Thursday, December 29, 2011

Charles M. Roselle

In the spring of 1970 I got on a plane in Nashville to return to Fort Worth after an interview for a position as director of Baptist student ministries at Middle Tennessee State University. I was in my last year of seminary with a wife, small daughter, and a baby on the way.  I had a good visit in Murfreesboro and was impressed by Glenn Yarbrough, the state director of student work for Tennessee, who had invited me to consider the position, and the local committee.  As I boarded the plane, I recognized Charles Roselle, the director of National Student Ministries at the Baptist Sunday School Board.  I had met Charlie once, so I went over and reintroduced myself and asked if I could sit with him. Charlie was not only the director of NSM, but he was the former director of student work in Tennessee (and I could not imagine that I would hold that Tennessee position one day!).  On the way back to Love Field, I “bent his ear” and learned what I could about MTSU and student work in Tennessee.  As I made the decision to accept the position In Tennessee, I considered my time with Charlie a providential affirmation to pursue this opportunity. I thought about this encounter when I learned that Charles had died on Wednesday. 

I liked Charles Roselle.  He had the good sense to not only accept the veterans who flooded the campuses after World War II as leaders, he also encouraged them.  Charles had a warm, accepting style that made him a good BSU director and a great mentor for college students.  His charm and communication skills made him a success as state director in Tennessee.  Most of all, I appreciated the fact that Charlie knew himself—his strengths and where he needed help.  Whenever I think of Roselle, I think of Ed Rollins.  Charlie was a great people person and was in his element meeting with state directors, denominational leaders, and agency heads.  He brought Rollins to NSM to run the day to day operations.  Charlie was “Mr. Outside” and Ed was “Mr. Inside.”  They were a well matched team that trusted and supported one another.

As a new student director, I admired Charles Roselle because he was not only the leader of National Student Ministries but he was a person who had “paid his dues” as a local director and a state director.  He had the good sense to know that he could not “tell” state directors of student work what to do; he encouraged and persuaded them to work on cooperative projects for the common good.  When you talked with him about working with pastors and local committees, you knew that he understood the territory.  As I had the opportunity to do some special assignments for NSM, I came to admire his vision and his political astuteness.  I also admired Charlie as a husband, father, and church leader.  He set a good example for me in all three areas.

After his retirement, I had the opportunity to work with Charlie, Ed Rollins, Joe Webb, and Tom Logue in setting up the BCM/BSU Advancement Fund to benefit collegiate ministry in newer conventions.  Spending time with those guys was always a highlight in my schedule.  They enjoyed teasing each other and reminiscing about the ministry they loved.

In the last several years, I have only seen Charlie a few of times, but he continued to be alert and expressed interest in me, my work, and my family.  He leaves a great legacy.

Thank you, Charles Roselle, for a life well lived.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Strange Way to Save the World

A couple of weeks ago, my wife, our daughter, and I were returning from the memorial service for a friend in east Tennessee.  Stephanie, our daughter, was providing our music from Pandora on her iPhone.  A song came up that I had probably heard before, but the words suddenly got my attention.  “A Strange Way to Save the World” is written from Joseph’s perspective and points out the incongruity of the birth of the Savior in Bethlehem.  Joseph voices his wonder at the strange way that God has chosen to work.  Imagine, God was placing the plan for the salvation of the world in the hands of a teenage girl and a village craftsman!

The song reminds me that our God works in unusual and paradoxical ways more times than we imagine.  So many of us are obsessed with planning and control that we rarely leave time and space for God to intervene in our lives.  Is this because we do not really believe that God might break through the ordinary, mundane things of life?  Are we so satisfied with the way that we are doing things that we don’t think that God can improve on our plans?

As I reflect on my own spiritual walk, the challenge for me is to be more open to the intervention of the Spirit of God into my life.  I am sure that there are many times that I have missed a blessing that God had for me because I was too organized, busy, or self-assured.  I need to leave more space for the Spirit to step in and surprise me!

The lesson of Bethlehem is that God works in simple ways that sometimes seem foolish to us but accomplish God’s purposes.  As the writer of Job noted, “God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways; God does great things beyond our understanding.”  (Job 37:5)

As it was then, so should it be today.

Monday, December 12, 2011

In the Name of Jesus

A friend recently shared with me a book written about 20 years ago by Henri Nouwen entitled In the Name of Jesus:  Reflections on Christian Leadership.  Nouwen was one of the most prolific and popular spiritual writers of the latter 20th century.  He wrote more than 40 books and taught at Notre Dame, as well as at Yale and Harvard. For the 10 years before his death in 1996, he was part of the L Arche Daybreak community in Toronto, sharing life with people with developmental disabilities.

After his move to this community, Nouwen was asked to address a group of clergy on the subject of leadership.  This little book contains the material he presented as part of that assignment.  The underlying theme for Nouwen was the lessons he had learned in moving from a high-profile academic setting to a chaplaincy role among “the least of these.”

Using the biblical passages on the temptation of Christ (Matthew 4:1-11)  and Peter’s call to be a shepherd of God’s people (John 21:15-19), Nouwen identified the three temptations of contemporary Christian leadership, the appropriate response to each, and the spiritual discipline that empowers each the response.

