Author Archives: Lyle Schrag D.Min.

About Lyle Schrag D.Min.

Dr. Lyle Schrag is the Director of the Northwest Centre for Leadership Development (NCLD)

The Arenas of Christian Life

In the process of establishing the community of the “underground” German Confessing Church seminary, Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke of both the nature and the spirit required to enjoy the divine reality of fellowship. As for the spirit, there was a call for humility: He who loves his dream of community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial … God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious…[1]

Given the nature of western Christian expression, those words sound prophetic. Each year new models of Church life are added to a growing list: house church, missional church, emergent church, mosaic community, satellite church, mega church, meta church … With each addition to the list, there is a subtle subtext: this is the way Christians were intended to meet … this way, and no other.

In balance to that, Bonhoeffer wrote: Because God has already laid the only foundation of our fellowship, because God has bound us together in one body with other Christians in Jesus Christ, long before we entered into common life with them, we enter into that common life not as demanders but as thankful recipients. We thank God for what He has done for us. We thank God for giving us brethren who live by His call, by His forgiveness, and His promise. We do not complain of what God does not give us; we rather thank God for what He does give us daily.[2]

From that call for a spirit of humility, Bonhoeffer was then able to define the direction, order and balance expected of community. The directions embraced a fairly wide bandwidth: Let him who cannot be alone beware of community …  Let him who is not in community beware of being alone.[3]

The “zen-like” nature of those warnings only serve as a challenge for a Christian to provide equal attention and care to all of what I would call “the Arenas of Christian life” or, better yet, the circles that define Christian interaction and fellowship.

During my term as the Pastor of the Bethany Baptist Church in Richmond, British Columbia, our congregation underwent a significant period of transition and growth which included a building program, a move, and in Biblical terms, a season where the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.[4] Among all of the challenges posed by that season, the most significant was the transition from being the “big-little church” to becoming the “little-big” church. Such a transition demands careful attention. [5]

In order to guide the church through the transition, I found it necessary to paint graphic pictures to help orient the congregation to the “new feelings” required by our growing dynamics. In order to do this, I needed to describe the context in which Christians are intended to gather together. I termed this concept “The Arenas of Christian life” or the “Circles of Fellowship” depicting it as five circles, each with a name:

Celebration: the largest conceivable group of people … a mass of humanity gathered together for a single purpose. Here, the title of “arena” fits well to describe a faceless mass of people gathered together in a stadium. It’s a familiar biblical image. The Bible speaks of us, in this life, being “surrounded by a cloud of witnesses”[6] and in the reality of heaven being numbered with “myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands”[7] all gathered with one purpose: “to worship the Lamb .. the one who sits on the throne.” In our Church context, this circle of Celebration was to describe the expectations we were to bring to our worship, and view the worship as training for our ultimate heavenly occupation. Because of the nature of Celebration, it was not necessary for everyone to know everyone else by name because only one Name really mattered.

Congregation: a “church-within-the-church”, a “manageable” group of people .. typically more than 15 in number and, in some cases as many as 50. I used this to describe a group of people who gathered together primarily for the purpose of service. Whether it was a choir or a mission’s group or a Sunday school class, the group gathered around a specific task or mission. While they could expect to develop a sense of personal relationship and belonging, the defining purpose of such a group was to accomplish a particular task. If there was to be a Biblical illustration of this, the 72 disciples appointed by Jesus to go out “two by two to every town and place where he was to go”[8] could serve as such a group united by a missional purpose.[9]

Community: the small-group, local home fellowship, a familiar group of people .. typically more than 8 but less than 15 who would meet with regularity. While the conventional image of such a group was that it gathered for Bible Study, the interaction was intended for more personal support and care. Names matter in such a group, and spiritual growth the object of attention. The community of the 12 disciples with Jesus could serve as a picture of such a small group.

Cell: the intentional fellowship with those who are “closer than a brother,” [10] an accountability group, typically no more than 2 or 3 people with whom a bond of trust allows a depth of interaction, confession, and care. The exclusive boundary of such a situation allows for more intimate conversation.  The interaction of Jesus with the three: Peter, James and John[11] could serve as an example.

Communion: the direct relationship that a believer cultivates and enjoys with God in private devotion, and spiritual discipline. Typically. that’s done alone! This circle touches the core of a believer’s heart and serves as the primary resource for life to be lived in all the rest of the circles.

None of the circles exist in exclusive isolation. The picture that we used showed a sense of interaction and flow between each and all. The idea was that to have a healthy fellowship, each member of a church would earnestly, and equally, cultivate and value participation and relationships at each level.

Graph:

Group Type Quick Definition Example Advantages: Needs Met
Celebration Large, encompassing mass gathering,

One purpose – to worship

Typically: innumerable

the Myriads, the heavenly host, worshipping God.

Sunday Morning worship

Corporate worship, augmenting and elevating a shared voice of praise
Congregation A church-within-the-church:

Primary purpose – to serve

Mission oriented

Typically: 15 and up

the 72 Disciples

Sunday School class,

Worship team, choir, Board of Deacons, Mission team

Corporate service: augmenting and strengthening the impact of service
Community A localized group of care

Primary purpose – to support and care – and to know each other by name

Typically: 8-15

the 12 Apostles

Home Growth Groups, House Bible studies

A sense of belonging, ability to serve one another with individual impact
Cell A private circle of accountability, the special few who have earned the right to care in confidence

Typically: 1,2 or 3

John, the beloved Apostle; Peter

Marriage, close friendship,

A sense of knowing, an environment of honesty and accountability
Communion A personal encounter with God, the one-on-one relationship of devotion and spiritual life, typified by a meaningful quiet time, devotional life Jesus [Matthew 14:23]

Personal devotional time

Cultivating an authentic relationship with God

 

As the conditions in the church changed, it was important to focus on how each of the five arenas would be found in the Church experience.  Even more, how each of the five would be expressed and valued. This was especially important during a time of turbulence when the nature of “doing church” began to change, and we entered unfamiliar territory.

Keeping these five circles in focus helped address two particularly troublesome temptations:

Limiting the “Church” to one exclusive definition: As models of ministry compete, I’ve noticed a tendency by some to promote their  experience of fellowship at the expense of others. The assumptions vary: a small church is better than a large church, a home fellowship is more authentic than a church that meets in a building, a mega church is more exciting than a small church. It is possible to violate the spirit of community with the sort of spiritual hubris described by Bonhoeffer:  God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the visionary proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself  .. He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together. When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure ..  he becomes an accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself.[12]

Misplacing expectations from one circle to another: While each circle provides an environment for multiple experiences, each has an primary purpose that defines appropriate behavior and expectation. It proved to be quite helpful for people to see the picture of the arenas and circles in order to recalibrate their expressions and expectations. A few examples: Occasionally I would encounter a person who would leave a worship service, disappointed that God hadn’t really spoken to Him. Pressing the issue further, I would discover that they had expected the worship service to provide their personal devotional needs. Occasionally they would “meet God” in a worship service, but it was more an act of serendipity than intention. Cultivating a personal devotional life allowed them to find the sort of spiritual balance that renewed their experience of worship.

Another example: It’s easy to imagine what happens when a person walks into a classroom of a 50-person Sunday school and announces that their marriage has just ended. It happens often, in various ways. At best, a few people may sympathize and pray with the person. But the class goes on, and the person is left to wonder if anyone really cares. Again, the best expressions deserve an appropriate arena, which only enhances the need for “community of care” rather than a “congregation of service.”

Learning these lessons helped our church navigate through the turbulence of change. It helped provide a  plan for us to go beyond building a Church building – to create meaningful Arenas. And it helped people get down to the real business of fellowship and consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another and all the more, as you see the day drawing near.[13]


[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Harper and Row, 1954  page 27

[2] Life Together, page 28.

[3] Life Together, page 77

[4] Acts 4:47 [a wonderful phrase that could easily outline the Book of Acts: Acts 2:41, 4:4, 5:14; 6:7; 11:24, cf. 14:1, 16:5, 17:4, 18:8

[5] There is a whole discipline of study given to growth and transition issues. Notable studies include: Gary MacIntosh [One Size Doesn’t Fit All, Taking Your Church to the Next Level], Alice Mann [The In-Between Church, Raising the Roof]

[6] Hebrews 12:1

[7] Revelation 5:11

[8] Luke 10:1

[9] I had to observe some caution in applying Biblical illustrations to the model, realizing that I was drawing principles from descriptions which is based on much softer ground than specific precepts given by command. The one command that did define the effort was that we “consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another and all the more, as you see the day drawing near.” [Hebrews 10:25]

[10] Proverbs 18:24

[11] Matthew 17:1

[12] Life Together, p. 27-28

[13] Hebrews 10:25

Identifying Critical Issues

It’s taken me a while, but I just finished composing the report from our latest Best Practices for Church Boards workshop held in November. It’s the product of an extensive process, adding reflections from interviews with participants to the compiled comments from the evaluation forms. It’s worth the effort. I always learn something from the effort, and the discoveries certainly help improve the workshop.

As I reflect on this Fall, one discovery stands out above all the others. One of the greatest challenges faced by many boards is the ability to identify the critical issue that deserves their shared attention. During the registration process, churches are asked to identify their key issue prior to the workshop. The expectation is that the lessons learned in the workshop will allow the leaders to gain some immediate and relevant progress with their issue in their working session.

While some churches are able to focus on a shared issue quickly, many stumble in finding their target. In the first working session, the Facilitators present the church boards with the issue that accompanied their registration. The question is then raised: Would you agree that this is the Key Issue that deserves your most conscientious attention?

There are a few boards that respond quickly. They’ve prayerfully discussed the whole range of issues before them and have agreed on the priority and importance of the one Key Issue as it relates to their mission.  That said, off they go.

More often than not, boards will pause as they look at their “key issue” with a degree of uncertainty.  It’s that moment of hesitation that has caught my attention. It illustrates a common challenge for church boards: the ability – or inability –  to identify the critical issue that deserves their shared attention.

TJ Addington, author of High Impact Church Boards, addressed the same issue in his blog this last Fall [http://leadingfromthesandbox.blogspot.com – October, 16, 2010.] One of the reasons why it’s a struggle is that leaders are tempted to become “enmeshed” in issues that are defined by personal agendas. He writes: One of the hallmarks of good emotional intelligence is that we are able to empathize with others without getting enmeshed in their issues. This does not mean that we do not care, provide counsel, pray and support. It does mean that we don’t allow the issues of others to become “our” issues.

It is possible for a Board to be consumed by issues that are more a matter of personal agendas than a shared mandate of mission.

George Bullard recently identified another reason that Boards struggle. Their attention tends to be so focused on past conflicts that it’s hard to identify the issue that will embrace the new thing God is seeking to do in and through him. In his learning article, Transforming Reactionary Church Boards [November 3, 2010, www.TheColumbiaPartnership.org] he wrote: When congregations are getting over a conflict, a less than excellent relationship with a senior or solo pastor who has now moved on, or an empowering vision that has diminished, policies and procedures to create more control are often put into place. Typically these changes are focused on correcting what was perceived as wrong or missing in the past … In other words, [Reactive Boards] move forward into the future by protecting yourself from what went wrong in the past … always looking for where you were rather than where you are going.

Whatever the reason, board leaders struggle with the ongoing frustration in knowing how to identify good targets to discuss. There is a need to recapture the heart of leadership that is capable of moving ministry toward a preferred future with discernment and intention.

One of the main responsibilities of a board, in particular – a board chair and a lead pastor, is to ensure that the most important issues receive the most significant attention. So, what steps could help solve this dilemma?

Any study on discernment, especially the type of spiritual discernment required for a healthy ministry requires a number of ingredients, not the least of which is time and prayerful attention. In his comments on The Art of Thinking Grey, TJ Addington writes: some people think it a skill to make quick decisions and they pride themselves in their ability to do so. The truth is that slow decisions that have had significant input from a variety of sources are usually far better than rapid ones. Embracing the task and setting aside precious time is an absolute necessity.

The second step is a matter of perspective. Stepping aside from personal agendas, a discerning leader always asks important questions. In their book Discerning Your Congregation’s Future: A Strategic and Spiritual Approach, Roy Oswald and Robert Friedrich describe four simple questions that discerning leaders ask throughout the congregation in order to gain a perspective: 1. If our congregation did not continue to ______, I would lose interest in remaining a member; 2. The things that concern me most about our congregation are _______,; 3. If our congregation would ______, I know I would call my friends and tell them what wonderful things they are missing; 4. If, with a stroke of a pen, I could change one thing at our congregation, I would ______.

Questions like that lead to discovery. They take us outside of ourselves and reveal viewpoints and opportunities that would otherwise lie hidden. They expose a variety of concerns that can suggest issues that God wants addressed.

As wise leaders reflect on those answers, the next step is to sort through the issues in order to find THE ISSUE, the one that matters most. And then, with a shared focus, that issue needs to be framed for discussion. Two of the instruments that we recommend for Time Stewardship as a Best Board Practice are forms for a Decision Profile and a Discussion Briefing. Both are one page summaries that present the necessary information to help a board focus on an issue.

In each case, the issue is stated at the very beginning in clear and concise language. Added to the statement is an explanation of its importance, how it relates to the strategic value of the church and its mission. The rest of the outline in each form flows from that point whether it’s relevant questions that will stimulate a meaningful discussion or optional recommendations that will provide a healthy solution. But, the best part, and the hardest part, is to define the issue and put it into context. It’s a skill that takes work and makes a difference.

In the article Transforming Reactionary Church Boards, George Bullard put it well when he said it is easier to state a solution than it is to deliver one. It’s one thing to suggest steps, it’s quite another to put them into practice. However, that shouldn’t stop us from working toward a solution, and as I seek to improve the Best Practices for Church Boards workshop, that’s my next improvement: to develop an aid – and an exercise – that would get the ball rolling. As a note, if you have a helpful suggestion to make, I welcome your comment.

Basic Assumptions

It seems as if this has been the month of déjà vu. In four weeks, I’ve had the same conversation with five different pastors. The names may differ, but the complaint is consistent: I can’t seem to get people to volunteer to serve. That one sentence has unfolded into a litany of complaint:

I have to work almost as hard to recruit someone to serve as I do to lead someone to Christ … Forget trying to get someone to agree to be a leader, I can’t even find someone to cut the Church lawn or sit with the babies in the nursery … It’s becoming almost impossible for me to do what I have to do as a Pastor since everything else undone around here ends up on my desk… It doesn’t take a genius to realize that something has gone wrong.

