Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Missional or Attractional?

Choir at Olive Branch Fellowship, MS
When those who care talk about church growth and development today, two terms are tossed around—“missional” and “attractional.”   In very simple terms, a missional church is one that understands that it exists to be part of the mission of God and that a significant part of that mission is outward focused.  In fact, sometimes the term “externally focused” is used for this approach.  This is the “go and tell” emphasis. The attractional church is concerned about what goes on within its walls or within the faith community and seeks ways to bring people in or attract them to the church meetings.  This is the “come and hear” emphasis.

Traditional church growth efforts have tended to be about attracting the unchurched through special events, unique ministries, and quality worship.  In recent years, the missional orientation has arisen as a corrective to this methodology by challenging Christians to look outside their fellowship and be on mission for God.   Usually these two are juxtaposed to one another and the dichotomy is emphasized.  Perhaps the healthier attitude is “both/and” rather than “either/or.”

Churches do want people to come to regular times of worship, nurture, and fellowship.  This is focus of Hebrews 10:25—worshipping, equipping, and encouraging one another.  On the other hand, if we are to be the salt and light that Jesus called us to be (Matthew 5:13-16), believers must be present and active in the world.   

Writers like Findley Edge and Eddie Hammett introduced me to the terminology of “the gathered and scattered church,” but this seems to be the way that the people of God functioned in the New Testament.  They went about their daily business, sharing their witness through their lives and helping others.  Sometimes the “scattering” was involuntary as they suffered persecution.  No matter what they did in the world or where they found themselves, they always made gathering for worship, prayer, and encouragement a priority and they invited those that they encountered in their daily walk to join in their fellowship.

An over-emphasis on one or the other is unhealthy.  We have often seen some version of this sign in churches:  “Gather to worship; depart to serve.”  This is still the Kingdom way.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Unified But Not Uniform

In the current issue of Outreach Magazine, Pastor Bobby Gruenewald of suggests four themes in the future of the church.  One of the themes he identifies is, “The church of the future will become more unified.”  Gruenewald believes that as the church of the 21st century realizes that there are many other belief systems and philosophies that offer various paths to God, Christians will come together around the lordship of Christ and become “more like the church Jesus started.”

I might argue that Jesus really started a movement not a church, but I understand what Gruenewald is saying and agree with the sentiment.  Followers of Christ, no matter what their backgrounds, should be able to find their commonalities as they address the needs of the world.  This can only be a good thing.  Making a commitment to overlook the secondary differences that divide us and find ways to work together in mission and ministry can only bless the Kingdom of God.  However, if Gruenewald thinks that this will mean we will more uniform in the way we do church, he is missing the real point of unity.

We are too far down the path of contextualized ministry to expect everyone to do things the same way.  If anything, we have learned that by sharing the gospel in many different ways, we can reach many more people for God.  Although each person has a common need for God, the way in which God speaks to that person is unique.  Believers are called to join with others in worship and ministry, but this can still lead to a great deal of diversity in practice and belief among worshipping communities.

As Christians learn to work together, they build up and encourage one another.  This is especially true when we share our various experiences and learn from one another.  There are several blessings that will come as we learn to respect one another’s differences even as we find new ways to work together.

First, we will develop a greater appreciation of the rich worship experiences practiced by those of different ethnic backgrounds.  These experiences embody the struggles and victories of God’s people down through the ages.

Second, we will come to see that those of a different economic background will perceive God’s action in the world in a variety of ways.  This provides a different theological lens by which to interpret scripture.

Third, we will recognize that as Christians from various cultures work to reform their societies, they often adopt methodologies that may seem strange to us, but we will also find that we can learn some lessons from their strategies.

Fourth, we will understand that in the global church each tradition has something to offer that enriches the whole Body of Christ.  We will come to really understand that the church is more than the sum of its individual parts.

Although we are called to serve the same God, we bring our own unique experiences to that service.  Effective service in the Kingdom of God is based on faithfulness not conformity.  We can learn much from one another. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

“I Have Sinned”

 According to an Associated Press story, Kansas House Speaker Mike O’Neal has apologized for an e-mail he sent earlier this month where he quoted Psalm 109:8 in reference to President Obama:  “May his days be few; may another take his place of leadership.” The next verse (which he did not quote) says, “May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow.”

