Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Redefining what it means to be pro life

I would like to redefine the "life" issue from a one topic agenda to a holistic view of life from a broader theological framework. Being pro life for me is not being anti abortion (although I am) but about understanding the sacredness of all human life and what it means to be a life giver like Jesus (John 10:10) in all situations. 

Why is human life sacred? Because God imbued it with an eternal soul! This is part of what it means to be made in His image. This is why God was so angry when Cain killed Able in the worlds first homicide. He had taken the life of a living person with an eternal soul who was made in God’s image. That eternal soul is a reflection of God’s eternal being and to treat it without the greatest dignity is to demean God Himself.

How we treat other human beings matters because they are made in His image. Unlike the animal kingdom they have eternal souls. This is the foundation of the command, “Thou shall not kill.” This is why Able’s blood cried out to God when Cain killed him (Genesis 4:10). This is also why God demanded strong punishment for those who murdered others, "For in the image of God has God made mankind (Genesis 9:6)."

Based on this understanding of the sacredness of human life, it was the early Christians who fought against the infanticide of unwanted infants in the Roman empire. It was Christians who cared for those dying of the plague throughout the Middle Ages, at the risk of their own lives. It is why Christians established orphanages, hospitals and homes for the elderly. Human life is sacred. It possesses an eternal soul. It is to be honored, cared for, and treated with dignity and respect. Anything that detracts from the dignity of human life is to be resisted. It possesses an eternal, God given soul.

This is why we care about those that others often ignore: the sick, the elderly, the marginalized and the disabled. It is the "widows and orphans" that scripture talks so much about. This is why we care about issues like human trafficking, pornography, prostitution, racial discrimination, injustice, famine and the atrocities of war. Human life is sacred and anything that takes away from its dignity is an affront to God and the image He gave each one.

Being pro-life is caring about the dignity of all people, understanding the intrinsic value of all people based on their eternal soul and being made in the image of their creator. I want to be pro-life in every relationship I have by treating each individual with dignity and honor.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A common leadership trap: Adding without subtracting

As leaders grow they take on new responsibilities. Often however, they fall into a common leadership trap by not jettisoning other activities to make space for the new. You cannot add without also subtracting! If you do, margin disappears and the quality of what you do is not what it should be. 

Regardless of our abilities we all have a finite amount of time and energy. We choose what we place in that available time and energy. But once full it is full. To put something new in requires that we take something old out. For something new to grow, something old must die, or be passed on to others.

Why do we hold on when we should let go? We know how to do something and may be very good at it. We may not like to disappoint people who want our time or attention. We may not be good at saying no. Or we enjoy doing it. Whatever the reason, to put something new in requires that we take something old out. 

This is actually the price of personal growth. Without taking on something new we don't grow. So the price of growth is to let go of other things that we have already mastered. As we grow in new areas our effectiveness also grows. The cost is giving something else up. You cannot effectively add without also subtracting.

What do you need to subtract?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Five mistakes to avoid in negotiating conflict

Conflict between individuals and organizations can either bring out the best or the worst in us. Too often it is the latter but that does not need to be the case. While conflict is a fact of living in a fallen world, there are ways to negotiate conflict in an honorable and God honoring way. We cannot control the behavior of the other party but we can determine ours. 

Avoid demonizing the opposing party. One of the reasons that conflict becomes so acrimonious so fast and continues to degenerate is that parties demonize the other. In doing so, they paint the other party as all bad. Once we believe that the other party is totally wrong or bad it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy and rationale discussion is no longer possible. The other party may be displaying poor EQ, may be faulty in their thinking and may have poor motives but keep from making the conflict personal by demonizing them personally. 

Avoid sweeping statements. Facts matter in conflict. Stating provable and truthful facts is important. Sweeping statements that color the other party, their motives or their behaviors usually move beyond facts to our interpretation of those facts and it raises the level of conflict. If one cannot verify something, it is best not to raise the issue. Stick to what you know, can verify and avoid statements that are simply your assumptions, interpretations or exaggerations, or which go to the motives of the other party which you cannot know for certain.

Don't bring others into your conflict except to help resolve it. Involving others in conflict by rallying them to one's cause simply enlarges the conflict by enlarging the circle of individuals involved. It is like adding fuel to an existing fire and the likelihood is that additional people will be hurt. Keep the conflict between the principle parties and only bring others in to help resolve the issue.

Don't die on anthills. Choose carefully what issues really matter and must be resolved and what issues are trivial and in the end unimportant. Some people are obnoxious about needing to be right about everything. Don't be one of them. Some things just don't matter. 

Don't do it alone. Conflict, especially emotionally charged conflict, can significantly skew our own perspective. Emotions can get in the way of rationale thinking. Talk to someone you trust who can help you keep a proper perspective, counsel you on how to respond and help you avoid responses that will be unhelpful. This is not someone who will simply agree with you but someone who will give you wise counsel and who has no stake in the conflict.

Scripture talks a lot about wisdom, truth, discernment and peace. Conflict is inevitable in a fallen world. Seeking to deal with conflict in ways that honor Jesus and display the Fruit of the Spirit should be our goal. 

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Retaining great staff and dealing with their leaving

The quality of the staff we lead is everything in terms of the success of the organization. Two questions regularly present themselves with great staff. How do we retain them and how do we deal with them should they choose to leave. 

I believe that one of our primary responsibilities with staff is to help them develop all the God given potential they have. This means mentoring and coaching, giving them opportunities to grow, ensuring that they are in their "lane" and are using all of their potential. I regularly ask my key staff, "what is your happiness factor?" I am looking for a number on a scale of 1 to 10 and if it is a seven or less I will ask follow up questions to clarify what it is that is causing them to be lower than I would want on the scale. 

This can open up conversations about personal or home issues, or issues on the job: boredom, needing a new challenge, needing a larger platter, desiring to go to the next level and so on. It gives me the opportunity to evaluate options with an individual to re-motivate and sometimes reposition. 

But developing staff comes with another price. When we do the right thing, we may actually develop them out of the organization when their growth leaves them ready for a greater challenge. Perhaps a challenge that we cannot offer. This is where our commitment to wanting our staff to use all their gifts in the greatest possible way meets the real world.

Selfishly we desire that they stay. Unselfishly we must hold them with an open hand - they are not ours - but God's and ultimately we must want what is best for them and be willing to trust them and the Holy Spirit to sort that out. I actually ask my staff members to let me know if they are looking at something else. Some do and some don't but if they do, it allows me to explore their reasons for thinking of leaving, to affirm their gifts, explore options but most of all communicate that we want the best for them and if that is leaving us we will bless them and help them in the process. It can be personally painful but I am convinced that it is the Jesus attitude and that in blessing them, we do the Jesus thing.

