Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A “Herd” Mentality

One of the best messages at the recent Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly was delivered by Global Missions Coordinator Rob Nash on Thursday night as part of the commissioning of missionary personnel.  His primary focus was on the value of cooperative networks or “herds” in carrying out the Great Commission in the 21st century.  He said,

It is clear to me that the right approach for global mission in the 21st century is this network or herd approach, joining together in communities of engagement that emerge out of our God-given passions and that aren’t owned by any of us.  If we truly believe that networks of churches and individuals are the future of global missions, then we ought to embrace such a way fully, boldly, and courageously . . . It is my conviction that the global mission engagement of the twenty-first century is going to be about the blessing and sending of networks of us, herds of us into the world, driven by our passions to truly make a difference.

With this terminology, I think that Nash has pictured for us what is already a reality.  Field personnel, mission organizations, indigenous leaders, churches, and even NGOs (non-governmental organizations) join together to accomplish tasks that none of them could do alone.  For this to continue and flourish, however, several things have to happen.

First, organizations like CBF must continue to provide professional and trained full-time missionary personnel to be the catalysts for these networks.  Men and women with both theological and missiological skills must be available to nurture, develop, and sustain these initiatives.  This is not paternalism but good stewardship. Such individuals serve as hands-on practitioners, mentors, consultants and coaches. Someone is going to have to call out and support these individuals. 

Second, we must be prepared to make use of the best technology available to mesh these groups and focus their work.  Through the Internet and other digital forms of communication, information can be shared quickly and collaboration across borders is possible, but someone has to know how to do this.  Again, this requires called and trained personnel.

Third, all parties involved will have to exercise a great deal of humility and be willing to yield leadership at the appropriate time.  As Nash pointed out, a person from the country where the ministry is being done may be the best leader for the effort.  Knowing when to let go and allow that person to run with the project takes both wisdom and humility.

Fourth, as Nash pointed out, we must continually be aware of the leadership of the Spirit of God.  This will come only as we work and pray together, sharing our strengths and seeking support where we are weak.
Nash provides a challenging vision for the future of global missions.  I pray that we will be willing to respond to it.   


How much can a person endure physically, emotionally, and spiritually without being broken?  Perhaps the answer can be found in Laura Hillenbrand’s book Unbroken:  A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption.  This is the story of Louis Zamperini, a delinquent who grew up to be a gifted Olympic runner, Army Air Force bombardier, Japanese prisoner of war, and a broken man seeking redemption.

Hillenbrand tells Zamperini’s story in remarkable and sometimes excruciatingly painful detail.  Having found his purpose in life through running, Zamperini entered the Army Air Force when the war began, survived 47 days on a raft in the Pacific with his friend and pilot Russel Phillips, was captured by the Japanese, and spent over two years in harsh captivity.  After the war, he tried to compete again, but his body could no longer respond as he wanted.  He sank into despondency and alcoholism brought on by post traumatic stress disorder. 

Thanks to the support of his wife and a life-changing experience during the 1949 Billy Graham
Crusade in Los Angeles, he overcame his emotional challenges and turned his life around, becoming a motivational speaker, Christian worker, and youth leader.  A leading theme of his life has been forgiveness including forgiveness for those who abused him during his years of captivity.  He traveled to Japan on more than one occasion to share his faith with former prison camp guards.

Hillenbrand not only tells Zamperini’s story but that of his fellow captives, several of the prison guards, and the airman’s primary tormentor-- Matsuhiro Watanabe.  Watanabe, a Japanese sergeant, was classified as a war criminal but evaded capture until the political climate changed during the Cold War.  Unrepentant, he was never prosecuted for his crimes and died in 2003 after Zamperini had made numerous attempts to meet him personally to share his faith and forgiveness with his old nemesis. 

In telling the inspiring and moving story of a man who found faith and overcame his demons, Unbroken reminds us of the resilient nature of the human spirit and the potential for redemption.  Little wonder that it has been number one on the New York Times bestseller list and continues at fourth place.   Time magazine named it the book of the year for 2010.   At age 94, Zamperini continues to lead an active life and testify to his faith.

Monday, June 27, 2011

What Does “CBTS Tennessee” Mean?