O’Neal apologized last week, saying he did not intend to offend anyone. He said the Bible verse was meant to call for Obama to be defeated in the upcoming election. His response included this statement: “I understand the debate over the verse interpretation, about which I have explained and for which I have repeatedly apologized to the extent anyone misconstrued my intent or was otherwise offended.”

Speaker O’Neal has adopted what has become the response when one commits an error.  Basically the speaker is saying, “If you were offended by what I said, I am sorry that you interpreted what I said in such a way that you offended.”  In other words, the problem is not with the one who committed the offense but the one who was offended.

Although his original statement was inappropriate and offensive in itself, O’Neal is in good company in the way that he phrased his “apology.”  How many public leaders, celebrities, and church leaders have we heard say the same thing—putting the problem on the one who challenged the offender’s actions rather than taking responsibility for those actions?

When David took Bathsheba for himself and then orchestrated the death of her husband, the prophet Nathan confronted him with his sin.   The King’s response?  “Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” (2 Samuel 12:13)  David did not say, “Nathan, if my actions have offended you, I’m sorry.”  He acknowledged his grievous mistakes and owned the burden of his sin.  Further study will indicate that this is not the only time that David acknowledged when he did wrong in the sight of God.  He embraced his sinful humanity and sought God’s forgiveness more than once.

Whether the crime is murder or calling for another's death, the one who pursues either has made an error.  It is never easy for anyone to say, “I’m sorry for my sin,” or “I made a mistake.”  This is especially difficult for a leader.  But the inability to acknowledge one’s errors in judgment or morality will always be a burden to the person who will not accept personal responsibility.  Admitting a mistake is painful but it is the first step in reestablishing one’s credibility.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Knowing When to Change

In Great by Choice, Jim Collins and Morten Hansen make this observation:

“Conventional wisdom says that change is hard.  But if change is so difficult, why do we see more evidence of radical change in the less successful comparison cases [in the research study]?  Because change is not the most difficult part.  Far more difficult than implementing change is figuring out what works, understanding why it works, grasping when to change, and knowing when not to.”

This is a significant finding and one that those of us in the church should reflect on!  We realize that change is necessary at times, especially if something is no longer effective.  Too often we spend time propping up things that no one really wants to support.  But if something is basically sound, productive, and has a committed core of support, we should not rush to change it.

A pastor friend once proposed that his church cease Sunday night services because only a few people showed up and the service required several hours of staff preparation each week.  He had a visit from a delegation of upset church members urging that the service continue.  He asked the group, “Will you come regularly if we continue this service?”  The consensus reply was, “We can’t make that kind of commitment.”  The pastor then asked, “Then why should we do this service?”  One person summed up the group’s attitude:”Well, we just want to know that it’s there if we decide to come.”

We don’t need to continue those things that have outlived their usefulness and in which people are no longer invested.  This is not a matter of numbers but of effectiveness.  There are things that are going well in our churches and some that would go even better if we tweaked them a bit.  Adjustments in time, leadership, format, or preparation could make a great difference. 

Perhaps the key question is, “Is this building up the kingdom of God?”  If the answer is “No,” it is time to change.  If the answer is “Yes,” let’s get on with it and do it well.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Serve to Lead

In his commentary The Early Christians Letters for Everyone, N. T. Wright provides a wonderful insight on what it means to be a servant leader.  His comment is based on these verses:

“I have a special concern for you church leaders. I know what it's like to be a leader, in on Christ's sufferings as well as the coming glory. Here's my concern: that you care for God's flock with all the diligence of a shepherd. Not because you have to, but because you want to please God. Not calculating what you can get out of it, but acting spontaneously. Not bossily telling others what to do, but tenderly showing them the way.”  (1 Peter 5:1-3, The Message)

Wright points out that such leadership is not based on knowledge but practice.  He says, “I would rather belong to a group or a fellowship where the ‘leader’ had no idea about ‘leadership,’ but was out-and-out committed to God and to the gospel, than one where the person in charge had done three or four courses on ‘leadership’ but found it left little time for studying scripture and for praying.”