We are stewards of our staff on a temporary basis. I desire former staff to look back at their experience with ReachGlobal and say, they cared for me, they developed me, they encouraged me and they held me with an open hand. If they can say that, I am a happy leader.

This is about a spirit of generosity. Selfish leaders want to control staff. Unselfish and generous leaders want the very best for staff and are willing to trust them and the Holy Spirit's leading when it is time to leave.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

When I need to grow my EQ

Healthy emotional intelligence is one of the most critical factors in healthy relationships, leadership and marriages. There is a simple way that we can regularly increase our health in this area. It is watching for when we get into trouble with our emotions, reactions, actions or words (all EQ issues) and taking the time to analyze what got us into trouble and what we will do next time to avoid the reactions that troubled us.

Recently I suggested something to my spouse that did not go over very well (not the first time). Obviously my approach was not helpful even if I thought the subject was relevant. But, knowing that I did not successfully communicate, and having thought through the conversation, I will work on a different tact next time. There is no use paying the same dumb tax twice. 

All of us have people, situations or topics that trigger emotions in us and often reactions that we wish afterwards had been different. The good news is that those triggers are signals to us that we need to pay attention to whatever it was that triggered the reaction, ask why we responded the way we did and then come up with a game plan to handle the situation next time.

This is all about managing our shadow side. Managing our emotions and reactions so that they work for us and not against us.  

Emotional triggers are normal. Mature individuals, however, learn to pay attention to them and work to modify those reactions so they do not embarrass themselves, cause additional relational disconnect or respond with the same lack of EQ that the other individual probably used in triggering their emotions.

Each time we experience a reaction on our part that we don't like, it is an opportunity to grow in our ability to handle that situation next time. Usually the more nonreactive we become, learning to manage our outward emotions, the less likely we are to either escalate the situation or say or do something we will later regret.

For leaders, this is especially important because unregulated emotion and reactions can cause serious loss of trust to a leader. The more we pay attention to needed areas of EQ growth the better off we are.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Email and conflict are a bad combination

Email and conflict are a bad combination. Nine times out of ten, email fuels conflict when it is present rather than defuses it. We write things we would not say in person and there is no opportunity for the one we are writing to too see our face, hear our tone or read our body language. Email and conflict are incompatible. It is the shadow side of technology! Somehow it is easier to judge motives and make assumptions when we are not face to face than when we are. 

I confess to being reactive at times on email in a way that I didn't like and was not helpful to the situation. I have a personal saying that I remind myself of often, KMS (Keep Mouth Shut) which has served me well. I add to that DHS (Don't Hit Send) when it comes to email in conflictual situations. I know from experience it will not help and will probably hurt. Like you I have paid dumb tax on this one.

When tempted to send an email in a conflictual situation my advice is  to first wait 24 hours before writing and then to have a trusted friend or colleague read it before hitting send. My best advice is to not engage in conflict via email at all but to send a short reply that says, "Thanks for sharing your concerns, lets find a time to talk by phone or in person." 

For some reason, we are all more reasonable in person than in email. And emails don't go away. In fact they are often passed on to others who we would not want them shared with. Don't put in writing what you don't want others to see. Emails escalate while face to face conversations with reasonable people generally deescalate.   

In conflict, DHS. Instead pick up the phone and talk. Things will go much better. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Moral freedom and what it tells us about God's love for us

An amazing aspect of being made in the image of God is the gift we were given of moral freedom. It is amazing given the cost God knew He would pay for that gift.

Because mankind was created for relationship with God, it was imperative that they be given the choice of whether to choose or reject Him. To force someone to love another is not love but coercion. God would not coerce His creation. Rather He created Adam and Eve with pure hearts, unmarred by any sin, but still He gave them a choice: They could eat from any tree in the garden except one and if they ate of that one tree they would die.

The fact that God created mankind with moral freedom to choose right or wrong tells us a great deal about Him. Choosing Him and righteousness had to be a free choice if it was to be a true relationship and followership. Adam and Eve had a great advantage that we do not have, they were without a sin nature, so like Jesus who lived a sinless life, they could choose to reject sin. And they did, until that fateful day in the garden when they discovered the awful ramifications of their choice to rebel.

There is another facet to giving mankind this choice to follow or not. God is omniscient, which means that He knows all things, from beginning to end. Thus He knew that in giving mankind moral freedom that they would choose to rebel. He also knew that He would initiate a divine rescue operation that would cost His Son His life on the cross to pay for our sin. Knowing all this, He still chose to create mankind – knowing full well the cost it would require to redeem men and women from their sin.

What this tells us is the value that God places on men and women created in His image. Not only was He willing to create them knowing the outcome but in spite of their rebellion and the cost of reconciling men and women to God, he still desires our love, followership and fellowship.

Paul puts it this way in Romans 5:6-8. "You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

 If you ever wonder how much God loves you or desires your love and followership just think of the price he knew he would pay in order to make that love and followership possible.  He created us for fellowship with Him. In order to make that fellowship a free choice on our part he gave us the gift of moral freedom in spite of the cost to Him. That is how much He desires our freely given love and worship.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Three questions regarding your mission

Every good organization has a mission statement. In a really good organization everyone knows the mission statement. It's like a law of the Medes and Persians, you have to have one so we all do. I have helped many organizations develop theirs. So here are three questions regarding the mission statement of your ministry.

First, do you believe in your mission statement? I mean passionately believe that what your mission states is what your organization is called to do. 

Second, how would you honestly evaluate how your ministry is doing in fulfilling that mission? My observation is that there are often massive disconnects between many mission statements and real results. I realize that mission statements are by definition long view statements but nonetheless, what grade would you honestly give the organization you are a part of for results on that mission? Often, the organization is not even configured to actually fulfill the mission except in very general or tangential ways. 

Third, what would it take in organizational realignment to actually deliver well on your mission? Think of a mission as a big arrow pointing in a specific direction. Then think about every part of your organization or ministry and ask whether all the subsidiary arrows are pointed in the same direction as the mission or whether there are many arrows pointed in other directions - doing nice things but not directly contributing to the big arrow.

