Tuesday, November 30, 2010

50 Things Your Life Doesn’t Need

I have known very few real change agents in my life. Sam Davidson is one of them. Sam is a writer, entrepreneur, and dreamer who believes that the world needs more passionate people. So he is one!  He also mobilizes others to be passionate about things that matter (or should matter) to each and every one of us.

Sam sees the infinite possibilities in each situation and does not hesitate to become an advocate for them. Because of that, he often makes me uncomfortable (but that’s a good thing).

In addition to being a very practical theologian, Sam is the co-founder of Cool People Care and Proof Branding. He has a new book entitled 50 Things Your Life Doesn’t Need. I recommend it to you and provide an excerpt here.

One Thing Your Life Doesn't Need: Complaints Without Action

Sometimes, there’s no better stress or tension reliever than letting off some steam by complaining. Yell, stomp your feet, or throw something (as long as it’s not at someone’s head). Just don’t let complaining become a lifestyle, in which you idly vent about what bothers you. Your life doesn’t need complaints without action.

If you see a problem, it’s okay to be upset. Getting upset and proclaiming your disapproval is a good thing. But complaining should never be the end; it should be the beginning. Complaining should lead to acting, whether that means protesting, writing, volunteering, or leading the effort to make it right. Take action when you complain. It’s the only way you’ll ever stop.

“There outta be a law!” you say? Then make one (or call or write or email the people who make them). “That ain’t right!” you protest. What is right? What should be done? It’s time you get to doing it. There should be a new rule stating that if you complain and don’t act, then you’re not allowed to complain any more. Maybe I’ll get to work on that.

People who complain and never act should soon lose their right to be heard. Whether you simply ignore them when they start moaning and groaning, or whether you challenge them to start doing something to address the object of their dislike, the complainer will soon see the folly of griping about something and not acting.

Things only change because people act to bring about that change. Leaders of movements and revolutions weren’t merely complainers. They took action. Many were willing to be ridiculed at best and at worst, executed. Had any of them stopped at the complaint stage, our world would not have seen any progress in centuries.

Thankfully, they decided it was time to get to work, and the world was made better for it. What will you improve? You’ll need to move beyond simple complaining to get it done. The time to act is now.

(Disclosure: The writer of this blog received no compensation for the recommendation of this author or publication.)

Monday, November 29, 2010

Important but Not Urgent

Although a grandchild will sometimes say, “I’m bored,” I rarely hear that from any of the adults in my life. Most of us have more on our plates than we can handle. What makes it challenging is that most of it is “good” stuff. Certainly, we all have those tasks that don’t particularly energize us—taking out the trash, washing clothes, vacuuming, paying bills, maintaining our yards—but most of us have more perfectly good things on our “to do” lists than we have time to complete.

When one of my coaching clients talks about finding time to complete “important but not urgent” tasks, I immediately identify with him or her. These are the things that we need to do. They will ensure our personal, spiritual, social, professional and economic security, but they are often pushed to the background due to what one writer called “the tyranny of the urgent.” The urgent things are, by definition, not important but they must be done here and now. Like bad currency drives out the good, so urgent things drive out the important things. The urgent things drain our time, our attention, and our energy.

The first step in dealing with this situation is to remind ourselves why certain things are important. In spending time doing these things, our lives will become more balanced, healthier and richer. By doing these things, we are investing in the future. Do we want to be better than we are, then we need to fine time for the important things.

The second step is to learn to say, “No.” There are some things that I could do, but should I do them? Are they in keeping with God’s best for my life? Are they included in my personal priorities (which I should have thought out beforehand!)? Will they take time away from my family? Is there someone who can do it as well (or perish the thought) better than I could?

Third, is it really my problem? There are times when we want to step up and help a friend, family member, or even a stranger who is in a bind, but there are also times when we need to say, “I would love to help, but I already have a commitment.” This is not easy for those of us who tend to be “people-pleasers.”

Fourth, turn the phrase around: “Urgent but not important.” If that doesn’t put things into perspective, nothing will.

None of these steps is easy. I know because I struggle with implementing them in my own life. The alternative is to always be at the mercy of the urgent and miss out on the important.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

More Differences than Similarities?

Evidently in honor of Thanksgiving and anticipated family dinners, National Public Radio’s Morning Edition has been doing a series on why siblings differ from each other. In a story entitled “Siblings Share Genes, But Rarely Personalities,” researcher Robert Plomlin says, "Children in the same family are more similar than children taken at random from the population but not much more." The story goes on to report that, in terms of personality, we are similar to our siblings only about 20 percent of the time.

