Thursday, April 26, 2012

What’s Your People Strategy?

Seth Godin is a creative thinker; he is “creative” because his ideas are not only unique but useful as well (the true definition of “creative”).  In a recent blog, he points out that businesses do not have a telephone strategy or an email strategy or a web strategy.  They have a people strategy.  He comments, “We still have one and only one thing that matters, and it’s people.”  All of these other things are tools or conduits that connect us to people.
My immediate response was to think about how this applies to the church.  We may use different terminology but when we talk about outreach, Christian education, missions, or financial growth, we are talking strategies.  The unfortunate part is that we often neglect to realize that we really need to be talking about people.
Our outreach is to people—living, breathing, needy individuals—who may benefit from being part of the body of Christ.  Our Christian education is meant to develop people as believers who will “love God and serve God forever.”  Our mission initiatives mobilize and empower people to serve others.  Our financial campaigns should be about people becoming good stewards of the resources that God has placed in their hands.
Whenever we gather to discuss how we are going to do something as a church, we should be thinking about how it impacts the lives of people.  Rick Warren did something like this when he launched Saddleback Community Church.  He visualized “Saddleback Sam”—a person with specific needs and challenges.  Of course, “Sam” was a construct, but he was a stand-in for all the people in the area that the church might reach and disciple.  Warren’s question was always, “What will this mean for Saddleback Sam?”
Too often when we began planning, we think about what our work will do for “the church.”  In this case, “the church” often means the institutional church made up of programs, buildings, budgets, and staff.  What if we began instead with the question, “What will this do for people?”  Our perspective will change radically.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Consistent Pro-Life Ethic

Consistency is not expected and rarely honored in politics, but I have to admire the ethical consistency of Mike Flood, the Republican speaker of the Nebraska legislature.  Flood has been criticized by his fellow Republican, Governor Dave Heineman, for supporting a plan to offer state medical assistance to pregnant women who are in the United States illegally.

Gov. Heineman, a strong opponent of abortion, says this action is tantamount to supporting illegal immigration.  Flood counters that “you have a baby’s life and health in the balance.” He thinks this is important.  Of course, Heineman understands this, but he believes that churches and private charities rather than the state should take care of pregnant women who have entered the country illegally.  He cares but not too much!

But I digress.  I want to honor Mike Flood and his supporters in the legislature for understanding two things:  first, if you are against abortion, you should be in favor of caring for the mothers and babies who cannot afford their medical care; second, when people are in need and at your front door, you care for them and don’t send them on their way with a “be warmed and filled.”

If women choose to carry their children to term, they should receive medical care whether they can afford it or not.  Those who support life in utero should support life after birth.  Children should not suffer for their parents’ actions.  This is part of a pro-life ethic and what one should expect in an enlightened society. 

And then there is capital punishment, but I won’t go there . . .

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Growing Agile Leaders: A Tool for Engagement

If you follow this blog, you know that I am high on Bob Dale’s book, Growing Agile Leaders:  Coaching Leaders to Move with Sure-Footedness in a Seismic World, available in both hard copy and Kindle formats.  This is a book about coaching.  Dale looks to Co-Active Coaching for this definition:  “Coaching is a growth-oriented, strategic relationship.  Coaching links two peers, equals who are in distinct roles, to collaborate as thought partners and to find the way forward for the person being coached.”  This book is written for the two participants in a coaching conversation—leaders who are ready to address their situation in order to move ahead and coaches who work with them.

The underlying theme of the book is that we live in an increasingly unstable world.  In order to find our way in such a world, we must develop new skills and ways of thinking.  Dale has a high regard and respect for leaders, but he also realizes that a leader needs a companion for the journey,   “thought partner” who will both challenge and support the leader.

For leaders, the book helps to clarify the situations they find themselves in and to examine some tools that will move them beyond those situations.  Even the best of leaders, those who have survived and prospered in the past, often find themselves in rapidly changing situations that demand a new way of thinking.  I recently facilitated an online coaching group of pastors, each facing challenging situations.  One pastor was moving his congregation out of a facility they had sold to an adjoining business and were moving into a temporary location in a school.  Another was considering what his impending retirement would mean both to him and his church.  The third was in the middle of a capital campaign and working with his staff to establish a third worship service.  Although each person’s challenge was different, they were all dealing with significant change with many components that they did not create and that they could not control!  These leaders are dealing with seismic changes.

