Friday, July 29, 2011

What is a “Great” Church?

In my last post, I stated that most churches will settle for being “good” rather than “great.”  So what does a great church look like?  I am not talking about numbers.  Being a great church has nothing to do with numbers—people attending, services offered, funds received.  A great church is characterized by the willingness of its members and leaders to pursue certain tasks.

A great church both prays to God and listens for God’s response.  Great churches have members who are willing to lay their concerns, hopes, and fears before God and to be patient enough to listen for an answer.  This means that the church is willing to hold everything loosely —ministries, budgets, leaders—and place it all in God’s hands.

A great church values its people as their number one resource whether they are children, adults, or retired people.  A concerted effort is made not only to teach the Bible but to apply it to life.  Leaders listen to members and discover where God is at work in their lives and then the church comes alongside to encourage them in their ministry, whether it is within the walls of the church or outside those walls.

A great church recognizes its strengths and builds on them.  They embrace who they have been called to be.  Such a church does not try to become something that God has not called it to be but uses its God-given strengths—people, context, facilities, funds—to be all that it can be.

A great church is willing to take risks and court potential failure in order to be the presence of Christ in its community.  A great church is not concerned about being unpopular or standing over against the popular consensus but in doing what God has called it to do.

A great church continually seeks ways to improve the way that it does things, whether it is member care or food services.  Great churches realize that the core remains the same, but everything else is in flux.  A church that wishes to be great takes advantage of the changes in its composition, community, and culture in order to become more effective in its mission.

A great church is willing to learn from the young, the old, the seeker, and the outsider.  Each brings a certain kind of wisdom to the table that gives the church insight and understanding about its mission.

A great church seeks to pursue God’s vision for the church.  This keeps the church focused on what is really important, avoiding wasting time on peripheral issues.  This type of church is not afraid to ask the question, “Does this have impact for the Kingdom of God or not?  If not, let’s not worry about it.”

Great churches may not be large, popular, or prosperous, but they will clearly be God’s people on mission in the world.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Why Most Churches are Good but Not Great

In Good to Great, Jim Collins and his team sought out companies that moved from being good at what they were doing to becoming truly great.  They pointed out that “Good is the enemy of the great.”  In other words, people will praise your organization for providing quality but not exceptional products (or programs or services), and most will be satisfied with that status.  Why take the risk to move to the next level when you already have acceptable results?

I have thought recently about how many good churches there are.  These congregations provide solid preaching, well-planned worship, comprehensive Christian education, competent pastoral care, and helpful ministries, but they are not exceptional.  They are shackled by their own expectations of what church ought to be and limited in their Kingdom vision.  What keeps them from being great?

Good churches are satisfied with the acceptable rather than the exceptional. They do what is necessary to “cover all the bases” so that the community will think well of them but they rarely are willing to go to the next level and provide something that is truly exceptional.

Good churches tend to major on minor issues. They are very concerned that things be done correctly whether those things are important or not.   

Good churches value security over service.  They have a low level of risk tolerance, so they are unwilling to try anything that may result in criticism from within the congregation or from the outside community.

Good churches are more concerned about maintenance than mission.  They would rather take care of what they already have than reach out to embrace the unfamiliar, fearing embarrassment or uncertainty.

Good churches would rather invest in programs than in people.  They have the mindset that the right program will answer all their problems, so they sell their members on programs rather than asking members what they need in order to fulfill God’s calling in their lives.

Good churches prefer to stay with the familiar rather than embrace innovation.  When one is innovative, there is always the possibility of failure and good churches cannot tolerate failure.

My friend Bo Prosser has noted, “Very few churches will thrive in the 21st century because we are too nice to sweat, too proud to cry, too stubborn to change, too sophisticated to laugh, and too busy to celebrate.”   Unless we loosen up a bit and respond to the leadership of the Spirit of God, we will always be good churches but never great ones.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

What Lens Do You Use?

This past Sunday our pastor Michael Smith preached on Luke 15:11-32, the parable we usually refer to as “the prodigal son” or “the loving father.”  He referred to it as “the indispensable parable.”  Mike’s approach was that this text tells us a lot about the family of God and provides a lens for us to use as we read all of scripture.  This is a good insight.  Although it may be unconscious, I think that most of us tend to look at scripture through the point of view of a particular scripture text or texts.