The first temptation is to be relevant. By relevance, he refers to the tendency of many of us today to depend on the findings of sociology, psychology, anthropology, and other disciplines to the point that we say, “We can take care of ourselves.  We don’t need God.”  The response to this is a call to answer Jesus’ question, “Do you love me?”  If we do, we will depend on power in God and not ourselves.  Nouwen states, “Many Christian empire builders have been people unable to give and receive love.” The spiritual discipline undergirding the way of love is contemplative prayer in which we look to God for understanding, acceptance, and guidance.

The second temptation is to be spectacular or popular.  This is the temptation to pursue individualism at the sake of true community.  The response is the task to “feed my sheep.”  We must acknowledge that we need one another and support one another on the Christian journey.  A true servant leader understands that he or she needs the people as much as they need the leader.  The spiritual disciplines involved are confession and forgiveness, necessities for healthy community life.

The third temptation that Nouwen cites is to covet power.  He suggests, “Maybe it is that power offers an easy substitute for the hard task of love.”  Perhaps it is easier to BE God that to love God and easier to CONTROL people than to love them.  The challenge is to understand that the true servant leader will find himself or herself led into “unknown, undesirable, and painful places.”  The discipline supporting this is theological reflection.  In using this term, Nouwen calls for a lifestyle based on the Word of God—“a deep spiritual formation involving the whole person—body, mind, and heart.”  He points out that such thinking is hard to find among ministers!

Nouwen summarizes in this way:  “My movement from Harvard to L’Arche made me aware in a new way how much my own thinking about Christian leadership had been affected by the desire to be relevant, the desire for popularity, and the desire for power.”  Instead, God calls Christian leaders to “a life of downward mobility” embodied by prayer, vulnerability, and trust. 

Nouwen’s words challenge is to review our approach to leadership in light of a different standard.  They are more meaningful because of the life and example of the writer himself. 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

What Really Counts?

I caught the end of an interview with a Tennessee Titans player prior to the game with the New Orleans Saints today.  The interviewer had just asked some question about statistics.  The player’s reply went something like this:  “Look, the Packers are last in defense, but they are 12-0.  Those who are depending on statistics won’t be playing after December.”  In other words, the numbers we often count don’t always determine who is best at the game.

When it comes to the church, we spend a lot of time on statistics—How many were in worship?  What were the contributions?  Are we meeting budget?  These can serve as measures of a church’s progress, but the real danger comes in letting these statistics be the sole determining factors in the choices we make as the people of God.    Too often we are called on to make decisions that protect the “bottom line”—decisions based on what is expedient rather than what is faithful to the mission that God has given us.

I will confess that I have personally made decisions that were expedient.  They seemed right at the time, but as I think back now I realize what I gave up in making those decisions.  Those are the ones that come back to trouble me. On the other hand, when I have occasionally made a decision that was the right thing to do regardless of the consequences, I have not regretted it.  Certainly, decisions based on conviction can have negative results but they are worth it!

So what should we be counting in the local church?  We need to identify, encourage, and keep track of those who are doing meaningful ministry in the community.  We should consider how much money we are investing in ourselves versus what we are investing in larger kingdom projects.  We can take a look at our membership and see if we are unconsciously excluding some who should be part of our fellowship.  We need to find ways to measure spiritual formation and growth in discipleship among our members.  We must be honest in considering how long it has been since we took a stance for the common good that went counter to our community’s prejudices.

These are things that will “keep us in the game” for the long haul.  They are what count in measuring faithfulness.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

“There are always options, Captain.”

I readily admit that I am a fan of Star Trek.  The original series started when I was in Vietnam, so I was not even aware of it until it had been on the air for a season.  When our children were young, we were regular viewers of Trek reruns in the afternoons after I picked them up from school.  Needless to say, my consciousness has been affected (warped?) by favorite characters and quotes.

One quote that has stayed with me was one that Science Officer Spock often told Captain Kirk when the challenge was the greatest:  “There are always options, Captain.”  Although there is a certain optimism in this statement, we must acknowledge that not all options are positive.   For the most part we do have choices whatever our circumstances.  Viktor Frankl, the survivor of a Nazi concentration camp, said that he made two choices during his imprisonment—he would do his best to survive and to learn from the experience.  He did not have a choice about being imprisoned, starved, or forced to work as a slave laborer, but he did make a choice that he would not be dehumanized.

Although the choices we make are interior, they impact our behavior and our perception of reality.  One of the greatest gifts that a life coach provides to a client is the encouragement to identify, articulate, and pursue choices.  Clients sometimes need to be reminded that they have the power to make decisions about their own lives. They are competent and responsible persons.  The choices they make determine both long term and short term consequences.  One’s choices today may not show an immediate impact or result, but they do make a difference, changing one’s life over the long term. 

The blessing and the curse of our God-given free will is the opportunity to make choices.  If we make the right choices, we will be blessed and bless others, even in the midst of adversity.  If we make the wrong choices, we accept the consequences and, hopefully, have the chance to learn from them. 

What are the options for you in your current situation?  They are there.  You only need to identify them.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Not Business as Usual

Although the church is not a business, there are valuable resources from the business world that can be very helpful to those who lead churches, judicatories, or faith-based organizations.  I welcome the insights of people like Patrick Lencioni, Jim Collins, Seth Godin, Daniel Pink, and others who provide information and ideas that give us a new perspective on what we are doing as believers.  Of course, any writer, speaker, or leader—secular or sacred—needs to meet the tests of soundness and integrity but people like these often provide us with “best practices” that challenge us to do more.  They call us to do not just the minimum but to be better.

