Abraham Lincoln is reported to have said: "Give me six hours to chop
down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” This approach to preparation was popularized
by Stephen Covey in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Even so, the practice of continuing personal
and professional development is not a high priority for many leaders—especially
clergy. They are too busy chopping down
the tree to take time to sharpen the axe.
Since I became a certified professional life
coach, I have entered into a world of required professional development that I
have only observed from the outside in the past. My friends who are public school educators,
counselors, marriage therapists, and medical professional are required to take
a certain number of hours of continuing education each year in order to
maintain their license or certification.
Some denominational judicatories require such education for their
clergy, but this is the exception in most denominations including Baptists.
I have been fortunate in my ministry to work
with supervisors who both practiced and provided professional development
opportunities. Glenn Yarborough,
director of student ministries for the Tennessee Baptist Convention, regularly
brought interesting and gifted people to share with campus ministers at staff
meetings and retreats. Clark Bryan, my
supervisor at Carson-Newman College, both encouraged and made it possible for
me to complete an unfinished Doctor of Ministry degree while I was on staff there.
Given this background, I am always amazed and
disappointed that professional development is not a high priority in our churches. Staff meetings and retreats are most often
devoted to program coordination and calendar planning rather than discovering
and sharing new insights and understandings with one another.
Although the pastor cannot tackle this problem
alone, the initiative must begin there.
The pastor must model professional development and life long learning and
lobby church officers and committees to provide development opportunities for
all staff members—both ordained and non-ordained.
Such options include but are not limited to
finances for book purchases, time and money to attend conferences, resources
for staff development events, and sabbaticals for professional staff. The advent of the Internet provides many
valuable learning opportunities free or at minimal cost. Judicatories, theological institutions,
professional organizations, and consultants offer innovative options for lifelong
learners. Ministry leaders can also
benefit from being part of a peer group or being coached by a trained life
I have a tendency when I walk each morning to
look down at the road rather than lifting my head and seeing the world around
me. I have to remind myself to look up
and see what is going on.Too many of us go from day to
day only looking at what is right before us and not engaging in new ideas,
learning, and development. Lift up your
eyes and see what’s ahead!
A friend told me recently that he and his wife have chosen
to participate in a bank account deduction giving option that their church
offered. The offering is deducted from
their bank account on a regular basis and placed in the church account, all
done electronically. Not writing checks
or having to remember to take them to church to put in the offering plate
seemed like a good idea. He realizes now
that there are drawbacks.
One concern is that his children no longer see him
putting anything into the offering plate, so they are probably wondering, “Why
don’t Mom and Dad support the church any more?” Of course, other members may be
thinking the same thing! What kind of
example is he setting?
As important to my friend is that he feels that he is
missing out on an act of worship.
Offering something back to God in a tactile way can be a very satisfying
act of worship.
I understand how my friend feels. I have often said that offering is an
essential part of worship. Drop anything
else, but keep the offering! This has
nothing to do with ensuring the financial viability of the congregation. Failure to provide this opportunity to respond
in offering truncates the worship experience.
If anything, we need more rather than fewer ways for
worshippers to respond. I still like
altar calls and opportunities for members to respond in some tangible way. We need the chance to use our feet and hands
in worship as well as our voices.
My friend is thinking about some way to continue his bank
deduction and still participate in the act of giving in worship. Any ideas?
“Whatever you have learned or
received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God
of peace will be with you.”-- Philippians
I first considered this verse, my initial response was that Paul was being
pretty egotistical: “Look at me! Do what I do!” I have come to realize that Paul was
justified in exhorting his readers to follow his example. He was writing to people who had probably seen
only one practicing Christian believer and that was Paul himself.
we are going to grow spiritually, we need models and guides who will assist us
along the way. When we seek such help,
we are looking for spiritual direction. Spiritual direction has a long history
in the Christian church. For centuries,
men and women have sought out mature Christians who could help them to grow in
Christ. In such a relationship, the one
giving spiritual direction is providing both information and accountability.
direction takes many forms today. It may
be provided by a person who serves as a mentor or spiritual director, helping
the believer to discover where he or she is on the Christian journey and
providing the instruction or reflection to encourage growth in the life of
faith. There individuals who have taken
the time to be trained as spiritual directors and they make themselves
available as spiritual guides to others.
