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Transforming Culture

Do you ever wonder about the source of many of our Christmas traditions?In a recent blog from Bible Study Tools, the author unpacks some of the practices that we casually accept as being part of our Christmas observance.
One thing that may surprise some Christians is that two pagan festivals honoring the sun were also celebrated on December 25.  It is possible that December 25 was chosen to counteract these pagan influences. 
The author writes, “To this day some people feel uncomfortable with Christmas because they think it is somehow tainted by the pagan festivals held on that day. But Christians have long believed that the gospel not only transcends culture, it also transforms it.”
Culture is all around us. We are inheritors of a rich mix of ideas, relationships, practices, and taboos which we usually accept without question; however, we are not captives of culture.  We can learn to exegete our culture rather than simply attack it or succumb to it. In fact, with Christmas as a case in …

Wake Up and Smell the Coffee

How’s the coffee at your church? If it is like most churches, it’s pretty bad.Usually we buy the cheapest brand, make it weak, and almost always we use decaf. Drinking a cup of coffee is a least a step of faith and at most an act of penitence.

The point of this little tirade, of course, is not the quality of coffee, but our attitude about what we do in church.  Do we settle for second best in what we undertake in the church?  Do we anticipate receiving forgiveness when something is good enough but not great?
For the most part, those who are called to ministry do not assume this attitude.  They see what they are doing as an expression of their commitment to God, so they put a great deal of time and effort into planning worship, practicing music, writing sermons, preparing Bible studies, and visiting parishioners.
And many of our church members have the same vision. Whatever they do, they do as an expression of their love for God, especially in the most visible things.
Where we often fa…

What Makes a Great Leader in the 21stCentury?

The church needs not just good but great leaders for the 21st century. A TEDTalk by leadership consultant Rosalinde Torres suggests three questions to determine whether you will be a great leader in today’s context.

First, where are you looking for change?  Who do you spend time with? Where do you travel?  What are you reading?  In all of your activities, are you open to seeing the discontinuous change that characterizes our time?  Torres calls this “the ability to see around corners.”
For church leaders, this means prayer walks in your neighborhood, reading outside your area of expertise, talking to business leaders about the changes they see in their industries, and connecting with community and not-for-profit executives.  Change is happening but are we placing ourselves where we can perceive it?
Second, what is the diversity measure of your network?  We all have networks but are they homogenous or heterogenous?  Are we connecting with people who are different from us culturally, econ…

Collaborative Consulting

In teaching coaching classes, we point out the differences between the various “people development processes” --counseling, consulting, teaching, mentoring, coaching, and spiritual direction.The differences are generally defined along two axes--self as expert versus other as expert and asking versus telling.
For example, in most cases, the consultant is usually the content expert who shares his or her expertise, so consulting is in the “other as expert”/”telling” corner. Coaches on the other hand lead the process with the client as the expert and the coach asking questions; therefore, coaching is in the “self as expert”/”asking” corner.




In reality, the lines are often blurred.  Over the course of time, a mentoring relationship can take on more of the characteristics of coaching as the client or protégé accepts more responsibility for his or her actions. In newer forms of education, teachers may become more guides or facilitators that dispensers of knowledge. Spiritual directors use a wi…

Dare to Lead: A Book Review

If you have not seen a Brene’ Brown TEDtalk or read one of her books on vulnerability, courage, shame, or empathy, I am very surprised.  A professor of social work, Brown’s research on emotions, relationships, and self-concept has provided creative ways to conceptualize, discuss, and embody these topics in a variety of settings.  
Even if you are familiar with her work, you may be surprised that her newest emphasis is organizational development.  In her new book, Dare to Lead:  Brave Work, Tough Conversations, Whole Hearts, Brown focuses her research, passion, and irreverent comments on how to revolutionize the workplace. Drawing from her research and her six previous books, she explains the impact of one’s values, emotions, and interpersonal relationships on leadership effectiveness.
Brown uses this quote from Theodore Roosevelt to frame the book:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them bet…

Liking the People with Whom You Work

On Saturday, I attended a Celebration of Life for friend and former colleague, Stan Braley. During the service, a person who had served on staff with Stan at a church he pastored told of the positive relationship they had as co-workers and the wonderful way their families got along.

