Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Developing Effective Staff Teams

In keeping with my recent blogs about teams, you might want to check out this presentation onf "Developing Effective Staff Teams" on Slideshare:

Monday, September 27, 2010

Group or Team?

We have all been part of groups, but how many us of have been part of a team? How can we tell the difference?

Groups are made up of individuals. Although they may be working on a common task, they still tend to think of themselves as individuals. Each person brings his or her gifts and skills to the enterprise, but they are careful in how they share them, providing only what is absolutely necessary to “do their part.” One reason is that rewards in a group are usually given to certain individuals—the designated leader or the high performers. Interpersonal relationships are guarded and cautious.

A team on the other hand not only has a common purpose, but the persons involved often have a role in shaping that purpose and how it will be achieved. The gifts and skills of each person are not only utilized, they are recognized and encouraged. Teams tend to be more than the sum of their parts because something happens when team members are invested in the outcome of the team’s efforts. A real team shares the rewards with everyone who is a part of team because success or failure is dependent on the team dynamic and not simply individual achievement. Team members appreciate and empower one another.

Working as a group may be hard but it takes much less effort than building a team. Members of a well-functioning team will readily assert that it is worth the extra effort.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Best Team

In team-building workshops, I often ask participants to identify the most memorable team of which they have been a member. This can be an athletic team, a church committee, a work task force, a service group—whatever rises to the top in your experience of working with other people.

The one that I think of most often was work-related. The organization of which I was a part was involved in the implementation of Total Quality Management. We had spent a good bit of time and money on TQM and several of us had been trained as facilitators. I was asked to lead a team to work on a personal performance review process for the organization. Not very exciting, you say? Actually, it was a great experience. Our team was made up of people from several departments. We had support staff, program consultants, and a couple of department directors.

We worked hard at the task, despite our busy schedules and other commitments. We made some small but significant breakthroughs. For example, we decided that we wanted to come up with a process that emphasized not only evaluation but development. The meeting between employee and supervisor would emphasize not only the employee’s past work but their plans and aspirations for the future.

When our work was completed, we presented it to executive leadership and received positive response and good comments. A time to orient the staff was set, and we prepared a presentation for everyone. Unfortunately, our CEO had second thoughts and asked some questions that indicated that he was less than pleased with the approach. This took “the wind out of our sails.” Although adopted, the process was never fully initiated throughout the organization.

This may look like a failure, but I still count this as one of my best group experiences, right alongside some mission trips and church teams. Why? The team worked well together, recognized each member’s unique gifts, and called out the best in one another. We accepted the task, gave it our best shot, and were justifiably confident that we produced a process that would benefit our organization and its employees. We all learned and grew as a result of our participation on the team.

Although good relationships and a quality result are pretty good rewards in themselves, the moral of this story is that the group became a team, not just a gathering of individuals. We cared about each other and the task at hand. That makes work fun!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Coaching and Discipleship

Yesterday afternoon I had the opportunity to make a brief presentation about peer coaching to the deacon body of our church.  Last spring, we used Tony Stoltzfus’ peer coach training material to help eight participants develop skills to help each other grow.  Half of those continue to meet as peers for coaching.  We are planning to offer this training again in the coming weeks.

I explained to the group that the basic concepts of life coaching overlap with what we seek to do in disciple development. Coaching is a complex process, but it basically involves four things.  First, coaching affirms a person’s ability to make changes in his or her life.  Second, coaching identifies a person’s strengths and areas for development.  Third, coaching helps a person set goals and plan action steps to reach those goals.  Finally, coaching provides accountability as a person seeks to achieve his or her goals.

In the process of developing Christian disciples, we also seek to do four things.  First, we recognize a believer’s desire and ability to live a life than honors God.  Second, we encourage the believer to identify the gifts that God has given him or her and ways to grow in the use of those gifts. Third, we help the believer to develop the disciplines and practices to become what God wants that person to be. Lastly, in Christian community and peer relationships, we can provide the believer with accountability on the journey of Christian discipleship.