Christians are called to do more than the bare minimum in their lives and kingdom service.  The little book of James is a valuable resource as we consider the criteria by which our lives and ministry should be evaluated.  In James 1:22-25, we find these words:

"Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.  Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.  But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do." 

James holds us to a high standard.  In a very few pages, he challenges us to be better than the world.  Because of our relationship with God, we should settle for nothing less than the best in our lives, relationships, and service.

The words of James call the church not just to provide the bare minimum required by law or to follow the “best practices” of the world but to go further and pursue kingdom practices.  We should not only meet the basic personnel policies required by law or match the best standards that effective businesses use but go beyond and adhere to higher standards.

For example, churches and church related ministries ought to have the most progressive personnel policies and benefits available.  We should be in the forefront of providing maternity and paternity leave policies that encourage healthy families.  We should be encouraging our employees (and our members and supporters as well) to follow good health practices.  We should be providing the resources that help our employees do their jobs well and develop their skills.  In short, rather than thinking about the least that we can do to meet the minimum standards, we should be willing to go beyond.

This calls for good stewardship of resources by those in decision-making roles.  It also expects those employed by the church or organization to be wise servants of the ministry.

We serve the One who knows not only our actions but the desires of our hearts.  We have “looked in the mirror” and seen what God requires of us.  We cannot look away and forget what we have been called to show the world—excellence not mediocrity.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Spirituality “R” Us

According to a person who has the opportunity to observe what is going on in theological education across the country, there are an increasing number of students in graduate theological education who haven’t grown up in the church, so they need spiritual formation while in seminary.  I don’t question the need, but I question the premise that those who HAVE grown up in congregations have been spiritually formed.  This is an unwarranted assumption.  Some have and some haven’t.

I spent almost thirty years working with college and university students.  Many came from strong church backgrounds.  They were regular participants in worship services, youth programs, and summer camping programs.  Many were healthy, growing believers, but many had much to unlearn. 

Although most of these young adults had sat through hours of Bible study, they did not know how to study the Bible for themselves.  They knew what their pastor or youth minister believed, but they had never thought through the implications of perceiving, understanding and living biblical truth.  They could parrot beliefs that were not their own, but they did not know how to make up their own minds about spiritual beliefs and practices.  It was not unusual for them to come to the campus minister as the “spiritual expert” to explain things that puzzled them.

Many did not know how to pray.  Certainly, they could pray in public and were willing to do so when asked, but as they approached God their requests were usually superficial and lacked confidence.  They might use beautiful phrases but this only meant they had heard someone else use the words; they had no idea what those words meant as one addressed a Holy God.  They had the form but not the substance.

They also had a lot of unlearning to do about racial equality, the role of men and women in the church, and social justice.  I don’t blame them for this.  They were products of the churches from which they had come. 

The joy of working with college students came from seeing a student question the traditional interpretation of a passage for the first time, expressing a prayer that reflected the deepest longings of the heart, or becoming aware that there were people in the world who needed not only the word of God but the hand of God’s people.  This made the job worthwhile.

In some ways, perhaps it is easier to work with those who have not had a church background!  With those folks, the “unlearning curve” is rather shallow and everything they learn is new and exciting. 

Sunday, December 04, 2011

"Perfect Love Drives Out Fear"

This past Friday night Dr. Sally Holt, who teaches Christian ethics at Central Baptist Theological Seminary Tennessee, arranged for her class in Murfreesboro to meet for dinner with a rabbi who teaches at a local university and the imam of the local mosque. Her purpose was to simply engage everyone in a time of informal dialogue in a non-threatening setting.  She was kind enough to invite me to participate.  The discussion touched on a number of topics, and I came away with many ideas, but two things particularly stimulated my thinking.

First, the imam provided a good insight for our students who will serve local congregations.  He pointed out that their situation is very different from that of ministers just a few years ago.  At one point when a pastor stepped into the pulpit on Sunday morning,  there was a pretty good chance that the congregation was rather homogenous—they probably were born and raised in the local area, most were of the same ethnicity, and few had been exposed to people of other faiths.  The Christian minister of today can expect to speak to people who “are probably not from around here,” who have traveled widely, and may well have grown up in another Christian tradition, a non-Christian faith, or no faith at all.  Such circumstances require a minister who is conversant with other cultures, faiths, and perspectives and is willing to engage the ideas found there. 

This is a good insight.  As we discussed this in class the next day, one student pointed out that in order to engage the “other” we must understand our own faith first and this takes work!  The temptation is to adopt a type of reductionism that distills the major tenets of our faith or that of others into the lowest common denominator.  We seek similarities where there are none and assume that words have the same meaning in different contexts.  This does not facilitate real learning or understanding.  The engagement that the imam called for requires commitment, something that most of us are not willing to make.

The second insight came from the rabbi.  He pointed out that in the Western context, both Hebrew and Christian scriptures have been exposed to academic study, discourse, and deconstruction for a number of years.  They have been examined in light of their original social and cultural contexts as well as their linguistic characteristics.  This has provided us with deeper insights as we pursue the path of ministry in the Jewish and Christian contexts.  He suggested that, as a result of a growing Islamic presence in Western cultures, the same thing will happen with the Islamic community in relation to the Koran and will open up new opportunities for dialogue.