For example, if you read the Bible through the lens of John 3:16, you see the unfolding thread of God’s plan of salvation from Genesis to Revelation.  If you read it though the texts dealing with the Lord’s supper, you probably are more sensitive to passages about the formation of the people of God throughout the Old and New Testaments, and God’s desire for unity, sharing, and love in that community of faith.  If you read the Bible from the perspective of the Book of Revelation, you will be thinking about the return of Christ and what that means for believers.

I tend to read the Bible through several texts, but the one in my mind most often is 2 Peter 3:18: “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and for ever. Amen.  To me, this is more than a mere salutation at the end of a letter.  The passages speaks to me of the potential that God has placed in every believer to learn, grow, and develop not for his or her own sake but to a part of  God’s purpose in the world.  As a result, all scripture for me points me to the grace of God and the wonderful riches that come from spending time in the scriptures.

What’s the text that provides your lens in reading the Bible?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Heroes with Character Issues

On Friday, I saw my third superhero movie this summer (Transformers:  Dark of the Moon doesn’t count).  Captain America:  The First Avenger follows Thor and Green Lantern.  To be very candid, none of these is a groundbreaking film like Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, or the first Iron Man. If you peel away all the CGI and explosions, there does seems to be a common factor.  Each title hero is dealing with a character issue.  Thor, an alien (or, if you wish, a small “g” god) has problems with humility.  He is irresponsible, self-centered, and overly ambitious.  Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) is trying to face his fears.  His test pilot father died in a plane explosion, and he wonders if he will go the same way.   And Captain America (Steve Rogers) is basically a good man who receives his powers primarily because he is a nice guy, an idealistic man in the body of a 98 pound weakling.  Once he has power, how will he use it?

I think it was the creators of Marvel Comics who decided several decades ago that we did not want our superheroes to be perfect.  Certainly, the superheroes they created possessed abilities “far beyond those of mortal men” and women, but we could relate to them more if they had to deal with certain shortcomings.  Other comic creators picked up on this as well. In fact, we have come to the point that many superheroes are almost anti heroes.  For example, think about the alcoholic, womanizing Tony Stark (Iron Man) and the obsessed Bruce Wayne (Batman).  In these recent movies, we come away wondering whether we really should trust them or not.

Evidently, we don’t want our heroes to be perfect. We want them to struggle with issues. Does this mean that we can’t accept anyone being perfect?  Because of our own flaws, can we relate better to a mythical figure with feet of clay?  This may be, but I think there is another consideration as well.

For me the struggles of Thor, Hal Jordan, and Steve Rogers remind me that with great power comes great responsibility.  One of the challenges that humanity began to face in the 20th century was the great power that we had unleashed with the weaponization of atomic energy.  The ability to create and destroy has grown exponentially since that discovery.  As individuals and as nations we often find ourselves with more power than we know how to control and in exercising that power, we often unleash unexpected consequences.  We are victims of our own achievements.

As we consider our superheroes and antiheroes, we may discover a great deal about ourselves.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Surviving Change

Change is designed to produce stress.  Not all stress is bad, of course, but managing our stress is always important, especially during times of change.  There are some things to keep in mind that may make change more tolerable if not enjoyable!

First, pray.  If your change was voluntary, you have probably been praying all along for discernment.  If it was involuntary, you have undoubtedly been praying for patience and strength.  Either way, you would do well to continue to nourish a healthy prayer life.  Make it a daily practice and invite others to join you in prayer during this time of change. As you share specific prayer requests, you will also more clearly articulate the things that are causing you concern or fear.

Second, take care of yourself.  This is not the time to give up your regular exercise program or drastically change your diet.  If you have a routine that works well for you and promotes physical vitality, keep it up.  If you don’t, this might be a time to start something.

Third, keep family ties strong.  As you experience change, your spouse and children will as well, especially if the change involves geographic relocation, new place to live, or a change in work schedule.  The more you talk about these changes and negotiate new routines, the less stress you all will experience.

Fourth, move ahead.  Once you have made the decision to make a change, do it!  Your mind will already be on your next place of work or ministry, so at best your attention will be divided with your present position getting the lesser part of your time and attention.  No matter what you do, hanging around will not make things easier for you or the organization you are leaving.