The point is that real leadership comes out of the practices of one’s life—both internal and external.  The best leader doesn’t think so much about what to do but who he or she is becoming in relation to God.  This requires taking the time to gain the eternal perspective, patience, and insight provided by spiritual practices. As a result, the leader is prepared to do what is necessary to serve others.  The “doing” comes out of the “being.” 

In the course I teach for Central Seminary entitled “Formation for Christian Ministry,” we probably spend more time on spiritual practices than on the techniques of being a minister.  We learn about spiritual disciplines, keep a journal, and learn to reflect on where our stories intersect with the story of God.  We also do some personality inventories that help us to understand our natural tendencies in work, communication, and interaction with others, but I hope we always interpret the resulting insights through the lens of what it means to be a fully committed follower of Christ.  As we know who we are in relation to God, we become people God can use.   I agree with Wright (and Peter) that this is the path to true leadership.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Becoming an Organic Church

In discussing church development, we often categorize churches by size.  The most common taxonomy is Family size (1 to 50 participants); Pastoral size (51 to 150 participants); Program size (151 to 350); and Corporation size (351 plus).  Now this may seem a little artificial and there are other ways of addressing church size especially in relation to transition, but such categories are useful tools in considering how churches go about organizing themselves and functioning as they grow in number of participants.

We often think about the barriers that churches encounter as they move from one size or stage to another.  One of the most difficult transitions takes place when the church moves for the pastoral to the program stage.  In the pastoral stage, everything generally flows through one person—the pastor.  This does not mean that the pastor makes all the decisions, but he or she is usually the nexus of the community with lay or part-time staff members leading the church activities and ministries.  In the program model, there is an amalgam of groups, activities, etc., with leadership provided more by full-time paid staff or empowered lay members.  The pastor becomes the “up front” person and coordinator of all these functions.

A friend and I were discussing the transition from a pastoral size congregation to one with more diverse leadership and ministries.  Neither of us was very satisfied with the “program” label since we both agree with Reggie McNeal’s idea that a missional church leaves behind program development and concentrates on people development.  We started talking in terms of an “organic” stage. (I know that there are those who have an organic approach to church starting and development which emphasizes a grass-roots effort to reach non-believers, disciple them, and grow them into church leaders.  We are not talking about that concept.)

We are talking about the church that is ready to grow beyond the pastor stage, develop the systems necessary for healthy church functioning, and then allowing them to work.  The idea, of course, comes from the human body with its various systems—the digestive system, the respiratory system, the circulatory system, the nervous system, the reproductive system, the skeletal system, etc.  The church has various systems as well—the worship/praise system, the pastoral care system, Christian formation/nurture system, the outreach system, the assimilation system, the social ministry system, the management system, and so forth.   I am not interested in providing analogies between these various systems and those of the human body.  I will leave that task to others.  The point I make here is that a growing church is made up of a number of interdependent systems just as a healthy body is made up of various interdependent systems.

In a healthy body as in a healthy church, each system has a purpose.  Just as Paul wrote about the importance of each part of the body (1 Corinthians 12), each system in the human body carries out its specific function--providing locomotion, oxygen, resources for cell replacement,  or energy.  In the church each system carries out a necessary function like member assimilation or drawing members closer to God through worship.

In the body, systems are expected to work together and complement one another.  Paul also writes of the interdependence of the parts of the body.  In a healthy human body, there are major problems when systems do not work with each other.  Lack of coordination of the bodily systems can lead to death!
One of the interesting things about systems both in the body and in the church is that we rarely think of them or even notice them when they are functioning properly.  When was the last time you stopped and thought about breathing (although you will now that I mentioned it) or digestion (unless you have a stomach ache)?  The same is true of the church.  Most of us expect the doors to be opened on Sunday morning, the lights on, the choir or praise band in place, a planned time for worship, and a good biblical message.  When we refer someone to the pastor for counseling or to the appropriate staff member for a particular need, we expect that ministry to be available.  We don’t think about these various components unless something misfires.

Realistically, we realize that a healthy body and a healthy church don’t just happen.  Human bodies only grow if they function properly by getting the care and resources they need.  The same is true for churches; they require intentional care and ample resources to move from the pastoral level to the organic level.  When everything works together, the church is a wonderful thing!