Three theories were presented for this, but one was particularly interesting to me. This is called “environment” but it is actually based on the idea of “non-shared environment.” This theory argues that although it may appear from the outside that siblings are growing up in the same family, in very important ways they really aren't. They are not experiencing the same thing.

"Children grow up in different families because most siblings differ in age, and so the timing with which you go through your family's [major events] is different," says Susan McHale, a researcher at Pennsylvania State University. "You know, a parent loses a job, parents get divorced. If you are three or five years behind your sibling, the experience of a 5-year-old whose parents get divorced is very different from the experience of a 9-year-old or a 10-year-old."

Also, McHale says, children in the same family are rarely treated the same by their parents, even if parents want to treat them the same. “Children have different needs," McHale says. "They have different interests. They have different personalities that are eliciting different treatment from parents."

This got me to thinking about church membership and the fact that, in reality, each of us belongs to a different church although we may be part of the same one! The experience of a thirty-year-old who has moved to the community and recently affiliated with downtown First Church is very different from that of the sixty-five year old who was on the cradle roll there and has never attended anywhere else. The experience of the single mother of four is very different from that of the father with a special needs child. Expectations differ as do the contributions that each member can or will make.

What does this mean for church leaders? We must never assume that we understand what an individual church member needs or wants. There are some commonalities shared by all members, but we might learn from the observation about siblings above: [They] are more similar than [individuals] taken at random from the population but not much more."

So what do we do? We ask questions, we listen, and we develop relationships. Only then will we have any idea about how we can walk alongside a believer in the journey of Christian growth and service.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Common Vocabulary

In leadership development, I have often used non-verbal exercises with groups to solicit insights about how we relate to one another. For one exercise, I would ask the group to stand in a circle and lock arms. Then I would ask each person to pick a place in the room that he or she wanted to go to and to move the group to that point. Of course, this involved a lot of pulling and pushing. The smaller members of the group were pulled in different directions by competing larger members. Usually, the pulling and tugging resulted in the circle being broken and one section of the group pulling away from the others. In debriefing, I often asked, “How would this have been different if you could have talked with each other?” After discussion, someone would comment, “Well, we could have negotiated, set priorities, and taken the group to everyone’s spot eventually.”

Conversation can help to surface and deal with individual needs and priorities. Of course, this assumes that those involved in the conversation have a common language or vocabulary to conduct this conversation. As I have worked with the Peoplemap Communication System, a simple instrument to help people identify their personality type, I have discovered that one of the key benefits of using this instrument with a group of people is that it provides them with a common vocabulary to talk about how they interact with one another.

In discovering whether he or she is a leader, people, task, or free spirit type, a person is given both the permission and the terms to talk about personal needs, strengths, and potential Achilles Heels and how these impact the group of which they are a part. Team members can discuss their relationships with one another in nonthreatening ways. The result is a better understanding of each other’s contributions and needs.

If we hope to communicate effectively with one another, we have to agree on a common language. This is true if we are talking theology, politics, economics, or relationships. The challenge is to find those resources that help us to find common ground or, at least, a common language.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Incubators and Launching Pads

The coffee shops of America may be the new Antiochs and Mars Hills of the church. While waiting for a friend at a coffee shop/café this week, I was close enough to the next table to overhear the conversation taking place between three men. It was clear that one was a pastor and that they were discussing the launch of a new church in an adjoining community. Their discussion was intense and purposeful. I could pick up their enthusiasm just through the tone of their voices.

I was reminded that just a couple of weeks before, I had observed another man at the same table as he seemed to be interviewing candidates for a ministry position. As I thought about these conversations, I realized that over the last few months, I had seen several small groups involved in Bible study, others in intense dialogue over clearly Christian books, and a couple of people (evidently pastors) working sermons with their laptops. This café is a virtual incubator for church planting and Christian formation. In fact, I was there to meet my friend for a peer coaching session where we would discuss our spiritual, personal, and professional goals.

College shops and cafes like this one provide a number of things that encourage use by Christians. They are accessible, hospitable, and provide opportunities for networking. Add a laptop and Wi-Fi and you can easily access reams of information to help in planning and writing.

What a great resource for a church! But watch out for the muffins.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Using What You’ve Got

Last week I participated in the Leadership Coaching Project Retreat led by Mark Tidsworth, the president of Pinnacle Leadership Associates. We met in a beautiful setting—Lutheridge Conference Center near Asheville, North Carolina—with some great people. Including the Pinnacle team, we had leaders from Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, and Lutheran churches.

As I facilitated a small group of leaders and listened to the presentations that Mark did, I was reminded that each of us has great resources for growth and ministry. Every believer is wonderfully gifted by God. Retreats like this help us to discover more about ourselves but, in reality, most of us already know much more than we are doing! Coaching is one way to make better use of our gifts and natural talents and to focus those for life balance and more effective service.