The similarity in the two processes leads me to believe that coaching approaches and techniques can help us grow as disciples.  The step that is most challenging in the coaching process is the one in which the church so often falls short in disciple development—accountability.  Knowing what to do is not the problem.  Most of us already know more than we are practicing.  What is lacking is accountability.  The church can provide that in many ways—small groups, Bible study classes, covenant groups, etc.—but a peer coaching relationship can be one of the most effective.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Putting Away Childish Things

Theologian Marcus Borg is one of the most original thinkers of our time. His nonfiction books are popular and the writing generally accessible even to the non-technical reader. Borg branches out into a new type of writing in Putting Away Childish Things: A Tale of Modern Faith, a short novel that attempts to communicate some of his understanding of the nature of the Bible, revelation, and faith. The result is not completely satisfactory.

The primary thrust of the novel seems to be that theologians are not only smart and articulate but also sexy and sophisticated. He tries to develop some tension by presenting characters going through times of decision—an attractive woman professor at a liberal arts college, an accomplished theologian at a prestigious divinity school (with whom the woman once had an affair), and a female college student facing a crisis of faith. Quite honestly, I wanted them to be interesting, but they didn’t really come alive.

Most people who have read Borg or other theologians with similar views will find nothing new in this book. The most helpful points for me came in the second to last chapter where the college professor talks with her class on religious faith and the Enlightenment about the matter of faith. She points out that prior to the Enlightenment; the word “believe” was usually associated with a person rather than a statement. Believing in God or Christ did not entail “believing that” a set of statements was true but “believing in” a person—God or Christ. She also makes the link between the word “believe” and the word “belove”. Modernism changed religious faith into embracing a set of principles rather than embracing a person: “[I]t’s the difference in believing that a set of statements about God and Jesus are true and beloving God and Jesus.”

The professor explains that there are three Latin words for faith. One means “assenting to the truth of a claim or set of claims.” The second is faithfulness or fidelity to a relationship. The third word is trust as in “trusting in God.” Drawing on H. Richard Niebuhr, she suggests that the opposite of faith (expressed as trust) “is not doubt or skepticism or unbelief, but anxiety, worry, and fear.” All of these come from a lack of trust. She encourages trust on the part of her students.

The book is a quick read and presents some key issues about the Christian faith and biblical interpretation in a “user-friendly” format, but I would suggest that you just read Borg’s other works and pass on this one.

The Cost of Being "Independent"

When I was actively involved in the Southern Baptist Convention a couple of decades ago, the worst thing you could say about a church or its pastor was that they were “independent.” Although we proclaimed that every local congregation was autonomous, we were “cooperative” Baptists and not “independents.” Let’s fast forward to 2010 when “independent” and “congregational autonomy” have very different meanings.

According to Associated Baptist Press, David Hankins, executive director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention (Southern Baptist) notified trustees of the North American Mission Board, SBC, in an e-mail that their proposed candidate for the position of NAMB president--Kevin Ezell, pastor of Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky--is not acceptable. He stated, “Dr. Ezell’s excellent credentials in areas such as character, family, leadership and theology do not compensate for [his] demonstrated lack of support for the mission of NAMB.” Hankins further expressed concern that a “NAMB president who has chosen an independent church model will ‘send a chilling message’ to thousands of Southern Baptist churches who generously support CP [Cooperative Program] and the mission offerings.”

Evidently, Brother Ezell has taken congregational autonomy literally and his church has chosen which mission endeavors they wish to support and do not wish to delegate that decision to someone else. I am sure that Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a member of Ezell’s church would second that choice.

I heartily agree that the church has this freedom to choose, but I also understand Hankins’ objection to putting someone who has not supported the Board’s mission in the past in charge of the Board. Although I should point out that this is basically the strategy that has been pursued in SBC life since 1979—those put in charge of the conventions boards and agencies often came from churches that gave little or nothing to the Cooperative Program or the mission offerings. But I digress . . .

I have no problem with a church that chooses where its mission dollar will go. There are many churches that do this. My own church and many who have some affiliation with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship have made those choices. The primary difference is that we no longer expect that our members will be invited to serve on the boards of the International Mission Board and the North American Mission Board or that our pastors will be asked to become executive leaders. There are pluses and minuses to be “independent.”

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Other Side of Hospitality

When the word “hospitality” is mentioned, I immediately think about how I am going to make someone else feel welcome in my home. I was reminded recently, however, that there is another side to hospitality.

My friend Mike Young was the guest preacher at our church yesterday. His text was from Luke 10. Here is the portion that particularly caught my attention:

"When you enter a house, first say, 'Peace to this house.' If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you. Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house. When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you.” (Luke 10:5-8, NIV)

Mike went on to talk about establishing a relationship with someone who is a stranger or who differs from us by accepting that which is set before us. In so doing, you are not only accepting the hospitality of that person, but you are accepting that individual as a person loved by God. Mike pointed out that if we hope to embody the Gospel, we must place ourselves on an equal footing with those who do not know the grace of God.