For coaches, the book takes the coaching relationship to another level.  I have described this book to some friends as a “second level” coaching book.  There is some attention to the fundamentals of the coaching conversation, but Dale provides questions, concepts and resources that move coaching to another level.  Each discipline Dale introduces provides a new lens to examine the client’s abilities, situation, and response. He drops in some family systems theory, “whole brain thinking,” creativity concepts, and insights from a number of other disciplines to provide new perspectives to the coach.  As the coach embraces these perspectives, he or she can help the client to think about their situation in new ways that can be tremendously productive. 

Whether you are a leader or a coach, Growing Agile Leaders will be a good resource for you as you face a rapidly changing world.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

In Memoriam

Seven people have served as coordinator of the Tennessee Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in its 20 year history—Lloyd Householder, Bill Junker, Monty Jordan, Lila Boyd, Don Dixon, Terry Maples, and myself. Three of these friends have gone on to be with the Lord during the past year—Lloyd, Bill, and Monty. Last night at the 20th anniversary meeting of the Tennessee CBF General Assembly, I had the opportunity to lead the congregation in a time of remembrance for these three leaders.

I was privileged to know all of these men and call them friends before they became part of the CBF movement.  I first met Bill Junker when I was a college student.  We later became colleagues in collegiate ministries, and he asked me to write my first published work for The Student magazine.  Lloyd Householder, an innovative and creative communicator for Baptist causes, was also a committed denominational statesman who tackled big projects like Mission 70, a young adult conference that pulled together the resources of many agencies. Monty Jordan served as pastor and leader in Tennessee Baptist life.  I always looked forward to seeing him and Diane at Executive Board meetings at Brentwood.

Each brought their unique gifts to a cause they loved—the work of free and faithful Baptists.  Their examples and commitment have been an encouragement to all of us who have followed them.  As I think about the future of Tennessee Cooperative Baptist Fellowship specifically and CBF generally, I wonder what advice they would give as we begin our third decade?  I don’t know what they would say, but humor me as I speculate a bit.

I think that Bill Junker would tell us, “Remember ‘the least of these’ as you plan your ministry.”  Bill never sought a fight, but he did not shrink from one.  He would want us to be prophetic and bold.  He loved people and responded to their need.

Lloyd Householder would pat us on the shoulder and tell us, “Don’t be afraid to try something new.”  Lloyd displayed a quiet and confident willingness to step out in faith and embrace ideas that would move the church forward.  He was not afraid of the new or untried.

Monty Jordan would remind us, “Caring community is important.”  To the best of my knowledge, Monty was the only one of these three men who spent most of his life in the pastorate.  He cared for people, walked alongside them during times of need, and brought that same compassion to the work of Tennessee Baptists.  He would remind us to care for one another.

As I think back, I realize that all of these men shared these characteristics: quiet confidence, strong integrity, and caring spirit.  They enriched my life and the CBF movement.  We would do well to remember and embody the strengths they brought to CBF.

“Thank you, God, for these faithful servants who stood tall for Baptists.  Thank you for the encouragement and support they gave to me and others who have accepted the baton from them.  We thank you for your lives, their gifts, and their impact on us.  And we thank you for the wives and families who stood alongside them.  Lloyd, Bill, and Monty are worthy to hear these words from you:  ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ Amen.”

Friday, April 13, 2012

Tax Day

How do you explain taxes to a three-year-old?  I was leaving the house one day last week to pick up the completed tax return from our preparer.  Cooper, our grandson, asked where I was going.  When I told him, I could tell that the idea ‘taxes” was not on his radar.  I started to tell him that taxes help pay for the fire fighters and police officers (but they are only indirectly funded by Federal tax money).  I did tell him that the money we paid to the government helps build our roads.  I suppose I could have told him that the money helped to pay for our military but really did not want to go down that road too far.  As I thought about this later, I could have explained that our taxes (at least for now) help people who are sick and do not have food.

