckoning that this was his strategy when he became the first coordinator. CBF has continued this strategy and has usually spent a lot of energy in converting “big steeple” churches to the movement. This field has been picked clean. It is time to look elsewhere.

One new field to cultivate is the one composed of young church starts that don’t want to be identified with one of the established denominations. Most of these call themselves community churches or have a one word name like “Journey” or “Ekklesia.” They don’t care about being part of a denomination that they are expected to support just because it is there or a judicatory that wants to control them. Instead, they are looking for relationships and partners. They want to relate to creative, like-minded believers and work with others on mission activities. CBF can offer what they desire without strings attached.

Another possibility is to start new churches. Yes, I know that every CBF entity says this is a priority, but the reality is that this is not happening. Part of the problem is that established churches are worried about competition. Another is that church planting is not easy. CBF needs to continue to develop and support a network of church planters. CBF entities also need to plan and start churches where CBF is not strong—the northeast, the west, the Midwest, and in states like Mississippi and Louisiana.

Second, CBF needs to reach out to a new, younger constituency. The faithful folks who founded the movement (like me) won’t be around forever. It is time to call out a new generation of leaders. Some networks of young Baptists have been created, but they must be empowered and supported.

There must be a concerted effort to reach unchurched and dechurched young adults. In areas where the CBF movement is strong, churches near concentrations of young adults—college campuses and reinvigorated inner cities, for example—must be encouraged in their outreach through grants, training, and networking. Some of those new church starts should be located next to some of the major university campuses of our nation, especially those with concentrations of international students. This may be the most effective use of the CBF mission dollar and a way to call out indigenous Christian workers who will go back to their own countries and share the Gospel. There are already some examples of this type of ministry supported by CBF that could be duplicated around the country. National staff could also be decentralized and strategically located around the country in urban centers where young adults work and live.

A significant part of the young adult population is Hispanic, Asian, and African. This reflects the nature of America in the 21st century. If CBF is to grow, the movement must take cross-cultural ministry seriously and engage this growing cohort of young leaders. We need to value, encourage, and empower them.

Placement services offered by CBF should be less interested in confirming the “moderate credentials” of candidates for church positions and more concerned about developing a profile to identify creative, entrepreneurial leaders who are ready to bring new life to the churches. Being a “born and bred” Baptist would not be a requirement! This would open the door for people who want to serve progressive congregations but have never had the chance. Some of these candidates should be cultivated as the creators of church plants and missional faith communities. Churches can then decide if they want to call these gifted people or not. Calling of staff is still a local church decision, after all.

None of these suggestions are meant to criticize the commitment and dedication of CBF leadership in national, state, or regional positions of leadership. These are good people who work hard at what they do. The problem is that the times call for radical, not incremental, changes. If we continue to do the same thing, we will get the same result. We don’t really have time for that approach.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

I'd Rather Do It Myself

“Quite honestly, I don’t really trust anyone else to take care of this.” I have heard that comment in some form from pastoral leaders for years. I must admit that I can identify with it to some degree. I tend to be a perfectionist and that is not a good thing! Over the years, I have had to learn how to let go and give others a chance to succeed or fail. Sometimes it means cleaning up a mess, but I have found that it is worth the risk in the long run. The end result is often the birth of a competent, skilled leader.

Church and denominational leaders say that they want more people to step up as volunteers and “shoulder part of the load.” We often say that we want young people to be more involved and to “do their part.” I have found, however, that our lack of trust and dearth of equipping skills often limit untried church members to roles with minimal responsibility and limited opportunities for initiative and creativity.

Craig Groeschel, the founding and senior pastor of, commented recently that most pastors spend more time “recruiting volunteers than empowering leaders.” Basically the difference is looking for a helper and seeking out a colleague. A volunteer may perform a worthy, time-consuming task, but a leader takes responsibility.

The New Testament challenges us to exercise an equipping ministry. This means that the work of the church is not that of ministers alone but is to be shared with all members of the body based on their giftedness.

Only rarely are these skills taught in seminary. Those who come to the ministry from business, education, or administrative backgrounds may have some advantage in developing leaders, although these skills may have to be adapted to the church setting. Groups such as Pinnacle Leadership Associates provide workshops, retreats, and coaching to help ministers develop these skills. For example, the Vision Infuzion workshop helps congregations learn how to do lay ministry development. Our Disciple Development Coaching © training events and Peoplemap Communication System seminars assist ministers to develop the people skills needed for staff and congregational leadership. Other organizations provide similar training.