Fifth, be prepared to accept discomfort.  Acknowledge that change is hard, even if you have chosen it.  Allow yourself to acknowledge discomfort and some level of grief.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Seeking Change

Few of us have to seek change.  Change generally happens whether we seek it or not, but how do you know when you need to the initiator of change in your life?  If you are attuned to your own emotions, you probably think that you know when you need a change, especially in the area of work or ministry.

Perhaps you lack enthusiasm for the daily routine.  When you started, there was plenty to be done and you have faced the challenges that your present situation offers, handled them well, and things have become rather routine.  Perhaps you find yourself increasingly disengaged from the day to day operations around you.   You have gone beyond delegation to abdication.  You are not simply handing off responsibilities to others; you don’t particularly care if they get done or not.  Or maybe you have a feeling of restlessness and wonder what’s happening elsewhere.

None of these offer valid justification for making a change in your present work or ministry role.  Before you do anything, you need to get a new perspective on what is happening around you and make sure that you are not missing something that should be addressed where you are.  Talk to a friend who will be honest with you and get his or her perspective.  Often it is better if this person is an outsider to your organization who can offer you a dose of reality.  You may receive an insight here that will encourage you to reengage your present situation with new enthusiasm.

Once you have a second opinion and still have “itchy feet,” start thinking about your real motivation for wanting to move.  Are you looking for an easier responsibility?  Probably not or you would stay put.  Are you seeking increased compensation?  A bigger salary and/or benefits are not justification for geographical relocation.  Rarely does a person come out even financially in a major relocation.  Are you seeking new responsibilities that will stretch you and allow you to learn new things?  If so, you may have found a good reason to make a change.

A lay friend of mine recently commented, “The one thing I've found about the changes I've gone through in my life is that after I've gone through the change just how much I enjoyed the journey. It's always brought me closer to God and made me a better person.”

The journey is all about learning, growing, and making a difference.  If you are ready to enjoy the journey, you may be ready for a change.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Accepting Change

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to supervise a very gifted colleague. From time to time, I would suggest a project that might move him into a new area of responsibility or competency.  After one such conversation, he commented:  “Look out.  I’m about to be stretched again.”

Although some people thrive on change, most of us would say that we would rather avoid it.  We like things they way they are—comfortable, predictable, easily comprehended.  The reality of life, though, is that very few things are settled once and for all.  Children grow up, economic situations vary, sickness comes and organizations evolve.  Even if we don’t care for change, it is often forced upon us.

We may resist change, but getting out of a rut and doing something different may be the best thing that can happen to us.  I recently was given an iPad.  I probably would not have purchased one, but I must admit that I had been fascinated by the device for some time.  Getting used to the iPad has caused me to learn a new interface, a different way of manipulating information, and some new digital resources.  Quite honestly, it is a lot of fun!

Change may be forced upon us, but perhaps we can learn to look at it as a gift that opens new challenges and opportunities. At first we may feel a sense of loss and disorientation, but we can embrace it and learn what it has to teach us.  Only the love of God lasts forever; everything else changes.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Celebrating A Milestone!

Today’s post is number 500!  When I began writing this blog in June 2006, I was not sure what I was getting into.  My purpose then and now is summarized in my tag line:  Comments from a progressive Baptist Christian on things that matter to him.”  Over the course of five years, I have done just that.  I have written about the church, culture and society, digital media, organizational development, spiritual formation, education, space exploration, family, friends, and books that I have read.  I have used this venue to say good-bye to mentors who have gone to be with the Lord.  As you can see, my approach has been pretty eclectic and probably a bit uneven.

I have tried to be positive in what I have written, although I have undoubtedly offended someone from time to time.  I suppose that happens when your blog is a way to process your thinking about different subjects that get your attention.  As the politicians say, “If I have said anything that has offended you, I apologize.”  My intent is to offer a perspective and usually to be encouraging as I do so (thus the title of the blog).

Thanks to Google, I have more statistical information about my blog than I ever knew I needed.  For example, since June 2006, Barnabas File has generated 11,943 page views and counting.  Readers have come from the United States and 9 foreign countries.  Interestingly, I have had only a few direct comments, but the blog is synched with Facebook and most responses have come there.  I am often surprised to see who is reading my “stuff.”