My mother and father taught young married adults in Sunday school when I was a teenager. They made it a point to visit in the homes of both class members and prospects. I remember my mother talking about one particular visit. They were sitting in the living room of the small apartment when the wife asked if my parents would like some refreshments. My mother followed the young woman into the kitchen. As she turned on the overhead light, cockroaches ran to find their hiding places. When the hostess picked up a plate of cookies off the table where the insects had been only a moment before, my mother took one and bit into it without hesitation. She put aside her misgivings to accept what was set before her, accepting the hospitality offered.

The practice of hospitality has two sides—it is both given and received. The manner in which we give hospitality and by which we receive it says a lot about our desire to build God-honoring relationships.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Being Connected . . . or Not

At some point I heard the observation, “Every strength carried to the extreme becomes a weakness.” I was reminded of that statement in my relationships with technology today. Our digital connectedness can be a blessing, but we shouldn’t “put all our eggs in that basket.” To do so is to limit ourselves.

This morning, I used a telephone bridge line to facilitate a peer group made up of pastors from six states. We are discussing Will Mancini’s book, Church Unique. We miss a lot in not being able to look each other in the face, but their observations and insights always inspire me. We meet every other week, and I always look forward to it.

I then spent an hour working on two classes I am teaching this semester for Central Seminary. One is an online class with monthly telephone conference calls and a weekly online forum. The other is a class I teach in Murfreesboro, but there is an online component with weekly online discussion. The Moodle platform is very robust with a lot of options (many of which I will never use). The only problem is usually my ability to use what’s there. The platform allows the instructor to both share content and provide learning activities; it is fun!

Then I turned to an online video conference that will be available the next two days. Well, there were “technical difficulties” and that webcast is still not available (as I write). Since I am multitasking, I logged on to a daylong webcast sponsored by Leadership Network made up of short (nine minutes) presentations from church leaders around the country. This is not the first time they have attempted something like this, so it works fine. The format really works in this culture where we have short attention spans.

This afternoon I will be able to do a coaching call with a friend in Texas. Here again, face-to-face is preferable, but these conversations are always interesting to me and (I hope) helpful to my friend.

Bottom line is that technology is great but it has its limitations. We should never become completely dependent on it and always have alternatives available. One alternative is to get out and be with real people, so I build that into my schedule as well—committee work at church, speaking at prayer meeting last night, attending a coaches meeting tomorrow, spending time with family and friends. I need all types of connections.  Don't you?

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Different Cultures, Common Mission

Up to this point in my life, I have been a member of ten different churches in five different states. They had much in common but significant differences as well. Each had its own culture. For the sake of clarity, perhaps a definition of “culture” would be helpful. The one that applies here is “the attitudes and behavior that are characteristic of a particular social group or organization” (Visual Thesaurus).

Although all were Baptist churches, they differed in the way they worshipped, studied the Bible, made decisions, spent “their” (the Lord’s) money, and assimilated people into their fellowship. I am talking here about the actual ways that these things happened and not the “official” way of doing things. There is always a disconnect between the “official” way that things are done and the “actual” way they are done. The leadership structures were often very different from what was printed in the church constitution and bylaws. Most of the time, the procedures were fair and Christian because the majority of the congregation and its leaders understood “how things worked.”

In recent years, I think we have seen an acceleration of change within and among congregations. As church consultant Lyle Schaller points out,

“The differences between congregations are becoming greater with the passage of time. The safe assumption today is that no two are alike. Each congregation has its own culture.” (Quoted in Will Mancini, Church Unique, p. xxi)

What does this mean for church leaders? It means that they must become social anthropologists and learn to read the culture of their particular congregation. As participant-observers, they need to peel back the layers of authority, custom, and process to really understand how their congregation is unique.

Does this mean that there is no standard or template for the church to follow? If I were to choose a template, I would suggest the missional paradigm—the church is the people of God on God’s mission. Paradoxically, this is both broad and specific. The missional paradigm allows a great deal of leeway in how church is “done” while providing a focus on what the church is to “be.”

Perhaps, as Schaller states, no two churches are alike, but they can all serve the same Lord.