When we first initiated the Fellowship Centre for Leadership Development seven years ago, my focus was centered on Leadership Development as a way to refine leaders who were rising to the challenge of ministry and eager for training.  It’s such an obvious target, and explains why so much effort is invested in developing training products for emerging leaders. But, hearing the complaints over the years, and especially over the last month, has caused me to expand my thinking. My initial fixation on training leaders was as if I were staring at the end of a conveyor belt and wondering why there was only a trickle being produced without realizing that the belt hadn’t been well connected at the beginning … to begin with.

Over the years, my attention has been shifting towards a view of Leadership Creation as a pre-requisite for Leadership Development. And for that, my attention has shifted from leadership as the expression of a high-performance individual … a leader, to leadership as the manifestation of a community that inspires initiative and discovers leaders who emerge from an active body of followers. It’s a theme that’s led me to view Church at large as the culture where leaders are birthed as well as developed. It’s a journey that has taken me past several critical boundaries, past the definition of Leadership Development to Leadership Creation … and on that journey past the definition of the word Leader to a greater appreciation of the words Servant, Disciple, and follower of Christ.

Along the way, I’ve encountered several noteworthy guideposts. The first was the result of research on Leadership in the New Testament and the Early Church. In a wonderfully comprehensive study on what Leadership meant in the early church by Ken Giles, Patterns of Ministry Among the First Christians1 a few comments captured my attention:

“All the apostolic churches were developing institutions2 for the most part, the origins of the first churches lie in the synagogues, so common throughout Palestine and the Mediterranean world. The patterns of interaction and forms of leadership in the early churches bear some relation to these Jewish antecedents3 … thus a group of Christians meeting in a home as part of an extended family is our starting point for understanding leaders and leadership in the earliest churches4.

From this picture of the Church as an engaged household, Giles turns the focus of leadership away from roles and titles to something much more organic: In fact, Luke [in Acts] consistently implies that leaders arose to meet specific needs on a quite pragmatic basis. Initially the twelve apostles provide leadership to the whole community, but when a special need arises, discussion and prayer leads to the appointment of seven “almoners” [Acts. 6:1-6] …In Paul’s earliest epistles he addresses certain people whom he recognizes as leaders, but gives them no title [I Thess. 5: 12-13; I Cor. 16L15-18.} At the same time, he insists that when the believers assemble for worship they should all minister to one another: no sub-group or person should take preeminence [I cor. 12:4-7; Rom. 12:3-8.]5In the apostolic age, church life was dynamic and fluid. Leaders emerged to meet needs and as the Holy Spirit initiated6. …

With the passage of time the church grew as an institution and more structured forms of social interactions developed, resulting in leadership defined by office and title. This may explain the shift of focus from leader creation to leadership development.

But, I can’t help but sense in the earliest forms of the Church there existed a deeper sense that expectation to serve was spread out over an entire congregation. This expectation seems to be based on an assumption that a spirit of service was logically related to a commitment of discipleship and an obvious consequence of what it meant to be a follower of Christ. If my suspicions are correct, this assumption did not think so much of “leadership” as it did of obedience and availability and service that might end up leading others.

Musing on this history, I encountered a second guidepost in an interview recorded in Leadership Journal with Terry Fullem, the pastor of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Darien, Connecticut.7 As one of the congregations at the center of renewal in the Anglican fellowship, Terry described a profound moment that redefined the essence of ministry.

In simple terms, he described the consequences of instituting two basic assumptions of the congregation. Both assumptions were based on a  person’s relationship with Jesus Christ. The church will be strong only to the degree that people are committed to Christ. So, in pursuing this goal, we make an interesting assumption: we assume a person does not have a relationship with Jesus Christ unless he is prepared to say he does. The simple fact of being in church in not enough. We don’t argue with people; don’t sit in judgment on their salvation; but neither do we take for granted that they have committed their lives to Christ unless they say so. Thus, those who haven’t professed faith in Christ are graciously and generously treated as seekers.

The second assumption was the one that captured my imagination: In the case of believers – and this will seem like the exact opposite – we assume commitment rather than non-commitment!

I love that simple phrase. It has such a New Testament sound to it: we assume commitment rather than non-commitment. What a contrast to the operating principle at work in our churches where everything, especially those things related to leadership requires a high level of recruitment, and produces a low level of response.

Terry Fullem continued with an illustration of this principled assumption: We have a number of clergy and lay leadership conferences here every year drawing people from all over the world. And we house them in the homes of the parish. For many years, I used to go to the congregation and say, “A conference is coming up, and we need 200 beds; please sign up.” We always got what we needed, but it was a hassle.

Then one day, I realized all that wasn’t necessary. I went before the congregation one Sunday and said, “You have heard me ask for beds for the last time. From now on, we will assume that if you have an extra bed in your house, of course you would let someone use it (we assume commitment rather than non-commitment) Because everything you have belongs to the Lord and you’ve consecrated your life and home to his service, naturally you would make it available to his service. So, we have made up a bed bank for the parish, and we’ll assume yours are available. IF, for some reason, you cannot host a guest, please let us know – otherwise we will assume commitment rather than noncommitment!

What a refreshing thought. Recently, I’ve had a chance to observe a church that operates under the same principle. Lists are posted with names attached for services to be performed. There’s no obvious sense of coercion or pleading, guilt-ridden appeals. In fact, it’s just the opposite. As lists are posted ,gracious announcements are made that if people are unable to fulfill their assignment, they are welcomed to either make arrangements for a substitute – or request help in finding a replacement. No harm, no foul. And, people take it seriously as a matter of honor. They don’t have to search for a way to “make a difference” with their lives.

Terry Fullem continued his example making the point that such an assumption, when made with sincerity and conviction, becomes the prevailing attitude in a congregation. It produces and propels people who follow God’s call in humble obedience. He concluded with a word of conviction: So many clergy pitch the level of their ministry to the least committed members of the congregation, being careful not to offend them. That’s not what we’re called to do (boldface – mine)

I’ve had a chance to observe several congregations who operate according to that assumption. It’s no surprise that they have little problem identifying and engaging leaders.

As I reflect on the conversations of the past month, I wonder if we haven’t made things harder than God intended them to be. I wonder if we, as leaders, may have become our own worst enemies based on false assumptions. And, I wonder what might happen if we changed the rules and shifted our focus.

I shared these thoughts with one of the pastors. His response was revealing. When people become members at my church, I ask them to state their commitment of time, treasure, and talent to the cause of Christ and the fellowship of our church. I suppose it’s time for us to mean what we say … As a result, he took a risk and with the support of his board did the same thing as Terry Fullem. He posted a few lists, told the congregation that he was going to honor their relationship with Christ by assuming commitment rather than noncommitment. To his surprise, the response was “thanks, we can do this…”

I’m eager to find out what more that will mean … not just for that church, but for so many more.

    ____________________ 



  • 1Giles, Ken. Patterns of Ministry Among the First Christians, Victoria, Australia, Collins-Dove Publishing, 1989
  • 2Ibid., p. 10
  • 3Ibid., p. 13
  • 4Ibid., p. 14
  • 5Ibid., p. 8
  • 6Ibid., p. 8
  • 7The View From Above, Leadership Journal.

The Board … The Prime Spiritual Community

I found myself amused, two weeks ago, by an article entitled “Good to Great to Godly.”1 After almost a decade of enjoying the influence of Jim Collin’s classic study on successful organizations, Good to Great, I was attracted by the clever turn of phrase. In the subtitle to the article, Mike Bonem2 exposed a bit of the problem that Church leaders have with organizational behavior: “corporate wisdom means ‘getting the right people on the bus,’ but spiritual leadership requires something more…”

For many in Church Leadership, it’s a familiar problem. On one hand you hear phrases like: “we’re a church, not a business … we can’t operate like the corporate world … we are not professionals.” On the other hand, many congregations suffer from a lack of discipline in their conduct and clarity in their operations. Ultimately, it’s not an either/or situation, a choice made between being either spiritual or functional. The challenge is for church leaders to be both great in their stewardship of tasks and Godly in their management of ministry.

Over the last five years, a lot of care has been invested to training Church Boards to observe Best Practices in their work. While attention is given to the dynamics of Church Board leadership … appropriate structures, understanding roles and relationships … one of the central principles that guide the training goes beyond the good management of ministry and into the realm of the Godly: The Church Board is the prime spiritual community of the church.

While that phrase may appear simple, the implications are many. One of the more relevant implications is that the manners, the accepted behavior of the Church Board members, sets the standard of spiritual and ethical behavior for the entire church. If those who serve do so in an ethical, honorable, and decent fashion that could be a very good thing. But, unfortunately that isn’t always the norm.

BAD MANNERS AT PLAY

Ever since we began to drill deeper into Church Board practices with the Best Practices workshop, and expand our discoveries with Church Consultations, I’ve discovered that it’s … how should I put this … possible to find some bad manners at play.

Over the last year, I’ve enjoyed the work of T.J. Addington, the author of the book High Impact Church Boards: Developing Healthy, Intentional and Empowered Leaders for Your Church. As a former pastor, board chair, and church consultant [with the Evangelical Free Church], T.J. has seen it all. I was intrigued that at least twice in the last year, he was bold enough to post his ‘bad manners’ discoveries on his website:3 Two of his postings: 15 Unfortunate things Boards do… and  Dumb things Church Boards do …

The lists include issues that are all too familiar: cave to loud voices … don’t require accountability … don’t make decisions, or stick with decisions … allow a church boss to hold informal veto power … lack transparency … don’t police problem members … don’t police themselves … fail to clarify what is critical for the congregation … allow elephants into the room …

It probably wouldn’t be too hard to add to the list. In an informal survey, I asked a number of denominational leaders, regional directors in British Columbia, to describe some of the leadership issues that had demanded their intervention and attention. It was interesting that very few had to do with theological issues. Instead, the issues were of an ethical and behavioral nature. They were issues where decisions were made on the basis of expediency and convenience at the expense of relationships, where ends justified means.

In pursuing the comments, I asked the regional directors to describe what sort of corrective measures they had observed. At first, their response was that bad behavior tended to be tolerated in churches until it became a critical issue. At that point, church leaders were forced to respond to the problem as it erupted, hoping that their ability to think clearly and pray fervently would carry them through. It is an approach that sometimes works, particularly if there are a few mature, wizened, experienced and well-trained leaders involved. But, more often than not, the reactive nature of responding to a crisis had enough flaws to create what one leader described as “vocational headaches and personal heartaches.”

PROFESSIONAL CODE OF ETHICS

A better solution? The conventional response is to develop a professional code of ethics. Virtually every profession has a written code of ethics to guarantee moral performance in the service, and there are robust examples of such standards set for ministry. In 1948, at the very beginning of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, the team gathered in Modesto, California. In his book, Just As I Am, Billy Graham described the event: I called the team together to discuss the problem [of the scornful caricature attached to traveling evangelists, epitomized by the novel Elmer Gantry.] … I asked them to go to their rooms for an hour and list all the problems they could think of that evangelists and evangelism encountered. When they returned, the lists were remarkably similar, and we soon made a series of resolutions that would guide us in our future work. The result became known as the Modesto Manifesto, and it addressed four key issues: Money, Sexual Temptation, Local Churches, and Publicity. In later years, Cliff Barrows reflected on the Manifesto: In reality, it did not mark a radical departure for us; we had always held these principles. It did, however, settle in our hearts and minds, once and for all, the determination that integrity would be the hallmark of our lives and our ministries. And, as Marshall Shelly, editor of Christianity Today’s Leadership Journal admits: Countless churches and ministries, including Leadership, have benefited from this model of living integrity set by the Graham team.

Having a code of ethics is helpful. In many cases, such a code is required by Insurance companies that provide liability coverage for ministers. Joe Trull, the editor of Christian Ethics Today and professor of Christian Ethics at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary has written a handbook with James Carter for that very purpose.4 In the book, there is a collection of Ministerial Codes of Conduct from a wide variety of denominational ministries, including Baptists. As they do, they raise a very good question: Is a ministerial code of ethics a help or a hindrance?

Their first response is that Conservative pastors [clerics] may fear that a denominational hierarchy will use the code as a club to keep disloyal ministers in line and out of significant churches. Ministers of every stripe are nervous about a document that could threaten their pastoral autonomy?5

When I related this to the group of denominational leaders, they agreed that this was a fair assessment, ministerial reluctance. But, the suggestion was made that there were two additional questions that needed to be addressed. The first was that there was a more comprehensive need to set a standard for Church leadership at large and broaden the focus beyond the pastor. While the impact of a pastor’s behavior in church life is profound, so is that of a church board. In his book Transforming Church Boards into Spiritual Communities6, Charles Olsen writes of the board that it has tremendous power to affect a congregation negatively if it is severely conflicted, internally dysfunctional, or bogged down in a sticky mire of minutiae7. In essence, a Ministerial Code of Ethics should embrace all who serve in ministry.

The second question that was suggested, however, struck me as something a bit more basic and significant. In the broad sense, codes can only tell people how to act. That’s the nature of ethics, to describe acceptable conduct. But, Church ministry and leadership is drawn from a deeper well. We are accountable for behavior not because of practical expectations listed in an external code – but because of an authentic commitment to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  As Joe Trull puts it, Ethical conduct based on Theological convictions is the very soil in which ministers work.

In essence, a code can provide helpful guidance, even a standard for measurement. But, for a Church Board to go from Good to Great to Godly, each member must come to the Board as a disciple of Jesus Christ, a new creature8 setting aside the old, eagerly to embrace the new in order to conduct a ministry of reconciliation worthy of an Ambassador of Jesus Christ.

SPIRITUAL GROWTH AND MATURITY

It’s been my experience that a sizeable number of Board leaders view their work as common business, only to be surprised by the discovery that it is an opportunity to take spiritual growth and maturity to a whole new level.