As we consider the future of theological education, perhaps we should be providing more opportunities for interfaith dialogue and discussion about the nature of our authoritative documents.  Such interaction might encourage our Muslim friends to examine and learn more about their book and share it with us.  It might also stimulate us to be more creative in finding ways to communicate our faith commitment to others.

If we honor and respect the integrity of our traditions—Jewish, Christian, and Islamic—we might engage in profitable dialogue about the nature of community in our respective traditions, what we each see as authoritative, how our faiths deal with evil and suffering, and so many other topics.  If we are going to effectively minister in this context where God has placed us, such interaction is indispensable.   If we approach with the spirit of I John 4:18 (“perfect love drives out fear”), we have nothing to fear.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Thought Partner

I was in a meeting several years ago with a person who called himself a “thought leader.”  Supposedly, a thought leader is someone who has innovative ideas that offer a new or unusual perspective in a situation. This person may well have fit that description, but I still am not sure I fully understand the concept.

In his new book Growing Agile Leaders, Bob Dale introduced me to the idea of a “thought partner.”  This is a concept that I can understand.  Although in many ways a thought partner serves as a coach for a person, he or she may also slip into the roles of mentor or consultant from time to time. Dale points out that the thought partner not only provides the optimism, encouragement, and feedback of the coach, but he or she has a certain level of expertise or experience that “offsets blind spots and knowledge gaps.”  He suggests that this may also be a prophetic or even mystical role.

Coaches always walk a fine line between coaching and consulting.   Last year I listened in on a panel discussion with three experienced coaches where two of them frankly admitted that they had no reservations about crossing the line and becoming a consultant or mentor if the client’s situation required it.  I must admit that I have done this with one longtime client but only with his permission and with the understanding that the final decision on the action he will take is his and his alone.  He is free to accept, reject, or modify my suggestions or observations.  He welcomes the opportunity for a different perspective from time and time, seeing me as a “partner” in his ministry.

In addition, I am fortunate to be involved in a peer coaching relationship in which the other person and I have become real “thought partners.”  We not only help each other develop personal, spiritual, and professional goals and hold each other accountable in pursuing them, but we freely share resources and ideas as well.  Having a “thought partner” both facilitates and expands the coaching conversation.
Do you have a “thought partner”?  Now might be a good time to identify and work with one to move your life and ministry along some new paths.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Changing Priorities in Giving

Let me tell you a story about some friends of mine.  This Christian couple are longtime church members. The husband’s family practiced the tithe (ten percent of one’s income BEFORE taxes, of course), believed that the church was the “storehouse” of God’s tithe, and taught him the same. The wife’s family were church donors but not tithers, but when they married, the couple decided to be regular contributors to the church, always giving ten percent of their income.

The church they have attended for years was a generous supporter of the denominational missions program at one time, usually sending more than ten percent of its undesignated gifts to the denomination for “missions” (that included not only domestic and foreign field personnel, but seminary support, benevolences, etc.).  In fact, their church was one of the largest supporters of the denominational work in the state.

Something interesting happened several years ago, however. The church found that it needed more money for church-based ministries, so the decision was made to cut back in missions giving.  The cut was small at first, but once the change was made, it was easy to continue reducing the amount that went to “mission causes.”  This really had nothing to do with changes in the direction of the denomination but was determined more by local needs.  Today, the church gives about 2.5% of its undesignated gifts to “mission” causes outside the immediate community.  Members have the choice of giving plans and can support the missions program with which they are most comfortable—the old-line denomination or a new organization of moderate churches.

There is another interesting twist to this story.  My friends still give more than a tithe of their income, but only a small portion of that funding goes to the local church—about 35% and part of that goes to a capital campaign.  It seems that when the church felt that its support for external missions was optional, my friends decided that they had permission to redirect some of their gifts to what they perceived as worthy mission causes.

I thought of my friends when I read a short item in “Century Marks” in a recent issue of the Christian Century.  The article discussed charitable giving and closed with this observation:

“[C]hurch members are not likely to increase giving toward institutional maintenance.  To stimulate increased giving, church leaders need to convey a vision that engages people both inside and outside the congregation.” 

These words certainly seem to address the decision made by my friends to support causes that have a greater vision for mission and ministry beyond the local congregation.  I wonder how many people are like my friends.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Planning or Preparation?

Each year churches and other Christian groups spend a great deal of time on strategic planning.  They consider their environment, assess their resources, and make goals for three, five, or ten years into the future.  Unfortunately, most of this is wasted effort.   Current realities change so quickly that it is difficult to know what will happen next week much less years into the future. 

What’s the alternative?  In Great by Choice, the new book by Jim Collins and Morten Hansen, the authors address the question, “Why do some companies thrive in uncertainty, even chaos, and others do not?”  The answer is not simple, but an illustration early in the book reflects some of the characteristics of organizations that prosper in uncertain times.

The authors tell the story of the competition between Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott in 1911 to reach the South Pole.  Amundsen’s team succeeded, reached the Pole, and returned home safely.  Scott’s team finally made it to the Pole, only to find the flag of Amundsen’s native Norway planted there, and died in the return trip. The difference was in the preparations that Amundsen made.  He trained his team for the physical stress they would face, he learned from others (such as the Eskimos), he chose his equipment carefully, he developed redundant systems for safety, and he did thorough research.  In summary, he made good use of his resources and prepared for the unexpected. 