Now let me go back to question one. Many organizations that have a mission are not really passionate about that mission even when they say they are. How do I know? They are not willing to align all parts of the organization so that all the arrows go in the same direction as the mission. That is when you know the organization - and leadership is passionate. Multi directional arrows are not about mission alignment or fulfillment. 

Missions are meaningless unless the whole organization is truly aligned around that mission. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Giving up the need to be right

I like to be right. I'll bet you do to! And that need is the cause of many relational breakdowns, especially when two people both need to be right and neither will back down. If you are or have been married, you know exactly what I'm talking about.

Sometimes being right is important, when the issue at stake is high and will impact organizations and lives. Most of the time (95%?) the only issue at stake is our own ego and personal "needs."

Why do we need to be right? What would change if we didn't care if others acknowledged whether we were right or not? If we gave up that right what would happen? 

Many conflicts would be shorter or even non-existent. We would let go of issues quicker. We would probably be healthier and happier without the baggage of needing to be right. It may have something to do with not letting the sun go down on our wrath and forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave us. If we wait till others acknowledge we are right and in consequence they are wrong it can be a long ugly wait.

I'm just thinking of giving up the need to be right. It would solve a lot of problems. If you don't agree, don't tell me because then I need to decide if I'm serious or not.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Five Dysfunctions of Ministry Organizations

1. Ambiguity. 
Lacking clarity around who we are, what we are about and how we are going to get there. Job one of leaders is to provide maximum clarity to those they lead. Job two of leaders is to ensure that there is alignment throughout the organization around that clarity and job three is to ensure that there are results based on that clarity. Lack of clarity (ambiguity) is at the heart of much ministry dysfunction since in the absence of clarity, people will fill the hole with their own individual clarity withe the end result of competing agendas.

2. Control
Permission withholding organizations (you cannot do it without my permission) are dysfunctional organizations. Healthy organizations have great clarity and empower people within certain parameters. In unhealthy organizations leaders or boards feel they must control what happens. Of course if you don't have clarity, you don't know what you can and cannot do without permission. So lack of clarity feeds the need to control and control feeds the next dysfunction of bureaucracy. 

3. Bureaucracy
Bureaucracy is control gone amuk where permission, assent or funding must be negotiated with multiple individuals or groups (committees, boards) in order to get something done. This is the way many churches operate. And staffs, where there are endless reports to be made, forms to be filled out, permission to be gotten or forgiveness to be asked for (when the prior requirements were not kept). Bureaucracy is a means to control when one has not clearly defined the boundaries for a permission granting structure, or when a leader or group of leaders (boards) feel they need to control through creating multiple toll booths.  Bureaucracy is not to be confused with structure which every ministry needs. Bureaucracy is control gone amuk where order is kept by creating many checks on what can or cannot be done in a permission withholding culture.

4. Mistrust
It should come as no surprise that mistrust is the result of the first three dysfunctions. In fact, the need to control and put in place bureaucracies has at its core a mistrust of staff to make their own wise decisions (based on clarity and boundaries). Lack of clarity creates mistrust because the end result becomes competing agendas. Control breeds mistrust because it is obnoxious. Bureaucracy breeds mistrust because it is onerous. Dysfunctional organizations have a great deal of mistrust - the very system creates mistrust. Permission withholding cultures create mistrust. And, lack of trust, destroys healthy team dynamics. 

5. Professional Ministry
Professional ministry is the result of a failure to develop, empower and release others in ministry. Rather than hiring staff to develop others, we hire staff to do ministry for others. It is the subtle or not too subtle message that God has an A team and a B team, those called into full time ministry and the rest who are not. Qualifications for real ministry reside in theological education (never confuse education with ability). The dysfunction of  professional ministry is largely the reason that the church has so little influence in the community at large. 

If your team or organization suffers from any of these five, or all of  these five, two of my books, Leading From the Sandbox and High Impact Church Boards will help you escape from the dysfunction trap.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

One of the greatest hiring mistakes in ministry

Too often we don't think about it, ask if they can do it or put it in a job description. We have a need, create a position, fill it and never address the most important question.

Can this individual multiply themselves by raising up others to do what they do? It is the "develop, empower and release" commitment and ability of your staff. If they cannot do it, or don't do it or won't do it and are in ministry positions, your ministry is not scaled for growth and one either plateaus or must hire additional staff as one grows. 

And it violates a basic Scriptural principle that those in full time ministry are primarily there to raise up others for ministry - Ephesians 4:12. 

The development of people is one of the highest responsibilities of every individual in full time ministry but it usually does not even show up on a job description. Nor, on annual reviews (where they are done). 

What would happen if 20% of your staff's time were spent in developing others? You would, over time, gain new staff, whether volunteer, or part time because you made the investment. 

Why do we wonder why we don't have enough volunteers for our ministries? Often it is because we didn't make the investment in them. We did not develop (mentor and train), empower (give real responsibility) and release (let them fly on their own).

When we make real investments in people, serious investments, the return is huge. It is what Jesus did with His disciples and what Paul did with the likes of Timothy and Titus. They multiplied themselves in real ways. 

Friday, February 17, 2012

Power and information

How candid leaders are with the sharing of information is a measure of their desire to empower or need to control. Information is power. Withholding information from those who either need it or desire it is a means of control while sharing it freely with those who should have access to it is a measure of our desire to empower others. The issue comes down to whether we desire retain power or empower.

What some leaders do not understand is that in withholding information they actually lose the trust of those they lead. Take a ministry that is in financial distress. The leader does not want to divulge the issues while the staff know the issues are there. By not being candid about the actual situation the leader loses the trust of those he/she leads because the staff suspect that the leader is hiding something. If the leader had simply been candid and honest the opposite reaction would occur: trust and a desire to help solve the dilemma. Information, even difficult information builds trust while withholding information undermines trust.

Leaders who control or withhold information are really saying, "I can't trust you with this information." And, that is exactly what their staff hears and that message undermines their ability to lead and leads to cynicism and mistrust on the part of those they lead. In an attempt to control, leaders actually lose the very thing they need the most with their staff, trust. 

Good information is the foundation of good dialogue and decision making. Secretive leaders therefore undermine the ability of other leaders to make informed decisions while candid leaders who share what they know readily are able to build collaborative teams that get to good solutions. 

I often ask staff in churches or ministries for certain statistics or information when working with them. When I hear them say, "We are never told that" or "We are not able to get that information" I know that there is a senior leader who is either controlling, secretive, or threatened by others knowing what they know. None of these are good signs of healthy leadership.

