Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Creating a Climate for Change

Israel Galindo in The Craft of Christian Teaching quotes psychologist Carl Rogers as saying, “No one can teach anybody anything.”  As an educator, I discovered this truth several years but it was hard to accept.  No matter how well prepared I was and how thoroughly I had thought about my presentation, my students were only going to learn when they were ready to do so.

As a coach in the last few years, I have been reminded of this truth.  People change when they are ready to change.  Despite everything I do, a person only adopts and practices new behavior when they choose to do so.

So what does this mean for those of us who are involved in people development processes such as teaching, coaching, mentoring, and supervising?  The best that we can do is to provide the climate in which learning can take place.  We attempt to create an environment where the person (student, protégé, etc.) can recognize and begin to practice new understanding and behavior.  How do we do this?

First, creating this environment begins with our own attitude.  We must recognize the person with whom we work as a child of God with independence, intelligence, and the ability to choose.  If we do not have respect for those with whom we work, we will not be willing to invest our time and talent in them.  Even when they are resistant, we must see the potential within.

Second, the kinds of questions we ask of others can either facilitate their learning and development or hinder it.  In coach training and supervision, I have learned how often I ask “closed” questions as opposed to “open” questions.  Closed questions can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.”  Often, they are framed in such a way as to guide a person in the direction you want him or her to go.  Although this may be a perfectly acceptable instructional design, they often lead to a dead end. The questions that provide real learning are the “open-ended” questions that require the person to think about their response and sort out the possibilities. Such questions allow the person with whom you are working to draw on their own experiences and understanding. 

Third, we must communicate unconditional support for the person to whom we are relating.  This may be the greatest challenge of all, especially when we perceive that they are not living up to their capacity or they are negative and unmotivated.  Our response is to continue to seek ways to engage them so that they will motivate themselves to change.  They must own their learning experience.

This is not easy. Perhaps this is why James wrote, “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”  (James 3:1, NIV)




Monday, January 27, 2014

A Face in the Crowd

An article in our local paper this past Sunday addressed the way that political candidates relate to churches—both in soliciting votes and to being part of a congregation.  One official pointed out that when he was elected to public office he left a smaller church to attend a large church with five weekend services and weekend attendance of 7000 to 8000.
He explained that in his new church he could “blend in and be part of the crowd.”  No one knew him, so there were no “political questions.”  He also pointed out the convenience:  “There are so many times you can go.”

Whether one is a politician or not, there is some freedom in simply being a face in the crowd.  Having attended a number of large churches, I can appreciate the anonymity available.  No one asks you about giving money, helping with a committee, or assisting with the worship.  On the other hand, no one asks how your family is doing, what’s going on at work, or how they can pray for you.

Of course, one can choose absolute anonymity by staying home and watching a service on television or over the internet.  This is a necessity for some due to infirmity or limited mobility, but virtual participation would seem to fall short of an “in the body” worship experience.

Our local politician seems, like many, to miss the point of worship.  The writer of Hebrews says, Let us not give up the habit of meeting together, as some are doing. Instead, let us encourage one another all the more, since you see that the Day of the Lord is coming nearer.”  (Hebrews 10:25, Good News Translation)

When people don’t know who you are, they have a difficult time encouraging you, and you can’t encourage them.  We are called to be part of a community of faith, a fellowship of believers, and this requires some level of participation and accountability.  We must know and be known.

Worship itself is more that a passive experience of observing others perform. Worship calls on us to be involved, to interact with others, and to come before a Holy God as God’s people.  Can we worship God by ourselves?  Of course, but this is only one aspect of the worship of God.

From my perspective, the heavier my responsibilities are, the more I need fellowship with the people of God; but, then,  I am not a politician.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Practicing Love

Legend says that in his later years, believers would bring their questions and disagreements to John the Elder and he would respond with the words, “Little children, love one another.”    As I have been preparing Sunday school lessons on the book of 1 John, I have gotten the feeling that there is an underlying tone of rebuke there.  It is almost as if we as parents were dealing with one of our children who has made a mistake and we say, “I really expected more of you.”