So, what’s a good alternative name for the corporation church?  I will be thinking about that one.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

What Ever Happened to . . .?

I cannot remember when I last used a Kodak product. On the occasions when I get photos printed from a memory stick at the local drug store (which seems less and less frequently), I have found that they do not use Kodak photographic paper but a Japanese product.  Even so, it came as something of a surprise when I heard the National Public Radio story stating that the Eastman Kodak Company was selling off its patents to produce revenue and was contemplating Chapter 11 bankruptcy filling.

The 131- year-old company was such an American icon that it gave us a phrase that we have all used—“This is a Kodak moment.”  I can remember when my folks bought me a simple Kodak black and white camera for me when I was in elementary school so I can take pictures of family and friends.  I moved on to an 8 millimeter Kodak movie camera and created my own masterpieces.  I used Kodak film to take 35 mm slides while I was in Vietnam and still have a dozen metal cases containing hundreds of those little pasteboard squares emblazoned with the Kodak logo.  But things changed.

The company faced significant changes in the marketplace--Instant photography, cut rate film from Japan, digital photography—and failed to respond or adapt to these challenges. Was it hubris, bad choices, or ignorance that did the photographic giant in?  Perhaps a combination of all three and more.

Many commentators are asking if the Kodak debacle might have lessons for the church.  Will people wake up one day and realize that they can’t remember the last time they have walked into a church and it has not really made any difference to them?  Will those of us who love the church come to realize that we are no longer connected to the real needs of the world around us?  Is there a danger that we may come to the point that we think that what we do is indispensable and that there will always be a “market” for the Christian faith, so why change?

I won’t try to answer those questions, but they do give me reason to stop and reflect.

A New Approach to Church Development

Over the last 50 years, a number of consulting firms have emerged with a primary focus on church development.  Organizations emphasizing capital development (fund-raising) were in the vanguard, but many others have emerged, especially as denominations have down-sized the services offered to local congregations.  These new groups offer strategic planning support, conflict management, search committee orientation, leadership training and other services to churches, judicatories and faith-based organizations.

Many of these consulting firms have not only taken the place of denominational entities, but they have generally adopted the programs and processes of those denominational entities. In other words, they are simply building on and repackaging old techniques.  Although providing worthwhile services, they have remained mired in the old denominational mindset of bigger is better.  They have generally adopted an organizational, mechanistic approach to church development.

A new type of church consulting firm has emerged in the last twenty years.  This type of firm recognizes the importance of personal development, spiritual formation, and relationships in church development.  Very often their leaders have come out of a counseling and pastoral care background.   They would tend to agree with the idea at the heart of Patrick Lencioni’s book Getting Naked: A Business Fable about Shedding the Three FearsThat Sabotage Client Loyalty.  He contends that relationships are at the core of effective consulting and that the most effective consultant is one who adopts an approach of vulnerability and humility.  This person recognizes that he or she has as much to learn as they have to teach.

This new type of church consultant has adopted a relational model of church development.  This approach is seen in the way that this consultant operates. He or she seeks to facilitate communication among leaders, congregational members, and God.  One approach used to facilitate such communication is appreciative inquiry—encouraging the telling of stories and experiences so that people can identify commonalities, strengths, and successes.

Another part of this consultant’s work is to lead a congregation in spiritual discernment.  This requires taking the time to listen to one another and for the voice of God through prayer, reflection, and worship. In addition, the consultant recognizes the value of developing groups to not only identify what needs to be done but to provide accountability.

The relational consultant may employ coaching techniques to develop leaders or to assist groups to follow through on their decisions.  As in any coaching relationship, the coaching consultant realizes that he or she does not have the answers, the client or clients do.  The consultant provides direction, insight, and action by asking good questions.

Very often the relational consultant helps client churches and organizations to pursue strategic capability rather than strategic planning.  Strategic or long-range planning takes a lot of time. Once it is done, the church is often too tired to pursue the plan or it finds that the context has changed in such a way as to make the plan obsolete.  The relational consultant helps the church to discover what it does best and to marshal all the resources to pursue those opportunities.