What does this mean for the church?  Drawing from Collins and Hansen’s approach, let me suggest four things that we need to do.

First, we need to develop our people so that they will be prepared to lead and minister.  This involves helping them discover their gifts, embrace their talents, develop their skills, and exercise their opportunities.  We do not need programs to face the challenges that are around us but gifted, motivated, caring individuals.

Second, we need to learn from others.  This includes the churches that may not be like us (even the megachurches), business leaders and consultants (like Collins and Hansen), and socially conscious entrepreneurs.  Their experiences can give us the insights we need to prepare for the changes that will certainly come our way.

Third, we need to face the reality of the world we find ourselves in.  The church no longer holds a preeminent place in society.  Our “competition” is not other denominations or megachurches but a secular society that often does not value what the church has to offer.  The game has changed, and we must be willing to accept the challenges that brings.

Fourth, we need to be clearly focused on our mission.  We need to know what business we are in and pursue that business.  Does a specific activity contribute to the growth of the kingdom of God? If not, why are we wasting our time on it?

Although we may not know what challenges or opportunities the coming weeks or months may bring to the church, we can start developing our people, learning from others, facing reality, and sharpening our focus in order to ride that wave.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Importance of People Development

A couple of years ago, I read Missional Renaissance by Reggie McNeal.  McNeal calls for several shifts in emphasis for the church in the 21st century:
·         From an internal to an external focus.
·         From program development to people development.
·         From church-based to kingdom-based leadership.

The one that particularly got my attention was his strong appeal for the church to move from a program-driven focus to a people-centered focus.  He suggests that the effectiveness of a missional church is based more on the quality of its people than the quality (and quantity) of its programs.

In the past, we often operated out of this mindset:  “Here is what we have for you. Come and plug into it.”  We accepted programs that were developed elsewhere and forced them to fit our context.  The question we need to be asking is, “Where are you in your Christian journey and how can we help you live for Christ each day?”

The difference is between an industrial approach and an organic approach.  The industrial, “one size fits all” approach assures church members that an activity is good for them and they should join without any questions asked.  The organic model assumes that each person is unique in the eyes of God and has special needs and opportunities.  By recognizing this uniqueness of each individual, we are also recognizing the unique nature of every fellowship of believers.

McNeal notes: “People don’t go to church; they are the church. They don’t bring people to church; they bring the church to people.” Wherever a believer is, there the church is present.   As we develop and form people who are followers of Christ, we are building up a church uniquely fitted to serve the community in which it is located and the people around it.   What we do with our people makes a difference.

New Metrics

As I am involved in discussions with pastors and other church leaders, a question that surfaces frequently is “How do you measure success in the church?”  Traditionally, we have used the “nickels and noses” (giving and attendance) approach.  Some measure their success by baptismal rate and others by the numbers involved in Christian education programs or weekday ministries.

Many leaders are moving beyond these metrics because they do not always reflect what the leaders are really seeking to form—committed followers of Jesus Christ.  Several years ago, Willow Creek church commissioned a study that revealed (it was called REVEAL) that the church was not achieving its goal:  “Willow Creek exists to turn irreligious people into fully devoted followers of Christ.”Some used this as a basis of criticizing the church and its methodologies.  In reality, the church should be praised for being willing to ask the hard question, “Are we really doing what we say we are doing?”

Writers like Will Mancini in Church Unique and Reggie McNeal in Missional Renaissance have pointed out that the old measures no longer apply.  The challenge is to find what will take their place.  How does one measure spiritual formation and maturity?

In Growing an Engaged Church, Albert Winseman suggests that the answer comes from engaging people in the church.  He states that each person wants the answers to these questions:  “What do I get?” “ What do I give?”  “Do I belong?” and “ How can I grow?”  If these questions are answered, members will show gains in life satisfaction, serving, inviting others to become involved, and giving.  These are all spiritual outcomes that are measurable.

I am not sure that this is the best or only answer, but if we want to see our people grow, then we must clearly identify our desired outcomes and the methodologies to achieve them.  We must be more explicit about what is expected of a follower of Christ and then provide opportunities for people to pursue those things.  You can’t hit a target unless you know what it is.


Tuesday, November 08, 2011

New Sources of Leaders

Where will we find the next cohort of church leaders?  Traditionally, our leaders grew up in the church, were nurtured by youth ministries and collegiate ministries, responded to “the call” to ministry, and then prepared themselves through graduate theological education.  Although there were certainly exceptions to this pattern, most current leaders followed this path.

Of course, this is no longer a truism. A recent article fromLeadership Network addresses significant changes in church leadership.  Two items caught my attention.  First, the article states that “an increasing number of key implementers and team leaders are coming from business vs. ministry backgrounds.”  I agree and could add that many are coming from other backgrounds as well, such as education and the not-for-profit sector.  These folks have unique skill sets that are needed by the church at this particular point in time, and their selection for such roles should be encouraged.

