Thursday, March 22, 2018

Let’s Stop Meeting Like This: A Review

No matter what you do for a living, you are expected to participate in meetings.  It doesn’t end at work, of course.  You attend meetings at your church, civic organization, and volunteer project.  For the most part, meetings are something we dread and endure.

Dick and Emily Axelrod seek to provide a remedy in their book Let’s Stop Meeting Like This:  Tools to Save Time and Get More Done.  They present a practical model that is adaptable to all types of meetings.

Their basic model is labeled The Meeting Canoe and involves six movements:
  • Welcome people.
  • Connect people to each other and the task.
  • Discover the way things are.
  • Elicit people’s dreams.
  • Decide.
  • Attend to the end.

The model embodies not only good group process, but parallels the approach we in use in Disciple Development Coaching © at Pinnacle Leadership Associates:
  • Ask and Listen (Welcome and Connect)
  • Explore (Discover and Elicit)
  • Design (Decide)
  • Commit and Support (Attend) 
There are a number of helpful guides in the book including the five questions that should open every meeting:
  1. Why are we meeting?
  2. What do we want to be different because this group of people meets?
  3. Who needs to be in our crew?
  4. How do we get people to take ownership of the meeting?
  5. Where and how long will we meet?

Simply applying these questions would not only make our meetings more effective but minimize the number of meetings held.  Cutting out unnecessary meetings is a good thing!

I highly recommend this book as a resource for anyone who has the responsibility for calling and conducting meetings.  Implementing these ideas will help meeting participants to feel involved, productive, and leave feeling their time has been well spent.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Leading Your Church to be Innovative

When I talk with church people about innovation, there is a natural resistance or push-back, but I try to point out that the reason that the Christian movement has not only survived but prospered over the years is the willingness of believers to learn, grow, and innovate.  Sometimes our sources for innovation are found not in the church but in our culture.

In her new book, The New Science of Radical Innovation, Sunnie Giles identifies principles that Silicon Valley companies (such as Google) and Artificial Intelligence software programs use to succeed or win.  Here is each of the principles she identified at Google.

First, employ self-organizing agents.  The goal is to “hire the best people and get out of their way.”   At Google, managers are urged to delegate as much as possible to the point of feeling some level of discomfort.  The company even encourages employees to spend 20 percent of their time working on what they think will benefit Google in the future.

Second, use simple rules.  Google uses loose guidelines for their self-organizing employees.  What is our ethical guide?  “Don’t be evil.”  How do we allocate resources?  Spend 70 percent on existing projects, 20 percent on emerging projects, and 10 percent on “moon-shot” projects.  Keep it simple.

Third, allow for lots of trial and error.  As Giles writes, “Success comes from learning, and learning requires failures, which means success requires failures.”  We only learn by taking risks.

Fourth, seek diversity of input.  Google is sensitive to the fact that “homogeneity in an organization breeds failure.”  The more points of view and experience we can focus on a project, the more potential it has to be successful.

Fifth, seek general intelligence over narrow intelligence.  Specialists tend to be experts in what is already known.  Generalists are in touch with present and emerging resources and their implications for the future.

So how does this apply to the church or a not-for-profit organization?

First, try to hire people who are passionate first and skilled second.  A person can learn skills, but you can’t instill passion.  Seek out those who are enthusiastic about the mission, have a basic understanding of the job that needs to be done, and want to do their best in the setting.

Second, empower staff members by freeing them from too many policies, procedures, and meetings.  When you need rules, make them as simple as possible.

Third, give staff and laity the opportunity to pursue “holy experiments.”  The Spirit is constantly opening doors for those who are perceptive.  We don’t always know what is on the other side, but we will never know if we do not walk through.

Fourth, when assembling a team or a staff, seek as much diversity as possible.  This is true in things like worship leadership as well. Those who are on the platform on Sunday morning or who lead meetings reflect who is invested in church or organization.  If there are no women, no ethnic persons, no age diversity, it says a lot.

Fifth, allow room for growth.  There is much that needs to be done right now, but what are we doing to prepare for the future?  Are we so focused on the here and now that we are not ready for the things that God has in store for us?  Encourage both paid staff and volunteers to be lifelong learners, investing at least a portion of their time thinking “outside the box.”

Missional churches and organizations are called not only to be faithful to their heritage but to be willing to try something new that will further the Kingdom of God.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

A Rich and Mythic Legacy

The life and accomplishments of the saint we call Patrick have certainly been embellished and enhanced by early hagiography and centuries of veneration.  Historians assume that some acts attributed to Patrick were either done by others or are simply good stories that have become part of his legend.  In death, Patrick is undoubtedly a much larger presence that he was in actual life.  This is true with so many religious and historical figures.  They may have been decisive, even heroic, figures but we can no longer separate the person from the legend.

Not only is Patrick an iconic figure, he has also become linked with what we know call Celtic Christianity.  Thomas Cahill’s book How the Irish Saved Civilization introduced the rich tradition of the Celtic and specifically Irish contributions to a mass audience.  George Hunter drew on similar ideas for The Celtic Way of Evangelism.  Just as we add much on to the lives of honored individuals of the past, we have probably created a picture of the beliefs and practices of ancient Christianity among the Celtic peoples that is richer and more robust than the reality. 

There are certainly some characteristics of the Celtic Christianity concept that are close to the original practice of the faith among Celtic peoples.  First, those believers had a very strong regard for Creation so they readily responded to teachings about the Creator God.  They lived close to the land, the seasons, and animals, so they felt a strong tie to both Creation and Creator.  Their experience of Creation was real and vital as was they connection to the Creator God.