Some will dismiss this approach as too “touchy feely,” but the relational consultant knows that he or she is in the people development business.  Programs come and go, but empowered people keep on making a difference.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Time for a Change in Organizational Life?

I once worked with an associate who said that whenever I walked into his office with a certain smile on my face his first thought was,  “I am about to be stretched again.”  Flexing our physical, mental, and spiritual muscles to reach that which is just beyond easy grasp requires that we intentionally invite change into our lives.  Some coaches encourage clients to adopt “stretch goals” that are a little beyond their reach and will call for focused personal development.  How does this apply to organizations and churches?

My experience is that most pastors inherently have this “stretch reflex.”  All entrepreneurs do.   By their very nature, these leaders see the potential in their church members individually and collectively.  They also see the needs of the community and the world.  Therefore, pastors instinctively want to stretch their people in new directions. This is change and often means pain!

Leaders of other organizations recognize that the climate in which they work is in a constant state of flux and they will either change or die.   A little pain is the cost not only of survival but of success.

Change happens when someone acknowledges that there is a clear gap between reality and vision--where we are now and where we want to be.  A stretched rubber band is a good analogy.  If you loop a rubber band around your two  hands and then begin to move them apart, you will feel some tension. To apply this to the work of a visionary leader, the leader provides just enough tension to create some discomfort without snapping the rubber band.  This requires knowing both the quality of the material and how fair it will stretch.  If we go too far there is a problem and we loose the whole thing.

If you say this is more of an art than a science, I would certainly agree.  It is one thing to “cast a vision” or work with a church or organizational team to develop a vision statement.  It is quite another thing to create the tension that moves the congregation or organization into the change that has been envisioned.

Casting vision is one way to encourage congregational or organizational change, but this process usually only happens after the congregation or organization has already become aware of the need for change.  This may come as the result of seeing what others are doing, membership decline, change within the community surrounding the church, differing priorities among the leaders of the organization, or conflict within the congregation.  Occasionally, the impetus to change comes from a growing awareness of the biblical mandate to ministry in the name of Jesus to an underserved people group, to refocus from internal needs to external needs, or to shift from program development to people development.

Whatever the cause, an awareness develops that not only can we be more as individuals in our service to God but that we can do more for the Kingdom of God if we are willing to take the risks, experience the tension, and make sacrifices required.  When this happens, it is time to either change or die.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Time for a Change in My Personal Life?

A friend once said, “The only one who wants change is a wet baby.”  From personal experience, I know that is not true.  A pre-potty trained child would often rather run around with a full diaper than have it changed!  I think it is safe to say that few of us really desire change, not matter what our age.

Sometimes change is thrust upon us, but very often we have control over whether we will change or “make a change” or not.  So how do you know then it is time for change?  Let me address first personal change and, in the next blog, organizational change.  What are some signs that we need to make changes in our lives?

Perhaps the most common motivation for change is fear. Some would question that this is an effective motivator, but fear of loss or impending death can be very motivational even if negative in nature.  When a person is told by his or her physician that some life style changes are in order to avoid incapacity or death, only the foolish person will ignore such advice.  If one finds himself or herself in a situation that threatens bodily or emotional harm for self or others, change is mandatory.   In fact, if we know that minors are in danger of physical or sexual abuse, we are compelled by law to take action.

Another reason for change is personal discomfort.  If our circumstances are such that we are uncomfortable to the point of not being able to function properly, we are usually motivated to make change.  This may come as the result of participation in a workplace setting, a personal relationship, or a group, but when we dread facing a particular person or situation and we cannot resolve our discomfort, we must consider some type of change as an option.

On a more positive level, we might seek change as part of a vision for a better future for ourselves or others.  Parents often grieve over their children leaving home to go to college, enter the military, or take a job in another city and young adult children may feel some of that apprehension as well, but both face this change as part of the “leaving the nest” process that will hopefully led the child into a place of independence in society.  From these momentary sacrifices and discomfort one expects to see some reward.

