Sunday, June 25, 2017

Cars 3: A Review

The good news first:  Cars 3, the third Pixar movie about racing cars, is much more like the original film (2006) than the 2011 sequel that jumped the track.  The new animated film has the heart, fun, and action of the original film while allowing the hero to evolve and introducing interesting new characters.

In the original, Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) makes the transition from a brash, hot-shot racer who doesn’t need anyone to part of a supportive, loving community.  In Cars 3, McQueen is starting to lose his edge and feeling not only old, but also realizing the vacuum left in his life by the departure of his mentor, Doc Hudson (Paul Newman).

In the quest to reinvent himself, he is supported by his old friends but meets new characters such as perky trainer Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo), wise Smokey (Chris Cooper), and rival Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer).  The journey is unpredictable and, of course, amusing.

Lightning’s breakthrough is learning how Doc Hudson valued the contribution he made to the younger racer’s career and seizing the opportunity to pass on what he has learned to a new generation.  He continues to compete and face new challenges, but he finally acknowledges that it is not all about him. 

There is, of course, the obligatory big race that will determine Lightning’s future, but the twist there shows how much he has grown and learned about himself.

The film provides a reminder to those of us who are leaders that investing in others is a vital task.  Each of us can point to mentors who shared their experiences, walked alongside us, and then pushed us out on our own.  This is how the church has fostered leaders down through the years from Jesus and his disciples, to Barnabas and Paul, to Paul and Timothy, and on to today.

Cars 3 is good fun for both children and adults without the rude humor found in many animated films today.  Lou, the obligatory lead in short film from Pixar, is worth watching as well.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Vision Thing


President George H. W. Bush said that he did not really understand the “vision thing.” Whether this had anything to do with his failure to be elected to a second term is unclear, but we do know that vision continues to be a key word for churches, not-for-profits, and other organizations.

Often these entities confuse strategic planning with vision.  The assumption is that if we can identify our vision, then our mission, objectives, and goals will fall in place is flawed.

Danny E. Morris and Charles M. Olsen, the authors of  "Discerning God's Will Together: A Spiritual Practice for the Church,” would disagree, especially as vision relates to the church.  They write:

"In visioning culture, the role of vision is vital for the community and its leaders. Vision goes beyond strategic planning, because it is rooted in God’s plan for humanity and the world. Vision is the big picture, God’s kingdom, offered by God as a gift.”

True vision empowers, inspires, and transforms.  Perhaps the big mistake we make in stating our vision is that we think too small rather than too big.  If we are on mission with God, God’s vision far exceeds anything that we might imagine.  The missio Dei is nothing less than the redemption of humankind and all that God created.

Embracing God’s vision is the first step toward articulating our own vision.

Friday, June 02, 2017

Wonder Woman: A Review

Wonder Woman is the real deal.  With the relatively unknown Gal Gadot in the title role and Patty Jenkins as director, DC has finally produced a superhero movie with both action and heart. If you are expecting a feminist polemic, you will be surprised.  This is a story about humanity, our virtues and sins, and the choices we make between the two.

Diana (Gadot) is a young woman raised for a special purpose, one that is unwrapped throughout the film. Raised as the only child on an island of Amazons, the real world intrudes on her tranquil (although martial) environment when the plane of American Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes into the sea nearby.  This begins her journey into a larger world as she pursues the mission for which she was destined.

The film has a strong cast both among the Amazon women and the rag-tag force that Trevor recruits to accompany them on their mission.  There is humor, social satire, romance, and certainly action (some of which may be a bit over the top).  The film is both fun and touching but may be a bit too intense for younger viewers.

There are some significant theological themes present as well.  As the Amazons prepare on the hidden island of Themyscira for their mission to save the world, the world is engaged in the Great War resulting in the deaths of millions, both combatants and innocent bystanders.  They are unaware and indifferent to this calamity.  The time has come to act, but they refuse to do so and are reluctant to bless Diana’s mission.

As I watched this part of the film, I was reminded of the church. We prepare for engagement with the world, but when the opportune moment arrives, we fail to act.  We train for the work then we refuse to do it.  Are we ignorant or afraid to engage in the mission of God?

This is a redemption story, of course, but the role of the Redeemer is assumed by two protagonists--a female and a male.  One gives up life to save humanity while the other chooses to stay in the world and fight evil.  If you doubt the messianic theme, consider the pose that Wonder Woman (Diana) assumes in the final confrontation with the villain.

The story is full of non-Christian and mythological themes, but the bottom line is the free will of humanity to decide its own fate. The right choices arise out of self-sacrifice and love for others.  As Diana says at the end of the saga, “Only love can save the world.”


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Value of Coaching for Churches and Not-For-Profits

When we discuss the value of coaching, we usually focus on the difference it makes in the lives of individuals, but coaching also has benefits for the churches and organizations that provide it for staff and employees.  In an article in the February 2016 edition of Coaching World, Odile Carru and Mark Weinstein discussed the growth of internal coaching in organizations and its value to employees at all levels.  Carru and Weinstein presented three of these benefits:  talent retention, leadership development, and improving soft skills

When a church or organization provides coaches for leaders, the person who is coached not only develops new skills and abilities, but they appreciate the investment being made on their behalf.  This encourages them to stay with the organization longer rather than seeking another position “where the grass is greener.” 