This was a good word. Healthy relationships among co-workers, especially in a church staff where one is the supervisor of the other, are a blessing.  This happens only when both persons are committed and willing to make the relationship worked.  It was clear that Stan and his fellow minister were willing to do this.
I am grateful that I have had the opportunity to be in such situations.  When you like the persons with whom you work, you are more productive, supportive, and creative.  How does this happen?
First, you have to trust one another. The leader is the one who must model this behavior.  He or she must be trustworthy, a person of integrity, who calls out this same in others.  Trust and transparency …

When the Horse is Dead, Dismount

You can do a Google search on this quote, but the results on its origin are ambiguous.  Most likely, it is a Native American tribal saying popularized by leadership gurus like Peter Drucker.  The meaning, of course, is clear.  When something no longer work, it is time to move on.
This is easier said than done.  In business and industry, abandoning a project may mean the loss of jobs and capital investment.  In education, old approaches must be unlearned and new ways learned.  In the church, there may be some fear that we are giving up part of what makes us faithful when we end a program, ministry, worship service, or building.  It is not only about change, but loss as well.
R. Buckminster Fuller  said, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality.  To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”  So what do you do when the existing model is already obsolete?  You had better get to work on an alternative! Of course, it is important for people t…

Information or Formation?

Sociologist Brene Brown once said, “What we know matters, but who we are matters more."  This applies to our understanding of Christian discipleship.  As Christians, we often struggle with the balance between orthodoxy (right knowledge or doctrine) and orthopraxy (right practice or action). This is the challenge that James presents when he writes, “But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.” (James 2:18, NIV)
Both right belief and right action are necessary in the life of a follower of Christ, but can one get in the way of the other?
Historically, Baptists have been very good at communicating information about the Bible and the faith.  They delight in asking questions of scripture that exegete the text in an attempt to understand the who, what, how, and why of the passage.  We are less open to letting the text speak to us.  
For example, when I attempt to introduce Lectio Divina to a Baptist group…

Are Cooperative Baptists Really Interested in Supporting Theological Education?

The Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond is closing its doors at the end of this academic year.BTSR has blessed many through its capable administration, gifted faculty, and effective alumni.Born with a great vision in a time of Baptist turmoil, the seminary encouraged many who were seeking an alternative path for theological education and ministry formation.
In light of the seminary’s closing, Paul Baxley, senior minister of First Baptist Church of Athens, Georgia, asked these questions: “As Cooperative Baptists, are we really committed to the importance of theological education in preparation for ministry? While there is still time, are we willing to act boldly to strengthen our remaining schools so that congregations may thrive and ministers may be trained? Are we willing to envision a new covenant between our churches, our current ministers, our theological schools and those whom God is calling into ministry now and in the future?”
My answer is an equivocal, “Maybe.”  The stateme…

Diversity Makes Everything Better

"We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter what their color." --Maya Angelou
Diversity is something of a buzz word today.  Most often it refers to a racial and ethnic mix, but it can also be applied to any number of other categories.  Diversity recognizes the reality that society itself, as Angelou noted, is a tapestry. Although there may be similarities, no two people are exactly alike, not even identical twins.  We are part of a rich and variegated society.
Perhaps the greatest gift that diversity provides is the opportunity to learn from others and to create a stronger society, organization, church, or product by incorporating the unique experiences and abilities that each person brings to the table.
We make efforts to create diversity by reaching out to individuals who are unlike us, but inherent in any group is a thread of diversity.  Diversity means that people appr…

Healing Racial Divides: A Review

A positive aspect of teaching classes for Central Seminary (Shawnee, KS) has been the diversity of the student body.In addition to working with students from a number of denominations, I also have the opportunity to engage students of different racial and ethnic backgrounds.I have especially learned from the experiences of African-American Christians who have been willing to share not only their church culture but their personal experiences as well.Even with this exposure, I still have a lot to learn about relating across the racial gap, so I appreciate Terrell Carter’s informative and challenging bookHealing Racial Divides: Finding Strength in Our Diversity.
Dr. Terrell Carter is an artist (he provided the cover art), pastor, theologian, educator, and former police officer.  He combines these experiences with the insights of theology, the social sciences, law, and cultural analysis to address the key issue in American life--the racial divide that inhibits our interactions and poisons …

Strategies for the Future of the Church

We see the articles and blogs daily: church membership is in decline, mainline influence is waning, church buildings are a burden, membership is declining, fewer people are entering the ministry.Despite the challenges, there is a way forward for the church.I believe that the church will survive and prosper in the days ahead, but the form It takes will change. Here are some strategies that may allow the church to remain vital and relevant.