At the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly in Tampa, we unveiled a new banner and introduced a new name:  “Central Baptist Theological Seminary Tennessee.”  What exactly does that mean?

In the fall of 2005, a unique experiment began in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, when Central Baptist Theological Seminary began offering graduate theological education at First Baptist Church.  Michael Smith, pastor of the church, taught Christian Heritage and Laura Moore came from the Shawnee campus to teach Hebrew Bible.  The following six years have been both challenging and rewarding with well over 30 students enrolled in classes and six students receiving the Master of Divinity degree through transfer of their credits to the main campus.  Thirty-two classes have been offered.  Students have included women and men, African-Americans and Anglos, degree students and lifelong learners, and persons from at least six different denominations.

After a great deal of work and the support of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the Tennessee CBF, the site is now fully accredited by the Association of Theological Schools, the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, and the Tennessee Higher Education Commission to award the Master of Divinity degree and the Diploma in Theology.  Other programs may be added in the future.

So what does this mean? 

First of all, quality theological education is accessible in Tennessee to those who are already involved in ministry without uprooting family and relocating out of state to pursue a degree.  They can continue their present ministries while enhancing their skills and knowledge.

Second, students may take a major portion of their courses online and complete the residency requirement in Murfreesboro by attending the weekend courses offered there.  This greatly expands the reach of this center and of the seminary, emphasizing a unified “one seminary family” approach.

Third, students will learn in a setting with a strong Baptist orientation but with respect and appreciation for all Christian traditions.  Both students and instructors come from several denominational backgrounds, enriching the academic and formation experience.

Fourth, students will study under committed and competent instructors.  We will continue to host faculty from the main campus and also call on the services of adjunct professors from the area with terminal degrees or who are completing their dissertations.  Many of these professors have extensive experience in ministry.

Finally, the new designation means that we will now work in a larger context, offering these opportunities to those within driving distance of the Murfreesboro center.  We anticipate new students not only from other parts of Tennessee but from southern Kentucky and north Alabama.

We are grateful for the support provided by churches and ministry partners that makes this opportunity available.  To learn more, go to the seminary website or contact Ircel Harrison.

Thank You, Baptist Campus Ministers

While attending the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly last week, I found myself talking to a former campus ministry colleague.  He commented, “When are these folks going to realize that old campus ministers run this group?”

I think we can agree that no one “runs” a group of Baptists, but he reminded me of how influential campus ministry (or “Baptist Student Union” or “Baptist Student Ministries” or “Baptist Collegiate Ministries”) has been in Baptist life in the south in the last (almost) 100 years and its contribution to progressive Baptist life today. 

One of the strongest influences of “student work” has been in the realm of missions.  The student missionary movement of the last 1940s and early 1950s not only expanded the number of field personnel sent out by Baptist entities, but it also planted the seeds for short-term and volunteer mission activities that are so central in the ministry of churches today.

Baptist campus ministry also had a strong influence on social justice.  College student meetings were racially integrated long before many of our churches opened their doors to African-Americans.  Women rose to places in leadership in campus organizations so prominently that many conservative leaders felt threatened.  In fact, women were the first “directors” of many Baptist Student Union organizations and lost ground to men when the role became more professionalized and had to fight to regain a role in the ministry.

As Baptists in the south began to choose up sides in the 1980s, campus ministers often found themselves pulled in (at least) two directions.  Some left denominational life over the tension and began to minister as chaplains, pastoral counselors, or in community agencies. Some left to work with progressive churches.  Some just left the ranks of the clergy.

Others became leaders in the moderate movement of Baptists.  I find many of them in CBF-related churches across the nation. People like Tom Logue in Arkansas, Bradley Pope in Mississippi, Bill Junker in Tennessee and others too numerous to name became leaders in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.  The tradition continues as Ronnie Brewer, a former campus minister in Alabama, was called from the pastorate last year to become coordinator of Alabama CBF.