This whole train of thought led me to think about the things that our tax money pays for that were provided in other ways in the past.  When people were less mobile, more connected to their neighbors, and involved in the local churches, many of the needs for food, clothing and even medical assistance were provided by churches and church members.  There was a community awareness and a commitment to those we knew that motivated us to reach out and help.

We no longer live in such times.  Class and economic divisions isolate us from one another.  Those of us who live in “good” neighborhoods don’t know our neighbors much less those who live in “less desirable” areas.  Churches do help people in need but it is often one step removed from the congregants and provided through professionals or social service organizations.  There are exceptions, of course, but there is a real divide between the “haves” and the “have nots” not only on the national but the local level.

Churches and not-for-profits can help to bridge some of this gap, but the situation has become so complex that state and national governments must play a role.  There are some politicians who seem to think that we still live in a “Main Street USA” world where churches do all the heavy lifting to help the needy, therefore they believe that programs that address hunger, homelessness, and medical needs are none of the government’s business.  Welcome to the real world, folks!  I am not overjoyed about paying taxes, but I do it because there are some things that I cannot address with my resources and that can only be addressed on the macro level. 

I pay my taxes, attempt to alleviate need on the local level, and support organizations that do the same.  Now I expect my political leaders to be good stewards of the funds I send to them.  Is that asking too much?

The moral of the story is this:  When you try to explain something to a three-year-old, be prepared to engage in some real serious thinking.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Growing Agile Leaders—Part Four

In Growing Agile Leaders (available both in print and on Kindle), author Bob Dale shows his awareness of where we have come from and where we are going in the study and practice of leadership.  I was particularly interested in his thoughts about what’s ahead of us and the challenges that leaders face.

“What gives you hope for the future of leadership?”

Leaders are always more pivotal when times and situations are changing rapidly.  When the world is cruising merrily along on autopilot, managers do well.  But, when new worlds are emerging moment by moment, leaders make the difference.   Leaders are the faces of hope and future amid instability.

One of my favorite leadership stories is about Ernest Shackleton’s ill-fated 1914 exploratory expedition to the South Pole.  Shackleton’s ship, the Endurance, became blocked and then frozen into the polar ice.  Over ten months, the ship was slowly crushed and finally sank.  Survival became the crew’s only agenda.  The miracle was that, although the entire crew of 27 spent 634 days on the ice, Shackleton finally led all of them safely home to England. 

Ironically, Shackleton was an ordinary leader in ordinary times.  But, he became an extraordinary leader when his world descended into chaos.  Legend has it that Sir Edmund Hillary, the conqueror of Mount Everest, once noted, “If your life is on the line, fall on your knees and pray for Shackleton to appear.”  In the fashion of leaders amid seismic conditions, Shackleton’s blend of skills and temperament ultimately saved the day for his crew on that ice floe. 

I think I see a couple of future trends emerging now that call for agile leaders:

Organic thinking is on the rise for leaders.  Very few of us now assume that congregations and organizations are stable settings to be managed mechanically.  Leaders expect constant change and a pattern of novel challenges.  That calls on us to think and lead living, learning, adapting communities of faith and action.  In other words, for the future church, only agile leaders need apply---because only agile leaders will survive and succeed.

In the past, churches that were defined by their surrounding culture were best led by priestly ministers.  Continuity was expected, and the status quo was supported.  In the future, churches as “communities of contrast” will be led by prophetic and agile leaders.  In these congregations---measured by Christ’s commands---change will be expected and nurtured.

The future will introduce us to situations we haven’t yet imagined.  By definition, effective churches will rely on agile leaders.   The future won’t be easy.  After all, humans fall 700 times as we learn to walk.   The difference is dramatic---agile leaders find ways to regain their feet and move ahead.

Friday, April 06, 2012

The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games is based on the first in a series of young adult books by Suzanne Collins.  I have not read this series and must admit that I was a bit turned off by a storyline that features teenagers slaughtering one another.  My grandson has read the books, however, so I accepted the invitation to see the movie with him and his mother.