Commentators suggest that the writer of 1 John is dealing with church members who have broken fellowship by following heretical teachings about the humanity of Christ.  They have turned their back on sound doctrine and are creating dissension.  Even so, the writer continues to remind them of the fellowship that is available to them in Christ and Christ’s command to “love one another.”

The writer of 1 John has something to say to the church today.  Rarely do our doctrinal differences rise to the level of open dissension, but the way that we practice our faith often does.  Specifically, the disruption is seen in our demand that others do things the way that we do.  Our differences are not usually about what we believe, but what we do.

The author of 1 John encourages us to follow the way of love.  If we truly do so, we will discover that love is not an airy, ethereal practice but one that requires commitment, courage, and forbearance.  These are often lacking within the Body of Christ.  Love is hard work. 

I think the writer of 1 John would say, “You know what you ought to do, now do it!”

DNA Test

Pam Durso of Baptist Women in Ministry
Many friends in local African-American churches participated in special Martin Luther King Day events this weekend.  They were not simply celebrating the life of this courageous leader, they were affirming the message that he preached and committing themselves to continuing to pursue his dream.  For these folks, remembering the work of Dr. King and others who continue to fight to overcome discrimination is part of their DNA. 

If only Euro-Americans in progressive Baptist churches were as committed to the cause of ending ministerial discrimination against women!  Baptist Women in Ministry promotes Martha Stearns Marshall Month in February, asking churches to invite a woman to preach one Sunday in recognition of those women who are called to ministry and affirming a particular woman minister.  Too often when this is suggested to the pastor, the worship committee, or the denominational relations committee, the response is, “Why?”  Many do not see this as a significant concern.  If a church already has a woman as pastor, I can understand the indifference, but when a church rarely or never invites a woman to preach, they are communicating that this is not a priority to them. 

Here is the difference between many progressive Baptists and their African-American brothers and sisters—they do not see the equality of all people before God as a theological issue.  The God who calls people of all races and colors also calls both women and men into ministry. This affirmation is at the core of what it means to be the people of God.  Until progressive Baptists realize this and make it part of their DNA, they will miss a significant attribute of the Kingdom of God—inclusiveness.


Sunday, January 19, 2014

Gravity: A Review

When Gravity was first released, I missed seeing the film.  A minister friend recommended it to me recently, so I was pleased when it was reissued to theaters after receiving ten Academy Award nominations.  I am not sure what I expected and I am still not sure what genre applies to Gravity.  Rather than science fiction, Gravity is more science reality with a moral center.  It is an action film about people rather than hardware (although a lot of space hardware is destroyed in the course of the film).

The film presents a strong argument for the old “there are no atheists in foxholes” argument.  Even those with scant religious background find themselves seeking divine support when things get tough.  When NASA mission specialist Ryan Stone finds herself in an impossible situation, she seeks divine intervention.

Although not blatant, there is a religious undercurrent throughout the film.  There are references to at least three major world religions—Christianity, Buddhism, and Hinduism-- while the constant presence of planet Earth in the background reminds us of the richness of God’s creation.

As Stone, actress Sandra Bullock gives an often subtle performance that communicates vulnerability and fear as well as the determination of the common person who finds herself in an uncommon circumstance.  Bullock is every [wo] man seeking to survive and believe in the face of death. 

George Clooney plays veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski.  On his final mission before retirement, Kowalski is the “right stuff” kind of guy who is fully alive only when he is in space.  He follows protocol even when things seem hopeless, thus exhibiting faith, even if it is never connected to a divine being.

Watching Stone wrestle with her desire to believe in spite of her disbelief is a very moving experience and reminds one of the struggle of any secular person attempting to find meaning and purpose in life.  How many people like this do we encounter every day without seeing their emptiness?

A significant theme of the film seems to be that although we are creatures of the earth, our Creator is with us no matter where we go.  As the Psalmist wrote, “Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?  If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.  If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea;  Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.  (Psalm 139:7-10, NIV)

Gravity attests to the boundless reach and depth of God’s love.