The Butterfly Effect

Every day we make choices—what will we do, with whom will we spend our time, what we will purchase. We have a tendency to prioritize these decisions, seeing some as more important than others. In this motivational book, author Andy Andrews challenges the reader to consider that everything matters. He writes, “When you know that everything matters—that every move counts as much as any other—you will begin living a life of permanent purpose.”

Andrews goes on to provide brief accounts of individuals who made a decision—large or small—that had significant and beneficial consequences. The stories are well told and inspiring. Of course, Andrews makes a number of assumptions and sees some actions as “the” turning point in history, but even he acknowledges that each decision is the consequence of any number of prior decisions. We assume the importance of some events, but we are not omniscient, so we are really only speculating.

I found the book an interesting and quick read with an encouraging message. This would be a good gift for a recent graduate or someone embarking on a new business endeavor. Andrews does emphasize that whatever we do, we should use the opportunities that come our way, whether great or small. This is good advice.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their Book Review Blogger program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Walking Toward the Center

When I attended the Central Seminary faculty retreat at Conception Abbey a couple of weeks ago, I found myself in the bookstore on a rainy Friday afternoon. My plan to walk around the grounds was not practical, so I began browsing the book shelves for something to read until dinner. Labyrinths: Walking Toward the Center by Gernot Candolini caught my attention. I bought the book and spent the next hour in a comfortable chair and gaining a new appreciation for the power of the labyrinth through the eyes of an articulate and impassioned practitioner.

Candolini is an author, photographer, and designer of labyrinths and gardens who lives in Innsbruck, Austria. He pulls the reader into the book by sharing his unfolding love affair with the labyrinth and the practice of pilgrimage. To Candolini, “[t]he labyrinth is a sacred tool for knowing; an image that connects us to God, the world, and ourselves.” Although of ancient origin, it has proven adaptable to many traditions including Christian contemplation. Among other things, the author sees the labyrinth as a symbol of Resurrection, the ebb and flow of the Christian life, and a pilgrimage to a holy place.

The labyrinth is a perfect antidote to modern thinking. Candolini explains,

“When I sketch a new labyrinth, I generally begin by laying out the boundaries of the paths. At first everything always looks a little confused. But once I’ve finished the design, there comes a moment of delight: how clear, how formally beautiful, how complete the whole appears in its finished form. When I’m looking at nature—I’m a biologist—I often have the same experience: so many things appear disordered in their parts, but are revealed to be perfect when seen as a whole.”

Candolini shares observations that are both encouraging and challenging. He notes, for example, “I’m comforted in knowing that, even in an uncertain world, I can feel secure; even in the most uncertain times, I can believe that I am in the firm hands of God.” He also says, “On a path two great crises await you. The first comes when the magic of the beginning has vanished. The second comes just before the goal. Both ask the question: Do you really want this?”

This is a wonderful little book. Candolini’s illustrations, personal experiences, and spiritual insights helped me to a more complete understanding of the labyrinth and motivated me to walk one!

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Born into the Great Emergence

Phyllis Tickle has emerged (no pun intended) as a key participant-observer on contemporary matters of faith. Her book The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why is interesting, insightful, and a bit incomplete. You may not agree with all of her conclusions, but she makes informed observations that provoke dialogue.

In a recent interview posted on the Faith and Leadership site (sponsored by Leadership Education at Duke University), she was asked to share her ideas about the future of denominations. Her statements are both provocative and informative:

People under 40 right now have been born right smack-dab into a fully matured emergence, the Great Emergence. They can’t change their sensibilities any more than they can change the color of their eyes. They’re going to be non-hierarchal. They’re going to be afraid of institutions. They’re going to want to spread out horizontally. They want to be communal. They’re going to be actively involved in social justice as they define it, and not in the usual Protestant way. They are connected to the world. They’re “glocal” -- I hate that word -- but they think glocally. All of those things are sensibilities that are ingrained now; they have no choice.

If denominational or post-denominational organizations want to involve a younger generation of leaders, then they must do several things. First, they must earn trust through transparency and inclusion. Second, they must be decentralized in organization and participative in decision-making. Third, they must promote community. Fourth, they must address squarely the needs of the world.

The final thing I would add is that we must all take more seriously the work of the Spirit of God in our midst. The emergence of a new perspective on the Christian faith is not an assault but a gift—the intrusion of the Spirit that provides new power and strength.