Google even lets me see my “top ten” blogs.  The most viewed blog was “The Importance of Dialogue” with 265 hits.  This may say something about what my readers perceive as the greatest need where they are.  Other topics covered in the ten were lifestyles, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, women in ministry, theological education, public education, church life, and young adults in the church.  I cannot claim to be an expert in any of these areas, but I certainly have an interest in all.

Thanks to friends at, my readership has been greatly extended and this has undoubtedly generated many visitors to the site.   Central Seminary has generously picked up my “stuff” from time to time for their Facebook page and I now contribute regularly to the seminary’s website.

I want to thank those who take the time to read my random thoughts.  As Seth Godin said in his blog today, Writers write. If you want to be a writer, write.  The discipline of sitting down at the computer and writing has been good for me.  I am not sure what my next blog post will be about, but I promise you one is coming.

A New Battlefield

“We are not fighting against humans. We are fighting against forces and authorities and against rulers of darkness and powers in the spiritual world.” (Ephesians 6:12, CEV)  When the apostle Paul addressed these words to the believers at Ephesus, he was undoubtedly warning them of the unseen but very present forces that sought to attack them and undermine their faith.  The modern world has taken the battle with the unseen into a new arena. 

In an NPR broadcast this week, listeners learned that in the spring the Pentagon suffered large losses of sensitive data from its computers due to a cyberattack by a foreign government.  The report also stated:

At his Senate confirmation hearing last month, new Defense Secretary Leon Panetta cited "a strong likelihood that the next Pearl Harbor" could well be a cyberattack that cripples the U.S. power grid and financial and government systems. He said last weekend that cybersecurity will be one of the main focuses of his tenure at the Pentagon.

In an age so dependent on computer systems and digital technology, our nation must not only be prepared to defend itself on the ground, on the sea, in the air and in space but in cyberspace as well.  There are those who would take advantage of our dependence on our machines not only to steal from us but to threaten us physically as well.

We are reminded once again that the things we create are neither good nor evil.  These are moral standards that apply to how our creations are used.  The most beneficial devices can be used for evil intent.  A gun can be used to bring home food for the family or to kill a person.  We make the choice about its use.  The same is true of our digital devices.  They may be benign in and of themselves, but we must be careful that they are not used in malicious ways.

For a couple of decades, we have been aware that there are those who would use the Internet and our computers for their own purposes—pornography, theft, destruction of reputations, and gambling among other things.  While most of us use these devices for constructive personal and professional use, others find ways to turn them to other purposes and are usually the first to benefit financially from the abuse of new technology.  The choice is a human one with moral implications.

I am not suggesting that we wean ourselves off the Internet and our digital devices. I am saying that parents, homeowners, business people, educators, and church leaders must learn how to protect themselves, their loved ones, and their institutions from those who would use these conveniences to attack us.  There are “rulers of darkness and powers” who will use their digital knowledge to take advantage of us, so we must we wise, responsible and proficient as we live and work in this new world.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


In most situations, I prefer to work alone, but I long ago realized the value of collaborating with others in planning, learning, and implementation.  In recent days, I have had the opportunity both to give feedback and to receive it as I have collaborated with others on some projects.  My responses and those of others caused me to think about some key ingredients of successful collaboration.

First, we must listen to what people say.  If we really want to learn from others and benefit from their insights, we must listen without being defensive and value what they have to offer.  Even if they offer their ideas in a forceful or even critical tone, look for the truth there.

Second, we must learn to listen to what people don’t say.  Lack of response or avoidance of certain issues tell us something about the people in the group—their depth of investment, the level of their trust, and their vulnerability or lack thereof.  Perhaps there are some barriers that need to be uncovered or acknowledged.

Third, we must hold our own ideas loosely but protect them as well.  The image that comes to mind is retrieving a baby bird that has fallen from its nest.  We want to hold on to it so that we can get it to a place of safety but at the same time we want to avoid hurting it by asserting too much force.  In collaboration, we must be willing to negotiate about our ideas but make sure that they get a good hearing.

Fourth, we must be willing to learn from others.  If we are not, why would we waste our time working with them on the project?  We must believe they have something to offer or a stake in the project’s success or we would avoid collaborating with them.