What are some of the things that keep us from effectively using what has been given to us? You can come up with your own list, but here is mine.

First, I need to determine my priorities. I am involved in so many good activities, but what are the best for me? The problem is never finding something to do. It is making good choices about what to do.

Second, I need to determine the best use of my gifts. Although I don’t see myself as enormously gifted, I know that there are some things that I do well. I also know that there some things that I could do that might be done just as well (perhaps better) by someone else.

Third, I need to protect my core but be open to change. I admit that I borrowed this from Jim Collins (Built to Last, Good to Great, How the Mighty Fall), but it makes good sense on a personal level. There are some core values built around family, God, and community that are vital to me and inform who I am and want to be. At the same time, these values can be a springboard for growth and service rather than an excuse to ignore opportunities.

I will probably add more to this as I think about it, but this is a beginning point. What’s your list?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Christian Reflections on the Leadership Challenge

Leadership continues to be a hot topic in business, government, academia, the non-profit sector, and the church. Most people realize that the leadership that got us into the situations we find ourselves in today won’t get us out of those situations, so we are constantly seeking new ways to conceptualize the role of leaders who can.

One of the most popular leadership models in recent years is The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership ® developed out of extensive research by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner. They first presented their findings in The Leadership Challenge (2002). This spawned additional resources and over 200 doctoral dissertations and academic research projects.

The original book is very thorough and sometimes quite dense, so I was pleased to find that Kouzes and Posner had edited Christian Reflections on the Leadership Challenge. The theme of the book is how Christian leaders can apply the editors’ model “to the work of mobilizing others to get extraordinary things done.” This is a much more accessible book than the original volume. Although the editors provide three chapters on their model, the bulk of the book was written by authors who look at components of the model from a Christian perspective. Those contributors are John Maxwell, David McAllister-Wilson, Patrick Lencioni, Nancy Ortberg, and Ken Blanchard. Several of these authors bring both secular and ecclesial backgrounds to their presentations.

Kouzes and Posner’s basic model is: Model the Way; Inspire a Shared Vision; Challenge the Process; Enable Others to Act; and Encourage the Heart.

There is little new here, but it is presented in an interesting way.  Both the creators of the model and the contributors to this volume recognize that leadership is basically a relational task and, as such, is embodied in both the actions and the character of the leader. As Kouzes and Posner point out, “The legacy you leave is the life you live.” They understand that “the most significant contributions that leaders make are not today’s bottom line but to the long-term development of people and institutions that adapt, prosper, and grow.”

As in most collections, the various writers’ differing styles and approaches can create some difficulty for the reader, but the overall volume is concise, optimistic, and stimulating. This is a good introduction to Kouzes and Posner’s model and will encourage some creative thinking and self-appraisal for the Christian leader.


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Being a Baptist Christian

Dr. Tillman and Jim Whitaker
As we observed Baptist Heritage Sunday in our church today, I heard a term used by both our pastor, Mike Smith, and our guest, Bill Tillman, that I rarely heard as a young person growing up in a Southern Baptist church. The term is “Baptist Christian.” The addition of that adjective gives a perspective that I did not have in my formative years.

For most of my life, the use of the terms “Baptist” or “Southern Baptist” was sufficient to describe both my orientation and my tribe. We really weren’t that concerned about other Christians and tended to go it alone. We were even unsure about the National Baptists and the American Baptists, much less the independents. We really did not need anyone else to do God’s work. We were the God’s “last and only hope” (to use Bill Leonard’s term). Bold Mission Thrust, the effort to share the gospel with every person on earth, was first and foremost a Southern Baptist effort.

But things changed. We took our eyes off the goal and began to fight among ourselves. We lost some of our best and brightest to the Methodists, Disciples of Christ, Presbyterians, and (occasionally) the Lutherans and Episcopalians. Many found a home elsewhere discovered that those faith traditions often had their own challenges, but they were willing to make the sacrifice.

Not everyone left, of course, but minority status brought a new point of view. In more recent days, those who consider themselves progressive or moderate Baptists have begun to think about what it means to be a “Baptist” Christian. We are recovering our place in the world family of Christians. What do we offer to our brothers and sisters in Christ and what can we learn from them? Some call this “emergent Christianity.” Perhaps it is or maybe it is just that we have become more humble and willing to learn from the experiences of others.

I am grateful to be a Christian and, most days, I believe that my Baptist tradition has something to offer. On those days, I feel especially blessed.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

The Way Forward

Recent news reports tell us that Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral in California has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The church leaders disclosed that the church is close to $50 million in debt. Some have seen this as the harbinger of the death of the megachurch. Of course, the reality is not that simple.