Everyone I know is familiar with the phrase WWJD, What would Jesus do? That’s probably the simplest ministerial code of ethics that you can find. I wonder what adjustment might be made if church leaders adopted that code for their conduct. But that’s ethical conduct, and I would suggest something more. Something like: WWJWMTB/HDJWUTGT? I realize that it wouldn’t fit on a bracelet, but the question does pose a deeper challenge: What would Jesus want me to become … How does Jesus want us to grow together? Those are the sort of questions that expose a board member and a board to another dimension of life … and behavior.

If the diagnosis that Charles Olsen made (that a board has tremendous power to affect a congregation negatively) is true, then it’s worth hearing his second diagnosis: a revitalized board owns tremendous potential for good … the level of commitment in a congregation will not rise above that of the “set apart” leaders. The sense of community and care for one another will not rise above that of the consistory [ie. church board] The stewardship practices will not rise above those of the council. The prayer life will not rise above that of the board. The capacity to reflect biblically and theologically will not rise above that of the board. The willingness to take a prophetic position will not rise above that of the board. The hope and excitement for the future of the church will not rise above that of the board…9

So, there is an earnest need in the works. We need to set our standards high and set our records towards a noble and righteous effort. But, the urgency of this appeal goes deeper, into the internal life of individual board members … and into the shared life of the board as a whole … to grow up Godly.

PS: For further reflections on this topic: Dr. David Horita and Dr. Lyle Schrag will address this and similar issues through the Ministry Training Workshops at the annual Convention of the Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches in British Columbia and Yukon, April 23. Three workshops addressing Ethical Leadership:

  • The Sacrificial Nature of Spiritual Leadership – Dr. Lyle Schrag
  • Ethical Realities – Beyond Theoretical Integrity – Dr. David Horita
  • Corporate Integrity in the Church – Dr. David Horita

Participants are welcomed to attend!

    ____________________






  • 1Mike Bonem, “Good to Great to Godly.” Christianity Today International/Leadership Journal, April 5, 2010.
  • 2Mike Bonem has a MBA from Harvard, and is the executive pastor of the West University Baptist Church in Houston.
  • 3http://leadingfromthesandbox.blogspot.com/
  • 4Joe Trull and James Carter, Ministerial Ethics: Moral Formation for Church Leaders, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004.
  • 5Ministerial Ethics, p. 187.
  • 6Charles Olsen, Transforming Church Boards into Spiritual Communities: Alban Institute, 1995.
  • 7Transforming Church Boards into Spiritual Communities, p. 9
  • 8I Corinthians 5:17
  • 9Transforming Church Boards Into Spiritual Communities, p. 9

The Flywheel of Leadership

Since his book Good to Great was published in 2001, the application of Jim Collin’s study on organizational success has extended beyond the business world. Through his research on companies that have excelled in their mission, a number of distinct dynamics emerged. The remarkable by-product of the study was how relevant those dynamics are to the health of Church.

I know that it may seem tiresome to keep returning to the same source for several years. I’ve used Good to Great as a reference in the Leadership Connections before. But, over the last few months I’ve found another of Jim Collin’s dynamics to be a helpful illustration as I’ve been consulting with Churches who are struggling to find a way to create traction for their Leadership Development efforts.

The dynamic is that of “The Flywheel.”1 Beginning with a quote from Igor Stravinsky that “Revolution means turning the wheel,” Collins paints a vivid picture of a:

huge and heavy flywheel – a massive disk mounted horizontally on an axle … Imagine that your task is to get the flywheel rotating on the axle as fast and long as possible. Pushing with great effort, you get the flywheel to inch forward, moving almost imperceptibly at first. You keep pushing and, after two or three hours of persistent effort, you get the flywheel to complete on entire turn. You keep pushing, and the flywheel begins to move a bit faster … a second rotation … Keep pushing in a consistent direction … three turns … four … it builds momentum … eleven … twelve … moving faster with each turn … twenty … fifty … a hundred.

Then, at some point – breakthrough! The momentum of the thing kicks in … hurling the flywheel forward … its own weight working for you. You’re pushing no harder than during the first rotation, but the flywheel goes faster and faster … each turn of the flywheel builds upon the work done earlier, compounding your investment of effort … the huge heavy disk flies forward, with almost unstoppable momentum. … What was the one big push that caused this thing to go so fast? … was it the first push, the second, the hundredth? No! It was all of them added together in an overall accumulation of effort applied in a consistent direction.

The conclusion: “Good to great comes about by a cumulative process – step by step, action by action, decision by decision, turn by turn of the flywheel – that adds up to sustained and spectacular results.”

As I carry that image to heart, it has helped me understand the forces and spiritual physics at work in healthy churches – especially those related to Leadership Development. During the first year as the Director of the Fellowship Centre for Leadership Development, I had a chance to finally map out a process of leadership development. Having been a pastor for 25 years, I had a general awareness of the process, but, like most pastors, didn’t have the time to reflect deeply into the dynamics. As a result, the path I cut for new leaders was generally effective, but still rather fuzzy. Having the chance to look deeply into the matter allowed me not only to clarify the process but also identify “handles” that would turn Leadership Development into a flywheel of momentum in the church.

The process that I mapped was one simply expressed in the Bible. Ephesians 4 “to prepare God’s people [and by that, I have to believe it to be all of God’s people] for works of service”2 … and that the expression of their service is a natural outcome of having “become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”3[iii] Viewing it through Ephesians, Leadership Development isn’t a niche activity for just a select few. It’s the destiny of every mature believer. In essence, that thought led to a definition that a Biblical Leader is one who: is aware of their God-given personality, reliant upon their God-given resources, willingly accepting their God-given mission, to influence a group of God-chosen people, toward God’s purposes. With that definition at heart, the process that I mapped ran through each of the time honored “steps” toward spiritual maturity recognized by even the earliest Churches: conversion, spiritual disciplines, spiritual formation, and vocational formation.4

That said (and forgive the repetition) I have this imaginative picture in my mind of the process as a Flywheel with handles readily available to start the spin. It’s my experience that healthy churches keep spinning the wheel every time they celebrate a baptism, or new membership, or add new leaders. Making a “big deal” of the progress people make in their spiritual growth becomes a repetitive message that sets the congregation “humming.”

However, I have also experienced a struggle in these healthy churches to equate this momentum toward spiritual growth with leadership development. People know that they are growing in their faith and engaging in a life of service and ministry but somehow don’t see it as journey toward leadership. It’s as if the term “leadership” is assigned to only a small, elite cadre of mystically “called” people (think “priesthood”).

As I’ve pondered the problem with a couple of pastors, the image of the Flywheel returns to mind. Looking at it carefully, it’s missing a very large and important handle. Oh, the handles of baptism and membership and leadership recognition are quite fine, and spinning them consistently once, twice, fifty and a hundred times helps. But the one handle that makes for a “breakthrough” is the one that is specifically known for Leadership Discovery.

I know it sounds like an advertisement, but this image came to mind after talking with a pastor who had used the “Heart for Ministry” materials we had produced five years ago. The first time, four people joined him in the study in response to his challenge for them to “take their service to another level.” Together, they studied through the 12 sessions, defining what leadership is, describing their understanding of what it means to be “called” by God, discovering their gifts and leadership styles, and ultimately writing up their “life purpose” as a declaration of their next step toward a mature ministry.

There was something about the experience that captured their attention, but even more created a sense of curiosity in others. The pastor decided to do it again, this time with a few more people. At this stage, I’m not sure how many times the course has been offered, but it has become an annual event and appears to have become a flywheel of momentum in the church as people are purposefully and intentionally taking on “leadership” at higher levels. I suppose that it’s no mistake that the pastor has now been asking about the Ministry Assessment Process. He’s got a few people no longer curious about what God has got in store for their future. They are now making a move. And, in the terms of the Flywheel – that’s a Breakthrough.

    _________________



  • 1Jim Collins, Good to Great, HarperCollins: 2001, p. 164.
  • 2Ephesians 4:12
  • 3Ephesians 4:13
  • 4Certainly a repetition of a theme that has become my “mantra,” drawn from the study of the early church by Robert Webber, Journey to Jesus

The Unique Dynamics of Church Boards

On Saturday, November 7, 63 leaders from 7 Fellowship Baptist churches met for training at the Best Practices for Church Boards workshop. Even though we have been providing this training since 2005, the latest workshop was unique. We are constantly seeking to improve the value of the training, and through careful evaluation and surveys, we decided to reshape the teaching portion of the workshop around two distinct elements.

The first was to create a distinct list of capacities, or competencies, that define the unique responsibility that Church Boards must develop. The fact is that the responsibility of a church board is different than that of other non-profit boards on a number of levels, not the least of which is that a church board is responsible for a Spiritual body as well as a human organization. Identifying the unique list of Church Board competencies helps target training objectives.

The second element was intended to help churches discover the unique dynamics that belong to their specific church culture. It’s a matter of context for leadership. In the past, some churches have felt that the board training didn’t apply to their specific situation. To some degree, they were right, and the fact is that there is probably no single variable that affects congregational life and leadership responsibility as size. As Tim Keller writes, “size has enormous impact on how a church functions. There is a “size culture” that profoundly affects how decisions are made, how relationships flow, how effectiveness is evaluated, and how ministers, staff, and governing leaders relate.”

To help get a perspective on the relationship between church size and leadership demands, I developed a chart of four basic sizes of Church: Small (50-150), large-Small (200-350), small-Large (400-650), and Large (800-1,200). With each, the chart identified four general and unique characteristics related to: 1) The type of leadership structure (collective board, working/administrative board, traditional structural board, and a policy board); 2) The role of the Board; 3) The role of a Lead Pastor; 4) The role of a Staff or Ministry Team.

As the Church leaders matched the reality of their church size with their existing roles, they found that having a context helped them discover better ways to approach their work. Some of the comments from the day: Did we achieve clarity? Yes and we hope for a better chemistry and unity among board members … Our leadership team has needed to have a good discussion about our roles and clarifying who we are and what we are all about … the most beneficial thing from this workshop was defining the equally significant and complementary role of the board and the pastor … it has moved us forward.

While there is more work to be done and more applications to be made on the subject of size and an appropriate model of leadership relationships, there was one point that emerged from the discussion that transcended the presentation.

In an after-meeting discussion, one seasoned Board veteran made the comment: I’ve seen Church Boards with bad organizational models still work quite well. And, I’ve also seen Church Boards with great models stumble badly. When I asked him what made the difference, there was no hesitation in the answer: Spirit! Heart! A common Passion!

What a delightful discovery. A number of years ago, Jeffery Sonnenfeld wrote an article in the Harvard Business Journal, “What Makes a Great Board Great.” His conclusion was an echo of the same answer: “What distinguishes exemplary boards is that they are robust effective social systems.” Let me express it in simpler terms: they are people who work well together, who trust one another, who empower each other, and who need each other.

Let me suggest that there are a number of elements that can be found in the Spirit of a Great Church Board:

  1. A common Spiritual passion for their shared mission: They see their work together as a higher calling, and their relationship as a band of disciples centered by a common commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ. They are more attuned to serving Him than they are to promoting a personal agenda. They seem to embody Romans 12:4-5 where they are determined to relate as a Body and not a Business. This perspective is reflected toward a sense of purpose: that their service on a Church Board is a critical spiritual ministry … and reflected toward their relationship with each other: that they need each other to fulfill that ministry.
  2. A tangible agreement to obey and support their shared role: While they tend to be very careful in evaluating their effectiveness and sensitive to “doing things better,” they are deeply committed to honoring their shared commitments and are obedient to the boundaries of their role. And, with their obedience, they are able to express their respect for one another.
  3. A climate of trust and candor: This is one of the five elements related by Sonnenfeld’s study of exemplary boards, and one that relates to the spirit of honesty and confidentiality that defines the integrity of Godly service. Great church boards are able to share difficult information and challenge each other with respect. They are able to, as Sonnenfeld writes, “be strong enough to withstand clashing viewpoints.” Their relationships could be described as “Iron sharpening Iron” and often their ability to disagree serves to provide creative solutions.

There are certainly more elements to be found, and I’ve begun to collect them as I’ve been examining and asking Church Boards to describe their healthiest dynamics. It’s an important task, done with the realization that if a Church Board is to truly fulfill it’s calling, it must go beyond attention to the details of direction and governance and the boundaries of an organizational chart. It must go to the heart of a unique bond of fellowship crafted by the Spirit of God.

Measurements for Faithfulness and Accountability

Over the last two months, we have been conducting a thorough review of our training program for Church Boards (better known as Best Practices for Church Boards). For four years, over 50 Churches and over 300 church leaders have participated in our Board training initiatives. Throughout the experience, we have learned more and more about the unique dynamics of Church leadership. This has led us to elevate the training to higher levels. Beginning this Fall at the November 7th Best Practices for Church Boards Basic Workshop we intend to present a comprehensive schedule of Workshops that will address a distinct checklist of Church Board competencies. The Fall workshop will address several of those competencies as it has in the past. But, our intention is to present a cycle of Basic workshops that will engage the full Church Board leadership experience. More on that to come …

But, for now, one of the key issues that emerged in our study is that Church Board leaders often struggle to define their key responsibility. In their book, Governance as Leadership: Reframing the Work of Nonprofit Boards, Richard Chait, William Ryan and Barbara Taylor identify three functions or types of Board governance. The “bedrock” task of a Board, given within Type 1 (Fiduciary mode) is to “ensure that nonprofit organizations are faithful to mission, and accountable for performance…” (p. 7).

To “ensure” faithfulness and accountability calls for a board to be able to measure strategic goals. On the surface, many Church Boards struggle to know how to measure the goals, but there is a deeper issue at stake: to know what goals are to be measured.

In an article entitled Monitoring Your Organization’s Performance: The Dash Board Instrument (Board Matters, Article No. 20, www.governance.com.au), Tom Holland says that Boards must identify the information that they need staff to give them on a regular basis so that they can adequately monitor and evaluate the success of the organizational mission. However, Boards are often frustrated with a myriad of distractions: data overload, inappropriate levels of detail in information, information with an administrative rather than missional perspective … unproductive information which lacks strategic relevance.

Holland continues by presenting the concept of a Dashboard as an analogy of an instrument that a Board creates to monitor the critical measurements that gauge the healthy progress of the core and essential mission at hand. To build an effective “Dashboard” however, the Board must have a clear idea of what constitutes critical measures.