One of the reasons that I enjoy attending the CBF General Assembly each year is that I get to see some of my former campus ministry colleagues.  They have found a home in the CBF family because they helped lay the foundation for it in their ministries.  I celebrate the contributions they have made in pushing and pulling Baptists into a new era.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

“It’s Time” to Move On

One of the key things I have learned as a life coach is that coaching is not counseling.  Counseling (or therapy) helps us to deal with the past. In therapy, we examine our hurts, grief experiences, and even traumas in order to learn from them and then to construct a life that works for us.  Therapy is long, hard work, but we can never move forward as healthy human beings until we do it. Once we have dealt with our past, we can begin to pursue the path to a productive future. 

Every five years, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship seems to need a therapy session to deal with its past.  This usually happens as part of a dinner meeting on Wednesday night prior to a General Assembly.  We pull out our hurts, make fun of “those other Baptists” and (I suppose) come away feeling better about ourselves.   

There are a lot of things about my childhood that were unpleasant, but I have moved past them and rarely think about them. Sometimes I even smile or laugh out loud when I think about them.  They were important in shaping who I am, but I have dealt with them and moved on to create a reasonably productive life.  Sometimes I wonder if Fellowship Baptists have been able to do the same.

At the Wednesday night Celebration at this year’s General Assembly, keynote speaker Molly Marshall  modeled a healthy approach to past trauma.   She owned it, acknowledged how it had affected her, and then moved on.  Although she spent some time sharing her own painful experiences not only of rejection at Southern seminary but of her calling to ministry, she turned quickly to the future and challenged us to seek the leadership of the Spirit and respond faithfully to that divine influence. 

We all have painful stories that come out of the conflict that splintered Baptists in the South.  I can share some of my own if you have an hour or so.  One of the redeeming outcomes of that difficult time for me was finding the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.  I have supported its work for 20 years, served the Fellowship as a state coordinator, advocated for CBF in my church (when  it cost something to do that), and return to General Assembly year after year because my friends are there and I embrace what God is doing through the Fellowship.

To be blunt, my favorite years at General Assembly have been those when the Southern Baptist Convention and the “great schism” are never mentioned and we celebrate what God is leading us as Fellowship Baptists to do.  We heard a great deal to celebrate at this meeting—the work of CBF field personnel and cooperating churches to “minister to the least of these,” the impact that our affiliated theological schools make in the lives of those preparing for ministry, and the creative engagement of partners like the Baptist Center for Ethics, Baptist Women in Ministry, and the Baptist Joint Committee with issues of our day.  These are all positive Kingdom of God initiatives that bless the served, the servants, and the world.

We are involved in some good things, and we ought (with some humility) to feel good about ourselves.  We are beyond being defined by who we are not.  We are stating very clearly who we are.

If we want to consider history, let’s think about the generation of young adults who came out of World War II.  Men and women in the early 1940s went through the trauma of worldwide war at home and abroad.  This was a time of sacrifice, deprivation, and loss.  But they came out of that searing experience to build not only a thriving society in this country but also to rebuild the world.  They dealt with the bad years of the war in a number of ways, but most were able to put it behind them and invest in the future and in their children.  They set a good example for us as we look to the opportunities God provides to us in these days.  We are products of our past, but we are not captives to it.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

No Drama

In recent days, some commentators have criticized President Barack Obama for his “lack of passion.”  One even cited the President’s response to an interview question about whether he might be a one term President.  The President answered that if the voters chose to turn him out of office, he would still have his family and a good life.  To the person citing this statement, the response showed his lack of passion for the office and the upcoming campaign.

I often encourage people to discover and follow their passion—the thing that gives them energy and makes them want to get up in the morning.  At the same time, we cannot live by our passion alone or give in to uncontrolled passions or desires.  We must also take into account our values and beliefs. Unbridled passion leads to error, moral failure, and destruction.

The Message translates Matthew 5:5 in this way:  "You're blessed when you're content with just who you are—no more, no less. That's the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can't be bought.

When we discover our passion in life, we truly discover who we are and where we should invest ourselves, but this is tempered by our understanding of who God has made us to be.  If we attempt to be anything else, we will be miserable in life.  Passion is not an end in itself; it is the means to an end.  Pursuing one’s passion requires commitment, discipline, and discernment.