The Crystal Cathedral is probably unique among others in that category because it has practiced a rather traditional approach to worship albeit on a grand scale. The church has also been embroiled in a leadership transition crisis. The problems at this one megachurch do not mean that this expression of the church is dying out. In fact, Scott Thumma, an authority on megachurches, says mammoth churches aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

In the CNN blog that reports the Crystal Cathedral’s bankruptcy, Thumma states that most megachurches are holding their own financially amid this "great recession." He defines a megachurch as a congregation with 2,000 members and above.

"Megachurches, in part, grew because they were adaptive, innovative and resourceful. They, and their leadership, have a great ability to evolve," says Thumma, co-author of Beyond Megachurch Myths: What We Can Learn from America's Largest Churches.
The blog writer asks the question, “Will megachurches retain their popularity in the future or is something other kind of church ready to be born?” The answers are “Yes” and “Yes.”

Churches are remarkably resilient institutions that continually reinvent themselves. Several years ago I was a member of a church that “split”—a good Baptist term for the act of one group of church members leaving to start another church for one reason or another. At least one member of our congregation questioned whether we could survive the loss of the pastor, a couple of other staff ministers, and two hundred members. I never doubted that we would. In fact, the original church is as strong as it was before the split and the church that was born out of the division is prospering as well.

No only do traditional churches find ways to survive, churches also know how to innovate. A quick Google search will provide information about house churches, organic churches, emerging churches, missional faith communities, and new monastic communities among other expressions of the Christian faith. These new forms will exist alongside the traditional county seat church, the neighborhood church, and the megachurch. I would not be surprised if even the Crystal Cathedral finds a way forward. God can and will be worshipped in a variety of expressions of the Christian church in the future, just as God has been worshipped in a variety of ways in the past.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Using What God Has Given You

Several decades ago, author and humorist Grady Nutt wrote a book entitled God Don’t Make No Junk. As I remember, the premise of the book was that God has created each of us as unique beings endowed with certain innate abilities, strengths, and gifts. No one gets all the good stuff, but that’s not a problem. We should celebrate what God has done in us and use it wisely.

I think of Grady Nutt when I read Albert Winseman’s Growing an Engaged Church. Winseman is part of the Gallup Organization, a group that has done a great deal of research on helping people identify their strengths rather than their weaknesses (see, for example, Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton, Now, Discover Your Strengths and Tom Rath, Strengths Based Leadership and Strengths Finder 2.0).

In Growing an Engaged Church, Winseman applies this approach to the local congregation. He writes, “The notion of focusing on discovery and maximizing natural talents tends to go against the conventional wisdom.” He points out that their research “has shown that individuals have the most room for growth in their areas of greatest talent.” He suggests that strengths-focused organizations should leverage that principle as much as possible.

This makes good sense to me. If we are already started down a path that God has honored, the best course would seem to be to continue to follow that path. On the other hand, if we are on the wrong road, we will eventually realize our error and try another one (or even stop and ask for directions!). Let’s look for ways to maximize the resources that God has already provided rather than yearning for something that is beyond our reach.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

A Future for CBF?

In a recent article at EthicsDaily.com, John Hewett, the first moderator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, shared hindsight on the position he and other moderate Baptists took at the beginning of the CBF “movement.” He realizes now that his vision and that of his contemporaries was limited by “the narrow constraints of our tradition” and preserving that tradition. “How I wish now I had sent us forth in May 1991 with the call to be free and faithful Christians,” he writes, rather than free and faithful Baptists.

As CBF approaches its twentieth anniversary and thinks about its future, Hewett provides this challenge:

“Now CBF has an opportunity to catch a fresh vision of what God is actually doing in God's world . . . . I am cheering them on, albeit from the sidelines, praying that the original dream of a brave and progressive Christianity in the Baptist tradition might come to pass, to the praise of God's glory, for Christ's sake, and our sakes.”

If CBF attempts to be both Christian and Baptist in the 21st century, it must face up to some hard questions:

First, what exactly do participating churches want from CBF? They certainly are not looking for a judicatory that will insure doctrinal integrity. Is CBF the broker for services of third party suppliers or a provider of services?

Second, how does CBF encourage innovation by its partners and reward that innovation?

Third, what does CBF expect from the theological institutions with which it partners? Is it encouraging its partner schools to provide leaders needed for 21st century missional churches?

Fourth, in the paradoxical context of a world that is becoming both more integrated and divided at the same time, what is the role of missionary field personnel? Are they strategy coordinators or ministry providers (or both)?

Fifth, what is the role of CBF in providing meaningful fellowship for churches, clergy, and lay leaders?

The answers to these questions will not come from the type of thinking that birthed the Fellowship. I believe that is what Hewett is saying.