According to Carru and Weinstein, key areas for coaching in organizations are leadership development, onboarding (bringing new people on board or transitioning them to new responsibilities), and change management.  These are important concerns for churches and not-for-profits as well.  Staff members need to be challenged to continue growing, especially as they face new challenges and changes within and outside the organization.  Coming into a position as a new hire or transitioning to a new responsibility are times when individuals encounter not only stress but uncertainty and need all the support that they can get.

Finally, the writers point out the value of helping staff develop what we call soft skills such as team-building, self-awareness, effective communication, and decision making.  We might call this coaching for emotional intelligence.  As we understand ourselves and others, we become more effective leaders.  As we recognize where we might improve, we can use the support of a coach to help us development new people skills.

A trained coach--whether internal or external--can contribute to the overall health of an organization by working with individuals in their personal and professional development.  It is certainly worth the investment!


Saturday, May 27, 2017

Things You Can do With a Master of Divinity Degree

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So you’ve just received your Master of Divinity degree from an accredited seminary.  What are you going to do now?  Some students go right from seminary to a full-time ministry position.  Others are already in a ministry role and continue in that position with enhanced skills and abilities.  Many students, however, do not immediately find a full-time or even part-time ministry role.

Let me tell the story of one of these students.[i]  Lisa graduated several years ago with a Master of Divinity degree.  She was active in a local church and worked part-time as a barista in a coffee shop.  No formal ministry role opened immediately, so she went full-time with the coffee shop and eventually became a manager.  She did not give up her ministry dream, however.  She discovered a local new church start that was developing a unique concept--opening a coffee shop that would also serve as a neighborhood social hub and the center of worship for the new congregation.  Today she carries one of the primary responsibilities for leading this ministry.

Increasingly, Lisa’s situation is becoming more commonplace.  This may not be a bad thing since it opens opportunities for seminary trained women and men to practice ministry in new and innovative ways.

In a recent blog from the Association of Theological Schools, Packard Brown suggests a strategy for guiding MDiv graduates into fields other than congregational ministry.  These include, but are not limited to, careers in teaching, counseling, advocacy, nonprofit administration, or corporate human resources.  In these roles, the graduate may function as a worker-priest, earning a living in a secular or service role while fulfilling their ministry goals.

A good seminary education provides a graduate with a number of skills:

1.  The ability to work with people.  Students have usually been involved in group projects, done internships in church or organizational settings, and often have done work in pastoral counseling and care.  In all of these situations, they have been supervised and given constructive feedback to enhance their people skills.

2.  They know how to research problems and organize things.  Whether it is writing a paper or developing a capstone project, students learn where to find information and resources and then put these together in a workable format.

3.  In most cases, they have discovered how to be lifelong learners.  They have become aware of their strengths and weaknesses and how to use the former and complement the latter with additional learning and relationships.  Just because they have a degree, they refuse to believe that learning over.

4.  They have a healthy spirituality that will sustain them as they seek to live out what they perceive as God’s purpose for them.  They practice spiritual disciplines that strengthen their daily lives and seek out communities of faith that will encourage them.

These skills are transferable to many contexts.  As we think more broadly about the nature of ministry in the 21st century, new doors open and opportunities appear for the prepared.





[i] Name has been changed and situation disguised to provide anonymity.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Managing Intrapreneurs


We hear a lot about entrepreneurs--risk-takers who create, design, and deliver a new product or service.  But what about intrapreneurs?

According to Wikipedia, “intrapreneurship is the act of behaving like an entrepreneur while working within a large organization.”   The idea is to allow opportunities for individuals and teams within an organization to integrate the innovation and risk-taking that characterize entrepreneurship into an established system.  Although this has great value, the practice itself involves some risks and willingness to rethink management and supervision.

For several years, I was responsible for the supervision of about thirty full-time and part-time ministers who provided collegiate ministry on campuses across the state of Tennessee.  This was an interesting task considering the size of the state, the variety of campuses involved, and the varied gifts of those doing the work.  Many of these leaders were intrapreneurs who knew their context better than I did and often brought significant gifts and insights to their work.  They needed to have freedom to exercise their creativity, and I needed to provide the supervision that would make our executive leadership happy.

Here are a few things I learned in that setting (from trial and error) that apply to the supervision of intrapreneurs in an organization.

First, provide as much freedom as possible while setting reasonable boundaries.  The leader’s role is not to find a creative spark and water it, but to fan the flame.  When a great idea emerges, give the intrapreneur the freedom to pursue it while making certain that the person knows the boundaries--policies, finances, and time.  

Second, achieve clarity through open communication. The supervisor of an intrapreneur must both give and elicit trust.  The supervisor trusts the intrapreneur to take ownership and execution of the project; the intrapreneur trusts the supervisor to support and encourage the execution of the project within the boundaries.  The old adage that “It is easier to get forgiveness than permission” only works one time.  This approach works only because the supervisor is willing to share the responsibility for failure and redirect the praise for success.