First, congregations must learn to engage in a deeper spirituality that will foster meaningful discernment.  Spiritual vitality is at the core of a healthy congregation.  There must be a significant shift from voicing what parishioners want to seeking where God is leading.  This will require both personal and corporate prayer, Bible study, and sacrifice.
Second, we must recognize there is more than one path to leadership in churches.  Churches will continue to call out and employ members with little or no theological training for leadership roles bec…

A Test of Leadership

The relationship between God and Israel recounted in the Hebrew Bible is a bit of a roller-coaster ride.A good example is found in Exodus 32.God has delivered the Israelites from Egypt. They have gathered at the foot of Mount Sinai to worship God, receive the Ten Commandments, and affirm a covenant with the Deliverer God.Moses goes up to the mountain for 40 days to receive the commandments etched on stone by God and full instructions for a Tabernacle to symbolize God’s presence with the people.Then it all falls apart.
For their own reasons, the people despair of Moses’ returning and are afraid that this God he has proclaimed has forsaken them.  They call on Aaron to help them create a golden idol that they can see and worship.  They rebel.
God sees this happening and declares to Moses,“Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt.”  (32:7, NIV). God’s new plan is to destroy them and “then I will make you into a great nation.” (32:10).
Here is a majo…

There are Pilgrims and Then There are Pilgrims

In the recent publication of my article entitled “Day Camper or Pilgrim?”, my friend who was doing the layout chose to illustrate the piece with a Pilgrim hat.You know, one of those conical hats with the wide brims that our kids wear in Thanksgiving pageants as an ode to the Plymouth colonists. Well, there are Pilgrims and then there are pilgrims.
The earliest use of the term refers to one who is on a religious journey to a holy place. The practice is common in many world religions, especially in Islam where every devout Muslim desires to make the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once.  The word has also been used to refer to our time here on earth.  The idea is that we are just sojourners here on the way to something better.
Of course, the historical Pilgrims or Pilgrim Fathers, the ones with the hats, were religious dissenters who founded the Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts in 1620. They are often called Puritans because of their desire for a pure faith apart from the established church …

Coaching: A Guide for the Journey

The first real “job” for which I was paid was as a math tutor.Considering that I failed Calculus in college, this is rather ironic.I was a junior in high school and my math teacher recommended me as a tutor for an eighth grader. The parents paid me ten dollars a session.

As I began working with this young man, I realized pretty quickly that he already knew what he was supposed to do.  He understood the calculations and was probably a better math student than I was!  The key was focus.  He needed someone who would just sit with him, respond to his work, and provide encouragement.  I did not need to be an expert; I just needed to be there.
I find myself in the same situation very often as a leadership coach.  As I talk with a client, I discover that not only does the person have the best knowledge of the situation we are discussing, but he or she has some ideas about how to address it in a positive way.  So why does the person need a coach?
One of the things that a coach does is to help…

Voting--A Privilege and a Responsibility

When we went to vote early recently, two of our grandchildren were with us.This brought to mind the times when I was a child and went with my Dad to the voting place in our neighborhood.He would pick me up at school and we would go directly to the polling place so he could cast his ballot (my Mom always voted earlier in the day).
My parents’ example has stayed with me.  This is one of the most important ways that we exercise our citizenship. Even if I estimate that my candidate has little chance of winning, I know it is important to express my point of view.  
We are a week away from mid-term elections.  Early voting has been going on in many places for a couple of weeks. I encourage you to cast your vote for the candidates of your choice.  I am not arguing that you vote for a particular candidate or party, but I do suggest that you ask yourself these questions about each candidate as you decide.
First, would you be willing to have this person as a guest in your home? Is this a person th…

The Work of Equipping Leaders

While attending the ordination service for a friend recently, I appreciated that the person bringing the challenge to the candidate provided a strong emphasis on the role of a clergyperson to call and equip leaders for the church.Although not always emphasized, this is one of the most significant tasks of a leader.
Ephesians 4:11-13 offers a model for equipping and empowering believers:
“So Christ himself gavethe apostles,the prophets,the evangelists,the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christmay be built upuntil we all reach unityin the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of Godand become mature,attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
Some believers are set aside to equip God’s people for the “works of service” so that everyone can find his or her place in the Body of Christ and grow in Christlikeness. This does not mean that we have two levels of giftedness—the clergy and the laity, for example—but different functi…