Fifth, we must make a concerted effort to keep others informed with the appropriate facts, contextual concerns, and possible pitfalls. Another way to say this is, “Lay all your cards on the table.”  Practice full disclosure even when it may be uncomfortable.

Sixth, we must take the time to acknowledge new insights and to celebrate them.  When someone has given you a new perspective or idea, let them know and show your appreciation.  This will encourage them to do more of the same and model acceptance for some things you have to offer as well.

There are many other things to think about as we collaborate with others.  Working with a group on any project is a challenging but potentially rewarding task.  Perhaps you will add some ideas of your own to the list.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Going Home Again

I took my granddaughter and great-grandson on a ride down memory lane this past week (of course, my great-grandson slept through most of it).  We went to south Alabama to visit the graves of my parents and grandparents and also got in a trip to Gulf Shores and some good seafood at Wintzell’s Oyster House in Mobile. 

The city has changed a lot.  People continue to move out west, north, and east across the bay.  Despite significant investments of time and money, downtown and surrounding areas are inner city and are largely in decline.  There are some bright spots—new downtown hotels and convention center, efforts at restoration and preservation, and a growing arts community.

We drove past four places that were meaningful to me growing up—North Carolina Street where I spent my years from age 5 to 18, the church where I professed Christ and was ordained to the ministry, my old school, and the Mobile Public Library.  The house where I lived is long gone, lost to a massive urban renewal program some decades ago.  The church building where I spent so much time now houses an African-American congregation.  My parents were still there when Oakdale Baptist sold the facility to another congregation and merged with West End Baptist Church to become Government Street church (which has since relocated).  My school is still there, but it has grown so much that I hardly recognized it.  The library was largely the same, but the size has been doubled with a new addition and added parking lot.

All of these were defining places for me as a child.  First, the house provided a home where parents struggled to do their best for their child and taught him the faith that sustained them.  Second, the library was the place that provided the resources that nurtured my mind and imagination.  What I know about writing I learned from reading the books I found there provided by kindly and indulgent librarians.  Third, the church and its members provided a place for me to take my first steps in Christian leadership and discover my gifts for ministry.  Fourth, the school challenged me to do well and several instructors encouraged my love of history and reading.

There are no markers on any of those places to memorialize the influences I received there, but I know and I remember the people that made them important to me.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Leading an Effective Team

There is an old management axiom that goes, “What gets counted gets done.”  The idea behind this is we are intentional about those things that we know are going to be measured.  With rare exceptions, nothing worthwhile happens unless someone works to make it happen or chooses to become its “champion.”  This is true for effective leadership teams as well.

The desire for an effective team begins with a person.  This is usually the pastor or executive director of the organization but it may be a team member, a member of the board, or a church member.  If the initiative does not come from the leader of the team, he or she must not only buy into the concept but thoroughly embrace it.  The leader models the idea, nurtures its development, and intervenes to assure its survival.

Although the leader does not give up his or her leadership responsibility to the church or the organization, he or she will have to leave ego at the door and adopt the roles of advocate, facilitator, mentor, and coach.  The leader is still an essential part of the team because of the gifts that he or she brings to the table but, Max DePree says in Leadership Jazz, the leader becomes part of the jazz ensemble rather than the conductor of the symphony.

The most rewarding aspect of developing an effective leadership team is that, if it is done well, then the team members themselves will become its supporters and champions.  As they see the value of being part of this type of team, the team members will contribute to its success.  They will come to appreciate the opportunities for growth, service, and ministry such a team provides.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Building Team Commitment

As I began planning a workshop on team development, I contacted a number of pastors and church staff members and asked for observations about their own teams.  Here are two of the responses I received:
  •  “Our church staff team just doesn’t get along!”--A pastor in Georgia
  • “We just don’t seem to be on the same page.”—A church staff member in Tennessee
 Such responses indicated to me that an effective staff team requires mutual commitment to specific values and principles.   There must be a core around which the team members can grow, encourage each other, and serve their church or organization.   In the book Leading Congregational Change, I found this statement:  “Spiritual and relational vitality [provide] the life-giving power that faithful people experience together as they passionately pursue God’s vision for their lives.”  If a team is going to come together, they must build on a spiritual and relational core.