In order to do that, Boards must develop one of the most vital skills they can exercise as a group: the ability to ask strategic questions. There is an old axiom that a person is to be judged by their questions rather than their answers. In his eNewsletter, Leadership Wired, (Questions That Sustain Your Leadership) John Maxwell writes, the willingness to ask questions coupled with the discipline to seek out answers separates leaders from followers … influencers question assumptions, inquire about the environment around them, and probe into the future … they have an insatiable appetite to learn, and they convert their knowledge to action at light speed.

For Church Boards, there are a number of questions that must be asked:

1. What are the top priorities of our mission as a congregation? What is it that God has for us to do?

2. What key aspects of our ministry do we want to monitor that will make a difference in people’s lives and advance the kingdom of God?

3. What are the best ways to display the outcome of our ministry efforts?

4. What will we do with the reports we receive? How will we celebrate the fruit or address the deficiencies of our ministry?

I would imagine that the answers to the first two questions are the most important and deserve the careful and prayerful reflection of Church Leaders. The Great Commission that defines the strategic purpose of the Church is focused on people rather than programs. We are to “make disciples” which means that our task is measured in terms of human life rather than organizational structure. And, the benchmarks of a successful ministry are identified best by naming names and gathering testimonies.

In his book, Missional Renaissance, Reggie McNeal provides an illustration of the sort of measurements that reflect a people, rather than a program, development culture. Some of the items he sets behind the dashboard as a gauge for ministry include (adapted from his list):

  • Number of people reporting improved marriages over time
  • Number of people reporting improved family life over time
  • Number of people engaged in strengths identification and development
  • Number of people who have identified a sense of God’s calling and have created and are following a life development plan
  • Number of people serving other people in some venue
  • Number of people practicing intentional blessing strategies for those around them
  • Number of people being mentored
  • Number of people serving as mentors
  • Number of people able to articulate life mission .. core values
  • Number of people reporting improvements in spiritual life over time
  • Number of people growing in financial giving to kingdom causes
  • Number of people pursuing job skill … ministry skill development
  • Number of people reporting addiction recovery progress

The list Church Boards construct must reflect their church’s mission and vision and be appropriate to both. The consequences of the exercise will determine the measurements within the strategic questions bringing insurance of mission faithfulness and performance accountability. As McNeal writes: to pull this off requires a retooling, a reallocation of every resource the church and church leaders employ … prayer, people (both leaders and ministry constituents), time, finances, facilities and technology. But, once retooled, the Board fulfills its calling to be focused and engaged in the greatest venture of all.


Gird Thy Loins With Truth – Ephesians 6:14

I’ll freely confess that I had serious hesitation about add this bit of news to the weblog. It’s not as if there isn’t enough bad news circulating around to cultivate a sense of cultural anxiety and spiritual nausea. But, just when I’ve been tempted to just turn off the news, I got the latest survey data from George Barna.

Since 1995, the Barna group has been monitoring the level of "Biblical Worldview" held by adult Americans through an exhaustive nationwide survey. When I read the results of his first survey, I was depressed. The latest results have taken my depression to a new and lower level.

Why? What’s the big deal? The reason, as Barna wrote in 2003 [Think Like Jesus, p. 56] is that "you become what you believe." Expand that axiom to a larger level, and the cultural consequences are staggering. We are becoming what we generally believe, and bit by bit, the data shows that the mind of Believers is being torqued in dangerous directions.

Consider some of the findings [you can read even more at: www.barna.org – March 9, 2009]:

The survey found that:

  • One-third of all adults (34%) believe that moral truth is absolute and unaffected by the circumstances. Slightly less than half of the born again adults (46%) believe in absolute moral truth.
  • Half of all adults firmly believe that the Bible is accurate in all the principles it teaches. That proportion includes the four-fifths of born again adults (79%) who concur.
  • Just one-quarter of adults (27%) are convinced that Satan is a real force. Even a minority of born again adults (40%) adopt that perspective.
  • Similarly, only one-quarter of adults (28%) believe that it is impossible for someone to earn their way into Heaven through good behavior. Not quite half of all born again Christians (47%) strongly reject the notion of earning salvation through their deeds.
  • A minority of American adults (40%) are persuaded that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life while He was on earth. Slightly less than two-thirds of the born again segment (62%) strongly believes that He was sinless.
  • Seven out of ten adults (70%) say that God is the all-powerful, all-knowing creator of the universe who still rules it today. That includes the 93% of born again adults who hold that conviction.

Differences among Demographic Segments

The research data showed that one pattern emerged loud and clear: young adults rarely possess a biblical worldview. The current study found that less than one-half of one percent of adults in the Mosaic generation – i.e., those aged 18 to 23 – have a biblical worldview, compared to about one out of every nine older adults.

The challenge facing an authentic, unapologetic, Biblical, Christlike ministry is immense, and imperative. The Gospel is more than a private affection. It is, in Jesus’ words, light and salt. And, I have to believe that it is the only reliable element standing in the way of "the complete demise of our culture, the loss of meaning and purpose in life, and the rejection of all that God holds dear and significant. [Think Like Jesus, p. 57] So, I take those thoughts to heart, and "gird my loins."

The Church Transformed

One of the names I have come to trust and respect when it comes to understanding Church dynamics is George Bullard. For years, I have benefited from his analysis of everything from denominational renewal to congregational development. In an age where people seem eager to dismiss the Church, it is refreshing to find a man of wisdom and faith treating the Body of Christ with care. One of the early Church Fathers laid out a profound principle that seems somewhat lost in this generation: "No one can have God as Father who does not have the Church as Mother" (St Cyprian of Carthage) It seems as if George Bullard has made it a mission to keep the divine family intact.

Over the last few years, I have referred often to the extensive studies conducted by Bullard through the Columbia Partnership. Since the studies are frequently financed by grants and foundations, the results made available to a wide audience. During the Fall of 2008, has recently produced some interesting discoveries: Enduring Principles of Congregational Transformation.

Bullard introduced the issue by saying: Congregational Transformation, by various names, has been a focus for North American churches since the 1950’s. Over more than 50 various approaches and principles for transformation have been offered by numerous individuals and organizations. Some of these approaches and principles are enduring. Others are not.

I bear witness to the truth of this assessment. Due to a number of factors (not the least of which is the success of our Best Practices for Church Boards workshops) we have engaged in a growing interaction with Churches that are engaged in vision renewal and strategic reformation. TheFEBBC/Y Ministry Centre has initiated consultations to help congregations through the process, and I’ve researched and been trained in at least 5 of the 50 numbered by Bullard.

In light of all of that, Bullard’s Columbia Partnership conducted a survey to put the principles to test. They began with a catalog of 21 enduring principles in terms of perceived validity, strength, importance, and enduring nature. Things like: Continual transformation rather than one-time transformation, being both spiritual and strategic, balancing a focus between past and future, Kingdom growth rather than Church growth, vision plus intentionality.

"This research is confirming some very important principles, and also informing us where principles we believe are very important for the transformation of congregations have not yet caught on," wrote George Bullard.

The preliminary results of the survey are beginning to make their way into the public record, and I would commend them as food for thought. Persons interested in a summary of the complete preliminary results and a PowerPoint presentation that contains a presentation of the results may send a request to client.care@thecolumbiapartnership.org.

At the risk of sounding like the shopping channel: But WAIT, there’s MORE! The survey is still open, and I would encourage pastors and church leaders to weigh in with their results to provide a more robust and full picture that would benefit us all. You can access the survey at:
http://bullardjournal.blogs.com/bullardjournal/2009/02/what-is-and-is-not-congregational-transformation.html

Oh, and while you are there, I would encourage you to visit the home page for even more resources and even sign up for the free newsletter.

Back of the Napkin

One of the secret skills employed by just about every minister I know is the ability to scribble. For years I thought that I was the only one who had doodled my way through more conversations than I can remember. All I need is a booth in a restaurant, a napkin and pen, an interesting conversation and the magic begins. Some have said that virtually all artwork begins as a scribble [which may be why people keep finding pieces of art from Picasso or Rembrandt to sell at auction.] My guess is that there is an equal body of ministry that began with a squiggle.

Over the years, I’ve drawn pictures to communicate everything from the message of the Gospel to the structure of ministry relationships. In each case, it has been proof that a picture is worth a thousand words. And, over the years I’ve discovered that I am not alone. Almost every pastor I’ve met has their own portfolio of profound doodles.

So, you can imagine my joy when I discovered the book by Dan Roam, The Back of the Napkin [Penguin, New York: 2008.] There has been a lot of pressure over the last few years for Pastors to elevate their quality of presentation. It’s a way of catching up with the advancement of technical, automated multi-media which has created a demand for what one writer calls: "multi-dimensional, geospatially-grounded visualizations with time lines and cross-cutting cultural dimensions." And, that’s just what’s expected from Power Point!

As I opened The Back of the Napkin, I was thrilled to find that Dan Roam had made the simple science of the scribble an art form. With simple exercises, he makes it easy for even the most inept to draw a picture that would – as advertised by the subtitle: solve problems and sell ideas. As I’ve been working through the exercises, it’s hit me – it’s going to change the way I make presentations at large, and that’s a good thing! Interested? You can check it out for yourself: www.digitalroam.com – or – www.thebackofthenapkin.com.

The Pastor’s Voice

Even though the article is dated, I was impressed once again by a study conducted by Easum-Bandy Associates. In 2007, Bill Easum reported that the one key factor in growing healthy churches was: a pastor who has one-on-one conversations with non-Christians that leads to their conversion to Christ. The article, entitled How to Grow a Small Church [http://easumbandy.com/index.php?id=2463] drew on an extensive study funded by the Lilly Foundation. It confirmed a very simple and obvious principle: The more focused the pastor is on evangelism the larger the church becomes.

This probably shouldn’t come as a surprise. Most people assume that a Pastor possesses unique qualities of training, education, knowledge, and giftedness that automatically translate into successful evangelism. To be honest, I have to think that there is much more to the issue. Two things come to mind. First, a pastor who is fluent in evangelism has learned how to speak about Spiritual things with as normal and pleasant a voice as any other topic of interest. The one-on-one conversations are not sermons delivered with power, but delightful “chats” with meaning.

The second factor is related to the first. The pastor’s “voice” has the ability to become contagious. It’s been my experience that over time a congregation reflects the language that they hear from a pastor, whether it’s in how they pray or in how they explain the Gospel. It may be anecdotal, but I have to think that the voice of a pastor is multiplied through the congregation into the community.
That’s a good principle to keep in mind. As Bill concluded his report, he made it a reminder: the higher the priority you place on evangelism and make personal time for it, the larger your small church will grow. [For more helpful thoughts, you might want to check out: http://easumbandy.com/resources/faqs/u/unchurched/ways_to_connect/]

The Beauty of the Word

As we near Christmas, I wanted to use this opportunity to pass on a gift given me by a very dear student. During our last class session in November, the students were presenting the product of their final project paper on a selected topic for the Introduction to the Bible. One of the students, Benjamin Van Meter, had done a study on the authorship of the book of Ecclesiastes. Along with his study [which was actually quite a wonderful piece of work] he presented a picture that captured my imagination.

Using a free internet tool called Wordle, he had entered the text of the book of Ecclesiastes. The magic of Wordle created a mesmerizing piece of artwork. The only way I can describe it is to use Wordle’s own description: Wordle is a toy for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes. The images you create with Wordle are yours to use however you like. You can print them out, or save them to the Wordle gallery to share with your friend.

“Word clouds” – you have to see them to appreciate the sight as certain words stand out, capturing the essence of a message. In a demonstration of the “Wordle toy”, Benjamin made another map after the class, this one taking the text of the young man’s hymn of love in the Song of Solomon.  Adding a little artistry with colors and fonts, the final picture became a delightful gift for his wife, Jessica, as the words seemed to punctuate a delightful expression of Love.

Song of Solomon in a Wordle

Let me offer a recommendation. During the Christmas time, you might want to play with the toy and enter the text of the Christmas story just to see the beauty of the Word Made Flesh! I would love to see the result!  Merry Christmas!

Church Transformation

There has been a lot of talk about Church Transformations in the past decade. In the 1990’s I was intrigued by a denominational development. Quite a few resources had been invested by one particular denomination toward Church Planting. While there was a level of success in the planting of churches, a question was raised “what about resurrecting dying churches?” In light of the heavy statistics that indicate the high percentage of churches that were in decline, an effort was made to design a process to transform distressed churches. Using techniques similar to church planting, it was discovered that if done right, transforming a dying church was far more economical than planting new churches, and while attention was still given to church planting, there was a renewed commitment made by the denomination to stimulate new growth and vitality in churches that had been at risk of abandonment.

Over the last 10 years, there have been a lot of lessons learned about Church Transformation. A lot of studies have been written and books published by experts on the subject. They all arouse a limited sense of interest, but last week I came across a study that intrigued me. Over the last Fall, one of my personal heroes – George Bullard [of the Columbia Partnership] has been conducting research on The enduring principles of congregational transformation. Rather than telling church leaders how to do transformation, he asked for church leaders to tell him how they are doing it. In this delightful bit of role reversal, over 700 church leaders have weighed in on an online research survey. Listing 21 “enduring principles” of church transformation, a list of top seven principles emerged: Continual Transformation Rather Than One-Time Transformation: Going Forward Rather Than Going Back, People Before Programs, Being Both Spiritual and Strategic, Future Rather Than Past, Kingdom Growth Rather Than Church Growth, Vision Plus Intentionality.

Each one were identified due to their perceived validity, strength, importance, and their enduring nature. At the same time, the results of the survey identify the bottom seven principles … ie. Those that proved to be of less importance for a church to experience transformation.

The results of the survey are free for the asking, and well worth the reflections: Persons interested in a summary of the complete preliminary results and a PowerPoint presentation that contains a presentation of the results may send a request to client.care@thecolumbiapartnership.org. Ask for: Enduring Principles Of Congregational Transformation Report.

Note: the results of the survey are intended to stimulate review, evaluation and dialogue. Bullard has made it a practice to gather church leaders into discovery groups that work out the implications of important principles. It’s an activity that I value … and intend to emulate.