The young actors (and the older ones as well) portray interesting characters and many deal with moral dilemmas that I have never encountered.  As you probably know, the story is set in the future after some social upheaval has changed the political landscape of North America.  The key characters are Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) who represent their district in a nationally televised contest pitting 24 young people between the ages of 12 and 18 in a fight to the death where there can be only one victor.  Although most of these “tributes” are chosen by lottery, Katniss has voluntarily taken the place of her younger sister.

The journey from Katniss’ home in Appalachia (much of the movie was filmed in North Carolina) to the Capitol (somewhere in the Rockies) provides an engaging and ironic look at the great divide between the “haves” and the “have nots” in this future world.  Though set in the future, the disparity between these two segments of society reflects some of the growing divisions within our own society.  Once the televised death match began, I became very uncomfortable.  As the writer certainly intended, I realized that this “program” was just a short step from the “reality TV” that has taken over much of today’s televised programming.  I am not a fan of “Survivor”, “America Idol”, or “Dancing with the Stars” but I have seen enough of the genre to know that television programmers realize that it is hard not to slow down and see the results of an accident—personal or physical. 

My sources tell me, however, that the original book suggests that both Katniss and Peeta are pretty media savvy, although this is a bit hard to pick up in the film.  Both quickly learn that everything they do— including both killing and kissing — is being televised and their actions can be used to manipulate the program’s producers and the public.  The clear implication is that some of those growing up in our current media age have become pretty savvy about using media for their own ends.  They can either use or abuse social media, so they may need some guidance in how to handle these powerful tools

There are themes of social injustice, sacrifice, and loss of privacy here, but I would imagine that they are more fully developed on the written page.  To get the most out of this film, I suggest reading the book first.  I wish that I had.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Growing Agile Leaders—Part Three

Bob Dale has invested a great deal of his life in mentoring and coaching young leaders, realizing the importance of keeping  motivated and competent future leaders engaged.  In Growing Agile Leaders (available on Kindle as well as hard copy) , Bob recognizes that the needs of leaders differ at various stages of their lives and the life stage of the leader offers some unique benefits as well.  This led me to ask a question specifically related to young leaders.

What do young leaders bring to the table that increases their ability to be agile leaders?

Young leaders have huge potential as agile leaders.  I’ve had a great laboratory for shaping future leaders.  I was a seminary professor for a dozen years and then led Virginia Baptists’ Young Leaders Program for twenty-one years.  I’ve invested a lot of time and imagination in the next generation of leaders. 

I believe younger leaders have several advantages that aren’t native to older leaders.

First, today’s young leaders don’t expect continuity.  They’ve lived and lead in disjointed historical eras all of their lives.  They expect to have seven careers over their lifetimes.  Many younger leaders have an intuitive understanding of ways to bridge worlds.  They’ve dealt with constant transitions.  They’ve watched worlds morph and are building links from where we are to where we need to go next.  

Second, constant transitions have taught younger leaders to live “at speed.”  They’ve faced, coped with, and crossed several paradigm or mindset thresholds already.  Younger leaders have learned, unlearned, and relearned as a lifestyle---that’s what it means to them to be educated.  Consequently, they aren’t as apt to lock into “one right way” and only practice that singular approach.  Of necessity, because they’ve skated across icy worlds for most of their lives, younger leaders have had to become more agile.

Third, younger leaders have a hidden resource.  Having grown up during a chaotic, high-speed, global era, they’re advance scouts for organizations on the move.  A few years ago, I served as consultant to an international organization’s effort to start a world-wide leadership development process.  We identified models and experiences for the developing leaders.  We designed a variety of delivery systems for the training processes.   Then, one of the designers looked over our work, drew a deep breath, and asked hopelessly, “Where will we find teachers old enough to provide all we need?”  I turned the question around.  I lobbied for younger leaders to become the program’s trainers---young men and women who are mature, people with global backgrounds, persons with solid track records and varied experiences.  In other words, the mentors for many of us will be younger leaders.  Mentoring is as important to adults as parenting is to children.  But, with mentoring, age isn’t the beginning point.  Ability and agility are the ultimate game changers.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Silence is God’s First Language

 “Be still, and know that I am God.”—Psalm 46:10a

By nature, my spirituality and the spiritual disciplines that I practice have been oriented toward a rational approach.  For years, I have kept prayer lists, read sections of the Bible more or less daily (and even read through the Bible on several occasions), memorized scripture, and emphasized the practical implications of the Christian life.