Sometimes this person is called a “soul friend,” one with
whom the disciple can be open and candid.
In the Celtic tradition, the soul friend was not only a guide but a
person to whom one might confess their sins and shortcomings. One approach similar
to this that is used in modern times is peer coaching where two individuals
meet regularly to encourage one another and hold each other accountable.
Various kinds of accountability groups can fill the same
purpose, providing a place for the believer to practice faithfulness and to
encourage others as well.
A leader must find a place where he or she can not only
learn the practices of the faith but be held accountable for their practice as
well. Whether this is done with another
person or with a trusted group, finding spiritual direction is key to being an
Consider these questions as you think about spiritual
anyone in my life who knows the truth about me?
Do I have sufficient relationships with spiritual mentors or soul
friends to keep me accountable
for my spiritual journey?
Am I willing
to submit myself to spiritual guidance?
assassination of John F. Kennedy was the defining moment of my generation. When
he was killed in Dallas, I was 20 years old and a junior in college.During a time of stress in our nation—the Cold
War and civil rights, among other things—Kennedy embodied hope and a promise
for a better future. In hindsight, we now
know about his flaws including his reluctance to act on crucial issues, his physical illnesses, and his
personal indiscretions. In 1963, however, Kennedy seemed to embody all that was
good about America.
I have been
reading a book entitled What If?in
which leading military historians imagine what might have been if certain
military conquests had ended differently.It is tempting to play the “what if” game with the assassination of John
If Kennedy had
lived, would we have entered in the quagmire of Vietnam that resulted in the
deaths of 60,000 Americans and hundreds of thousands who lived in Southeast
Asia? Many young men (and women) would
not have lived broken lives upon their return to the States. Perhaps I would have spent my active duty
time on an Army base in Georgia rather than spending a year in Vietnam.
If Kennedy had
lived, would the US government have negotiated a rapprochement with Cuban
leader Fidel Castro? There are indications that the Kennedy Administration was
working on such a deal when he died.
If the Kennedy
had lived, would the youth revolution of the late sixties have been as radical
and reforming? The anger might have been
defused by a young, optimistic President.
If Kennedy had
lived, would the Cold War have ended sooner or would it have continued to drag
on? Would the absence of the failure of American policy in Southeast Asia have
emboldened American military efforts in other areas?
questions and possibilities, but they are all speculation. The only thing we know for sure is that the
shots that rang out inDealey Plaza
on Friday, November 22, 1963, changed our lives.
The management narrative was probably invented by Ken
Blanchard and Spencer Johnson over 20 years ago with The One Minute
Manager. The format uses a story to
communicate information about management and leadership. The protagonist goes on a quest to discover
how to become a better leader, manager, parent, or person, meeting various
people along the way who give information and insight. The best writer in this genre is Patrick
Lencioni; his characters have depth his situations are realistic. Mark Miller has used this format in four
books now. He is not as good a writer as
Lencioni, but his style does not get in the way of presenting some significant
and helpful leadership principles.
In The Heart of Leadership, Miller brings back young Blake
Brown and seasoned leader Debbie Brewster.
Blake is stuck in his company, unable to get to the next level. Through mentoring and directing Blake to
other leaders, Debbie helps him to see that leadership is less about skills and
more about character. Of course, the facets
involved in leadership character work out to an easily remembered acrostic
(which I won’t reveal or there would be no need to read the book).
Those who read regularly about leadership, management, and
change will find little new here, but they will be reminded of some basic and
useful ideas. For example, I was
confronted again with two key concepts of leadership. First, one does not have to have a title to
be a leader. Debbie tells Blake, “[A]
title doesn’t make someone a leader—and the absence of a title shouldn’t keep
someone from leading.” (p. 81) Second, we should not confuse opportunity with
leadership. Debbie says, “Others control
many of our opportunities, so that shouldn’t be our concern. We control our readiness.” (p. 39)
Underlying everything in the book is the idea of servant
leadership. A leader who thinks that he
or she is the center of the universe will be greatly disappointed!