Second, these early believers had a great respect for each other—men and women created in the image and likeness of God.  They saw the goodness of humankind before the fall and grounded their belief in that original state of innocence rather than in the consequences of the Fall and the idea of original sin.  Church history reports that both women and men held places of considerable authority in the church among the Celtic peoples. This ecclesiastical equality reflects the egalitarian treatment of men and women in early Irish law.  

Third, they valued community.  They saw community as a vital part of being human.  Within community—both ecclesiastical and secular—people worked together, held each other accountable, and supported one another in time of need.  They also saw community as the place of redemption.  This is certainly what Christian community should provide as well.

Just as the lives of the saints call us to be better people, the accounts of Celtic Christianity challenge us to reenvision the true essence of the Christian faith.  Both Patrick and Celtic Christianity call us to fresh perspectives on our faith.

(This post originally appeared on this site on March 14, 2012) 

Friday, March 09, 2018

Finding Our Tribe

On Sunday morning, we sang the hymn “Heaven Came Down and Glory Filled My Soul” in worship. My wife Rita and I glanced at each other and exchanged smiles.  When I was a student pastor in Texas, the church where we worshipped on weekends loved this song.  We were not familiar with it when we first went there and Rita, who was the pianist (of course), had to get the hang of it.  Once she did, they wanted to sing it every Sunday.

Sunday afternoon Rita asked, “I wonder if that that church is still there?” I went to the Baptist General Convention of Texas website and did a search, but the name of the church did not come up.  I began to speculate about what might have happened.

Perhaps the church just closed its doors.  They were small 50 years ago and only had a few families.  Maybe they could no longer support the church.

Another possibility is that they had gone independent or joined a more conservative Baptist group and no longer identified with the BGCT.  It happens.

Of course, it could be that no one wants to fill out all that information for the denomination any longer.  It hardly seems worth the effort to a busy church member.

What might have happened to that church on a micro-scale is happening on a macro-scale.  Denominations have splintered with new offshoots and permutations.  Many churches still carry the denominational name but don’t really participate in local, state, and national bodies any longer.  Others have dropped the denominational name for public relations purposes and have weakened their tribal ties in the process.

This is not necessarily a generational thing.  I know a number of millennials who have moved to religious tribes with much stronger connectional ties than those of Baptists.  Their choice was often motivated by a desire to find opportunities to serve that were denied to them in the denomination that nurtured them.

This is not an argument that denominations are dead, but they are evolving as churches as well as individuals exercise the freedom of choice about which tribe they choose for fellowship and ministry.  In all honesty, this may be another sign that the Spirit of God is moving in a unique way to further the Kingdom.  Perhaps this diaspora is enriching the church as a whole.

(This post originally appeared here on August 2, 2016.)

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Change or Die?

In a recent Christian Coaches Cafe LIVE Call, coach Chris McCluskey talked about the challenge of making meaningful, sustainable change and suggested two approaches that we often use in addressing needed change.  

On the one hand, those initiating change may attempt to use these three strategies or arguments:

  • Fear--“If you don’t do this, you are going to die.”
  • Facts--“Here are the rational reasons to do this.”
  • Force--“You’ll do this or else.”

As I thought about the best way to encourage change in a congregation, I quickly realized that all of these fail as adequate motivators.  Fear tends to elicit denial and an “I’ll show you” attitude.  Facts may help to develop strategy after a decision is made, but people make choices more often with their heads than their hearts.  I think it goes without saying that force does not work in most churches, especially the Baptist churches where I have spent most of my life!

The alternatives that Chris suggested are these three processes:

Reframe--Find a way to look at the situation from a different perspective.  This may be a clearer or more robust vision for the future or taking a fresh look at the context of the church as an opportunity for new ministry.  What have we missed that we should consider?

Rehearse--When we develop a new skill or prepare for a presentation, we take small, incremental steps and strengthen our ability.  Churches can do this by undertaking “holy experiments” or pilot projects that try something new on a trial basis and give us an opportunity to learn what works.  What new things can we try?

Repeat--If we keep trying new things, the action encourages us to keep exploring new opportunities and this eventually leads to mastery.  Addressing change with commitment helps this new behavior to become habitual.  What’s the next challenge for us to face?

A key difference here is the organizational approach over against the organic approach.  No one can impose healthy, sustainable change on an individual or a church.  True change, whether in the life of an individual or that of a congregation, comes from within. 



Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Stewardship is Part of Discipleship

When I was almost in my teens, my parents had a life-changing experience and recommitted themselves to Christ by becoming deeply involved in church. We became one of those “three times a week” Baptist families--Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night (I fought against that one).  My Mom and Dad began teaching young adults in Sunday School, and they began to tithe to the church (that means give ten percent of your income if you are not familiar with the term).  In fact, they had regular discussion about whether to tithe their gross income--the total--or net income--take home pay. They settled on gross amount because they believed that was the biblical approach."

I mention this because I rarely hear people talk about the tithe in church any longer.  Pastors don’t mention it, perhaps out of fear that it might seem legalistic.  In fact, I would say that most of us who are regular church attenders may only hear a sermon about financial contributions once a year.

At the same time, we rarely place the topic of giving our time and talents to serve within and outside the church under the heading of stewardship.  We think about it more as volunteer activity than as service.

Churches do have stewardship campaigns annually, but they usually focus only on money and stop there.  The stewardship we read about in scripture relates to being good stewards--managers--of everything that God has placed in our hands--money, land, talents or gifts, physical possessions, time, and even our health.  We don’t address those aspects of stewardship either.

When did we separate stewardship (in the broadest terms) from discipleship?  The church’s mission is dependent on the faithful stewardship of the disciples of which it is composed.  This means that time, money, possessions, etc., should be considered in the preaching and teaching of the church along with prayer, honesty, morality, and salvation.

If we don’t address stewardship as part of discipleship, we are leaving out a major part of our lives.  If we don’t talk about it, is it important?