Related to this is the ability to have "real" information. Ministries are notorious for using hyperbole in talking about their ministry results. A pastor might say from the pulpit, "Eighty percent of our adults are in small groups" as he seeks to convince new people to join a group. When a staff member raises an eyebrow (knowing it is like 40%), the response is "that is our pastor's math." Not accurate or helpful information.

There is power in information. Power to control or empower. Which are you using it for?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Don't complicate the Gospel

The Gospel is Good News and it is also very simple.

Think of the simplicity of John 3:16-17. "For God so loved the world that he game his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him."

It's simplicity is often what keeps people from receiving it. But its simplicity often gives us a need to complicate it. 

The Apostle Paul did not complicate the gospel but kept it simple for it is simple. He knew the power inherent in the gospel - "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed - a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: 'The righteous will live by faith' (Romans 1:16-17)."

  • We have a problem with sin which has separated us from God.
  • Jesus died for our sin so that we could be reconciled to Him.
  • If we believe in Him, He gives us eternal life.
  • And that changes everything in this life and in the life to come.

Don't be embarrassed with the simplicity of the gospel. And don't complicate its simplicity. The Holy Spirit is perfectly capable of bringing great understanding over time as to the ongoing implications of putting our faith in Jesus. The power of the gospel resides in the God behind the gospel, not in our ability to make it sound intellectually acceptable. It is so simple that the simplest man or woman or child can understand it. Our job is to share it. His job is to penetrate the hearts of those we share it with.

In fact, its very simplicity is the reason that many do not accept it according to Paul in 1 Corinthians 1. He writes, "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate...For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength (1 Corinthians 1:18-25)."

The gospel is simple. It is so simple that many consider it foolish. But it is the power of God for those who believe. And it is the God behind the gospel who gives people the ability to understand and respond to it. Our job is to share it in all of its simplicity and let the Holy Spirit work in the hearts of those we share it with. Don't complicate the gospel.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Are you on God's A team or B team?

I remember a conversation with my son Jon when he was very young. We were driving in the car (where all important conversations take place) and he waxed eloquent on how important his mom was because she was a nurse who saved lives. I asked him when he was done, "and what does your dad do?" He replied quickly, "Oh you're just an ordinary worker."

It is difficult for me to believe after two thousand years of reflection on the gospels and New Testament that there remains in the minds of many that there is an A team in God's Kingdom and a B team. The A team - those who are truly qualified to do ministry are those with seminary education and who work full time in ministry (like pastors and missionaries). The B team is everyone else who can "help" and "use their gifts" but are not really critical to God's work because they are....well....B team.

This is a grand lie of Satan (effectively designed to keep the majority of God's people from significant ministry) and the result of arrogance of ministry professionals who don't fight this paradigm with everything they have. Professional ministry is one of the dysfunctions of the church where we see our job as primarily to do ministry rather than primarily to equip the members of the body to do ministry (Ephesians 4:12). 

God has only one team - His A team and each of us decides whether we want to play on it or sit on the sidelines. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Image Bearers

Before the universe was, there was nothing: a vast dark infinity without time, beginning, light or sound. Except, in that place known as heaven where God resided, One in Three, Father, Son and Holy Spirit in perfect fellowship, surrounded by multitudes of angelic beings worshipping their God day and night. Here there was the light and joy of God, the music of the heavenly hosts and perfect peace.

But the heart of God was restless. And a restless heart is not easily satisfied. God had the worship of the heavenly hosts but they were created to worship. God had the perfect fellowship of the triune Godhead but His heart was restless still. We cannot know what was in the mind of God except by what He has revealed to us in His word and echoes of His creation.

We exist because of God’s restless heart. It is a heart made for fellowship and worship. Why God would crave the fellowship of others is hard to fathom but that is His heart, to give and to receive love. The very fact that we exist is testimony to the loving heart of God who chose to give us life. He did not need mankind but he chose to bless us with life so that we could live in fellowship with Him. Without His love we would not be.

Every story has a beginning and this one does as well. In fact, this beginning reveals the amazing heart of God for He chose to not only bring creation into being but to create the master work of His creation, mankind, in His image. Everything in this story, everything important to you goes back to these amazing and incomprehensible words:

“Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them (Genesis 1:26-27).”

These simple words contain within them the amazing heart of God. In creating the universe and fashioning our planet, in setting the stars in place with its billions of numbers, in carving out the seas and forming the mountain heights, God showed his creativity.

Into that setting he brought the life of flora and fauna that brings beauty to our days and food for our bodies. The animals of the land, the birds of the sky and the fish of the sea reflect not only His creativity but His sense of humor. What child is not delighted to go to the zoo and marvel at the amazing faces that stare back at them and laugh at the antics of chimpanzees or the impossibly long necks of giraffes!

This is no Darwinian saga but the creativity of our amazing God. What do you think He was thinking when He created the kangaroo? Or the peacock? Or playful dolphins and funny looking penguins? Or what about dinosaurs? Anyone who thinks God does not have a sense of humor has not looked carefully at His creation!

But the last of His creation was different in every way. The words, “Let us make mankind in our likeness” or “image” puts a great distance between all other creation and the creation of man and woman. Here was not an expression of His humor but His heart. For here the creator endows His created with nobility, a precious and unprecedented gift – something of Him, something that reflects His majesty, something that no other creature has: His Image! Not only did God personally form the first man but He breathed His breath into him, “the breath of life, and the man became a living being (Genesis 2:7).”

You and I and every human who has ever walked this earth are image bearers of our creator! Think about that. You are made in God’s image. You were deliberately created by God in His image. In some way you bear His likeness. He is the God of the universe and you are imaged after Him. Even after the fall when Adam and Eve fell into sin remnants of that image remain.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Strategic missions strategy: Leveraging your investment

I am frequently asked by local churches for a more strategic paradigm for supporting missions than they currently have. The old model was a long list of missionaries supported at modest levels. In that model the focus is supporting many missionaries but there is not a strategic focus on what the church is trying to accomplish in missions beyond that. 

It is a problematic model for two reasons. First, there is not a clear focus for the congregation to grab on to and second, it is almost impossible to maintain any kind of true relationship with a long list of missionaries. And the younger generations want connection with those who are supported and the work they are doing.

My suggestion is that mission committees or leaders in the local church focus the bulk of their dollars in four areas of missions which will help them both focus and be holistic in their approach.