Third, be available as a coach.  The supervisor must practice a coaching approach in working with intrapreneurs, being accessible without taking control.  The goal of a good coach is the success of the client.  In the same way, the supervisor serves as a coach who calls out the best in the intrapreneur while providing a source of accountability.  When the intrapreneur succeeds, the trust of the supervisor and the organization is rewarded.

Adopting this approach requires a paradigm shift for most organizations, but the intrapreneurial approach is especially helpful in working with Millennials who tend to value freedom and flexibility anchored in a "results-only" work environment.  What better way for a person to prove themselves than to be given the responsibility for a significant project and the freedom to act?  







Monday, May 22, 2017

Why Don’t People Want to Be Coached?

The process called life coaching or personal development coaching is gaining traction in many areas--business, education, the not-for-profit sector, and the church.  Those who have experienced being coached attest to its value for their personal and professional growth.  At the same time, there are some who have been given the opportunity to be coached who resist it.  Why is this?

In a blog on Education Week, Peter DeWitt suggested some reasons that educators give for not wanting coaching.  His list stimulated my thinking about some reasons a person may present for not wanting a coach.

1. “I am a professional, so I don’t need a coach.”  Certainly no one puts more time and energy into their work than Olympic athletes, but name one who doesn’t have at least one coach encouraging and supporting that person to do better?  A professional wants to continue developing himself or herself and welcomes someone to come alongside and help.

2. “I have friends and colleagues who help me to do a better job.”  This may be true to certain extent, but friends often play the “nice game” and only give us praise.  Colleagues may not want to be perceived as being critical.  Friends and colleagues also have their own work to complete. A coach is an unbiased professional who can be honest, direct, and dedicated to your success.

3. “Coaches only work with people who have problems.”  Coaches don’t just work with poor performers.  Coaches work with all kinds of people.  Each of us has challenges and areas for potential growth in our lives, and a coach can help us discover them. 

4. “I don’t understand what a coach is supposed to do.”  A professional coach will be glad to explain the coaching process including what the coach does, what the client does, and how this relationship can benefit the client.

5. “The only reason that my (church/business/school system) is providing me with a coach is to make sure that I am doing what they want me to do.”  Sometimes an organization will suggest that a person be coached, but the coach is not a compliance officer.   A professional coach sets clear boundaries and crafts agreements with third party providers to assure that the client will be receive the greatest benefit without undue outside interference.  In reality, most organizations perceive coaching as an investment in the employee’s growth and development.

6. “Nobody in our (church/business/school system) wants a coach.”  Once again, the difficulty may be that no one really understands what a coaching relationship does and how it benefits the client.  This may just be a matter of organizational culture.  If a coach can work with two or three key clients in the organization and others see the positive results, this culture will change.

Once people understand the benefits that come from a coaching relationship, attitudes will change.


Culture is Not Our Enemy

“Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.”   (Acts 17:22-23, NIV)

Water is essential to the life of a fish, but the fish is totally unaware of the presence of water until it is no longer there.  The same is true of us and the culture in which we live.  When Christians do discuss culture, we tend to identify some negative aspects of our cultural environment and give our attention to condemning those things.

In reality, we could not function without culture.  Culture gives us language, customs, and values that unconsciously provide structure to our lives.  Like the fish in water, we rarely think about culture until it starts to change.  For Christians, culture can have both positive and negative aspects.

According to missional theology, part of our task as Christians is to be a contrast community within our culture, embodying eternal values and concepts based on the teachings of Christ.  On the other hand, if we do not adopt certain cultural characteristics such as language, dress, or conceptualization, we cannot pursue our mission effectively.

Paul gives a good example of this in his proclamation on Mars Hill in Athens.  He understands where he is, the language of his hearers, and their philosophical mindset.  He uses these to establish rapport with them, even citing the words of two Greek philosophers and claiming the “unknown god” in their culture as a means of proclaiming the message of the Creator God.  He finds a way to use culture to achieve his mission.

Down through the centuries, Christians have found ways to either use or reject culture in their missional task.  This creates an ongoing tension that keeps us aware and sensitive to what is happening around us.

Let me suggest a few ways that we as Christians can engage culture.

First, know what is essential to your Christian faith and mission.  Are my convictions based on my own study and faith experience or have I just accepted what has been passed on to me?  What is at the core of my faith?

Second, seek to understand before condemning.  We too often have a knee jerk reaction and immediately reject the new or unusual without attempting to understand the underlying values.  Take time to explore and dialogue.

Third, broaden your experiences.  Diversify your reading, listen to new music, and explore emerging media and performance venues.  You may have some unpleasant experiences or run into some dead ends, but you will have clearer information upon which to make choices.

Fourth, find points of intersection between the culture and your faith.  As we explore music, art, drama, and cinema, we will find themes that the Christian faith addresses and illuminates.

Take a few minutes today and think about the culture in which you live and what you can learn from it.