Discerning Emerging Leaders

In his book, From Followers to Leaders [Churchsmart Resources, 2008], Bob Logan referred to an extensive survey of churches who were asked the question: “What is your greatest need as a church?” There was no surprise that the number one answer was “leadership development.” Over the last three years, as I’ve gone through training in a number of Church consultancy processes, I’ve had the opportunity to meet any number of Church Consultants, all of whom have affirmed the finding: “Every church where I have facilitated has expressed the need for more leaders and more mature leaders.” Yet, as Logan writes, “most pastors and churches don’t yet have a clear path for developing leaders within their own congregations … [they] muddle through, patching together a plan as they go.”

Looking at the leadership development efforts in the local church, I’m often reminded of a delightful phrase coined by Eugene Peterson in a Leadership Journal article, Haphazardardly Intent. As churches muddle along, there is a vestige of leadership development that pops up from time to time accompanied by the happy surprise that a leader has emerged.

Aubrey Malphurs [Building Leaders, Baker Books, 2004] suggested a clarification that would begin to erase the “haphazard” from the  ”intention” to develop leaders. His solution was to define leadership development as “the intentional process of helping established and emerging leaders at every level of ministry to assess and develop their Christian character and to acquire, reinforce, and refine their ministry knowledge and skills.” There’s a lot to unpack in that definition, but one point does stand out:

Leadership Development has to be seen in light of discipleship growth and maturity. When Leadership Development is viewed as a unique endeavor reserved for a select core of elite “chiefs” it becomes an appendix to congregational life, somewhat distant and disconnected. In Ephesians 4, the Apostle Paul doesn’t leave much room for such a distinction as he focuses the unified impact of apostles and prophets and evangelists and pastors and teachers on one task: to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ v. 12.13]  Seeing this in holistic terms, and treating leadership development as a normal expression of the momentum in discipleship, probably shouldn’t come as any great surprise. But, it does require a different perspective where churches don’t begin their search for leaders until they’ve begun their process of raising disciples. It’s all a matter of intention and all part of a continuum.

In a study that continues to serve as a reference for me, Journey to Jesus, Robert Webber outlined the practice of the Ancient church as a deliberate and intentional process. Drawing specifically from The Apostolic Tradition [Hippolytus, 215 A.D.] Webber described four phases of spiritual growth and development: 1. a time for Christian inquiry – the seeker period; 2. A time of instruction, when the converting person was known as a hearer; 3. An intense period of spiritual preparation …; and 4. A time … for the new Christian to be incorporated into the full life of the church. The early church clearly identified four distinct steps of spiritual growth: Conversion, Spiritual Discipline, Spiritual Formation, and Vocational Formation. Each step of the Journey, as Webber called it, defined the mission and message of the church. And, each step connected critical elements of character and spirit in a dynamic flow that was recognized and celebrated by whole congregations.

I suppose, then, that it’s no surprise to find similar patterns on leadership development being applied to the church in the 21st century. In their book, From Followers to Leaders, Robert Logan and Tara Miller recast the journey by using the term “path”: the path of leadership development: The path of faith [becoming a follower of Christ], the path of serving, growing and praying [Spiritual formation.] Before the last path [the path of multiplying: investing in others] are two paths where congregations seem to begin to get “muddled.”

The first, the path of developing, identifies emerging leaders [not to be confused by the term “emergent leaders”!] Emerging leaders are people who begin to take on new challenges and expanded roles of influence in ministry. According to Logan and Miller, as these people “come into their own” on the second path, the path of leading, where they find themselves in need of support and guidance. They need wisdom to “discover their gifts and call, and developing competence in ministry” in order to go on and lead groups and teams of others. The big question facing the “muddled” church is how to aid emerging leaders to discern their fitness for a future in ministry.

Answering that question alone can be a daunting challenge for a congregation. Fortunately, there are a number of agents available to aid churches. Books are being written and programs are being developed. There is an announcement in this newsletter of an exciting initiative being offered for the first time this Spring for the emerging leaders of the Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches in the British Columbia and the Yukon: The Ministry Assessment Process for Emerging Leaders.

There are many and good materials available, but the burden of leadership development remains a matter of mission for the local church. And, for the local church, several critical questions need to be addressed for success:

  1. Is there a distinct understanding that their fellowship is the culture that God has chosen to raise up leaders?
  2. Is there a clear sense of process given to each stage of spiritual growth? Is it communicated in such a way that everyone knows this to be their shared journey in faith? And does the fellowship celebrate with those who are making progress down the path in a meaningful way?
  3. Are the proper resources attached to each phase of spiritual development?

Do church leaders have a way to identify people as they move through the stages so that they can provide proper encouragement and support?

Church Videography

In the last two decades, technology has opened opportunities that Churches have embraced with interesting results. In 1999, one of the pastors at the Sherwood Baptist Church of Albany, Georgia realized that their sound room had become a media room. Looking at the cameras and sound equipment, he realized that cost was no longer a hindrance to creating professional productions. That led to the production of a movie in 2003: Flywheel. The goal of the movie was to express the Gospel in a compelling fashion.

And, churches have been taking the initiative in using their resources to create graphic messages. Sherwood Baptist Church went on to make the movie Facing the Giants [2006] and Fireproof [2008.] At last count, it was estimated that over 1,200 members of the congregation have participated in the productions [http://www.christianitytoday.com/tc/2008/005/1.14.html]

It was with this example in mind that I was fascinated last week to read about the Bel Air Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles. In Christianity Today, Brett McCracken wrote “No More Cheesy, Churchy Videos” [http://www.christianitytoday.com/movies/news/badd.html] He began his article saying, “It wasn’t so long ago that some churches frowned upon their members even going to see movies, let alone participate in making them. But as new media and video forms have increasingly become ubiquitous and acceptable tools in worship services, that’s all changed. Today, it’s common to see a film clip or video illustration on Sunday mornings, and more and more churches have video ministries that are creating original productions.”

But, not all churches do it well – which is where Bel Air Presbyterian Church stands out. I suppose it’s no surprise that a church with a significant population of “elite, audition-based actors, writers, directors and other film/media practitioners” would be the ones to set a higher standard and provide a quality model. Their ministry carries the delightful title: BADD [Bel Air Drama Department] but their productions are anything but bad. Most of their videos are available on YouTube, about 80% of them comedy, and all of them related to relevant ministry.

I’d add my recommendation to Brett McCracken as he writes, ”BADD is neither the first nor the biggest church film ministry, but it is a good case study in what a film ministry might look like in an era of rapidly changing media.”  In fact, I’d say it’s a great case study worth the look http://www.belairdrama.com/.

Tighten Up On Loose Change

I’m not sure exactly why, but it seems that there has been one word repeated incessantly over the last few week: Change. Maybe it’s due to the political season. Possibly it’s due to the initiation of Fall programs. Whatever it is, and wherever it’s used, it seems to carry a sense of urgency. As the comedian, Professor Irwin Corey used to scream, “if we don’t change direction soon, we’ll end up where we’re headed. It’s with that in mind that I was intrigued by an article that I read this morning by Mark Sanborn entitled Why Organizational Change Fails [http://www.maximumimpact.com/articles/read/article_mastering_change_why_organizational_change_fails1]

The article served as a caution: There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things … Sanborn quotes Jean-Jaques Rousseau. I would tend to agree. I’ve discovered the truth of an axiom penned by Havelock Ellis: What we call “progress” is the exchange of one nuisance for another nuisance. Change is not a guarantee of success. Unless it’s done with care, it can result in disaster.

Sanborn’s article provided a good checklist of common faults, or reasons, how failure can occur. Ten reasons in all: 1. Missarts, 2. Making change an option, 3. A focus only on progress, 4. A focus only on results, 5. Not involving those expected to implement change, 6. Delegating change to outsiders, 7. No change in the reward system, 8. Leadership that doesn’t “walk the talk”, 9. Wrong size, 10. No follow-through. It’s an article worth of review. In fact, it might make a good checklist for anyone who is about to launch into a new project.

Heroic Living

 

Yesterday I was surprised by a gentle gift of grace. Several weeks ago, I had made a reference in this blog to the book by Chris Lowney (Heroic Leadership) Apparently the publishers of the book monitor the Web with care, and sent me a copy of Lowney’s latest book, Heroic Living. (At this rate, I am tempted to take every opportunity I can to name all of my favorite authors in all of my blog submissions, and watch my library grow!)
There is serendipity in the timing of this gift. The subtitle of the new book (and excuse me for mentioning it one more time: Heroic Living!) is “discover your purpose and change the world.” This comes on the eve of Labor Day, and for me Labor Day serves as more of a turning point for me than does New Year’s. Many people assume that New Year’s is the time for resolutions, a time to take stock of life and direction and investment, and a time to make necessary corrections.
For me, those sort of resolutions occur more at Labor Day. It seems that the Fall is when life at work begins anew, and I need to recalibrate my focus on purpose so that I can actually change the world. That, I gather from Chris Lowney, is what makes for Heroic Living.
When I first read in the subtitle the words “discover your purpose” I suspected something along the lines of Rick Warren’s Purpose-Driven Life. Instead, I found something more in line with Bob Buford’s Half-Time. (Like I said, I am tempted to list as many authors as possible from now on!)
Lowney puts forward a number of simple, core questions at the center of the process of discovery: Who am I? What am I trying to accomplish in life? How should I behave and treat other people? What values are important and fundamental, in business and family life? Why do I matter? And What makes my life meaningful? [p. 18, Heroic Living.]
I’ve just spent a great deal of time over this summer asking and answering questions that would produce a more focused work and ministry. Reading this list left me rebuked. As Lowney continued, you can understand why:
In the ancient world of, say, twenty years ago, we could skip these philosophical questions and get right to the nitty-gritty ones, such as where to work and live. But change, culture clash, scale and complexity won’t allow us to operate in that old-fashioned way any longer. Before we are bankers, priests, astronauts, or film manufacturers, (or Pastors, or Directors, or Professors …) we are human beings. So the first and most strategic question we must ask is: What does it mean to be a fulfilled, purposeful, successful human being?If we don’t tackle the question of what makes human life meaningful, we may end up becoming expert and successful in ways that we’ll discover, late in life, were not very meaningful at all. Before worrying about what we’re doing for a living, we need to figure out what we’re living for, because our “career” in the new world environment is not a job? It’s our whole lives.
Not a job … but a whole life. As I prepare for the last long weekend of the summer, those are the questions and that’s the task that really matters most.

Key Board Traits

At the end of June, Board leaders from seven churches participated in the Advanced Best Practices for Church Boards workshop. Dr. Guy Saffold, the Executive Director of Ministries at Power to Change, addressed the role of a Church Board in making good and Godly decisions. The purpose of the workshop was directly connected to the fact that the governing leaders in a congregation form the core community of the church. Their ability to interact as a healthy community strongly influences the quality of the spiritual health of the entire congregation. One of the strongest tests of that ability is the capacity to make decisions as a team.

It’s one thing to make a decision alone. Leaders are often defined through their powers of discernment, vision and certainty. As I was collecting resources for the workshop, I discovered that most of the “how-to” material was directed at the individual. I suppose that most people find it easier to take an issue in hand and make a command decision all alone. Making a group decision is a whole different thing, especially as it relates to the spiritual work of the people of God.

As the result of a Lilly Endowment funded study in the mid-1990’s, Charles Olson began a ministry called Worshipful Work, and wrote the book Transforming Church Boards into Spiritual Communities [Alban, 1995.] His study explored the ways that congregations make decisions. What he discovered was that most boards were guided by a business model of executive, politically efficient and democratically guided decision-making. The deeper work of spiritual discernment was largely absent.

Olson wrote, “Consulting Scripture, waiting in silence, and corporate soul searching are not an easy way out … Efficiency-minded boards are accustomed to controlling the agenda … but Spiritual discernment is sometimes lengthy, sometimes meandering activity of determining what God wants, or from an eternal perspective, what already is.” He pointed to Romans 12:2 as the work of a Board’s decision making process: Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Going back to the June Workshop, the comments made by the leaders on the evaluation form confirmed that it was a “good investment of time” for Church boards to learn how to unite around “vision, mission, and strategy.” The simple strategy of the “OODALoop” presented by Dr. Saffold created a template for Board leaders to make their work a worshipful, spiritual exercise (and eventually the workshop will be available in the same sort of “course” format as the Best Practices for Church Boards Personal Workshop: Now That I Am A Board Member DVD and Workbook.) But, it also became apparent that no matter what decision-making strategy a Board adopts, several fundamental traits need to dominate the relationships of the Board. Let me suggest a few:
Kingdom Vision: When it comes to teamwork, one of the most significant obstacles is the lack of a clearly defined and commonly accepted mission. Very few teams succeed as adversaries. And yet, too often Boards are divided around competitive agendas.

I love the story used by Dr. David Horita to describe an episode from his ministry where he was given an assignment from his Church Board to draft the Church vision statement. Being the clearly defined leader, he accepted the task – but on the condition that the board participate in the work as a team. He made a list of everything that the church could be, and asked the board members to identify their top choice.

It was a humbling discovery when they found that there was no common agreement in their choices. Even more humbling was the discovery of how their choices revealed their own personal agendas, what they personally needed their church to be. David asked them to repeat the exercise again, only this time with a simple addition: What did their church need to be for others?  

Adding those two words made quite a difference. Once they were able to “set themselves aside” they discovered, together, a common vision of what God had in mind for them.

Spiritual Courage: As Larry Osborne writes in his book Growing Your Church Through Training and Motivation: “The mark of a healthy board is courage. When a tough decision has to be made, people aren’t afraid to make it. They realize that’s what they’ve been called to do. In contrast, dysfunctional boards often are dominated by fear. They find it safer to say no and to maintain the status quo.”

In the Gospel of John [6:28,29] Jesus informed the disciples that the work of ministry would be a matter of Faith. What must we do to do the works God requires? Jesus answered, “the work of God is this: to believe in the one He has sent.”