Saturday, January 18, 2014

Traditioned Innovation

Greg Jones, who served as dean of Duke Divinity School from 1997 to 2010, recently spoke to the Ministries Council of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. His presentation focused on “deep trends affecting Christian institutions from the ‘digital revolution’ and the growing lack of trust in institutions among Americans to ‘reconfiguring denominations and emerging forms of congregating.’”
Michael Cheuk, chair of the Ministries Council, responded, “Very helpful to me was the concept of ‘traditioned innovation.’ Traditioned innovation honors the past but is not imprisoned by it. Neither does it innovate by making things up as we go along.”
Cheuk’s comments remind us of the rich tradition of the church.  When we study church history, we discover a multitude of ways to worship, teach, fellowship, ministry, and witness.  Some are complementary while others are contradictory. Under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, God’s people have used varied approaches to be on mission with God.
When we try something new in the church, we are always building on the past.  Our past experiences can both inform and inhibit our progress.  Wise leadership is necessary to help a congregation honor the past while laying aside those approaches which no longer work.
Early in the last century, Baptists in the South embraced a discipleship movement that began as “Baptist Young People’s Union” and evolved into “Training Union” and then “Discipleship Training.”  I have not run into any churches lately that are still doing “Discipleship Training” on Sunday nights but I still hear the lament, “Everything when downhill when we lost ‘Training Union.’” 
In reality, a number of things have contributed to slippage in church attendance and influence in recent years, not just the loss a particular program.  There was a time when the denominational program of “Discipleship Training” did not exist, but people were being discipled.  The need for disciple development continues and most church leaders have discovered that disciple formation has been happening in many forms and varied methodologies for the past two thousand years.
Our opportunity today is to tap into those rich resources and continue the task of growing disciples in our churches.  We don’t suffer from a lack of possibilities.


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

You’ve Got an Ugly Baby

I understand that no one really says this, but don’t tell me you have never thought it!  Of course, the “baby” in question may not be a little human being but a project someone has undertaken at your direction and it comes back—well—not as pretty as you had hoped. 

Several years ago, I worked with a wonderful woman as my administrative assistant.  She was pleasant and a good worker.  (To any former co-workers reading this, you are probably not the person involved.)  She had asked me if she could design the program cover for a collegiate student event, and I had agreed.  After a couple of days, she came into my office with a big smile on her face and showed me what she had been working on.  The cover design would have been great for a youth retreat in 1955, but this was several decades later.  It just would not work.  So, how do you tell someone her “baby” (or project) is not pretty and where do you go from there?

First, affirm the person’s initiative and express appreciation for the investment they have made in the project.  He or she probably thought they were doing what was expected of them. 

Second, always comment on the product or the project and not the person.  The worthiness of the person is not the concern, but the outcome of their work is.

Third, be very honest and specific about why this does not meet your expectations.  Perhaps this is the time to say, “I probably should have clearer in what I wanted.”  Make some suggestions about how it could be done differently.

Finally, don’t take the project away from the person involved.  Everyone deserves a second chance, so give the person that opportunity.  You might suggest someone who could share some ideas about the execution of the assignment (a graphic designer on staff, for example), but you should let the person take the responsibility for taking the initiative to make the contact.

Did I make a mistake in letting her do the project in the first place?  No, when someone shows interest in doing something, we should make an effort to let them try.  This is the way a person attempts new things and gains new skills.

Remember, ugly babies usually grow up to be beautiful people.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Are You Developing Leaders?

Who is responsible for developing leaders in the church? Mary Jo Asmus made this observation in a recent blog post about how persons in many organizations would respond:

“It’s not part of your job description. Nobody has told you that you need to spend time and effort developing others in your organization. You have too many other things to pay attention to, and besides, isn’t developing leaders the job of human resources?”

In the church, seeking out and nurturing new leaders is an ongoing task that really belongs to everyone.  Each of us leads in his or her own way in the life of the congregation.  This may mean chairing a team or committee, helping people feel welcome when they come to worship services, facilitating Bible study, planning and executing worship, or organizing Wednesday night activities for youth and children.  This is all about leadership—taking responsibility and joining others in carrying out a task.