Another positive motivator of change is an awareness that one’s gifts and skills might be used more effectively in another situation.  Even if one is relatively comfortable in the present place of service or employment, he or she may come to realize that there is a situation that needs what the individual has to offer.  This assumes, of course, that a person is sufficiently self-aware to know what they do best.

The good news is that there are people who can help us through these changes.  They may be friends, family, and colleagues who do so on an informal basis.  We can also call on professionals like ministers, physicians, counselors, and coaches to assist as we walk through life changes. 

Whatever the impetus for change, it is a necessary part of our lives.

Monday, January 02, 2012

What Motivates Baptists to Work Together?

When I was a Baptist campus minister, I often attended meetings where speakers said, “Missions is what holds Southern Baptists together.”  Missions was proclaimed as the primary motivator for working together and some would even proclaim that Southern Baptist missions was “God's Last and Only Hope” (the title of a book by Bill Leonard) to “save the world.”


Historically, missions has been a great motivator for Baptists.  The Southern Baptist Convention was born out of disagreement over who could be a denominationally supported missionary; missions was more important than one’s views on owning slaves.  “Save the missionaries” was the rallying call for the creation of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.  In churches where people disagree about everything from the style of worship to the color of the carpet, missions support has been a key unifying factor. 

I am not sure this is still the case.  When church members have the freedom to choose where their mission dollars will go, the choice may tend to divide rather than unite.  Which group will provide our mission speakers?  What mission curriculum will we use?  Who will our church partner with to do mission trips?  In recent years, churches that once gave a tenth of their budgets to cooperative mission endeavors have both cut that amount and decided to use mission dollars for projects that the church controls.  Members have taken note and exercise more control over where their contributions go, often supporting causes with no denominational affiliation.

So if missions no longer motivate us to work together, what does?  Although we say that Baptists agree on soul competency, priesthood of all believers, separation of church and state, and Bible freedom, I think we all know this depends on which Baptist you happen to be talking to at the moment.  As one friend commented recently, “It seems to me that the challenge is that what identifies us as Baptists . . . doesn’t do a lot for others.  Most of those we would like to reach could care less about these [things].”  Orthodoxy—right belief-- no longer seems to be a motivator.

So what is the alternative?  Perhaps it is orthopraxy—right practice.  On my best days, I think that Robert Parham of may have the best idea, calling together “Good will Baptists” who can unite around Luke 4:18-21:

 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, 
   because he has anointed me 
   to proclaim good news to the poor. 
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners 
   and recovery of sight for the blind, 
to set the oppressed free, 
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him.  He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

In other words, perhaps we can be motivated to work together by the mission that Jesus claimed for himself and, by implication, his church.  In using this passage in connection with the New Baptist Covenant meetings, leaders were trying to find common ground for all Baptists, but these words are appropriate not just for Baptists but for all Christians.  And that may not be a bad thing.
So what holds Baptists together?  What do you think?

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Looking in Two Directions

Our preacher this morning pointed out that in ancient Roman mythology Janus is the god of beginnings and transitions.   He is usually depicted as a two-faced god since he looks to the future and the past; therefore, the first month of the year is named January.  This is a time when we reflect on the past year by producing top ten lists of the “best of” while setting goals and making resolutions for the coming year.

During 2011, I had plenty of opportunities to reflect on the past as I attended funerals of friends and colleagues who have meant a great deal in my life.  Although there is always much to celebrate in the lives of these individuals, funerals are also times of nostalgia, seeing old friends, and thinking about both blessings and opportunities missed.

Looking forward is an opportunity to consider possibility and promise.  I find that I do this as I watch my grandchildren grow, learn, and encounter new experiences.  I often wonder how the world they live in will differ not only from the one in which I grew to maturity, but the world of today.  I also reflect on the future as I work with seminary students.  Whether they are mature learners or young adults, I am inspired by the potential that I see in them for ministry.

This year Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is looking in two directions.  CBF will continue to celebrate its past—twenty years of existence—and take at least two significant steps into the future.  At the General Assembly in Fort Worth in June, participants will receive the report of the 2012 Task Force that will recommend how the Fellowship will function in coming years.  Most observers also expect that someone to succeed Executive Coordinator Daniel Vestal will be selected by that time.  As a person who invested over ten years in the work of the Fellowship as coordinator of the Tennessee Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, I feel that I have a stack both in the past and in the future of CBF.