Spiritual vitality comes from several things.  First, there must be an acknowledgement that each member of the team is a child of God, gifted by God, and called by God to ministry.  Second, the team must be committed to times of corporate worship. This is most effective when team members take turns in leadership, offering some of their own insights and gifts to the experience.  Third, team members must pray for each other on a regular basis, both in team meetings and between meetings.

Relational vitality is not guaranteed simply by working together on common tasks.  The most effective teams are those in which members recognize their own strengths, their styles of communicating, and where they need help to be more effective.  The use of profiles like Peoplemap, DiSC or Strengths Finder can facilitate this discussion but they are only the beginning point for ongoing dialogue and learning.  Effective teams also make the time to fellowship and play, thus exposing other attributes of their personality as well as their interests.  Effective teams also “cover” for each other from time to time, reducing the stress that a member may be under due to personal or family circumstances.

The development of spiritual and relational vitality doesn’t just happen in a team but must be intentional.  This requires planning and commitment but the results are worth the effort.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Developing Team Members

Since each team member brings unique skills, gifts, and talents to a leadership team, he or she should not only be called upon to contribute those to the work of the team but be encouraged to develop them further. An effective leadership team provides a place where each member can both serve and grow and the church or organization usually provides challenges that foster that growth.

The development of team members requires a significant investment of resources, so why should the church or organization take the initiative to encourage such development?  There are several good reasons.

First, a staff member who is valued will be more engaged.  In his book The Dream Manager, Matthew Kelly points out that the real challenge for any organization is not turnover but engagement.  If someone is appreciated and effectively engaged, he or she will not only stay with the organization but will be motivated to do their best.

Second, if a staff member is respected and his or her personal development is encouraged, he or she will want to give back.  Kelly says, “If you take care of your people, they will take care of you.”  When individual know that they are appreciate, they want to reciprocate.

Third, as we develop “value-added” team members, we will add value to the church or organization.  As we model personal development for team members, we are affirming our desire that every member of our church or organization will seek to achieve their full potential in Christ. 

This personal staff development can take a number of forms.  The supervision provided each team member should embody this concept of development as well as service.  Intentional team building will facilitate the growth of each team member.  The church or organization must also be committed to providing the resources for ongoing learning experiences—educational materials, conference and seminar participation, coaching and mentoring, and formal degree programs.

Someone may raise an objection to this entire approach:  “What if they become so good that they outgrow us?”  This is a valid point, but an opportunity for the church to realize that it is not an island all to itself but part of the Kingdom of God.  Perhaps one of the church’s ministries is to equip and encourage leaders who will be able to invest their capabilities elsewhere and benefit other believers.    For an organization, whether it is faith-based or not, the opportunity to build leaders has immediate benefits but may result in its corporate culture being spread elsewhere at those leaders find other places of service.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Benefiting the Church

Effective leadership teams don’t exist for themselves, they exist to benefit their church or organization.  A team may enjoy being together and encouraging one another, but if they fail to serve the church, then they have failed.  There are a number of ways that an effective leadership benefits the church.

First, the team can help the church to achieve its mission. Of course, this assumes that the church knows what its mission is! If the church does not know its mission, perhaps the initial way that a team can serve the church is to help it discover and articulate that mission.

Second, they work with members of the church or organization to identify and pursue the actions that will move the church toward its mission, always being sensitive to the context in which the church finds itself, its resources (both known and undiscovered),  and the intervention of the Spirit.

Third, an effective leadership team equips persons as they seek to achieve the mission.  A leadership team should not be expected to do it all themselves.  They must constantly be discovering and equipping persons for ministry both inside and outside the walls of the church.  This action multiplies the work of the team and insures the continuity of the church.

Fourth, the leadership team is responsible to be good stewards of the resources placed at their disposal.  These include people, finances, property, equipment, and even digital resources.  This responsibility is not just to the people of the organization but to God as well.

Fifth, perhaps the greatest contribution that a leadership team can make is to dream and challenge members of the organization to dream.  Leaders are always seeking possibilities and encouraging others to discover them as well. 

In these and other ways, an effective leadership team is a blessing to its church.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Contributing to the Team

At the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly in Tampa, Molly Marshall, Anita Flowers, and I led an Essentials conference on “Developing an Effective Leadership Team.”   The participants came ready to learn and the energy in the group was good.  Those of us who facilitated the sessions shared some ideas, but we learned as well.