I encourage all clergy leaders to do a self-assessment. Do you really want to do it all yourself or are you ready to bring others alongside? One road leads to burnout and frustration but the other leads to personal liberation and ministry growth.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Made to Stick

“A sticky idea is understood, it’s remembered, and it changes something.” This is the basic idea behind Made to a Stick by Chip and Dan Heath. JFK’s “man on the moon in this decade” was such an idea. It was short, succinct, visual, and memorable. The question that the book attempts to answer is, “How do you get people to understand, remember, and act on your ideas?”

According to the Heath brothers, sticky ideas have six traits in common. They term this the “SUCCESs model.” The components are simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional, and stories.

Simple idea messages state the core of the message clearly. One example they provide is the message that “Southwest will be THE low-fare airline.” For a Southwest employee, ff something does not contribute to that end, it is off-message. They point out that proverbs are good examples of lasting ways to communicate simple and profound ideas.

Use the unexpected to grab hold attention. Surprise people but then hold them by generating interest and curiosity. You do this by citing violations of expected behavior and creating “curiosity gaps.”

Concrete idea messages use sensory language. They provide mental pictures and “hooks” that will hold people. After all, our minds are wired to remember concrete data.

Ideas can get credibility from outside (authorities and anti-authorities) or inside (using human scale statistics or vivid details). There must be an inherent credibility in the idea for it to “stick.“

Emotion plays an essential part in making an idea stick. People care about people, not numbers. They remember and act on what they feel. When I worked for a judicatory, we often said that contributors supported people not programs.

Stories carry wisdom. They drive action through simulation (what to do) and inspiration (the motivation to do it). The authors provide some good guidelines for spotting stories that will make ideas stick.

The brothers picked up the concept of “stickiness” from Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point. The middle section of that book was titled “The Stickiness Factor.” Their goal was to identify the traits that make ideas sticky.

Chip and Dan Heath are no threat to Malcolm Gladwell. Their model is helpful, and they provide good illustrations, but the book spends too much time developing the model. Go to and you can find the basic content of their communication model. I think they have identified something important, but they spent too much time interpreting it.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Unchurched or Dechurched?

“I have just given up on the church. There is no place for me there.” This was the comment made by a participant at a meeting I attended several months ago. The focus of the meeting was on reaching the “unchurched,” but the discussion moved quickly to testimonies by those who considered themselves “dechurched.”

What’s the difference? Unchurched people declare that they have never had a meaningful relationship with the church. Sure, they may have been to weddings and funerals and an occasional Christmas or Easter service, but they never really have identified with a particular congregation. Dechurched people, on the other hand, were once active in a congregation or denomination. They may have grown up in the church or made a profession of faith at some point in their pilgrimage, but they no longer consider themselves church people. In fact, some may no longer consider themselves Christians.

What causes a person to become dechurched? There are any number of reasons, and they are highly individual.

Some leave the church because their expectations were not met. They did not find the challenge or insight that they were seeking to deal with daily life or problem situations.

Others have left because of a power struggle in a particular congregation. A pastor may have exceeded his or her authority or been forced to leave the church. Maybe there was a disagreement over use of resources—personnel, facilities, or finances. During power struggles, individuals often show their worst side. Power struggles anywhere are not pretty, but they are especially ugly in the body of Christ because we expect more of the people involved. This leads to disappointment and alienation.

Abuse may the reason someone is no longer related to the church. The individual, someone in their family, or a friend were abused by another church member or clergy leader. To add insult to injury, perhaps the incident was handled improperly. This happens more than we would like to admit.

Perhaps the person was “burned out” by the church. They were gifted and wanted to help, but they couldn’t say “No” and found themselves overcommitted. On the other hand, the individual might have wanted to use his or her gifts in the congregation, but the opportunity was denied and they got tired of beating on that door.

I am sure that you can add other reasons that people become disenchanted with the church. The questions I would ask of a dechurched people are these. First, do you still long to be part of a Christian community? Second, do you have something to offer and the desire to do that grows stronger every day? Third, are you willing to acknowledge not only the fallibility of others but your own tendency to fall short of the goal? Fourth, can you practice grace even if you have no received it from others?

The church is made of up sinners, but that is all that God has to work with in this world. As someone told me years ago, if you find the perfect church, don’t join because it will no longer be perfect.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Leading Through Conflict

Fight or flight? These are the options that are generally cited when one deals with a conflict situation. I have found myself practicing both responses at one time or another. These approaches have longlasting negative consequences for both the minister and the congregation. How about a third choice? Can a leader find ways to deal with conflict in a constructive way? How about "facing it"?

One of the skills that we need to learn is leading THROUGH conflict so that we can come out on the other side with positive results. This requires a high level of maturity and discernment.