One: Get involved in an Acts 19 location where the goal is to see the gospel penetrate an entire city or region rather than simply a neighborhood. Simply put, this is an effort to see significant gospel penetration, often with multiple partners and across denominational or mission lines to see the gospel penetrate a significant area. There is great leverage in seeing the gospel come to a larger area than a "one off" church.

This effort, holistic in its approach must be tied to the planting and multiplication of the local church. Doing evangelism without leaving behind a healthy church to disciple believers is usually a poor investment. The church is the Bride of Christ through which He wants to impact our world. 

Two: Be involved in Biblical Compassion. I call this Biblical compassion to differentiate it from the western tendency to give a lot of money and create unhealthy dependencies. Biblical compassion is not primarily about handouts but about creating dignity, giving people a means of making a living and providing the training that will help people get out of the cycle of poverty and hopelessness they are in. An important book on this subject is When Helping Hurts. 

Jesus had a great heart for the poor, disadvantaged, marginalized and sick and so should we. But, this concern should never be divorced from the proclamation of the gospel as He is ultimately the only eternal hope we have. Tying Biblical compassion to church movements allows one to be the hands of Jesus as well as become the family of Jesus. The best compassion is tied to local church movements.

Three: Come alongside an indigenous movement leader. There are amazing leaders of church movements across our globe who need encouragement, training, mentoring or help in their strategic vision. I personally mentor such a leader who has planted some 5000 churches of various sizes in the past decade. I also mentor a movement leader of a much smaller movement that has great potential. 

My investment in these leaders and the movements they lead is a two way street. I am deeply blessed to be a part of what God is doing in their ministries and I can contribute something of value to them allowing me to ripple on all of their efforts. There is great kingdom leverage when we ripple on an entire movement because we come alongside a movement leader.

Four: export the DNA of your church in all of your missions efforts. Every church has a unique fingerprint with areas where they shine. Take those strengths, whatever they are, and apply them to all of your missions efforts. It might be prayer, teaching, hearts of compassion, generosity or something else but weave it into all that you do in missions so that you multiply your unique influence. 

It is often said that "less is more" and that certainly applies in missions. The more focused you are the more involvement you will have from your congregation. Their ability to be personally involved will change their world view and give them God's heart for the world. Using your missions dollars for maximum return on mission (and investment) also allows you to leverage the opportunities you have for the gospel. 

Key blogs on missions

TED talk on the nine critical shifts that must take place in missions today

Changing antiquated local church missions strategies

Missions in the 21st Century: Two circles, one goal

From leader to partner in global missions

What kind of churches should we be planting around the world?

Western vs. indigenous missionaries

Determining what missionaries to support

Missions today is about...

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Empowered Structures

We pay far too little attention to the structures that we have in our churches and organizations for decision making. No matter how good our organizational clarity and  how competent our leaders and people, when the structures that one must negotiate to make decisions - or to organize staff - or work with a board get clunky, they hold up ministry, waste precious time and energy and demotivate otherwise good leaders.

Eventually, unfriendly structures can actually kill a ministry or company as GM found out prior to filing bankruptcy. I have watched churches that were shining lights at one time go into slow decline because their staff and governance structures were not brought into alignment with new realities. 

Let's consider staff structures. One church I am watching from a distance has a considerably large staff which has never been unified around common goals or direction. Led by fairly competent individuals, they have simply done their own ministries for decades. The end result is a staff with zero alignment, turf wars, confusion over who is responsible for what, lack of a common voice and when the church got into crisis, chaos. And this is a church that many would recognize by name in our country. 

Yesterday I did a church consultation in Europe and staff were begging for greater clarity about reporting relationships, who was setting direction and how to achieve alignment. The lack of these things in a growing and effective ministry is causing frustration for staff who in the process feel under appreciated and unempowered.

Structures at the leadership level are no less important. Here is the question: How easy is it for you as a leader to make timely ministry decisions and how many groups do you need to go to in order to do so? When the decision making process becomes frustrating you know it is time to tune up the process. This involves getting your board structure in sync, eliminating additional boards or committees that you need to negotiate with and simplifying your governance system. For those of you who have ever been through the Chicago area with its toll roads, it is moving from toll booths to easy pass. 

Staff and ministry structures matter because their either impede or help effective ministry. If you have issues with either one, take the time to address it. The positive impact of doing so will be significant.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The power of unselfish relationships in ministry

It has been said, "There are no innocent conversations," meaning that there is always an agenda in every conversation. I agree that there is often an agenda, and those agendas can be healthy and intentional in growing ministry or effectiveness. However, not all relationships have or should have an agenda apart from giving ourselves away in unselfish ways.

I am a great believer in unselfish relationships in ministry. Relationships that are intentionally developed where I have nothing to gain through the relationship and where there is no quid pro quo! Unselfish relationships are relationships where I am able to give, encourage and share expertise or tools without expecting anything in return. It is a Kingdom mentality rather than a selfish mentality.

A philosophy of generous living includes thinking beyond ourselves or our ministries. When I lead the organization I am responsible for I carry out my responsibilities and have something to gain as an organizational leader. All good. However, when I give myself away to other organizations or leaders where I have nothing to gain I more fully reflect the generous heart of God. I want to intentionally live beyond the self interest that drives us all to varying degrees. The best way for me to do that is to give myself away where I have nothing to gain. Each time I do, I experience the joy of God in new ways.

It also reminds me that it is not about the brand but about the Bride.  A great goal for every congregation would be to give themselves away to another congregation, even of another denomination that needs their help. That unselfish gift would change the heart of both congregations. It is in giving ourselves away unselfishly that we grow Kingdom hearts. Congregations that are committed to Kingdom Projects in their communities are doing the same thing and experiencing the transformation that unselfish living brings.

Another way to give ourselves away is to quietly mentor and coach others who come behind us. I try to be involved in ten mentoring relationships at any one time. It is a quiet but powerful way to leave a legacy and influence the next generation of Christian leaders. 

I find that as I develop relationships for the sake of encouraging others that when the time comes where there may be synergies, they emerge out of genuine relationship. Unselfish investments in relationships bless both us and our friends and it results in ministry synergies. And we reflect the amazingly generous heart of God.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Weak staff members and their impact on others

One of the responsibilities of team or ministry leaders is to deal with weak staff members (I am referring to paid staff). These are staff who do not have the capacity of the rest of the team and therefore pull down the level of dialogue and ministry results. Many leaders do not understand how this situation disempowers and creates issues for other team members. 