The Fellowship stands at a defining point.  As much as we value what has happened in the last twenty years, the successes of the past make little difference in meeting the challenges of today and tomorrow.  So we look back and celebrate the past, but we open our eyes to present realities and pray for wisdom to address the needs of the churches and the world in effective and meaningful ways.

As the preacher pointed out this morning, there is joy in anticipation and in seeking, but this means that we must let go of the familiar in the process.  That is both exhilarating and scary!

The Journey that Never Ends

Once upon a time a person found a job (or position, if you wish) in a particular company and stayed in that system (hopefully with some promotions) for forty plus years then retired.  I think it is pretty evident that is no longer the reality in which we live.  Most people change not only their jobs but their careers several times in their lifespan, and the frequency of this is increasing.

The number of career changes one can expect is unclear and some of this is based on definitions but the figures generally range from three andseven times in one’s lifespan. By my personal estimate, I have had five careers—U.S. Army officer, campus minister (in three locations), denominational administrator (in two different settings), educator, and life coach.  Granted that I would consider most of these under the overall theme of Christian ministry, the responsibilities, preparation, knowledge, and skills for each is different enough to classify each of these as different “careers.”

I think that the average person can expect to have a number of jobs and/or vocations in the 21st century.  Even if you have the same position (which is unlikely), your responsibilities will change with the needs of the organization and your developing abilities.

The challenge of the 21st century is that most of the careers or positions available now did not exist even ten years ago.  Some of the titles of new positions assembled by Fast Company magazine are interesting and exotic. Here are some samples: Director of Emerging Thought,  Chief Imagination Officer,  Visual Executive Officer (VEO),  Minister of Enlightenment, Insight and Futuring Manager, and  Chief Academic Officer (of a business).  Social media consultant Randy Schrum offers the following:  Social Media Consultant and Services, Google Listings and Mobile Web Ranking Services, and Online Reputation Management Services. 

Of course, most positions will not be as unusual as these, but there are some interesting new positions in fields we encounter daily that are created as various disciplines intersect. For example, in health care there are positions that link statistics with health, biological studies, and pharmaceutical research.  There are career counselors that work especially with people who have disabilities.  Physicians, physicists, and engineers are working together in new ways that are sure to produce new job specialties.

Even in the church, we can expect to see some creative expressions of ministry both within and outside the local church.  Many ministers with an entrepreneurial spirit are developing new combinations that link social service, worship, counseling and Christian formation.

How does one prepare for this dynamic future?  No matter what happens, I believe that there are certain skills that will serve a person well as they adapt to career change.

First, each of us should cultivate our communication skills, both written and oral.  Granted that much of the Internet culture is based on images and texting has set accurate spelling back a hundred years, the ability to put together understandable sentences and paragraphs to convey ideas is still important. 

Second, the greatest challenge that many face today is to develop and practice good relational skills.  This should be attributed entirely to the Internet and the online gaming culture.  Too often organizations have adopted a “silo” approach that has isolated people and made them experts in their own areas with little need for others.  Even introverts can and must learn to work well with others.

Third, a person needs to be able not only to read but to comprehend, analyze, and apply.  Books are plentiful and written material is readily available on the Internet, but one must be able not only to read the material but to determine its accuracy and usefulness.  Just because it is in print does not make it a fact.  No matter what your job, the ability to understand and critique written material will be vital in an age of information overload.

Fourth, everyone needs some basic organizational skills.  I will admit that this does not come naturally to some people, but being able to pay one’s bills, find important papers and keep appointments makes life easier!  Perhaps the most important of these organizational skills is personal time management—learning to put time into those things that are really important to our overall health and happiness.

Fifth, although some will not want to hear this, a person will find it difficult to function in today’s society without some digital skills.  Using computers, Smartphones, and Internet-connected devices comes easier to some of us than to others, but if one fails to learn at least some basic skills in using these tools, he or she will have a difficult time pursuing any profession.

Although the job situation will continue to evolve, the person who identifies his or her abilities, develops appropriate skills, and persists in the search will be able to find useful and remunerative work . . . or create their own!