Susan Nienaber, a senior consultant at The Alban Institute, studied 12 congrations that had successfully recovered from serious conflicts and reported her findings in the article Susan Nienaber: Leading through conflict Faith & Leadership

I think you will find it interesting and a beginning point for developing skills to lead through a conflict.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Developing Healthy Partnerships

In an age of limited budgets and downsizing, partnerships between ministry organizations are looking more attractive. These ministry organizations may be individual congregations, judicatories, institutions, not-for-profit organizations, and consulting groups. In an effort to be better stewards of their limited resources, Christians are looking for new ways to work together. Imagine that!

What should a ministry organization look for as it seeks to develop a partnership? What are some warning flags? Let me suggest a few. You may have some of your own.

First, shared values. The two organizations should share some basic values. These will be determined only through clear communication and dialogue. Examples of shared values could be a similar view of the person and work of Christ (Christology), practice of gender equality, integrity, financial accountability, and concern for human need. The values upon which the partnership is based should not be negotiable once agreed upon and should be clearly stated. Some would say that for two organizations to work together, they must have an identical theology. I am not sure that this is true. I can work with someone who has a different understanding of the practice of baptism or church polity if we both believe in the centrality of Jesus Christ.

Second, a shared vision. Before two organizations “marry” or start “going steady,” they need to determine if they are each moving toward the same goal. Are they both aiming for the same outcome of this partnership? If either enters into the partnership with a hidden agenda, the relationship is bound to fail.

Third, a shared commitment. Is this a long term or a short term arrangement? If we are in this for the long haul, how will we reconcile differences? How far can we bend without breaking? If the relationship is not based on equality and mutuality, who has the final word and why?

Fourth, shared health. Very rarely will the merger of a sick organization and a healthy organization result in a healthy relationship. Too often a weaker organization sees a partnership with a stronger organization as its salvation, but the weaker may just drag the stronger down. If an organization is not making it on its own, this is a good sign of dysfunction that can spread and destroy both organizations.

Good partnerships—like good marriages—require communication, negotiation, and commitment. Good partners understand and respect their differences and rejoice in their similarities. Desperation can cause a partner to enter into an unhealthy relationship. Just because someone asks you to dance, you don’t have to accept. Stop and consider the consequences first.

What I am Reading

Someone e-mailed me recently and said, “What are you reading now? I would be willing to pay for your list.” I appreciate the comments and the awareness that I do try to keep current on new books and read as much as I can (which is never enough).

In response to this comment, I have updated a link to on my blog that lists my recommendations. (And it’s free!) In addition to what I am currently reading, I have suggested some other books that I like. These are books that I have enjoyed or that informed me. Some may be classics, some may be forgotten a year from now, but I found them interesting. If you click on the link under “What I am Reading Now,” you will go to with the list of my current reading. On the right side of that page are further book recommendations under these categories—missional church, leadership, emerging church, postmodernism, vocation and spiritual formation, and organizations.

These are not exhaustive lists, but the books were helpful to me and my ministry. I would welcome your recommendations for further reading. That’s the way that I have discovered some of these.

What are you reading?

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Pastoral Leadership in the Midst of Controversy

Any denomination or congregation that attempts to be faithful to the call of Christ will find itself in controversy from time to time. In fact, the more faithful they are, the more frequent the controversies may be!

I had the opportunity this week to listen in on a group of pastors who are dealing the impact of with a denominational decision on the congregational level. They were candid and articulate about their concerns. As a somewhat impartial observer, I was impressed by the way that they are responding on several levels.

First, they expressed that their first priority is to pastor the entire congregation, even those who disagree with the denomination’s recent actions. They are to be pastors first with the role of proponent or denominational advocate much further down their list of priorities. They plan to continue their sacramental and pastoral commitments because that is part of their calling. They will care for and love their parishioners as long as that ministry is accepted by those persons.

Second, these pastors acknowledged that there are polity issues to consider as members of the congregation respond to the denomination’s actions. For example, some members suggest withholding funds to show their displeasure over denominational issues. They also pointed out that the controversy highlighted how little many church members understand the way that their denomination works and makes decisions, even if they have been congregants for years! These issues challenge the patience of pastoral leaders.

Third, these pastors have to be dealing with personal issues—Will my congregation be able to survive this controversy? Will I have to choose between this congregation and my personal commitments? Can I handle the stress of dealing with these divergent points of view? Will I lose my position as pastor? I was impressed, however, with a high level of personal integrity and confidence in their calling.

They pointed out that the denomination’s values upon which these decisions were based were nothing new. These ministers understood the basic commitments of the denomination when they were ordained. In fact, some expect that their churches may be even more attractive to some believers due to their denomination’s stand.

Perhaps controversy is not what these ministers signed on for, but controversy is a reality in many of our settings. The leader’s ability to deal with it constructively will be based in large part on a strong sense of calling, a healthy sense of self, a caring family, and a supportive group of colleagues like the one I observed in action.