Before Church board members engage in decision-making, there must a heart of courage to boldly accept the challenge of faith. Over this summer, I’ve enjoyed reading the book Heroic Leadership [by Chris Lowney, Loyola Press, 2003.] The subject of the book revolves around the 5 pillar commitments of the Society of Jesus [Jesuits], identified by Chris as the “best practices from a 450-year-old company that changed the world.” Regardless of what you may think of the Jesuits, the one critical feature was that they were utterly commited to “elicit great desires by envisioning heroic objectives” in service to Christ. As Chris writes: “[they] were driven by a restless energy, encapsulated in a simple company motto, magis … more, something more, something greater … magis inspired them to make the first European forays into Tibet, to the headwaters of the Blue Nile, and to the upper reaches of the Mississippi River … regardless of what they were doing, they were rooted in the belief that above-and-beyond performance occurred when teams and individuals aimed high.”

For Church Boards to aim high, there needs to be a predisposition to spiritual courage.

Honest Trust: And, there must be an environment of trust. One of the marks of a healthy board is that people are empowered with freedom to fulfill their ministry. It’s true that trust is a quantity that has to be earned. That’s why there has to be an element of honesty where people can learn to trust each other.

That’s another lesson identified by Larry Osborne: Every board I’ve work with has had a basic bent toward either trust or suspicion. What made the difference? In most cases it was a choice. Dysfunctional boards chose the role of watchdog, making sure no one got by with anything … on the other hand, healthy boards chose trust.”

I am sure that there are more traits that could be used to measure the fitness of church leaders to boldly follow where God is leading. But, these three are a good place to begin. Get them right, and I have to believe that the worshipful work will flourish.

Vacation Tip

It’s August, and for what it’s worth, it’s time to take a break. Call it a “vacation”, a “sabbatical”, a “leave of absence”, a “retreat” or an “escape”, now is the time to take it. It may sound silly, but I suspect that some people could appreciate some advice on what to do with the spare time.[singlepic=165,300,,,right]

A couple of years ago, I came across an article in the Chicago Tribune. John Thompson, of Yorkshire, England, decided to make the most of his holidays by staying at home and enjoying the fishing pond behind his place. Not content with just enjoying the view, he decided to actually learn how to fish. He had no idea of what would happen after his first cast. In the course of his brief summer holiday, he never caught a fish. Instead, he hauled in an inventory which included: “20 iron bed frames, a washing machine, railroad ties, porcelain ornaments, women’s clothing, handbags, shoes, somebody’s late dog, somebody’s late parakeet, somebody’s two old kitchen sinks, and somebody’s old four-door Ford Anglia with 73,000 miles on it.”

When John was asked to describe his vacation, he went on the record. “I’m not fishing anymore, and I’m not digging any deeper. God knows what I’d find. I’d have been better off just taking a long nap.”

For those who are wondering how to make the most of their vacation, there’s something to learn from this man. Have a great vacation!

Liturgy – What is it good for?

It’s my time to add to the blog and I’m going to run the risk of a personal rant on Worship. It’s a theme that continues to stir my soul, which was stirred once again when I read simple comment made by Annie Dillard [in Marva Dawn’s book Reaching Out without Dumbing Down]: “Since “we” have been doing this for 2,000 years, why can we not do it as well as a high school drama club cast can do after six weeks of rehearsing a play? Not that worship is nothing but rehearsable performance and not that a high school play is worship – though drama and liturgy do have some common roots. But people who attend services of prayer and praise, song and action, preaching and the sacraments, often have to endure mumbling and stumbling of offputting sorts. This is not how God is to be praised, and this is not what worshippers will put up with for indefinite periods of time.” Strong stuff! And yet, I keep finding myself asking the Annie Dillard question as I move through so many worship services.

Not long ago, with a group of friends, the conversation turned to worship and I mentioned my growing affinity for the deep symbols and rich voice of liturgy. The response was swift and certain, to the effect that liturgy is dry, sterile, dead, and that nothing good could come of it. Later, another friend who overheard the response sought to console me. It should be noted that this man is enrolled as a doctoral candidate in “liturgical studies.”

“Let me suggest what good comes from liturgy” he said. And then he tossed out a fascinating thought. His thesis went like this: the use of Sunday School as the primary educational vehicle of the Church is a relatively new phenomenon – dating to the early 1900’s. Up to that time, the primary means by which people learned core spiritual disciplines: the language of prayer, the theology of creed, the reading of Scripture, the spiritual journey from confession to absolution, the expression of praise … all of this and more was cultivated through Worship and the liturgy of Worship.

In recent years, it appears that the influence of Sunday School as an educational experience has diminished. Which makes me wonder what is left to be learned in our services of Worship? It’s a troubling question, but one that needs to be addressed. If a worship service was to be the only “school” for the learning of spiritual discipline for a new believer what have they learned of prayer, of belief, of the word and of the profound drama of faith that defines their life in Christ?

So You Don’t Want To Go To Church Anymore

There is a book that has developed something of a cult following among frustrated pastors and bloggers who yearn to be “organic” Christians. It has a controversial title that is guaranteed to stimulate discussion: So You Don’t Want To Go To Church Anymore. Written by Jake Colsen [actually by Wayne Jacobsen and Dave Coleman who created a pseudonym out of their partnership] the book has an indy feel to it. You can download it for free from www.jakecoleman.com/Jakespreads.pdf.
As is becoming common from the emerging church template, the book written as a conversation between an ancient disciple [John] and a modern day believer [Jake] as a way to reexamine the statusquo of Church life. For some, the book is troubling … for other, it is a challenge. In essence, the church as an organization is viewed as guilty for distracting people from the true mission of Jesus. No matter what the nature of the organization – traditional church or house church – each are taken to task for obscuring true spiritual growth with the performance of religious exercises.
No matter what you think about it [and personally, I think that the criticism of Church as an organized body with rituals that create a common voice is simplistic, misguided, and in some cases prejudicial. The fact is, there was a bit more organization and common voice in both the New Testament and the early church than the “relationship based fellowship” presented in the book] … back to my thought, No Matter what reaction you have to the book, the one thing that I do appreciate is the nudge for leaders to engage in a more sincere and deliberate ministry of spiritual formation.
Just one clip from the book:
If church can be this simple, John, how do leaders fit in all of this? Don’t we need elders and pastors and apostles?”
“For what?”
“Doesn’t someone need to be in charge and organize things so people will know what to do?” Marvin was almost beside himself. I cringed inside knowing he wasn’t going to hear what he wanted.
“Why, so people can follow someone else instead of following Jesus? Don’t you see we already have a leader? The church gives Jesus first place in everything and it will refuse to let anyone else crawl up in his seat.”
“So leaders aren’t important either?”
“Not the way you’ve been taught to think of them. One can hardly conceive of body life today without an organization and a leader shaping others with their vision. Some love to lead; others desperately want to be led. This system has made God’s people so passive most can’t even imagine living without a human leader to identify with. Then we wonder why our spirituality falls so painfully short. Read through the New Testament again and you’ll find there is very little focus on anything like leadership as we’ve come to think of it today.”
“But there were elders and apostles and pastors, weren’t there?”
“There were, but they weren’t out front leading people after their personal visions, they were behind the scenes doing exactly what you have on your heart to do, Marvin—helping people to live deeply in Christ so that he can lead them! Elders won’t end up managing machinery, but equipping followers by helping them find a real relationship with the living God. That’s why he asked us to help people become his disciples and why he said that he would build his church. Let’s focus on our task and let him do his.”
And don’t think that non-traditional churches get away with much either.”
It’s a stimulating, sometimes disturbing, read … which raises some poignant questions for any leader. In reading the flurry of blog discussions about the book, one set of questions arose that made the debate worth the trouble:
When I structure things am I facilitating sincere devotion to Christ or am I steering people to perform religious exercises to meet others expectations? Will people come out of this with a greater devotion to Christ and a pure love for others, or will they be motivated by guilt or fear?

Who’s Ready For Change?

When we first began to address the health of church leadership through the Best Practices for Church Boards workshops, it didn’t take long to realize the wide range of potential that existed. Soon after the first workshop, the need to train individuals for board leadership was expressed … answered by the Personal Edition. Immediately, church boards began to express a shared desire to explore critical issues … giving rise to the Advanced Workshop. All along the way, we have been building a toolbox of resources for church leaders. So, it was only natural that churches would propel us to a higher level of response.

One of the more critical requests that emerged was for the sort of personal consultation that a church would receive as help in plotting out a future plan. The Advanced Workshop of 2007 focused on that process. The Role of the Board in Strategic Planning and Vision Development, as prepared by Dr. Horita, helped chart a process that would help church leaders fulfill the first of their two board governing imperatives: To Direct. [The second imperative, as identified by Jim Brown in his book The Imperfect Board Member … is “to protect”, but that’s another topic in itself.]

To Direct … the mandate to sense God’s unique purpose [vision] for a congregation and plot a specific course into that future [strategic plan.] As an initial topic, the advanced workshop only whetted the appetite. Over the last year, we’ve begun to discover just how many churches would ask for help to pursue the process.

For over a year, I have focused my research on various agencies who provide such help: consultation, coaching… At last count, I had reviewed 12 different programmed responses, and received training and certification in 4. These range from Outreach Canada’s Vision Renewal to Christian Swartz’s Natural Church Development … to Church Central’s Church Coaching, George Bullard’s Spiritual Journeys … the list is long. It’s been a fascinating study. I’ve discovered a number of features that are unique to each. I’ve also discovered that each have their own similar outline.

One of the great assets that we have gained as the Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches has been the experience of our new president, Dr. John Kaiser. His partnership with Dr. Paul Borden has given us an inside view of  a process [Growing Healthy Churches] that has led to the Church Consultation Process that Dr. Horita has begun to deploy. That, along with the wide variety of resources that we’ve studied has open a repertoire of tools that allows us to address the unique character of each church.

One of the central issues that unlocks the process in any congregation is a readiness to change. I was fascinated to note, in my research, that change is a natural element to institutional life. In one study, it was noted that thirty years ago, churches could expect programs to have a life-cycle of approximately 5 years. It would take one to two years for people to settle on a mission, and a method, and start a ministry – that would remain effective for approximately 5 years before it would lose it’s impact and need to change.

For any number of reasons, the speed of society has shrunk the “shelf-life” of ministry. In 2006, a study posted online with Leadership Journal reported that programs now have a life-cycle of 2 to 3 years. The required time for preparation has remained the same. But, the speed of life has accelerated the need for change.

Several weeks ago, I met with a group of church leaders who have expressed a desire for a Church Consultation. As I sought to expose them to the path that they would face, we began by addressing the word: Change.

In one of the better books I’ve found on the subject, Leading Change in the Congregation [Alban Institute Publications, 2001] Gilbert Rendle writes “Working with congregations in change is not a dispassionate proposition. While working with goals and programs of the congregation, leaders will also be confronted with emotions … It is important for leaders to know what they and their congregation are feeling …The more helpful response of leaders is to wonder and question what message the feelings being expressed carry for the congregation.” [p. 106-107]

I found that it was really helpful to adapt an exercise from Rendle’s book [The Roller Coaster of Change] by asking the leaders to assess their personal attitude toward risk and change. I know it sounds simple, but my suspicion is that when you boil it down, people have one of two fears when it comes to change: They fear that there will be TOO MUCH change … or … they fear that there will be TOO LITTLE change.

We used a simple scale 1 to 5. 1 represented those who tend to fear ANY change as too much: they value stability above all else. The thought of change can be hateful to them. 5, on the other hand, represented those who delight in change and fear that they won’t get enough to satisfy their eagerness: they value creativity and flexibility.

Once we settled on the definitions, I asked the leaders to do three things: Using the scale – a line of 1 to 5 – they were to, each one, put 3 letters: M – where they felt that the majority of the membership in the congregation would land … L – where they felt that the leadership of the church was most comfortable as a group … and I – where they, personal, would identify their own attitude toward change.

The results were fascinating. They discovered that as a group of leaders, they shared more than they had expected – and were “readier” than they had thought to face the challenge. They also discovered, after some conversation, how they would be able to care for the congregation as they began to discuss new directions for the future. It gave them a place to begin.

It’s an assessment, I believe, that every group of leaders should take according to the responsibility to provide direction. As the advertisements say, results may vary … but insight is required as leaders seek to refresh vision, renew commitments, focus with clarity and serve with great effect.

Into Great Silence

I’ll confess to enjoying good movie, especially ones that evoke a sense of meaning. So, when ChristianityTodayMovies came out with their top 10 Critic’s choice movies of 2007, I was intrigued by #10 on the list: Into Great Silence. Once I read the review [http://www.christianitytoday.com/movies/commentaries/quiettime.html] I knew that I had to see the movie.
In 1984, the German documentarist, Philip Groning, sought permission to film life at the monastery of Grande Chartreuse near Grenoble in the French Alps. The monastery is of the Carthusian order, the most ascetic – and silent – of all monastic orders. It’s no surprise that having written his request in 1984 it took 16 years before he received a reply allowing him [and only him – no film crew, no artificial lighting – just him and a camera] to record life with the monks for 6 months. The product is a film, 162 minutes long, composed of silent prayers, simple tasks, tender rituals, and a rare excursion. [My favorite is of the monks – both young and old – enjoying a rare day of conversation and fellowship while sledding down a hillside of snow on their robes. Who knew that men, so silent, could whoop it up like children.]
Unlike any movie I’ve ever seen, at first I couldn’t detect a plot. There were no car chases, and sometimes the only action in the span of five minutes was the occasional movement of lips or flutter of an eyelash as a monk was bowed in prayer. Just watching the film was a conviction that I was witnessing a discipline of spirit totally foreign to my experience. In one frame, a blind monk simply sits in prayer. At first, it appeared to be a still shot. But, in the background, through a window, you could see the clouds sweeping past the mountain peaks in time-lapse photography. The artistry of the moment continues to haunt me as a vision of something utterly eternal [prayer] circled by the currents of time and space.
It’s a movie of impressions, and while I thought that it was without a plot, I’ve since discovered that the plot is in fact much more profound even as it was so much more subtle. I have found myself revisiting the scenes frequently, unlike any other movie, intrigued as I reflect on a dimension of life and soul that challenge me. As Brandon Fibbs wrote in his review: You are aware, while watching, of just how much you have and just how much you lack; of the omnipresence of the divine in the most mundane of activities; of the pervasive majesty of the natural world utterly squelched by our urban lives; of the inspiration these men arouse. To watch this film is to be humbled. To watch this film is to be in awe. Into Great Silence is a transformative theatrical experience, a spiritual encounter, an exercise in contemplation and introspection, a profound meditation on what it means to give oneself totally and completely, reserving nothing, to God.
Twice in the last week, I have had quiet and tender conversations with very dear friends. Both have been struck by illnesses that have forced them into stillness. Both have lived accomplished lives and freely express their addiction to business as well as busyness. But, now, both are coming to terms with stillness. One, unable to move without aid, the other unable to sustain much energy. Both struggle with finding meaning in their day. And, yet, there is a way where God makes His presence known. It is not easy. Just watching a movie left me exhausted after two hours. I struggle to imagine what it would be like to live a sustained [and enforced] life of stillness. It’s a discipline, but one with a reward for those willing to learn.