Because leadership is dispersed in the life of the congregation, each of us needs to be developing future leaders.  We are all talent scouts for potential leaders.  We do this in several ways.

First, we encourage others in their Christian discipleship.  Each of us should be growing in Christ, so how do we help others in their journeys?  We do this through personal interest, sharing what God is teaching us, and teaching spiritual practices.  We share the joys, failures, successes, and challenges of life together.

Second, we call out the gifts of others and provide opportunities for them to exercise their gifts.  My usual practice when I accept a role of leadership in the church is to seek a co-leader or someone who will work alongside me in the responsibility. They learn from me, and there is often “reverse mentoring” where I learn from them.  In so doing, we have the chance to more fully use the gifts that God has given to each of us.

Third, we empower people to lead.  We recognize that the best way to learn is by doing, so we give individuals the chance to try some things on their own with our encouragement.  In so doing, we continue to make ourselves available if they have questions or encounter difficulties, but we never take back the responsibility; we help them to succeed in the task they have accepted.

Fourth, we celebrate with others when something good happens in their church activities or personal life.  We don’t do enough of this on an individual basis.  The celebration may simply be an “Atta, girl” or “Atta, boy” but we let them know that someone else sees what they are doing and rejoices with them in it.

As we do this, we practice being “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession.”  (1 Peter 2:9, NIV).  We are building up the Body of Christ.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Life with God

Photo by Mark Tidsworth
“There is no place where God is not,
wherever I go, there God is.
Now and always he upholds me with his power
and keeps me safe in his love.”
           (Quoted in Foster and Roller, A Year with God)

God does not want us to live in fear.  I understand that it is always presumptuous to say what God wants, but the clear message of scripture is that God wants us to be confident people who address the challenges of life with trust in God.

I say this because of the times I have faced situations that tempted me to be fearful—physically, emotionally, and spiritually—and lived through them.  There is much in life that does place us in physical danger.  There are situations that tempt us to dwell on our emotional inadequacies.  And, certainly, there are many occasions that cause us to question our spiritual condition.

There are three significant dangers when we come to these points in life.  First, we may camp out in that place.  In so doing, we feed our fear and imagine that the next step will only make things worse.  Most of the time, however, the reality we find around the next corner is not nearly as bad as we think it will be.

Second, we forget that there are others who travel with us.  When we share our fears, even with others who are fearful, we find that our situation is not uncommon among mortals.  In our mutual humanity, we find support for the journey.

Third, we often ignore our greatest resource—a God who created us and is present with us each step of the way.  God may not lead us into the times of testing, but God is present even there. 

Wherever we are, God is there.  Wherever we go, God goes before us.


Friday, January 03, 2014

Learning How to Listen

During the past five years that I have been coaching, I have discovered that listening is both one of the simplest coaching activities and one of the hardest.  Good listening requires putting your own life on hold and giving another person priority.  It requires putting the other person first.  For most of us, this is not an easy task!

When I was doing my Doctor of Ministry degree work several years ago, two other students and I scheduled a meeting with the supervisor of the program to ask some questions about our work.  Rather than being attentive to us, he spent the entire meeting shuffling papers around his desk and reviewing his desk calendar, avoiding eye contact.  Although he assured us that he could do more than one thing at a time and heard what we were saying, we all left the meeting with the feeling that we had not been heard.  His actions and responses did not communicate to us that he was listening.

One of the sayings attributed to Yogi Berra is “You can learn a lot just by listening.”  If you are really listening, this is true.  As I have developed and practiced my skills as a coach, I have learned to stifle my own responses to a client’s comments and listen to what he or she has to say—not only the words, but the attitude, intent, and meaning behind the words.

Being a good listener requires one to be attentive, receptive, and perceptive.  What kind of listener are you?  Even if you are not a professional or lay life coach, learning how to listen can enhance both your leadership and your relationships.  Try it!