 While involved in a Companions in Christ study several years ago, I was introduced to the categories developed by Urban T. Holmes to describe the different ways in which Christians exercise their spirituality.  He suggested two scales to describe spiritual experience—the mystery/revelation scale and the mind/heart scale.  Corinne Ware develops this further in her book, Discover Your Spiritual Type.  Her four types are revelation/mind, revelation/heart, mystery/heart, and mystery/mind.

Without a great deal of reflection, it was clear to me that I operated most often out of the revelation/mind quadrant.  This type tends toward theological reflection and practice with a danger of “intellectualization” of the spiritual life.  According to Ware, if you are aware of your natural tendency you can do several things including growing toward your opposite quadrant in order to enrich your spiritual life.

In my case, the opposite quadrant is mystery/heart.  The desire of a person in this category is to be one with God, the Holy One.  One who practices this perspective in turn challenges others to a deeper experience with God.  I had read a good bit about the classical spiritual disciplines and have tried to practice some of them, but I have been focused recently on one that rests solidly in the mystery/heart quadrant--the contemplative practice called Centering Prayer.  Gregory the Great (sixth century) referred to this as “resting in God.”

In a workshop I attended in February on Centering Prayer, Rev. Tom Ward reminded us that “God’s first language is silence.”  Therefore, if we learn to be silent, we can experience a deeper relationship with the God who “speaks” to us in silence.

Learning a new spiritual discipline is not necessarily easy but doing so opens up new ways of relating to God.  I am thankful to be able to learn such disciplines from a long line of Christian saints and those who are contemporary practitioners.

 - ware

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Growing Agile Leaders—Part Two

One of the issues that Bob Dale addresses in GrowingAgile Leaders is the challenge of dealing with transitions in one’s life and leadership.  This is even more challenging when we realize that the environment in which we lead has shifted and will continue to change in new and unexpected ways. In light of this, I asked Bob this question:  “How has the practice of leadership (in churches, corporations, etc.) changed in your lifetime?”

Our practice of leadership has changed a lot in a short time!  Put on your agile leader glasses, and take a scenic tour with me. 

Leadership, as a formal field of study, only goes back a century or so.  Our early practices came mostly from military and business worlds.   Leader approaches began with the “Great Man” theory----in difficult eras, a great man heroically stepped forward to save the day.  In the mid-twentieth century, scientific studies made some interesting discoveries on how youth gangs selected leaders.  They found two common trends---leaders were either elected formally, or they emerged informally.  Church leaders saw immediately that congregations and non-profit organizations use both formal and informal structures.  Plus, it became painfully obvious that, by nature, volunteer organizations are the most challenging communities of all to lead.

Look at our ministry situation through a wide-angle lens.  In the West, the post-World War II world has become much more complex culturally.  In a bit more than a half-century, our country has opened four hinges in history.  The United States has shifted from a predominately agricultural society to an industrial culture to an information society to an experiential world.  We call these deep changes “paradigm shifts” or “watershed years.”  When a watershed occurs, massive changes happen suddenly and disorient leaders.  Churches, as conserving institutions, are more resistant to these changes than more entrepreneurial communities.  To complicate matters even more, some churches are pinched by several hinges simultaneously.    Congregational leaders are severely stressed by these seismic shifts.  We weren’t prepared to lead in alien lands.

Now, look at our churches under a microscope.  For the first time in human history, we have six generations alive simultaneously.  That’s a daunting reach for leaders.  Some congregations have taken an easy but dead-end road---they have focused on only one generation.  It’s a simple solution but one that risks missing future multi-generational ministry opportunities.