The author goes on to say “seminary training and ordination don’t address every leadership need in burgeoning ministries.”   In reality, we are talking apples and oranges here.  Ordination does not equip anyone to address a need but affirms that the people of God (usually a congregation) recognizes that person’s giftedness to perform a task and, through the act of ordination, is “setting the individual aside” to pursue that task as a minister of the faith.  No matter where a person begins his or her journey to church leadership, ordination is not a formative factor.  On the other hand, seminary training or theological study makes a difference in a person’s leadership in the church and should be provided in some way.  For example, if a church calls a particularly gifted educator to lead their children’s ministry, he or she still needs some understanding of doctrine, biblical content, and the nature of faith formation to do that job in a church.  The church should seek out ways to provide that type of preparation for those lacking a theological background.

The second item in the article that got my attention was the statement that “less formal ministry training” and “more ala carte, on-the-job training” is a trend.  Although the article points out ministry leaders who are self-taught, this does not necessarily mean that a person should eschew formal theological training or the assistance of informed Christian educators to develop those skills needed to do their jobs more effectively.  Although we can learn much from our peers, isn’t it possible that seminaries and other theological institutions might provide some assistance?  After all, most of these institutions recognize that they are called to serve the churches through the formation of ministers and leaders.  This assistance could be provided in various forms--on-line classes, on-site instruction at the church, directed studies with seminary professors, or mentoring or coaching brokered through the seminary.

I have two hopes. I would hope that churches could see the seminaries as partners in ministry rather than irrelevant “preacher training schools.”  I would also like for seminaries to see themselves as resource centers for the churches, willing to adapt delivery systems to meet the needs of the churches.  Hopefully, we are all going in the same direction.  Why can’t we help each other on the journey?

Monday, November 07, 2011

Reimagining Theological Education: Cooperation

If you haven’t noticed, theological education in North America is going through a “shake-out” process. I learned this week of one free-standing denominational seminary that is negotiating to become the divinity school of a college in the same denomination.  Other seminaries are combining or closing their doors.  Those that survive with find new partners and strengthen their relationships with old partners.

New approaches to theological education like those being offered by Central Baptist Theological Seminary require contextualization and creativity, but they will fail without cooperation.  Healthy, flexible, and supportive partners are needed for these efforts to be successful.

Partners assist theological institutions in a number of ways.  For one thing, partners—church, judicatories, other institutions—link the theological schools with potential students.  Seminaries and divinity schools are exhibiting flexibility by offering programs to educate lay or licensed ministers (such as Central’s Foundation program),  train bivocational ministers, and educate staff and laity within the walls of the churches.  The endorsement of a judicatory or church also provides credibility to the theological institutions.  Churches and judicatories often provide financial assistance for students as well.

Partnerships do not end there, however, but can include relationships with other educational institutions, not-for-profit organizations, and other theological schools.  Such relationships can be mutually beneficial for all concerned.  The Wisconsin center of CBTS has prospered due to its relationship with the Housing Ministries of American Baptists in Wisconsin.

Theological institutions are also finding value in ecumenical relationships.  Some denominationally-related institutions did not start out to do this, but they quickly found a responsive clientele in students from other denominations.  This is not only aids the viability of the institution but it enriches the learning environment for all of the students.  In a world where faith issues are becoming both important and divisive, people of faith must respect, teach, and support one another.

Finally, theological schools need the cooperation of donors.  For the most part, alumni of theological institutions are not their best supporters, but one is sometimes surprised by both the resources and generosity of former students.  Present and former students are also a link to other donors—individuals, churches, judicatories, and foundations.  As my friend John Gravley often points out, seminary students don’t pay for their own education; they provide only a part of the funding needed.  Theological institutions need friends who are willing to step up and provide the financial resources to form competent and creative ministers.

Theological education continues to change rapidly but it will flourish if its leaders, students, and supporters embrace contextualization, creativity and cooperation.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Reimagining Theological Education: Creativity

The decentralized model of theological education that Central Baptist Theological Seminary is offering not only in Tennessee and Wisconsin but through the Access Program depends on three things:  contextualization, creativity, and cooperation.  This post addresses creativity.

In August 1967, Rita and I packed all of our worldly goods into a station wagon and a trailer and left Alabama for a sojourn of three years in Fort Worth, Texas.  In order to get a seminary degree in those days, a person needed to relocate (unless fortunate enough to have a seminary in their backyard) in order to get an education and a degree.  This meant finding a new job (for at least one family member), a place to live, and a new church (where you would serve either as volunteer or paid staff).  This also meant leaving behind family and friends (although some people we knew had made the same trek) and a church context that we were very familiar with and we deeply involved.  Was it worth the effort?  Yes.  The education and the friendships were valuable. Could it have been done another way?  Perhaps not then but now there are alternatives.  Through initiative like the Tennessee center, we are taking a new look at the old paradigm and coming up with creative alternatives.

One new approach is fully accredited centers like those Central has established in Wisconsin and Tennessee.  Other seminaries pioneered this approach and, for those seminaries that want to survive, this will become more common in the days ahead.  Seminaries partner with churches, judicatories, or other institutions to create these centers.  Students can now stay where their extended families, jobs, and places of ministry are located and still get a degree.

Another option available to students now is online study.  At present, the Association of Theological Schools allows students to take up to two-thirds of their course work for the Master of Divinity degree online.  The remainder must be taken in residence.  The goal of Central is to eventually offer all classes online although one-third  of the classes still must be completed onsite in Shawnee, Murfreesboro, or Milwaukee.  This provides students a great deal of flexibility in their schedule planning.  Are there some courses that are more appropriately taught in a classroom setting rather than in a virtual environment?  That question is still open for debate not only among theological educators but all educators who consider this alternative pedagogical approach.  I will reserve my opinion for another time, but this creative approach is certainly increasing the options for theological students.