The Prayer That Never Fails…

In February I wrote a posting about the book series Home To Harmony by Philip Gulley. My suspicion is that just about every pastor I know has enough material to write their own series of stories. A theological version of All Creatures Great and Small, if you will. While few of us pastors who will actually sit down and do the hard work of writing “memoirs” whether fictionalized or not, there are a few out there that have written stories that bring ministry to life.
One well-meaning friend sniffed at my suggestion that “as much could be learned about pastoral theology by reading such books as by reading a Systematic theology.” It was as if human tales were too base or crass for the elevated vocation of the pastorate. I begged to differ. If anything, my experience is that it’s in the simple corners of life where theology comes alive. It’s where I’ve learned my most enduring lessons of what there is about God that is true, and there is about the Gospel that endures.
It’s with that thought that I add another series of stories for the record. For many, the name is so familiar: The Mitford Years and The Father Tim novels  by Jan Karon [http://www.mitfordbooks.com/] Once again, the stories are drawn from a small town, this time in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The pastor, an Episcopalian [Anglican for Canadians] priest named Father Tim lives out a ministry among a “crazy quilt of saints and sinners – lovable eccentrics all.” It’s a faith that is simple, daily, gentle and routine. His life isn’t driven by growth statistics. Instead, it’s the sum of an abundance of subtle mysteries and tender miracles.
Throughout the stories, there is a reference made to “the prayer that never fails.” It seems that whenever Father Tim or someone close is facing an insurmountable situation, the phrase is used. In her book Out To Canaan, I finally found out what that prayer was. The only prayer that never fails? Thy will be done… Simple words, yet utterly profound. And, today, Maundy Thursday – a date on the liturgical calendar largely lost to too many – there’s an echo, not just of the Lord’s Prayer which we should all be praying … but the Lord as He prayed with His own unique introduction: nevertheless, not my will … but Thine be done.

Home to Harmony

One of my greater joys comes from time shared with my “A-Team” which I affectionately call the tiny band of brothers and sisters in our CLD Affinity Group. The group has grown over the years to several dozen, each called by God into a wide array of ministry in the church. They study hard. The course material is intense and demanding. But, I guess that my job is make it real. After all, ministry is much more than the formulas taught in books. The reality is that theories dissolve into the fabric of human life.

The subject of study this semester is Power, Change, and Conflict. To be honest, I am impressed with the material that the students are expected to read. But, if it were up to me, I’d add a few books to the list. And, I’d probably start with one – Home to Harmony by Philip Gulley.

Philip is a simple, Quaker pastor in Danville, Indiana – gifted with the grace of story. He has written what has become a series of books about a simple, Quaker pastor in the fictional village of Harmony, Indiana. Some have likened his stories to James Harriott’s All Creatures Great and Small or Garrison Keillor’s Lake Woebegon tales. will probably never be compared to Lyle Schaller or John Maxwell or any other authority in Leadership studies – but, it’s evident, he knows the life of pastoral leadership with an intimacy that befits ministry.

His stories include an array of characters all too familiar to too many pastors: petty “dictators” like Dale Hinshaw, congregational “queens” like Fern Hampton, wizened saints like Miriam Hodge. There are theories that help discern the dynamics of power, change and conflict – but somehow finding them come alive in a story makes it so much more human. And, I have to believe that when pastoral ministry is seen in humanity, it becomes much more divine.

So, for just a moment, allow me the heresy of suggesting that you set aside Barth’s Theology, or Maxwell’s Leadership or even Anderson’s Preaching [forgive me!] for just a moment – and read what happens when people become church, and pastors become people. For a sample, give it a try: http://www.beliefnet.com/story/151/story_15151_1.html

More Prayer

When I had once mentioned that I collected prayers, a friend quickly sent me a copy of the Prayer of Jabez, a book written by Bruce Wilkinson in 2000 based on a prayer found in I Chronicles 4:9-10: And Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, “Oh that you would bless me indeed and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep from evil that I may not cause pain.” So, God granted him what he requested.

On the surface, the prayer seemed innocent enough. But, I found the instructions that came in the book a bit troubling. It was a word of challenge that Wilkinson gave: I challenge you to make the Jabez prayer for blessing part of the daily fabric of your life. To do that, I encourage you to follow unwaveringly the plan outlined here for the next thirty days. By the end of that time, you’ll be noticing significant changes in your life, and the prayer will be on its way to becoming a treasured, lifelong habit.

The book became a bestseller, number one on the New York Times non-fiction list, selling over nine million copies. I suppose what troubled me wasn’t the matter of prayer, but the practice it inspired. I quickly became aware of many friends who took it to heart – fully expecting prosperity to break out in all corners of their life. I’m not convinced that the prayer, itself, carried the promise of affluence or success. But for many, that became the aspiration.

Which was why I was attracted to a brief article, written in Christianity Today by Adam Hamilton, a pastor in Leawood, Kansas. As a church-planter, he discovered that church leaders needed to be focused not on themselves and their own personal success, but on the Will of God and the purpose of Christ. As he wrote: Some have found in the Prayer of Jabez a foundation upon which to build their lives. For me and our church family, it is one of John Wesley’s prayers that has shaped us – heart and soul … a prayer often called the “Wesleyan Covenant.”

While I’ve added the Prayer of Jabez to my list of prayers, the Wesleyan Covenant has become a guide in prayer toward to the essence of what it means for me to be a man of God:

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee, exalted for thee or brought low by thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty. Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
Thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it. Amen.

John Wesley

Core Basics for Church Boards

In November of 2005 we held our very first Best Practices for Church Boards workshop. At the time, it seemed to be the right thing to do and the right way to do it. Two years later, what seemed to be right has proven to be monumental. As of November, 2007 we have conducted 5 workshops throughout British Columbia – from the Lower Mainland, to Vancouver Island and into the Interior both in Vernon and Cranbrook. On March 8, 2008 we will return to Vancouver Island for the second time.

During the course of the two years, 30 Churches have sent their leadership teams – both Pastoral Staff and Board members. That represents close to one-third of the leadership of the British Columbia and Yukon Fellowship of churches. From those 30 churches, 240 Church Leaders have been registered as participants. The event in March will add to that number. In order to serve the leadership teams, 13 leaders have been trained and employed as facilitators to provide guidance to train effective Church governing leaders.

It has been a work in progress. After the first workshop, it became evident that more needed to be done. Both the interest and needs of Church Boards demanded a greater response than the Basic workshop could provide. This demand has generated a number of training instruments. Two [presented later in this Quarterly newsletter] have provided special training, first for the personal development and training of a Board member. Best Practices for Church Boards: Personal Edition has been published as a training tool under the title: Now That I’m A Board Member … a five-session course that includes both video instruction and workbook exercises.  Even though it was only introduced in the Fall of 2007, 12 Churches have purchased it and are using it in a number of creative ways.

The second additional instrument, or Edition, of Best Practices for Church Boards has been the Advanced Edition. Each June, a specific issue has been targeted for training. In 2007, 5 Church Board teams met for a one-day workshop led by Dr. David Horita for training in The Board’s Role in Strategic Planning and Vision Development. As advertised, the Advanced Edition workshop on June 23, 2008 will feature Dr. Guy Saffold’s training on the role of the Church in making good decisions. [see below.]

Beyond the formal “Editions” of Best Practices for Church Boards, churches have begun to request Coaching assistance to address a whole array of congregational health issues. This has opened the opportunity for the Ministry Centre, the Northwest Centre for Leadership Development, and Northwest Baptist Seminary to focus resources that would elevate the health of local of congregations through consultation and coaching.

With each development, we have learned a number of lessons and confirmed a number of principles. A few of the lessons learned:

  1. Church boards at large have a desperate need for training: At first, I thought that the interest shown by the Fellowship Baptist Churches was unique, something that was felt only by a few congregations. The fact is, the need for training is almost epidemic. As the Best Practices for Church Boards has expanded, interest has increased beyond the boundaries of the Fellowship. Each of our ACTS denominational partners – and more – have been watching us carefully with a high degree of interest. As I talk with the regional directors, it is evident that their church governing bodies are in serious need of the same sort of training. One of the key discoveries that we’ve made is that very few church board leaders are specifically trained for their role and responsibility, and are left to rely on either previous experience or vague intuition to guide them through their work.
  2. The training of a Church Board is unique: There is a growing body of resource agencies that teach “board governance.” The growth of such agencies underlines the general need for such training. Such groups as the Banff Institute for Board Governance, the United Way and their Board governance training, and the Canadian Council of Christian Charities have created wonderful ways to train boards for non-profit, charitable organizations. But, one of the things that they have discovered is that while the Church is technically a non-profit, charitable organization – it is a unique species with a distinct character that possesses its own exclusive application.
  3. Church boards need to see their work as a critical spiritual ministry: One of the standard questions that I ask of Board members is “what is your spiritual ministry in the local church?” More often than not, the answers omit the role of Board governance. They will point to “teaching a Bible Study”, “part of the worship team.” When I say, “but, aren’t you a Board member? Isn’t that a ministry?” they will often respond something to the effect that “no, it’s a necessary evil, someone has to do it.”  

Such a response has reconfirmed two key principles that undergird our passion to elevate the quality of a Church Board. I continue to make this a challenge as Church Board Leaders consider their own level of performance. Two Principles:

  1. Membership on a Church Board is a profoundly Spiritual Ministry: Leadership is listed among the differing gifts of grace listed in Romans 12 [verse 8] as a governing function. The definition of the term applies to practical administration, the type required of Church Board members. The spirit of the challenge is that of diligence [earnest, eager, careful.] …If it is leadership, let him govern diligently.
  2. The Church Board is the Prime Community of the Local Congregation: When Paul outlines the qualities of oversight leaders in the Pastoral Epistles, it is significant to note that he points to character rather than ability, and the type of character that is assessed through community and ultimately builds community. I can’t help but read that and extrapolate a principle: that Board members form the definitive community of a church. The quality of their interaction and the integrity of their relationship has direct bearing on the health of the congregation. This principle can be measured by two corollary statements: 1. If a Church Board is unable to generate a Biblical sense of community – it will be extremely difficult to expect a congregation to enjoy a healthy sense of community; 2. By the same token, if a Church Board is able to generate a sense of Biblical community – the church stands a great chance of building a healthy sense of community throughout its fellowship.

The Church Board, the governing body, has a significant role. And, every possible opportunity to elevate the quality of service is well worth the investment.

Snowflake Prayer

I was intrigued by a comment that I overheard some time ago to the effect that “prior to the age of Sunday School, the most influential instrument used to instruct Christians was Worship.” It was through the liturgy of worship that people learned theology – as they recited the Apostle’s Creed or Nicene Creed from week to week. It was through the liturgy of worship that people learned to read and make sense of the Scripture as it was read, week to week. And, it was through the liturgy of worship that people learned the language of prayer as together they prayed prayers of confession and shared litany’s of request and thanksgiving.

In recent years, as I’ve sensed a decline in Sunday School for adult education, I suspect that we have returned to the place where the burden of instruction is to be found in worship. And that troubles me, especially when it comes to prayer. Too often the prayers I’ve experienced in evangelical worship have not reflected careful thought, nor have they drawn out the voice of God’s people – which only makes me value the treasury of prayer that I’ve been collecting over the years.

Years ago, I began to collect what I discovered to be significant prayers. A significant prayer being one crafted with care, able to give voice to the depth of heart, and one that stimulates even greater expression of prayer as it is prayed again and again and again.

Some of the prayers are quite simple. One that I’ve included in my cycle of daily devotion I discovered in an old tattered used book simply titled Pray by Charles Francis Whiston. It was called the “snowflake” prayer, a title just odd enough to capture my imagination. As Whiston explained, an isolated snowflake melts quickly. But, when joined by other snowflakes over time, a snowflake becomes a glacier – able to carve channels through the hardest rock. It was a way to describe the discipline of prayer, especially commending the practice of using the outline of one prayer as a template for each day. The outline of this prayer has, over time, gained a glacial weight in my life. And, for that reason, I find my self commending it to anyone who wants it. It’s my adaptation:

Gracious Heavenly Father, in obedience to Your claim on my life, I surrender myself to You this day. All that I am, all that I have, to be wholly and unconditionally to You and for Your using. Take me away from myself, and my sinful preoccupation with self, and use me as You will, when You will, and with whom You will. Take away by loving force all that I will not give to You. And help me to know that having been crucified with Christ, I no longer live but that He lives in me, so that the life I love today, I would live by faith in the One who loved me and gave Himself for me. This I pray in His name, and for His sake. Amen

Divine Hours

There seems to have been a revival of interest in ancient forms of spiritual discipline, notably in the area of prayer. From the early Church, the day was marked by regular hours. As early as the Didache in 60 A.D. Christians were encouraged to pray with regularity – the Lord’s Prayer three times a day, the Psalter throughout the day. By the time of the Church fathers [Clement, Origen, Tertullian] the hours of the day were marked by prayer: the terce, the sext, the none …

There are websites that provide guidance through these hours, mostly from the Orthodox traditions [http://www.agpeya.org/index.html] Over this last year, as I’ve sought to elevate my own discipline of meaningful prayer, I’ve benefitted from the manuals for prayer written by Phyllis Tickle [The Divine Hours.] Written as a Trilogy: Autumn/Winter; Spring; Summer … the books are more than a matter of prayer. They are a guide for the type of worship that is woven through time and space. As she explained: Christians, wherever they practice the discipline of fixed-hour prayer frequently find themselves filled with a conscious awareness that they are handing their worship, at its final “Amen” on to other Christians in the next time zone. Like relay runners passing a lighted torch, those who do the work of fixed-hour prayer create thereby a continuous cascade of praise before the throne of God.

