Tuesday, August 25, 2015


In The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge explains the value of alignment: “[W]hen a team becomes more aligned, a commonality of direction emerges, and individuals’ energies harmonize.” He goes on to write, “Individuals do not sacrifice their personal interests to the larger team vision; rather, the shared vision becomes an extension of their personal visions. In fact, alignment is the necessary condition before empowering the individual will empower the whole team.” (pp 234-235).  Alignment precedes empowerment.

Senge’s idea is that everyone is going somewhere but is there some way to get everyone to either put alter their goals so that everyone can move in the same direction?  Very often an individual’s goal can even be seen as an important part of attaining the larger organizational goal, becoming a win-win situation for all concerned.

One of the biggest challenges of leading a church is achieving some level of alignment, at least in vital functions such as doing mission and living into a vision.  Churches are made up of people with varied gifts and talents that can be released for mission.  At the same time, people come with different needs, many of which are based on the specific life stage in which a person finds himself for herself.

For example, in the same congregation are youth and young adults making choices about vocation and calling, young adults birthing and raising children, median adults dealing with aging parents and growing adolescents, and older adults concerned with health issues and wise investment of time and resources.  Each has his or her own challenges, opportunities, and needs.

Difficulties develop when one of these normally caring, responsible individuals puts on blinders and starts thinking only of their own needs and goals.  Indifference and self-centeredness impair alignment.

How can church leaders deal with this?

First, involve more people in intergenerational experiences.  Whether it is worship, Bible study, or community service, we must find ways for people of different generations and in various stages of life to interact with each other and understand the various needs and goals represented among members of the church.

Second, find ways for people in different stages of life to minister to one another.  Youth and young adults can assist incapacitated older adults with yard and home maintenance.  Adults of all ages can provide childcare assistance during worship services and teaching to preschooler, children, and youth.
Children can lead worship that is both God-honoring and fresh.

Third, provide opportunities for people of all ages to share their spiritual journeys with others.  The wisdom of age as well as the idealism of youth provides new insights about how God continues to work.

Fourth, try to think of each other as family.  In a healthy family, no one person gets their way all of the time.  We learn how to take turns and share.  The same attitude is needed in the life of the church.

If we can do these things, we will be ready to align our lives around a common vision of empowerment and mission.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Now You Know

We live insular lives.  There are major catastrophes all over the world that impact thousands, threatening life and health, and most of us know nothing about them.  In an online peer group this week a Doctor of Ministry student at Central Baptist Theological Seminary shared about the flooding crisis in Myanmar.

Massive floods and strong winds in Myanmar (formerly Burma) have killed 99 and impacted over a million people across 12 of the country's 14 regions, according to the August 10 situation report by the government of Myanmar. More than 200,000 households have been displaced, 15,000 homes have been "totally destroyed" and 1,290,000 acres of farm land have been ruined.

In this student’s home province, hundreds of homes have been destroyed and over 7000 people are homeless.  He has applied for a visa to travel there to assess human needs for food, safety, and shelter and report back to International Ministries of American Baptist Churches, USA. He will probably have to walk over 100 miles to get there since the roads have been destroyed. 

Emergency relief funding is being sent to an American Baptist International Ministries (IM) partner, the Myanmar Baptist Convention, to help with the relief efforts.  Donations are welcomed.

Who knew?  I do now and so do you. Want to help?

Thursday, August 20, 2015


How good a listener are you?  Most of us would say that we are good listeners, but careful reflection on our listening would probably reveal several things that contradict that assessment.

First, as we listen, we often spend a considerable amount of time thinking about how we are going to respond to the person we are listening to.  We are thinking, “How do I avoid seeming disinterested?  How do I communicate that I am an active participant?”

Second, although we may hear and understand what the speaker is saying, we may be trying to find a link to our own life.  We are asking ourselves, “Have we experienced something similar to what the speaker is recounting?  Do we know someone that the other person knows?  Do we agree or disagree with the speaker’s statements?”

Third, we may actually be rather distracted or thinking about how to move the conversation into an area that we are interested in or know more about.  We think, “What’s in this conversation for me?  What can the other person share that will further my goals?”

Fourth, we just may not be interested and trying to find a way to disengage as soon as possible!

In Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community, Dietrich Bonhoeffer discusses the holy obligation to listen to another person.  He wrote:

 “There is a kind of listening with half an ear that presumes already to know what the other person has to say. It is an impatient, inattentive listening, that despises the brother and is only waiting for a chance to speak and thus get rid of the other person. This is no fulfillment of our obligation, and it is certain that here too our attitude toward our brother only reflects our relationship to God. It is little wonder that we are no longer capable of the greatest service of listening that God has committed to us, that of hearing our brother's confession, if we refuse to give ear to our brother on lesser subjects. . . . But Christians have forgotten that the ministry of listening has been committed to them by Him who is Himself the great listener and whose work they should share. We should listen with the ears of God that we may speak the Word of God.” 

Listening is a holy task. Those of us who are life coaches learn very quickly that when we actively listen to the person we are coaching that we are creating a sacred space for that person to think out loud, voice the desires of the heart, and contemplate the opportunities and challenges previously unconsidered. 

Perhaps our lack of listening skills also says something about our ability or inability to hear a word from God.  If I am in a hurry, already have my mind made up, or am trying to justify myself, I do not have an ear open to hear what God is saying to me.

We can learn how to listen better, but it takes not only training but a transformed mindset that is non-judgmental and caring but empowering as well.  In many ways, this is a spiritual discipline.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Are We There Yet?

Many of us have heard this question this summer as we have traveled with young (and sometime not so young) passengers.  Of course, this presupposes that we know where we are going!  We will only know if we are there if we have a clear idea of our destination.  Often, some have one idea while others have another.

In a recent blog, Mark Miller wrote, “Have you ever been confused by a message you received from a leader? Have you ever received mixed messages from leaders in your organization? If your organization has at least two leaders, I’m confident the answer is ‘yes!’”  So how do you avoid sending mixed messages throughout your organization?  Who defines the destination so that we all get to the same place at the right time?

Most organizations—secular or faith-based—tend to attract driven, creative people who are seeking ways to advance the mission of the organization (and perhaps their own agendas as well).  The greatest challenge is to find ways to bring all of these varied ideas, motivations, and abilities together around a common cause so that everyone arrives at the same destination.

Miller suggests that the way to do this is to increase alignment, clarity and unity.  Here are some suggestions about how to do this.

First, we must have alignment or get everyone pointed in the same direction.  We do this by asking the question, “What do we value?”  Our values guide us to our destination.  They determine not only where we will go but what methods we will use to get there.  Failure to embrace our values will lead not only to confusion but loss of people along the way.

Second, clarity gives us the ability to talk with precision about what we are doing so that we can understand each other.  Do we speak a common language and have a common vocabulary?  Do we use the same terms but mean different things?  We must have the ability to embrace terminology that clearly communicates what we are about in order to avoid alienation.

Third, we must seek unity with our traveling companions.  This does not mean that we will all think alike, but it does make us ask, “Are we willing to give up on non-essentials for the greater good?”  Real unity is based on integrity—making agreements and then following through on them.  We may not get what we want as individuals but as a group we will all be better off.

Many organizations are fully of talented, well-meaning people, but they have no idea where they are going.  It doesn’t have to be that way.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Happy in Jesus?

"From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him."--John 6:66, NIV

I heard recently that a person approached the pastor of a church and said, "We are leaving the church.  We are just not happy here."  This struck me as rather odd.  Perhaps there were extenuating factors--not feeling welcome, not fully involved, etc. --but the idea that "happiness" should be the criteria for church involvement is rather bizarre. In the verse above, it is clear that Jesus' teaching did not make some people happy.

Don't get me wrong.  Everyone wants to be part of a congregation where she or he is accepted, loved, and engaged.  This does not necessarily mean that one leaves every Sunday feeling "happy." 

One might leave feeling challenged.  As a result of approaching the Holy God in worship, one might come away with a desire to walk closer to God.

One might leave with a different set of priorities.  As a result of hearing the Word of God, a person might be convicted that service and care for others are more important than some of the other things he or she has been doing.

One might leave with a deeper commitment to grow as a believer.  Through times of praise and reflection, a person might desire to practice disciplines of prayer, Bible study, and service that will build one's faith.

And perhaps one might leave happy to know that God has forgiven his or her sins by grace through faith--but I don't that is what the unhappy person above was seeking.

But to leave happy?  If anything,  the best that anyone can receive from the gathering of the faithful and take into one's daily life is an awareness of the need to be God's person in the world, a sinner saved by grace who has spent a time in fellowship with other sinners worshipping God.  It seems to me that is our purpose and it may just make God happy.