Going back to the opening illustration, perhaps being a one term President isn’t so bad.  Jimmy Carter seems to have done quite well after only one term and has pursued his passion to help people who cannot help themselves.  I would be happy if President Obama has a second term, but if he does not, his life and service are not over.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Spirit is Among Us

On Pentecost Sunday, our pastor preached on Acts 2 and challenged us to think of the world as a “God-filled place.”  Wherever we are, he reminded us, God is at work through God’s Spirit.  I was impressed by the message but also reminded that we seem to have a healthier regard for the Holy Spirit now than we did in the recent past. 

I may be wrong, but my impression is that during much of my life, Baptists were reluctant to deal with the work of the Holy Spirit.  When the Spirit was mentioned from the pulpit, the point was to tell us what the Spirit did not do—lead us to speak in tongues, provide miraculous healing, etc.  Perhaps I have just become more teachable when it comes to the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church and the believer as I have seen the work of the Spirit in unexpected ways.

Without an appreciation for the work of the Holy Spirit, we would have a hard time explaining the power and influence of scripture let alone its creation.  The Spirit of God had to move in a special way among individuals and communities of faith to both create and sustain the texts that became our Bible.  The way that the ancient words speak to our needs today is a testimony to the power of the Spirit.  The Spirit opens our eyes to the applicability of scripture to our lives today, bringing together the story of redemption with our own stories, providing new insights and understanding.

I am thankful that God has sent the Spirit to bless us and guide us each day.   Our world would be a desolate place without the Spirit’s presence.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A New Normal?

Once upon a time, there was a rather comfortable Baptist consensus in the South.  There were variations in worship and architectural style, but most white Baptist churches used the same hymnals, Sunday school materials, and supported the same mission causes.  Whether you attended a church in Virginia or Alabama or Texas on a given Sunday morning, you would probably be using Baptist Sunday School Board curriculum, singing from the Baptist Hymnal, and giving to the Cooperative Program as well as Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong.

If young persons left the local church and “went away to college” (most of us did in those days), they could attend a Baptist college supported by their state convention or, if they chose to attend a state university, they would find the fellowship of the Baptist Student Union (also supported to some extent by the state Baptist convention). If the student felt the call to ministry, he or she could attend one of the six Baptist seminaries generously funded the Cooperative Program.  Beyond seminary, there were opportunities for service in churches, mission agencies, and denominational agencies that were part of the denominational consensus.

Frameworks and agreements among the Baptist agencies assured that Sunday School Board literature would support the work of the other boards and agencies.  Although the Sunday School Board did not receive Cooperative Program dollars, this publishing arm of the convention made sure that it was on the right side in supporting CP giving.  In fact, any church or individual that questioned supporting the Cooperative Program would quickly be branded as “independent,” a term that seemed to be connected with being cast into outer darkness.

Certainly there were differences of opinion and differing philosophies among Baptists in the South but most of the time we found a way to be tolerant, work together, and move ahead in Kingdom work (because who else was going to do it if we didn’t?).

Fast forward to 2011.  The old consensus has certainly broken down and a new one has yet to emerge for many Baptists and their churches.  The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the Alliance of Baptists have attempted to step into the gap, but churches and individuals have not rushed to fall in line.  Twenty years after the founding of CBF, we are still struggling to find some common ground.  Initially, many thought that the common ground would be missions, but churches have become more aggressive in mapping their own mission strategies without regard to leadership in Atlanta.  CBF struggles to keep “career” missionaries on the field and is dependent on alternative means of funding field staff.  Theological education has certainly not been the common ground. The Fellowship has some relation to 15 different schools and several of those are starving to death!

As the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship meets in Tampa this week, many will ask the questions, “What do we have in common?”  and “How will we work together in the future?”  We anxiously await the answers.  The old consensus has broken done and we wait to see what, if anything, can take its place.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Looking to the Future

The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship will meet for its 20th annual meeting in Tampa this month.  Many of us have been part of the CBF initiative from the beginning, even though our employers at the time may have frowned upon it (but that is a story for another time).  A 14 member task force is in the process of gathering input on the future of CBF.  They are attempting to address these questions:

  1. What is the best model of community that fosters missional collaboration rather than competition for resources?
  2. How can we refocus and streamline organizational structures in order to provide leadership and resources for churches and other ministries to respond more effectively to global challenges?
  3. How do we help Baptist churches and organizations embrace their identity as partners with this community?