The book is a quick read, a good reminder for a seasoned
leader or a primer for one just starting out.
Although I am not a counselor, I spend a lot of time with
counselors, pastoral counselors and therapists and count a number of them as
friends. I have taken a number of
counseling and psychology courses as an undergraduate, seminarian, and graduate
student. I have also served on the board
of a pastoral counseling center and regularly attend the continuing education
events the center offers. I have even
done a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education.
One of the things I have learned in all this is that I do
not have the gifts to do long term counseling.
I have great appreciation for those who do and support their work every
chance I have to do so, but it is not my calling.
Most of the counselors I know are Christians, but they do
not necessarily market themselves as “Christian counselors.” Even so, they
bring a theological perspective and world view to their practices that are
informed by their faith.
First, they have encountered a God of grace and love who
seeks to redeem each person—supporting what is good and moving beyond the
bad. They have experienced this in their
own lives and wish to share it with others.
Second, they recognize that each person is at a different
place not only in their lives but in their faith journeys. These counselors step up and walk alongside people
where they are rather than where they wish that they were.
Third, they have the patience to work with clients,
realizing that the client did not arrive at this place in his or her life
overnight and will not change overnight.
Change requires both commitment and support.
Fourth, a counselor may be the first person who has
exhibited unconditional acceptance to the client. Of course, a good counselor does not want the
person to continue harmful behavior or remain burdened with past experiences,
but he or she adopts the attitude of Jesus in John 8:1, “Neither do I condemn
you. Go and live a new life” (my
Thank God for calling such women and men to this special
ministry of counseling.
In a recent blog, Shane Raynor addressed millennial myths
and the real reasons that people leave the church. He argues that millennials are not a homogeneous
group, and their decisions to disengage from the church vary greatly. Some are reasons that lead people of all ages
to leave the church. He suggests five
reasons that millennials leave. I don’t
agree with all of them, but he does suggest one with which I resonate—“They don’t
feel challenged”—but I see it in a slightly different way.
Raynor says, “Some of us have tried so hard to meet
people where they are that we’ve made church too accessible. Most people
want to grow spiritually, and it’s hard to do that in churches that spend an
inordinate amount of time catering to the spiritual lowest common denominator.
. . .People who don’t feel they have opportunities to move forward spiritually
may leave church simply because they’re bored.”
I would suggest that challenge comes in many forms. If we pursue the idea that the common
approach for many people today is to belong, behave, and then believe (rather
than the old approach of believe, belong, behave), the challenge that young
adults seek is not a higher level of spiritual engagement, but a desire to make
a meaningful contribution in a supportive environment. Although it may seem trite to say it, “They
want to make a difference.” Often this
is seen as personal investment in service rather than becoming more spiritual.
Unlike previous generations, young adults don’t want to take the time to “pay
their dues” before serving. They have
seen other generations who have worked up through the system and who have then
found themselves marginalized and their leadership rejected.
Young adults do need to be challenged spiritually, but a
foundation must be laid first. When it
comes to spiritual growth, helping young adults to engage the Gospel in
language that they understand and answering the questions they ask is not “catering
to the lowest common denominator.” In a
post-Christendom society, many young adults lack the vocabulary or context to
pursue their spiritual quest in the ways familiar to a previous
generation. Once on board, however, they
are quick learners and find much in Christian doctrine, theology, and heritage to
enrich their lives and help them grow spiritually.
So, I agree that we need to challenge young adults, but
the form of the challenge must be concrete, meaningful, and engaging. Only then will they realize their need for a
spirituality that will change their lives and their motivation.
Mark Wingfield, associate pastor at Wilshire Baptist
Church in Dallas, recently posted a blog challenging the assumption that a
doctorate degree is always a good thing for pastors to have.Wingfield presents a good case that not every
ministry situation requires someone with a doctorate (Doctor of Philosophy,
Doctor of Ministry, Doctor of Education, etc.) and that some churches may just
be on an ego trip when they seek a minister with a doctorate.