This is an important topic.  Most organizations including churches and not-for-profits are led by teams.  Many young adults are naturally drawn to the opportunity to work with others in a team setting.  Older adults may have had negative experiences in teams that cause them to resist being part of a team; they may have some unlearning to do to be good team members.  The effective functioning of the leadership team may well determine the success or failure of the entity; therefore we should spend more time developing effective leadership teams.  In order to do so, we need to embrace several basic assumptions.

The first assumption is that every staff member can make a unique contribution to the team.  Notice I said that every staff member “can” make a contribution; this does not guarantee that each staff member will.  Several things must occur for the team member to contribute.

The team member must want to be part of the team.  He or she must make a conscious decision that they want to be a contributing member of the group.  This cannot be forced by threats and cannot even be motivated by material rewards.  Wanting to be an integral part of the team is an internal decision by each member.

The team member must understand the mission of the team.  If he or she is confused about what the group is supposed to accomplish, the team member will be uncertain not only about where the team is going but the role that he or she is expected to play in that process.

The team member must fit the team.  Not matter how much the person wants to be part of the team or understands the mission, if the “fit” is wrong, then the team will not succeed.  Patrick Lencioni talks about “getting the right people on the bus.”  This means that their gifts, abilities, and commitments fulfill some need of the team.  If they don’t have what it takes to make a contribution, they need to find the place where they can be of more use to themselves and others.

Effective teams are made of people who want to be part of the team, know what is expected of them, and feel that they are in the right place at the right time.  When all of this happens, the stage is set for each member to contribute.  As 1 Corinthians 12:7 states,  “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

God and Caesar

Religion, sex, and politics can be divisive issues.  Jesus was asked questions about all of these topics.  The key political question is found in three of the four gospels:  Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?”  Like headline hungry reporters at a press conference, those who posed the question were looking for a “sound bite” that would be like raw meat thrown to the lions.  They wanted something that would rile either the Roman rulers or the faithful of Israel.  Whatever Jesus said, they would attempt to “spin it” in such as a way that Jesus would find himself in trouble. 

With some impatience, Jesus asked for a coin and replied:

[A]nd he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”  Caesar’s,” they replied.    Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”  (Matthew 22:20-21, NIV)

There is much that could be said about this response but one implication is the status of the believer as a citizen of two kingdoms.  First, there is the temporal government that makes demands and (hopefully) provides benefits for its citizens.  We are too prone to impose a 21st century American mindset on this situation.  The people of Palestine did not vote for their leaders.  They were not part of a democracy.  They paid taxes and, in return, found some stability and order under Roman rule.  They were a conquered people who were making the best of a bad situation.

Those of us who live in the United States of America have a very different situation.  We not only expect something from our taxes, we demand it!  When we don’t get what we want, we protest, organize, and vote.  This is does not mean that we will get what we desire, but we jealousy guard the right of dissent even when we might find it abused on some fronts. This is a citizenship that we cannot take lightly.  There are many who would take advantage of the openness and tolerance of our nation.  There are also many who take its benefits for granted.

On the other hand, Christians are citizens of the Kingdom of God which began to be manifested in this world with the coming of the Messiah.  Exactly what this means has led to conflict and bloodshed through the centuries.  Some have interpreted this to mean that the government should be subservient to the church, but too often political leaders have found ways to manipulate religious power for their own ends.  Many bloody wars have been fought by temporal leaders in the name of religion but for their own benefit.

Many of those who came to the North America in the 1600s were trying to escape some of that conflict but too often they sought to unite the temporal and the spiritual for their own ends.  In the 1700s and 1800s, some religious groups including Baptists took a stand for a new approach—a free church in a free state.  This was not an easy concept for many to accept then and many still bridle at the idea, attempting to rewrite history for their own personal and political ends.

Believers today are left with the tension of having dual citizenship.  Sometimes this may create a crisis of conscience for an individual.  It may even bring a person of strong conviction in conflict with the law of the land.  In such situations, we turn back to the words of Jesus.  What belongs to God and what belongs to Caesar?  The answer is not always as clear as some would like for it to be.