 This is not an easy task, especially since some have tried to hold onto the “movement” language perhaps in an effort to avoid the fact that CBF has become an organization with all of the challenges and burdens that involves.  Once a structure is established, it takes on a life of its own.

In his blog, Seth Godin recently pointed out the differences of an organization, a movement, and a philosophy.  He says that “an organization uses structure and resources and power to make things happen.”  Movements may use an organization, but they are much more tied to emotion.  He points out that “movements are more likely to cause widespread change, and they require leaders, not managers.”  A philosophy is harder to pin down.  He suggests that “a philosophy can survive things that might wipe out a movement and that would decimate an organization.”  A philosophy may ebb and flow, go underground for awhile, and then emerge with new approaches and leaders.

His key point is this:  “The trouble kicks in when you think you have one and you actually have the other.”

So what is CBF?  It certainly started out as a philosophy (perhaps even a theology) that many could buy into at some level.  My personal perception is that CBF moved pretty quickly through the movement phase to an organization that attempted to do more than it was capable of doing because it believed that it had stronger grass roots support than it actually did.  Those who could at least assent to a philosophy and were enchanted by a movement were not really ready to do everything that the organization attempted to provide.  Many of those who attended early meetings did not or could not follow through.

Let me share a personal example of overreaching.  In the late 1990s, many within the CBF family said that what we really needed were new churches.  A few “splits” had successfully evolved into self-sustaining congregations.  Some of us in leadership believed those who carried the “church starting” banner.   The Tennessee Cooperative Baptist Fellowship launched into an ambitious initiative to plant new churches.  We invested a lot of time and money into that effort.  At the end of the day, we could point to only one viable congregation that came out of all the work.  Each attempt that failed had its own story and its own lessons to learn.  At the end of the day, however, we overreached because we believed our support was deeper than it actually was.

My concern for the future of CBF is that many will express their hopes, dreams, and expectations but that few will step up and help to make these become a reality.  I hope that many will provide input to the Task Force but that they will then be ready to provide the support to make these goals come to fruition.  It is one thing to build castles in the air; it is another to turn them into reality.  A philosophy will inspire us, a movement will energize us, but an organization needs people who will invest themselves on a daily basis.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Be Yourself

“God expects nothing more from you than to live that life for which you were created.  He [sic] wants you to be yourself.”   This is the simple but profound message of Living Your Strengths, a book based on the Clifton StrengthsFinder ® and the research of the Gallup Organization.

I was first introduced to the idea of Strengths Psychology through First, Break All the Rules by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman and Now, Discover Your Strengths by Buckingham and Donald Clifton (the designer of the inventory).   My attention was focused on the concept once more when I heard Marcus Buckingham speak at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit several years ago and began thinking about this in relation to the church.  Living Your Strengths by Albert Winseman, Donald Clifton, and Curt Liesveld makes the application of the idea directly to the believer and the  life of the church.

The approach is summarized in this way:

“God has created the one and only you, uniquely gifted with undeniable talents that are the foundation for your strengths.  Claim who you are, listen to God, celebrate your talents, begin living through strengths.  And start transforming your life—and the life of your congregation”

Strengths are based on one’s innate talents plus developed skills and acquired knowledge.  Talents are basically God-given; skills can be learned and knowledge obtained.  We are encouraged to embrace the talents that God has given each of us and develop them into strengths by developing appropriate skills and knowledge. 

Using the web-based Clifton StrengthsFinder 1.0 assessment, the reader can discover his or her five “signature themes” out of 34 possibilities and then reflect on how these can be used to maximize one’s engagement in church, work, and family life.    The primary emphasis in this book, however, is on church.  If a person is to be fully engaged in the church and growing in devotion and service, then he or she must embrace and use what God has provided.  This idea is developed further in Winseman’s Growing an Engaged Church.

Although the stories and testimonies included in this “expanded and updated” version tend to encourage investing in the training program offered by the Gallup Organization, the reader will gain significant personal insight by just completing the inventory and reading the book.  In fact, I found it so interesting that I worked through it in an afternoon. 