Healthy, synergistic teams are made up of individuals with different gifts and skills but with a common level of professional acumen. This means that they can play at the same level. In team meetings the common level allows for easy dialogue and synergistic ideas. In execution it makes for a common ability to deliver on ministry.

When, however, one has a staff member who operates at a significantly lower level of competency there is a negative impact to the whole team. At team meetings, the level of dialogue and discourse is pulled down and other members often shut down or become irritated. In ministry execution the fact that one of their team cannot deliver at the required level which puts additional pressure on other team members either to pick up the slack or unhappiness that the over level of ministry is being compromised.

Overall, this has a negative impact on the rest of the team as a whole and other team members look to their team or organizational leader to solve the problem. They cannot solve it but he/she can and they expect that they will. When they do not, the leader loses credibility in the eyes of the team.

Sometimes that solution is to find another role for the individual where their skills meet the standards of that role. It may mean moving them out of the organization. It could mean coaching to see if they can up their game. The relevant issue is not the particular solution, if there is one, but that the leader deals with the situation.

No leader relishes dealing with staff who cannot play at the required level. But it is one of the responsibilities of leadership. When they address the issue they gain credibility and protect their team. When they don't address the issue they lose credibility and hurt the rest of the team. It matters!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Church board self assessment: Fifteen Questions

If you are a church board member, how would you rate the quality of your board's work? As one who consults with church boards I am encouraged by the concern of many board members to raise the bar when it comes to the leadership and governance of their board. For many boards there is still much to do and for all boards, honest self evaluation is a critical factor in leading at a higher level.

Here are some basic questions that can help a board rate its current work and look for areas where they can do better. What I suggest is that each board member answers these questions with one of three colors: Red, yellow or green. 

Red means that the board is not performing well at all in an area. Yellow means that improvements could be made. Green means that things are going well. Remember, you are looking for areas where you can improve so yellow and red are not bad colors in themselves. What you do with the yellows and reds is the critical question. Visual management is helpful so I would actually encourage you to use colors in answering these questions.

These fifteen questions should spark some good, candid and robust dialogue among board members. Be honest, listen to one another and ask the hard questions of yourselves so that you can go to the next level.

1. Our board meetings start and end on time and there is always a clearly defined agenda. Red/Yellow/Green

2. Our board is able to engage in robust dialogue around any issue as long as there are no personal attacks or hidden agendas. There are no elephants we cannot discuss. Red/Yellow/Green

3. We have a written board covenant that defines how we operate together and we keep that covenant. Red/Yellow/Green

4. We spend more time thinking about the future than we spend on current issues. Red/Yellow/Green

5. We delegate management to staff and stay focused on the big rocks of direction and health. Red/Yellow/Green

6. We insist that our staff operate with a clear annual ministry plan. Red/Yellow/Green

7. Our senior pastor has a clear annual plan which forms the basis of an annual review. Red/Yellow/Green

8. Our board itself has an annual plan in how they will grow in their leadership and governance. Red/Yellow/Green

9. Our board has a clear job description as to its responsibilities and role and all new board members are clearly trained in those responsibilities. Red/Yellow/Green

10. Our board has a clear picture of what they desire the church to become and has clearly articulated this vision to the congregation. Red/Yellow/Green

11. We candidly evaluates the health of the church based on that clearly articulated vision. Red/Yellow/Green

12. We do not ignore real issues that exist on staff or in the congregation because of conflict or issue avoidance. Red/Yellow/Green

13. The leadership structures of our church are designed to help leaders lead easily and make decisions quickly. Red/Yellow/Green

14. We regularly spend time in concerted prayer for the ministry and needs of the congregation. Red/Yellow/Green

15. We guard the gate of leadership so that we get the best leaders who are wired to lead and to keep the spiritual temperature of the church high. Red/Yellow/Green

With over thirty years of working with boards I am available to help your board be the best they can be. Whether remotely using technology or in person, together we can make substantial strides toward healthier and more missional board work.

As the author of High Impact Church Boards I have worked with thousands of board members to ensure that the right people end up on an organizations board, that the board is intentional in its work and that the culture of the leadership system is empowering rather than controlling. Cost is kept to a minimum by using technology like Go To Meeting, or I can join you in person for governance training or retreat.

I can be contacted at or 612.868.0487. I look forward to talking to and working with those who desire to raise the level of their board's effectiveness. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

It's about the Bride not the brand

I am a senior vice president of the EFCA - a brand of the church. Having said that, one of my core convictions is that while brands can be helpful in the spread of the Gospel, at the end of the day my concern should not be about the brand but about the Bride. Jesus died for the Bride, not my brand (hard as that is for some to believe, given our often parochial attitudes toward those of another brand). 

Most of us like the brand we worship in, which is why we are there. I like the broad evangelical parameters of the EFCA and the freedom I have as the leader of ReachGlobal, its international mission. But, my highest allegiance is always to the Bride of Christ, His church, of which mine is but one small expression.

When we value the Bride over the brand we become open to working with other churches to bring the Gospel in a relevant way to our communities, something none of us can do ourselves. Moving from competition to cooperation in the spread of the Gospel is an expression of mature leadership that places what is close to God's heart (that people respond to His good news) above our parochial interests.

There is nothing wrong with brands. But think of the power of the unity of the church when we choose to work with other like minded evangelical churches and denominations to reach our communities and the unreached globally. It is a visible expression of the unity that Jesus prays for in John 17, by which the world knows that we are in Him and He in us. There will be no Presbyterians or Baptists or Free Church folks in heaven (really!). Just worshipers of Jesus Christ. I suspect we will quickly realize that those things that once divided us were insignificant compared to what should have united us - the Gospel and person of Jesus Christ.

It is for this reason that ReachGlobal does not plant EFC churches internationally but works to plant healthy, reproducing, interdependent, indigenous and self supporting churches. As long as Jesus is at the center in a biblical way, we will work with a wide variety of movements to bring the Gospel to places where it has not yet penetrated. We then link the various movements we work with together so that they too are working alongside one another in cooperation rather than competition. There is enough division among denominations for us to further contribute to disunity rather than unity.

I am heartened by expressions of Bride over brand in this country when churches from across denominational lines band together to bring the gospel to their community. They are demonstrating Christ's heart and His interests over their own. 

Think about your ministry. Are you more about the brand or the Bride? For me, the Bride trumps the brand every time.

Spiritual growth from a positive perspective

In our organization, we use visual management to seek to continuously improve everything we do. For instance, we use three colors, to rate how we are doing in many areas of work. Green means we are doing well and no changes are needed, yellow means that we can do better and red means that we have significant opportunity for improvement. Notice that yellow and red are actually positive colors, not negative, because they give us opportunity to improve. We like and look for yellow and reds.