Finally, put on missionary leader glasses.  Many of us belong to faith families that once did missions in colonial fashion.  We sent missionaries to establish religious outposts on distant shores.  But, we now live in a global world that has brought mission fields to our doors.    There are now four “world languages”---Spanish, Chinese, Arabic, and English.  Can church leaders justify speaking only one language now?   All of us are now missionaries everywhere every day.  That’s a new leader challenge.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Knowing Your Place

John’s Gospel (12:1-8) tells us that six days before the Passover, Jesus returned to Bethany where his friend Lazarus lived along with his sisters Mary and Martha.  A party was given in his honor, probably on Saturday night after the conclusion of the Sabbath.  Although many have assumed that this happened at the home of Lazarus, some have suggested that it actually was held at the home of Simon, a man from Bethany who had been cured of leprosy by Jesus.  Lazarus is still an honored guest, while Martha helps with the serving and Mary, who ignored the taboos of her society, sat at Jesus’ feet to learn as a disciple would.

Mary does not let things end there.  Not only does she sit at Jesus’ feet as a disciple, but she violates the norms of the day by anointing Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume and wiping his feet with her hair.

The ointment was very expensive.  Its cost represents about a year’s wages.  One commentator suggests that this might have been purchased with the money set aside for Mary’s dowry.  Thus this would have been not only an economic but a personal sacrifice on her part.

Mary’s actions did not border on the scandalous; they were forbidden.  A woman did not let down her hair in public and a woman of respectable family did not touch the feet of a man!  Certainly there were many in the assembly who murmured, “Doesn’t she know her place?”

The truth, of course, is that Mary did know her place.  She claimed her place as a full follower of Christ, not a second class citizen.  This is not to deny the importance of Martha’s role.  She did what she felt she should do and Mary did what she felt compelled to do.  Mary’s example shows us, however, that women had been given a choice as citizens of God’s Kingdom and Mary had exercised her choice by showing honor and devotion to the Savior who was on the way to the Cross.  A new day had come!

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Growing Agile Leaders—Part One

I have always admired lifelong learners.  These are people who are anxious to learn a better way to do something, practice it, and share that learning.  Bob Dale is one of those people. Bob has been a hero of mine for a number of years.  As a church leader, professor, denominational executive, and coach, he has shown what it means to be a lifelong learner.  He has also been willing to share what he has learned with others.

The latest example of this is Growing Agile Leaders:  Coaching Leaders to Move with Sure-Footedness in a Seismic World, a book that provides insights for leaders who hunger for leadership agility and for those who are “thought partners” or coaches for these motivated leaders.

I asked Bob if he would respond to some questions suggested by the book, and he was gracious enough to do so and allow me to present these to a larger audience.  Here is my first question and Bob’s answer.

When did you discover that you had to become an agile leader?

I admit I’ve been a slow and “as needed” learner about agile leadership.  But, reviewing my life, I can identify three times---one cultural, one theological, and one psychological---when I had to gain new agility if I wanted to thrive as a leader.

First, I went to college in the wake of Sputnik.  I was part of that eager generation who wanted to beat the Russians to the moon.  I made a painful discovery during my freshman year at the University of Missouri---I had an agricultural mindset from my childhood culture, and I was expected to live and lead in a scientific world.  I was an alien---a person who would struggle to survive in such a strange world.  I may have traveled less than two hundred miles from my Ozark mountain home to the campus, but I’d crossed over into a totally different universe with an unfamiliar industrial mindset.  It was a huge stretch to bridge cultures and ways of thinking.  I realized if I didn’t learn to move with sure-footedness in this foreign land, I’d flounder.

Second, in my fifties, I finally saw God’s church is a living, adapting community.  It was a theological insight that reoriented my leadership.  Through my earlier industrial prism, I’d seen congregations as “well-oiled machines.”  Then, I realized God’s miracle of germination and gift of harvest call on me to sow seeds and nurture life in His living communities.  Believing and leading organically gave me a solid faith toehold for agile leadership.

Third, at sixty, I entered a “deadline decade.”  With retirement and other major life changes looming up, I enlisted a coach to help me map my future.  I invested emotions in three arenas---connections, creativity, and coaching---and they gave me a new sense of traction.  These basic psychological markers continue to serve as my north star.

Those realizations are in the past, but I’m sure I have discoveries about agile leadership in my future as well.