The philosophy and theology behind a strengths-based approach to leadership and service are sound.  I think you will find applications both to your own life and to that of your church or organization.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Passing of a Friend

Pictured above (L to R): TCBF Coordinators Ircel Harrison, Jr., September 1998-2008;  C. William Junker, January - April 1996; Lila Anderson Boyd, January 1997-August 1998; and Lloyd T. Householder, Jr. November 1994-1995. 
Writing is both a discipline and an outlet for me.  I learned this by having opportunities to write!  When I was a young campus minister, I was surprised and a little proud when Bill Junker asked me to write my first article for THE STUDENT magazine.  His recognition and encouragement meant a lot to me.

I had first met Bill at Ridgecrest when I was a student and came to admire his measured yet prophetic work with the publications of the Student Department of the Baptist Sunday School Board in the late 60’s and early 70’s.  When I became campus minister at Middle Tennessee State University in 1970, I had the chance to “hang around” some of the staff at the Sunday School Board.  I learned a lot about Bill including his commitment to Vanderbilt basketball and his family.

Like all good journalists, Bill got into hot water from time to time, but I found that this usually came because he was willing to tackle some issues that Southern Baptists did not always want to address.  Bill was “quietly passionate.”  When he was convicted about something, he did not get angry (at least outwardly), he got busy!

Bill and I had limited contact during his Home Mission Board years, but we renewed our friendship when he and Patsy moved back to Nashville.  We soon found ourselves at the same moderate Baptist meetings, and I was pleased when Bill took a leadership role in the formation of the Tennessee Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and served for a brief period as part-time coordinator of the group.

When time came to employ a full-time TCBF coordinator, Bill was on the selection committee, but I was still a bit nervous when I interviewed with the group.  I was recommended and employed for the position and found Bill and Patsy to be both encouragers and supporters every step of the way.  For several years, he continued to contribute to the TCBF News.  Faithful members of Glendale Baptist Church, they were flag-bearers for the Cooperative Baptist movement in their congregation.

Bill passed away Wednesday after a long illness.  A committed and progressive Christian, Bill was mentor, friend, leader, and committed church person but also devoted husband, father, and grandfather.  I give thanks for his strength, passion, and service and will miss his counsel.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Receiving Hospitality

In Genesis 14, there is an interesting story about first impressions and acceptance.  It involves Abram (Abraham), the emerging father of the nation of Israel, and Melchizedek, the king of Salem and a “priest of God Most High.”  

As Abraham returned victorious from a battle, Melchizedek brought out bread and wine and blessed Abraham.  In response to this show of hospitality, Abraham gave him a tenth of the spoils of the victory.

The story’s impact comes not only from the act of hospitality on the part of Melchizedek, but the response of Abraham.  The king of Salem was “the other.”  He was neither part of Abraham’s family nor one of his friends.  He was, however, a holy man and a”priest of God Most High.”  He welcomed Abraham, cared for him, and blessed him.  Abraham responded with openness and gratitude.  Subsequently, this type of hospitality was expected among the Hebrew people.  In the Old Testament, they are repeatedly directed to show hospitality for “the stranger within their gates.” 

We often talk in the church about giving hospitality, but we might consider how we receive hospitality. Sometimes in our self-sufficiency and our pride, we fail to understand the blessing of the other, the stranger of the one who is unlike us.  The stranger often comes bringing gifts that are both unexpected and needed.

In my personal life, I am thankful for those strangers who have helped me from time to time.   Several years ago, my car slid off a snow-covered road and a “good Samaritan” showed up with a pickup and a chain to help get it back on the road.  Two years ago, I was biking with my grandson at a park and ended up flat on my back after colliding with a tree (a small one, thankfully).  A couple came by on the trail and stayed with us until a security man was summoned to take me out on a golf cart!  In both cases, these strangers provided support in a time of need.

I am also grateful for those “strangers” and “outsiders” who have given me new insights about my life and ministry.  They have provided a perspective that I often lacked.  Brian McLaren has commented in A New Kind of Christianity,  “And it’s the seekers who are welcome into a faith community that often transform that community, just as a new infant or adopted child can transform a family.”  Fareed Zakaria pointed out on CNN Sunday that very often it is the immigrant who provides insights that change an organization or an industry.  The outsider often sees things we cannot or offers the key piece to complete the puzzle.