If a church just wants someone with some
initials after their name or a title, they can give the candidate a few dollars
and point him or her to the internet. We all know that getting a certificate
that says one is a “doctor” is different from earning a recognized doctorate
degree in a field. Pastor search
committees really need to be asking potential pastors, “Are you a life long
Churches need ministers who are continuing to grow
personally, professionally, and spiritually. A minister of the gospel faces new
challenges regularly for which the best seminary education did not provide
training. A minister who does not
continue to grow will become stagnant and incapable of dealing with the
challenges that God sends his or her way.
doctorate is one way of improving one’s skills and insight as a minister. Several years ago, someone suggested to me
that someone who had received a doctor of ministry degree (a professional
degree for ministry) should go back in twenty years and get another one! I am not sure that my friend meant that
literally. I think he meant that
learning was an ongoing process, so even if you have a professional degree, you
should not stop learning.
continue to grow in a number of ways—intentional reading, participating in peer
group or learning communities, sabbaticals, spiritual retreats, continuing
education programs, leadership coaching, and degree programs. Whether the growth leads to a new academic
degree is not as important as the desire to continue to grow, learn, and serve
as a competent minister of the gospel.
Over the last four years, I have had the opportunity to
engage in coaching conversations with some committed and gifted people. Walking alongside such person as they explore
new directions for their lives and ministries is very rewarding. They are very “coachable.”
But is everyone “coachable”? The question has been asked in different
forms, but the core intent of the inquiry is, “When is a person coachable or
ready to be coached?” In truth, some
people are not ready to be coached; that is, they are not ready to commit to a coaching
conversation for their own personal or professional growth.
Perhaps the person
is dealing with baggage from the past or a poor self-image. Maybe they have not taken the time to reflect
on the idea that they have the ability to do more with their lives. It may be that the “coachable moment” has not
come in their lives.
How can you tell if a person is ready to be coached? Look for these things.
First, the person will tend to have an optimistic mindset
about himself or herself. This is
apparent in the way that the person responds to challenges or environmental
changes. He or she will face and not
ignore those challenges.
Second, the person will have a natural curiosity. There is an inherent desire to know and
understand both the self and the context.
Third, the person “leans forward,” showing an
anticipation to discover what is just down the road or around the corner.
Fourth, the person will have shown a willingness to
experiment with both new ideas and new behaviors. He or she is willing to risk failure in order
to find a better way.
Fifth, the person is willing to commit and accept the
discipline necessary for change in one’s life.
Change is hard work and the person being coached must recognize this up
Coaching provides a person the opportunity discover and
grow into new dimensions of personal and professional development, but the
decision about being coached is ultimately up to the individual.
memorial service for Dr. Katharine Bryan was held in Knoxville on November
6.Katharine was a colleague while we
both served the Executive Board of the Tennessee Baptist Convention but she was
also a valued mentor and friend to me.
served as a mission educator for a number of years including 12 years as
executive director of the Tennessee Woman’s Missionary Union. After “retiring” from her work with the state
convention, she served as director of adult education at Carson-Newman
University and then as interim director of North Carolina. Katharine was a visionary mission leader, an insightful
educator, and a committed church leader, but I remember her most as a mentor.
exhibited the best qualities of a mentor.
was willing to make herself available. I
enjoyed a number of lunches with Katharine as well as “drop in” visits at her
office. Although she was always busy,
she was ready to make the time to talk about personal and professional
brought a great deal of experience to her role as a mentor. She had worked for several Baptist entities,
so she knew the way that organizations work.
She understood the challenges of working with Baptists in both
judicatories and in local congregations.
She also was very perceptive about how people work (or fail to work) together.
I know few people
who have both the insight and vision that Katharine possessed. She could identify core concerns, possible
barriers, necessary resources, desired alliances, and opportunities for growth
that often escaped others.
She could also be
very tough in confronting problems and ideas.
Some might prefer the word “firm,” but there was a strength that was at
the foundation of her personality that she could draw on to confront a
situation or a person. She did not
suffer fools lightly or ignore poor standards.
Katharine was most
of all an encourager. She found a way to
help a friend or protégé work through the most ill-conceived idea to bring
clarity and focus. Perhaps this was her
greatest spiritual gift, one that blessed the many people who worked under her
supervision and alongside her.
Katharine, for being a good and faithful servant of God who blessed so many of