Since many of the CBF-related seminaries are not large enough to offer specializations in youth ministry, children’s ministry, worship and similar areas, some theological institutions are offering certificate programs that offer training in these areas.  Some are for credit and others are non-credit continuing education.  They often combine classroom and online components.  Whether a person has a theological degree or not, these special training opportunities are a creative way to meet the needs of both ministers and the churches they serve.

Seminaries are also finding other ways to respond to the need for continuing education or lifelong learning.  The Doctor of Ministry degree, first offered in the 1960s, is a structured approach to continuing education that requires academic rigor while taking seriously the needs of a specific ministry setting.  Central has recently launched such a program hosted at the Shawnee campus.  Central also offers a Master of Arts in Missional Church Studies that builds on the Master of Divinity degree.  Other seminaries offer degrees that seek to address the need to acquire specific knowledge, techniques, and skills for a particular ministry.  All of these may not necessarily be offered in every place where a seminary has a teaching site and some may be unique to a particular setting.  For example, I would love to see the Tennessee Center take advantage of area resources and one day offer a Master’s program focused on entrepreneurial leadership.

Of course, seminaries like Central continue to offer resources to lifelong learners through access to regular classes taught at the main campus or centers but may also go to churches, universities, or other settings to make these classes accessible.   

Some of these ideas are new but others have been around for years and have only adopted new delivery systems.   Whether old or new, varied approaches increase both the accessibility and the effectiveness of theological education.  Those theological institutions that are not afraid to try something new while maintaining quality instruction will not only survive but prosper in the years ahead.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Reimagining Theological Education: Contextualization

For the past six years, I have had the opportunity to work with the leadership of Central Baptist Theological Seminary to “create a bridge as we walked across it.”  The bridge is the Murfreesboro center of CBTS, now known as “Central Baptist Theological Seminary Tennessee.”  Our goal has been to offer quality graduate level theological education that is affordable and accessible.  During these years, we have offered thirty-four classes, enrolled some forty individuals, and graduated six students with the Master of Divinity degree. 

Although now fully accredited, the model of theological education we offer in Tennessee is still something of an experiment.  The ongoing viability of that experiment is contingent on three things:  contextualization, creativity, and cooperation.  I will address the first here and the other two in subsequent posts.

In our situation, contextualization can mean many things, but I believe that it begins with recognizing who our students are and what kind of churches they represent.  Most of our students are pulled in at least three ways if not more.  Our typical student is married with children (some out of the household), holds down a regular job during the week, and serves a church in a paid or volunteer role on the weekend.  Of course, there are students who are full-time ministers seeking to complete a theological degree and they have their own stresses.  The churches that these students serve range from small family-sized churches to large downtown congregations with many variations and examples in between.    The students are Anglo and African American, men and women, and represent at least four denominations.

What do they have in common?  They are passionate about their call to ministry.  They are highly motivated to become properly equipped for that ministry.  Their churches are looking to them for leadership. And they have many obligations in their lives. 

In order to effectively serve them (and their churches), we offer classes in a non-traditional format.  Our classes met on weekends, usually Friday nights and all day Saturday, on four weekends spread throughout the semester.  We also offer online classes through the Shawnee campus that allow students both accessibility and flexibility in their scheduling. 

Although some of our instructors come from the main campus in Shawnee, we most often enlist qualified adjuncts from the area. The combination of using both Shawnee faculty and local adjuncts strengthens our program.  Career faculty from the main campus bring a strong teaching background, ministry experience in varied contexts, and an understanding and commitment to the overall mission of the institution.  This helps to build the “one seminary concept.”

Like our students, our adjunct professors have other “lives” as well—college instructors, counselors, and ministers of congregations.  All either have their terminal degrees or are in the process of receiving one.  Three of our adjunct instructors are retired ministers and bring years of experience to their teaching.  Every one of our instructors brings real life experience to the table, and this is essential since most of our students also carry lifetimes of experience with them as well.

A helpful aspect of using local adjuncts is that they often come out of churches in the area where they either serve on staff or in lay leadership roles.  This means that they understand the worship, polity issues, and ministry challenges of churches in the middle Tennessee and surrounding areas.
One of the greatest assets of contextualized learning is that students have the opportunity to use immediately what they are learning.  This is true not only in the field education or ministry praxis part of the curriculum, but also in courses that deal with biblical and theological content, counseling and caring ministries, spiritual formation, and ethical practice.  Instructors often give assignments that challenge students to find ways to integrate their learning with their present ministry situations.

Our experiment in Tennessee will be sustainable only if we recognize the needs of our students, our churches and our area, providing the educational resources that speak to this particular context.  WE do this by exercising creativity and fostering cooperation.  Those are our next topics.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Leading and Managing

Seth Godin does good work.  Not only does he provide alternatives to old ways of doing things, he reminds us not to neglect proven concepts.  In a recent blog post, he wrote about the differences between managers and leaders.  He said:

“Managers work to get their employees to do what they did yesterday, but a little faster and a little cheaper.  Leaders, on the other hand, know where they'd like to go, but understand that they can't get there without their tribe, without giving those they lead the tools to make something happen.  Managers want authority. Leaders take responsibility.”