Think about this in your spiritual life. Our goal in our relationship with Jesus is to become like Him in every way possible: hearts that understand and live out grace, minds that think like He thinks, priorities that are aligned with His and relationships that reflect his love for other. Now we know we are a long ways from where we want to be and it is easy to become discouraged when we discover another area of life that needs reformation.

But consider this: Every time we realize we have areas of our lives that need to be brought under His purview, every time we surrender another room or closet to him, we have the opportunity to become more like Him. In other words, as He chooses to reveal areas of life that need our attention along with the Holy Spirit's power, He is giving us the opportunity to become more like him. It is not a failure, but an opportunity. And every opportunity to become more like Jesus ought to be celebrated and pursued because He is our ultimate goal!

In His grace, He does not reveal all of our "reds" and "yellows" at once but bit by bit, He makes them known to us. Each one is an opportunity to align my heart in a new way toward His. 

I don't always like what the Holy Spirit reveals to me but I do relish the opportunity to bring my life and heart into greater alignment with His. Jesus is our source and our goal so the yellows and reds that He reveals to me are a wonderful opportunity for repentance and realignment toward my ultimate objective: A heart like His.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Failures and disappointments are often God's redirection

Our ability to see the full scope of our lives and God's plan is amazingly limited. As Paul says, we see through a glass darkly but will one day see Him face to face. Because of our limited view, we often do not see that the failures and disappointments we face are nothing other than God's redirection of our lives to those places where He can use us the most.

Consider Moses who failed at being an Egyptian prince so God could use him to lead the people out of bondage. Or, Joseph who failed at being a brother so that he could save his whole family from famine. My greatest perceived failure brought me to where I am today, and right where I believe God wants me to be. As the book of Proverbs says, "In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps (Proverbs 16:9)." How often God has redirected my steps in ways that I did not understand at the time but in retrospect have more clarity.

This ought to cause us to ask in failure and disappointment, "Is God up to something?" "Does He have something in mind that is greater than our disappointment?" Since He establishes our steps and has our best interests in mind, chances are He does. 

This allows us to change our prayer from "why?" to "What?" Obviously God has something different for us than we expected, the question is "what is it?" Asking why keeps us focused on our disappointment while asking what focuses on God's intentions and what He has for us next. Two very different perspectives that lead to two very different attitudes.

Here is something we know for sure: God is always up to something, even in our failures and disappointments. We are never abandoned or left alone so even in the worst place we can look with anticipation at what He has for us. This truth gives us the courage to move forward even in dark days. We know He is up to something, we just don't know what - yet!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Liberating personal clarity

There is something very liberating about understanding how God designed us, what we are good at and therefore where we should focus our time and energies. Just as our closets, trunks and garages accumulate stuff that we don't need, so our lives, schedules and commitments accumulate obligations that we don't need and that don't contribute to our legacy because they are not in our lane. Often they are the accumulated expectations of others for us - everyone has a wonderful plan for our lives!

But so does God and it is His plan for our lives that counts the most. And He designed and wired and gifted us for a purpose. When we understand that purpose and live it out we experience great joy and satisfaction. On the other hand, when we are simply accumulating obligations and activities that are not aligned with His purpose, we experience frustration and decreased happiness. 

I was recently talking to a colleague about how busy and without margin his life had become. He had accumulated so much stuff, so many obligations that life was not fun anymore. Further, much of the stuff was not in his primary lane of where he would make the most impact. He is now in the process of a personal "garage sale" to relinquish many of those obligations so that he can focus on what brings him the greatest joy and will make the greatest contribution to the kingdom.

It is liberating to realize that there are things we can say no too, based on the clarity of what God has called us to do. 

Youth does not lend itself to this kind of clarity but by the time we reach our forties, fifties and sixties we have a much better idea of who God made us to be and therefore where we are most effective. It makes sense that we focus our lives in those directions where God wired us to make the greatest impact. And, to feel free to graciously decline those things that take us away from our impact zone.

What is your impact zone? The place where you are in your lane, shine, feel the greatest joy and make the most impact for Jesus? Are you spending most of your time there or have you accumulated all kinds of obligations that actually take you away from your zone?  Do you need to shed some of the stuff of life so that you can live with more focus?

Sunday, February 5, 2012

When the bodies pile up

I am not one who normally gets excited when people leave a church or a ministry when change comes. The truth is that when change comes, some folks (good folks) decide that they don't want to stay on the same bus anymore. I am OK with that. I write about this in my book High Impact Church Boards. I understand the dynamics of change. There are clearly times when people need to leave a church or ministry in order for that ministry to move forward.  The issue is not whether people will leave but which people will leave! 

And, when leaders together chart a new course for the church, there will be those who leave and others who come. This is normal and to be expected.

However, when the pile of bodies reaches a critical mass behind a leader there need to be questions asked. People who have found reason to move on, people who have been marginalized and choose to leave, people who have been hurt and decide to quietly disappear to other churches or ministries! At some point when the body count becomes high enough, wise individuals ask questions! Especially when the common factor becomes the leader himself! Is the fallout from needed change or is the fallout from a toxic leader? This is a critical distinction because change will often bring fallout (sometimes necessary fallout for the church to move forward).

There are toxic leaders who hurt people. Boards who allow those leaders to hurt others at some point become accountable for their choice to not hold senior leaders accountable. The church is by definition a place of grace, healing, compassion, and mercy. When leaders in the church allow it to turn into a place of hurt and alienation the purpose of the church has been compromised. 

Most folks alienated by a church leader will not make a scene. They quietly leave. Sometimes they leave because they no longer fit and need something different. But, when the list accumulates and leaders do not pay attention, ask questions or seek to determine why folks are leaving, they do a disservice to their responsibility as leaders. They may agree that it is not an important issue, but at least they know what the issues are. Too often they are simply negligent in even trying to know. Or, negligent in doing anything about it.

I am saddened by people who have been hurt by church and ministry leaders. I am more saddened by leaders who do not hold their own leader's accountable for their actions that hurt others. 

Friday, February 3, 2012

Church Conflict: Finding the core issue and the common source

If you are a leader whose church is in conflict there are two issues it is helpful to understand. First, what is the true reason for the conflict, and second, who is at the center of the conflict. 