Accepting these gifts requires a certain amount of humility on our part.  If we lower our defenses, we can receive the blessings that God will provide for us though the outsider and the stranger, even as Abraham did.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Domesticating the Church

We talk a great deal about vision in Christian circles.  Many hours are spent on developing vision statements, buying books on vision-casting, and attending conferences on identifying and communicating our vision.   In practice, however, we tend to lose sight of the vision that makes the church not only great but essential.  In our efforts to be exceptional, we just become more mundane.

The terminology we use has a lot to do with this.  In talking about “church,” we too often limit it to a building, a set of persons (members), or sometimes to clergy leaders (especially in sacramental traditions).  We tend to want to domesticate or narrow the understanding of the church so that we can deal with it more effectively or force it into submission.  In so doing, we lower our sight from the horizon
 and look down to the cracks in the sidewalk, fearing that we will stumble.

Those who have had a greater vision of the church down through the ages have found bold, sweeping terms to describe the church—“the Body of Christ,”  “a royal priesthood,” “vanguard of the Kingdom,”  “God’s new creation,”  “the city of God,”  or “a contrast community.”  These terms point us to a more radical, transforming mission for the church.

Perhaps we accomplish so little because our vessel is so small.  God can only bless when we open ourselves to God’s blessing.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Playing Well Together

One of the things we were supposed to learn in kindergarten was how to play well together.  This meant learning how to share, not throwing tantrums, and talking in a kind voice even when we were upset.  Of course, most of us don’t learn these lessons until our hair either starts turning gray or turning loose.

The abilities to discuss things honestly, maintain our composure, and respect others are important in any setting but especially in a leadership team.  Whether the team is in a church, a parachurch ministry, a not-for-profit, or a business, there are certain skills we can learn to not only work effectively together but help each other grow personally and professionally.

At the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly in Tampa this month, Molly Marshall, Anita Flowers, and I will be leading a conference on “Essentials for Developing an Effective Leadership Team.”  Without giving too much away, we will talk about some of the barriers to healthy team development and then look at ways to develop the team’s relational and spiritual vitality for healthy functioning.  We will try to be as practical as possible in addressing the topic.

We already have several participants signed up, but I hope you will consider being part of this four-session conference on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning.  You can register on the CBF website.

Friday, June 03, 2011

What’s the Bottom Line?

We need to make one thing clear.  The church is not a business.  Denominational publishing houses are businesses.  Many faith-based organizations including the church often have to do some of the things that a business does like pay FICA taxes for its non-ordained employees or undergo fire inspections.  But . . . this does not make the church a business.

Please understand that I think that there is much that we can learn from business practices and organizational development that will help us to more effective as a church.  I participate in the Willow Creek Association’s Leadership  Summit (usually by teleconference) each year because I think we can learn some things from business gurus and corporate leaders like Patrick Lencioni, Blake Mycoskie, Jim Collins, Daniel Pink, Terri Kelly, Howard Schulz, and Seth Godin as well as from church leaders.  They have insights we need to hear and apply.

Most of our churches are fortunate to have business people as lay leaders.  They offer their expertise in financial, building, and personnel matters.  We can be grateful for their input into these matters for often this means we are better stewards of the resources that God has given to us at the Body of Christ.  They help the church to make informed and reasoned decisions that contribute to the health of the church as an organization.

The problem comes when someone substitutes the desired outcomes for a church with business outcomes.  What is the outcome we desire?  What is the bottom line?  In business, we are usually looking for return on investment measured in profit generated for shareholders.  We measure this in dollars.  Of course, we sometimes look at other metrics as well—retention of staff, new product lines, or even community service.  What’s the bottom line in the church?  Is it a comfortable facility?  No.  Is it a well-paid staff? We could only wish, but no.  Is it paying all the bills?  This is a good thing but it is not the bottom line when it comes to the church.

The measure of success in the church is men and women being transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ.  We are all in various stages of this process, but the real work of the church is making disciples.  If we forget that then nothing else is important.  When we come to the point that maintaining the organization is more important that growing the organism (the Body of Christ), we might as well put up a “Closed for Business” sign.