Godin goes on to point out that we need both managers and leaders, but he shows his bias when he says, “It helps to remember that leaders are scarce and thus more valuable.”

Although I understand his sentiment, I have to disagree.  I would say that both are valuable, but only if they understand their respective roles and both accept the responsibilities that go with those roles.  Certainly we need visionary leaders who will move us to the next level, but leaders are only leaders if they have followers.  These followers must be encouraged, nurtured, and empowered.  Not only must they be given the tools they need to do the work, but they must also have the freedom to use them. 

We have many examples in the Bible of leaders who prospered for awhile but then lost their “edge” because they forgot what made them leaders.  David was blessed by God and energized the people of Israel, but his hubris led to poor moral choices that undermined his leadership. 

Managers have the gifts to make things run smoothly.  They know how to use resources wisely and make sure everyone knows what they need to do.  The Achilles heel of the manager can be the inability to adapt to changing conditions.  Once the structure or organization is in place, they are not inclined to change it.

Managers are akin to the “stewards” we read about in Scripture.  They had a great deal of responsibility and often ran large estates for their masters, but they had to remember their place and that their role in the economy was limited.

The bottom line is that we need both. Many great leaders have fallen because they were not able to turn the vision into a workable system.  Many competent managers have driven the organization into the ground because they had limited vision.  Leaders and managers need each other.  Together they move organizations forward.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Some Assembly Required

As parents who have faced the task of putting together a toy on Christmas Eve can attest, “some assembly required” is an understatement.  The job usually takes much longer and produces more sweat and frustration that we expect.  My friend David Cates used this illustration in his sermon yesterday, challenging us to the task of “being builders.”

David’s sermon and illustration got me to thinking about the fact that all of us have the opportunity to build something—a life, a family, a church.  Often we have the chance to do all three.  As we do so, we discover that there are both internal and external aspects to building.

Internally, we have to do the hard work of clarifying our purpose in life—as a person, a family, or a church. This comes as a result of knowing our values, discovering our strengths, and then setting our course.  As we do the hard internal work, we achieve external results.

At the same time, there are external concerns we must address.  We are part of a community, and we must determine how that community can either help or hinder our progress in building.  We are impacted by our culture and exegete it to find resources to help in our task.  Finally, we count the cost and make adequate plans to “pay the price” needed to build a life, a family, or a church.

As David observed, “As we practice building, we get better at it.”  What are you building?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Reconceptualization not Reorganization

In response to my recent blog post on the way forward for Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a friend suggested that I was dealing with reorganization of the national entity.  Actually, I am suggesting not reorganization but reconceptualization.  Whenever a new leader comes on board, the first step usually taken is to reorganize.  Reorganization gives the impression that things are being changed and thus improved. Wrong!  Too often this is just rearranging the various parts without addressing basic values, strategies and systems.  The same thinking provides the same kind of results.  New thinking presents new results.

If the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is not only to survive but prosper, it is time to go back to the drawing board and identify the values, strategies and systems that define a missional judicatory.  For the last two decades, CBF has attempted to gain credibility with churches and other denominations by doing the things that a denomination is “supposed to do”—send missionaries, endorse chaplains, support theological education, develop a retirement program, and provide Christian education resources to churches.  I applaud the efforts that CBF has taken in recent years to work with churches so that they might become missional and to identify new strategies to further that goal, but it is not enough.

Let me suggest five things that a 21st judicatory needs to do to be truly missional.

First, it will perform a pathfinding function.  Someone needs to be out there on the cutting edge finding new ways forward, cutting new trails, and discovering what has been hidden.  This is the research and development function that should be part of every church and judicatory that hopes to be around in a decade.

Second, a 21st century judicatory will do the hard work of aligning entities—churches, individuals, NGOs—in order to accomplish a common goal.  I believe that this is what Rob Nash presented in his address to the 2011 General Assembly in Tampa:  “These field personnel tonight are being called out of networks focused on particular ministry in particular parts of the world as much as they are being called by CBF or they are creating those networks in order to do this thing to which God has called them.”  Alignment is tough, dirty, grassroots work but it pays off.

Third,   21st century judicatories will be empowering entities.  They will be “open source” organizations, encouraging all parts of the entity to create vital and innovative ways to solve problems.  They will identify the lowest common denominators necessary for cooperation and then get out of the way.  This is the approach that Dee Hock fostered in creating the VISA organization and that he explains in Birth of the Chaordic Age and One from Many: VISA and the Rise of the Chaordic Organization.   A few common principles and processes unite a diverse, worldwide financial service.

Fourth, 21st century judicatories will expect its leaders to be coaches.  They will not have the answers, but they will help others to find the answers they need.  There are tremendous resources in every congregation that can be nurtured to full bloom with the right kind of encouragement, but it takes patience and humility.

Fifth, although the term has become a cliché, networking will be an essential part of the 21st century judicatory.  Whether these are oriented toward missionary-sending, resource development, theological education or a multitude of other activities, networks will be the engines of goal achievement in the future.  This is an area where the current CBF organization has shown great success.

These comments are not meant so much as a critique of the current situation as they are an encouragement to seize the opportunities that lay before us.  These words from Jeremiah seem appropriate to our situation:  “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”  (Jeremiah 29:11)