Understanding the true nature of the conflict is often difficult because the presenting issues are often not the real issues. If one tries to solve the presenting issues without understanding what the actual issues are, there will not be resolution because even if you solve the presenting issues, the core issue remains untouched.

Having watched and worked with numerous churches in conflict, I am convinced that most church conflict has nothing to do with the surface or presenting issues and everything to do with power and control issues that lie behind the surface issues. This has to do with decision making power in the church and control of the church. It is an agenda to force a certain decision or direction hidden behind other presenting issues. Often it is cloaked in spiritual language and the "good of the church" but at its core it is about power and control.

How does one know if they are working with the presenting issue or a deeper control issue? One of the key markers is whether those who are complaining and making noise are open to rationale discussion and compromise or if they insist on getting their way. If it is the latter you are most likely dealing with a power issue and unless you cede to their demands the conflict will not stop. If you do, you have allowed power brokers with an agenda to win the day and that is always unhealthy in the church.

Often in church conflict it feels like everyone is involved because loud voices prevail. The truth of the matter is that power games in the church are never widespread but like power games everywhere can be traced back to an individual or a small group of individuals. I call these the voice behind the voices. Power games in the church are never a general group but always have an individual or small group of individuals behind them. They usually stay in the background and feed discontent but the common voice one hears from others is an indicator that this is not random conflict but has  a leader or leaders behind it. Common language and common attitudes are clear indicators.

How do you determine who is at the core of the conflict? Listen to the language, have a lot of conversations, ask a lot of questions and eventually you connect the dots toward a common source. Unless you understand the real issue and can deal with the common source one has no chance of mitigating the conflict.

We are often naive in the church regarding conflict. We too easily believe presenting issues, not wanting to believe that power politics might be present in our congregation. In addition we are too slow in dealing with the true source of the conflict because we are dealing with people who hide behind spiritual language. None of that, however, changes the damage that they are doing to the church. Power politics in the church destroys and people with agendas hurt the body. The proof that you are dealing with power politics is when you get to the core group and they will not live under the authority of the pastor or elders. Those who don't respond to appropriate authority are playing power politics. 

The ultimate power play is simply to call for the resignation of the pastor and the board. Here is where motives are nakedly plain. I was the pastor of a church where this once happened and church chairman in another church where it happened. In both cases, the real issues had been revealed and the core parties revealed and their last stand was to try to force the leadership out of office. When they lost their bid they left the church, clearly unwilling to live under authority.

The bottom line? As Jesus said, be innocent as doves and wise as serpents. Don't be fooled! Be smart. Be wise. Be prayerful. Act carefully.

Sages among us

Sage is almost synonymous with wisdom. Specifically, it is the wisdom that can only come with experience and a life lived long. In a day when we celebrate youth, we often miss what youth need more than anything else: the wisdom and counsel of those who have followed Jesus and gone the distance well. 

When I listen to the life stories of sages I know I am always amazed at the experiences they have had, the lessons they learned along the way, how they overcame adversity and even how they live with the challenges of advanced age. One of my personal sage heroes died recently at 103. She was a woman full of wisdom, experience and deep faith.

One church I know has asked it's sages to share their stories, one each month, at length. They have recorded the sessions and are building a library of shared wisdom. More importantly, they are reminding the rest of the church that there are people among them who have withstood the test of time and whom we ought to honor and learn from. 

The elderly in society are often marginalized as unimportant. In the church, these individuals ought to be honored: they are the examples to us of what it means to go the distance, stay the course and live out their faith over the long haul. Further, they have a wealth of wisdom that needs to be shared. 

Does you congregation have a way to tap into the sages among you? Can we move from programs to keep our seniors happy to proactively seeing them as sages with something to teach the rest of us? Many of them are Hebrews 11 heroes who have walked the walk, talked the talk and gone the distance. Rather than marginalize them, we need to honor them.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Is your ministry team a track team or basketball team?

Many ministry staffs operate as if they were a track team. In track, there are many different events and each event gives the team opportunity to make points for itself but by in large each individual operates alone: javelin, the mile, half mile - all the various events. At the end of the day they may win the prize but they won it by individual contribution primarily.

Contrast that with a basketball team where five individuals on the court must work as one. In fact those who try to work individually generally kill the effectiveness of the team. Seamlessly, they pass the ball, block, watch for open teammates who can take the ball and score. One of the joys of watching college or professional basketball is the amazing synergy and cooperation of the team.

Now think of the ministry team you play on. Do you look like a track team where everyone is doing their thing - good in itself but fairly unrelated to others, or a basketball team of synergistic, cooperative individuals who are playing the same game rather than separate games?

Most church staffs I meet are playing track. The great ones are playing basketball. The first you can do on your own. The second only with others. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Civil and uncivil discourse in the church

Many do not realize how much of our national culture we bring into our churches that is problematic. Take for instance, the divisions brought on by elections in the US. Our nation is sharply divided and divisive in how it deals with those divisions. And, we have developed a polarized, black and white mentality where one side is "right" and the other side is "wrong." In addition, the tone of the discourse is sharp and divisive by its very nature. One tires of people shouting at one another on news programs.

How often in the church we bring the same black and white mentality coupled with polarizing attitudes, demonizing of those we don't agree with and divisions within the congregation. In fact, conflict seems to go up in congregations during election seasons which is not a surprise given the divisive spirit in the nation at large.

However, if ever there should be a place where discourse is civil, reasonable and respectful it ought to be in the church where in God's Spirit we can disagree with one another in an agreeable way and never demonize others simply because we don't see eye to eye. Think of the Biblical teaching on being gentle and kind to one another, patient with one another, long suffering and self controlled. Quite different than the polarized attitudes in our culture at large. 

Whenever the tone in the church becomes sharp and polarizing we need to be aware that it is secular culture behavior that is taking place rather than Jesus culture behavior. Whatever our differences, and whatever our positions, if ever there were a place where civil and respectful discourse should take place it should be in the church. This is why conflict in the church that results on division and divisiveness in unhealthy ways never reflects the character of Jesus but our society at large. Where it does take place, the biblical injunction is to forgive and seek to live at peace.

In addition, when it comes to politics, Jesus culture transcends our political differences and parties. Whenever I hear church leaders pushing a political agenda, party or candidate I know that for them Jesus does not yet transcend secular politics. There are Christ followers in all walks of life and political persuasion. At the work water cooler we debate politics. In the church we lift Jesus high. He is the hope of the world, not a political party. And for believers, being in the family of God transcends being in whatever political party we adhere to.