Thursday, January 02, 2014

Can You Learn to be an Innovator?

Perhaps you do not think of yourself as an innovator, but your success as a leader may well depend on your ability to be innovative—finding new ways to use more effectively the resources you have or creating a new approach to solve a significant problem or meet a major societal need.  Tony Wagner, author of Creating Innovators, believes that the skills or habits to be a successful innovator can be nurtured, taught, and mentored.  His conclusion is based on lengthy research and many interviews with young innovators, their parents, and mentors.

Wagner believes that the essential qualities of a successful innovator are:
  • Curiosity—the habit of asking good questions and a desire to understand deeply situations and processes on a deeper level.
  • Collaboration—the ability to listen and learn from others whose experiences and perspectives differ from your own.
  • Associative or integrative thinking—the skill or insight to perceive how different, often divergent, components relate to one another.
  • A bias toward action and experimentation—the willingness to take a risk and step out into the unknown.

One of Wagner’s major concerns is that most educational systems work to dampen or destroy these skills.  Students are encouraged to think within carefully prescribed parameters and are rewarded when they do so.  On the other hand, those who think “outside of the box” are marginalized and penalized.

Wagner writes, “Innovative entrepreneurship is not a genetic predisposition, it is an active endeavor.”
If this is true, and if we think that innovation is important in the church, not-for-profits, and service organizations, how do we begin teaching these skills to present and future leaders?




Wednesday, January 01, 2014

New Year, New Opportunities

Although the New Year is just print on a calendar page, turning that page provides a great opportunity to reflect on the past and look to the future.  To be perfectly honest, I am much busier five years into retirement than I thought I would be!  I am not complaining—I am doing things that I enjoy.  The opportunities to coach and consult with leaders as well as design and teach seminary classes encourage me to keep thinking, reading, and learning about the challenges that the church and its leaders face in the 21st century. 

During the coming year, I intend to continue my personal development in several areas.  First, I plan to coach and to keep developing my skills as a coach.  In particular, I want to learn more about coaching across cultures.  Although I have been thinking about this for awhile, the need has been brought into focus by the fact that I will have several Korean-speaking students in a Doctor of Ministry class I will teach in February. 

I also want to add coaching based on Social and Emotional Intelligence to my skill set.  This approach to leadership development takes into account the many ways in which a leader must be able to relate to his or her constituency in order to be both fulfilled and effective.  

Of course, Mark Tidsworth and I will be training church leaders in Disciple Development Coaching and supporting them as they apply this process in their congregations.

Second, I am learning about entrepreneurship and its application to ministry.   Although leaders can continue to innovate in established congregations and organizations, the challenges of our time call for creative individuals who will identify innovative approaches to ministry that will address the major needs of our time.  If we continue to do things the same way, we will get the same results.  Entrepreneurs learn how to interrupt that cycle. 

Third, Central Baptist Theological Seminary is giving me the opportunity to consult on mentoring and coaching for Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry students, as well as teach classes for the new women’s Master of Divinity cohort in Nashville next fall.

Fourth, this coming year I intend to more intentional about writing.  In addition to writing Barnabas File, I will be contributing blogs to Associated Baptist Press on a regular basis.  I also hope to complete the manuscript for an eBook on missional church leadership and write curriculum on the spiritual formation of a leader.

Fifth, I continue to teach Bible study Sunday mornings for the Media Library team at our church and support the teacher development process for our Sunday school leaders.  Both of these keep me involved in the challenges of lay development in the local church.

Sixth, at this point, it appears that I will be working with a couple of churches on visioning processes.  Since each church is unique, the methodology must be developed based upon the needs of the church and its context.  This certainly keeps a consultant fresh!

When it comes to family, we are planning a major family gathering on the Gulf Coast this summer.  We hope to gather most of our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren in one place at one time.  That will be a challenge.

Of course, I commit all of this to God and pray for God’s leadership in my life and ministry.  I am thankful for the opportunities that have come my way and those who provide them.  I am looking forward to this New Year.