As Christmas approaches, there is an evening [or Compline] prayer that is ending each day. As I pray it in these few remaining days before Christmas, it seems to add more meaning: O God, you have caused the holy night to shine with the brightness of the true Light; Grant that I, who have known the mystery of that Light on earth, may also enjoy him perfectly in heaven; where with You and the Holy Spirit He lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Manly Orthodoxy

Over the last couple of years, I’ve found myself increasingly distressed by the quality of evangelical worship, or lack thereof. It’s gotten to the point where I have to discipline myself from ranting over the loss of the deep symbols of our faith, the absence of holy moments and spiritual drama, and the general illiteracy of our treasury of liturgy. It’s troubling.

But, while I seek to contain my rant, I have to share an article written by Frederica Matthewes-Green published on the internet site Beliefnet.com on November 6, 2007. It’s title: Why Orthodox Men Love Church. It was the product of a study she had conducted due to a unique phenomenon: In a time when churches of every description are faced with Vanishing Male Syndrome, men are showing up at Eastern Orthodox churches in numbers that, if not numerically impressive, are proportionately intriguing. This may be the only church which attracts and holds men in numbers equal to women … rather than quess why this is, I [contacted] several hundred Orthodox men, most of whom joined the church as adults. What do they think makes this church particularly attractive to men? There responses … may spark some ideas for leaders in other churches who are looking for ways to keep guys in the pews.

While Frederica Matthews-Green identified 7 key reasons, there was one specific spirit that emerged from the comments: Orthodoxy is serious. It is difficult. It is demanding … I am challenged in a deep way, not to “feel good about myself” but to become holy. It is rigorous, and in that rigor, I find liberation. Among the 7 reasons, I was struck by the robust dynamic created by profound worship: It’s easier for guys to express themselves in worship if there are guidelines about how it’s supposed to work … learning clear-cut physical actions that are expected to form character and understanding … learning immediately through ritual and symbolism … the regimen of discipline making one mindful of one’s relation to the Trinity, to the Church, and to everyone he meets..

There is something manly to worship. Matthew-Green reports: the men who wrote me expressed hearty dislike for what they perceive as a soft Western Jesus … a Christianity that has been feminized … presents Jesus as a friend, a lover, someone who walks with me and talks with me … This is fine rapturous imagery for [those] who need a social life … [but] lines like “reaching out for his embrace”, “wanting to touch His face” while “being overwhelmed by the power of his love” are difficult songs for one man to sing to another Man.”

One man said that worship at his … church had been “largely an emotional experience. Feelings, Tears … singing emotional songs, swaying with hands aloft. … from a Deacon, “Evangelical churches call men to be passive and nice [think Mr. Rogers]. Orthodox churches call me to be courageous and act [think BraveHeart.]

The thoughts are well worth pondering. Ideas worth consideration.

Seeker Becomes Self-Feeder

 
            As full disclosure, I should confess that I’ve been a fan of Willow Creek before Willow Ceek was Willow Creek. In the mid-1970’s the youth pastor of my home church in Park Ridge, Illinois was a Trinity College student named Bill Hybels. I always enjoyed coming home on holidays from Seminary just to see what was happening with Bill and the youth group at South Park Church. In the vocabulary of the ‘70’s, it was a “happening!” High School kids were showing up by the carload, each week more than the last. When I heard one of the elderly people complain, it was the first time I heard a phrase that has since become an evangelical mantra: we are just being sensitive to the seeker.
            The term “seeker-sensitive” has become so much the standard for evangelical style that I was a bit shocked to read the recent confession from Willow Creek reported by Bob Burney in the Baptist Press [November 6, 2007.] As the result of a multi-year study on the effectiveness of their philosophy of ministry, the Willow Creek leaders discovered that while they have reached large numbers of people, they have not been producing solid disciples of Jesus Christ.
            The studies, published by Cally Parkinson and Greg Hawkins in a new book entitled “Reveal: Where Are You?”  produced a remarkable confession from my friend, Bill. “We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that hey have to take responsibility to become “self-feeders.” We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their Bible between services, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.”
            It’s a remarkable moment. And I can’t help but think that we may begin to hear another term added to our vocabulary next to “seeker-sensitive” … “self-feeder.” It will be fascinating to see what that will begin to mean.

Proof Positive

I seem to have hit a theme this month. My eye keeps catching the flashes of debate being generated by the modern merry band of atheists. In a recent Journal of Religion and Society,  Gregory Paul, a paleontologist, whose specialty appears to be the study of dangerous creatures [Predatory Dinosaurs of the World], decided to apply his analysis to what he identified as the greatest cause of social disintegration: religious belief.

While this theme seems to becoming a snippet of conventional wisdom for our day, I loved the critique penned by Theodore Dalrymple in the October 14, 2005 edition of the Wall Street Journal, So That’s The Reason… One line in particular stood out: …not even Mr. Paul would claim that he was more likely to be mugged in America by believers emerging from a Sunday service at a Baptist church than by drug-taking atheists emerging from a crack den … And yet, the irreligious among us continue to blame societal ills on faith while promising the social benefits of atheism [ignoring, of course, the social benefits of the gulag and concentration camps provided by the great atheistic societies of the 20th century.]

Which all brought to mind an example from the life of the Harry Ironside, a preacher from an earlier time. Gordon MacDonald put me on to his biography ordained of the Lord [E. Schuler English, Louizeaux Brothers, 1976.] A wonderful little snippet from the biography described a moment when Ironside was challenged by a leading British Atheist of the day to a public debate comparing the value of their life philosophies. Ironside agreed with one condition: that each of them “must bring two people whose lives have been powerfully changed by your message, and I will bring 50 people who have been transformed by the gospel I preach.” Within days Ironside had rounded up a list of 50 “specimens” with more requesting to give their testimony. The challenger cancelled the event. As Gordon said, it’s a 75 year old story, but I still get a kick out of it.

“Building Leaders”

Building Leaders: Blueprints for Developing Leadership at Every Level of Your Church, Aubrey Malphurs and Will Mancini: Baker Books: Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2004

Building Leaders: Aubrey Malphurs and Will Mancini  (Baker Books)
This book, the second in an excellent trilogy on leadership [Being Leaders, and Leading Leaders – one of the best texts on Church Board development] addresses the question: How can a Church empower emerging leaders to follow God into expanded ministry?

It provides a Biblical blueprint for finding and developing leaders – all in the local church context. How to Grow Leaders [chapter 9], Designing the Leadership Development Process [chapter 10]  are a few of the chapters that address the profound challenge Churches have in living up to their calling to be the culture for leadership development. The guides, questions and surveys included in the text are excellent resources to help church leaders design a unique leadership development model within the realities of limited resources and budget.

Beyond the book, Aubrey Malphurs is the president of The Malphurs Group – a training and consulting organization. Their website: www.malphursgroup.com provides a number of free resources…and a free newsletter.

Scratching the Surface of Non-Belief

In the last few months, I have encountered a number of people who seem “taken” by the current campaign to promote the message of atheism. Such books as God is Not Great, and The God Delusion seem to suggest that there is something solid to the life and belief of the unbelievers. Which is why I was intrigued by the recent findings of George Barna.

The June update of the Barna Report dealt with the impact of the current promotional campaign being waged by Atheists. It was, in part, research for a new book by David Kinnaman entitled unchristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity. On the surface, the issue seems to be formidable to anyone in ministry. But, digging a bit deeper into the data, I was encouraged by the opportunities we have to address people who appear uncomfortable with un-belief. Consider the following, from the Barna research [www.barna.org]:

But atheists and agnostics shouldn’t be too surprised that we would be confused about the issue. After all, this demographic group, which comprises 8% of the U.S. adult population, certainly acts in peculiar ways for religious skeptics. According to surveys conducted by The Barna Group:

  • 1 out of every 2 atheists and agnostics say that every person has a soul
  • 1 out of every 2 atheists and agnostics believes that Heaven and Hell exist
  • 1 out of every 2 atheists and agnostics believes that there is life after death.
  • 1 out of every 3 atheists and agnostics talks about faith-related matters during a typical week. 
  • 1 out of every 3 atheists and agnostics prayed to God, in past 7 days
  • 1 out of every 3 atheists and agnostics want ‘creationism” taught in the public schools
  • 1 out of every 8 atheists and agnostics believe that accepting Jesus Christ as savior probably makes life after death possible.
  • 1 out of every 10 atheists and agnostics believes that absolute moral truth exist
  • 1 out of every 12 atheists and agnostics read from the Bible, other than while at church, in past 7 days
  • 1 out of every 25 atheists and agnostics attended a church service, other than a special event such as a wedding or funeral, in past 7 days

If an atheist reads the bible, goes to church, believes in the existence of the soul, heaven, hell, life after death, teaching creationism, absolute morals, and prayer, are they considered a “heretic” by their fellow non-believers?

I would take it one step further: would they be considered a “lost sheep” looking for a way home?

Does The Universe Have A Purpose?

In the last year, Athiests have hit the best-seller book list with such titles as The God Delusion [Richard Dawkins], God is Not Great [Christopher Hitchens], and Letters to a Christian Nation [Sam Harris]. I don’t want to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but it seems as if there is a coordinated assault on the concept of God being carried forward, not by fringe eccentrics like Madelyn Murray O’Hair – but by academic and scientific elites. In September, I read a report of … a recent forum sponsored by the Science Network at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, the tone of intolerance reached such a peak that anthropologist Melvin J. Konner commented: "The viewpoints have run the gamut from A to B. Should we bash religion with a crowbar or only with a baseball bat?"

With that in mind, I was intrigued by a project of the John Templeton Foundation, a series of conversations about the “Big Questions” conducted among leading scientists and scholars worldwide. The first “Big Question” that appeared on October 25, 2007 was “Does the Universe Have a Purpose?” Fascinating reading! Of the first 12 who responded, only two said“No” – Peter Atkins, an Oxford professor and Christian de Duve, a Nobel Prize winning biochemist. The majority said “Yes” while a number responded with “perhaps, not sure, I hope so…” The reasons given by each are thought-provoking and well worth reading: www.templeton.org/questions/purpose

Church Health Assessment

Quick note, helpful tool: Check out the resources of Leadership Transformations, Inc. Actually, go directly to their ministry resource outlet entitled HealthyChurch.net [just add the www. before the title, and you’re there.]

One of the things that I’ve discovered in the last two years is that most churches wait until a crisis to assess the health of their fellowship, and then struggle to find a way to do it well. Outreach Canada has addressed the issue well with their Vision Renewal process and the Ministry Fitness Check. I’ve also discovered that most healthy churches derive momentum from consistently assessing their health, and making it a standard practice to measure their progress. If you were to put it in physical terms, they put their Body through an annual [or at least “predictable”] physical.

HealthyChurch.Net has produced a helpful tool: Church Health Assessment Tool [also known as CHAT] that is well-worth your inspection. Some may find it to be a bit pricey, but, then again, as the commercial says, some things are priceless, and CHAT may prove to be that for you.

Team Blog

Just as I was scratching my head, thinking of what to share as a blog an enewsletter arrived with a feature article entitled ‘The Death of Blogs” [Ted Olson, Christianity Today.] While it sounded like an obituary, I found the comments worth passing on:

… As weblogs proliferated earlier this decade, Andy Warhol’s famous aphorism was modified to read “in the future, everyone will be famous to 15 people.” Thanks to widespread bog burnout, everyone will be famous to 15 people for 15 minutes. Tech researcher Gartner, Inc. reported earlier this year that 200 million people have given up blogging, more than twice as many as are active … given the average lifespan of a blogger and the current growth rate of blogs, Gartner says blogging has probably peaked.”

My first reaction was to set this blog aside and move on to other things. But, as I read further, I changed my mind. Blogs have proved valuable for two reasons: 1. they provide quality insight and resourceful conversation, and 2. they appear with frequency. Remove either factor, and blogs die. With that in mind, Ted Olson revealed a secret: the secret of the top God blogs is that they’re team efforts.” Which is what you get by reading this – and may be the secret for any Church that seeks to keep the Blog alive.

Middle Adults – Use Them or Lose Them

I posted a note back in July with a bit of a warning – that the Middle-Adult ministry today is not the same as it was 30 years ago, and that if the church doesn’t address the aging Boomer generation, it is missing a huge opportunity [July 5, 2007: Here They Come.] I don’t know if it’s the fact that my birthday has arrived and I am smack dab in the middle of that generation – or it it’s because more research is being published – but I find that my warning is being confirmed.

In a number of studies published by the Leadership Network [www.leadnet.org] top innovations in Older Adult Ministry are being reported. While the standard understanding has been that Youth are the prime target for church ministries, and Youth ministry is the second or third hire on a church staff, the facts are that people “over 65 now outnumber teenagers nearly two to one.” The “graying of society” is now understood as a social revolution. Yet, very few churches have targeted ministries for middle to older adults.

While the focus on youth has been driven by the idea that youth are the most apt to be receptive to the gospel, churches that are targeting Middle-adults are finding that there is even greater spiritual interest and receptivity among the “grey” generation. In fact, people over 50 are living longer and want to make a difference in the second half of their lives. The name “boomer” is being replaced with a new title: “the finisher generation” as the middle-adults have every intention to finish well.

In reporting on this phenomenon, Dr. Amy Hanson, one of the researchers for Leadership Network just published an article with a title that sounds the warning once again: Prime Timers: Older Adults Moving Outside Churches To Serve. On the other hand, Churches who recognize the age explosion are creating strategic, innovative ministries that are well worth attention. I would strongly recommend Amy Hansen’s whole report: Churches Responding to the Age Wave: Top Innovations In Older Adult Ministry … downloaded for free from the Leadership Network resource webpage: www.leadnet.org/resources.asp.

The Wages of Service

Christianity Today International publishes the result of an annual survey on church salaries. This year’s copy of The 2008 Compensation Handbook for Church Staff has not yet been published, but a few of the results have been reported – as surprises. Senior editor, Kevin Miller, has posted an article in Leadership online entitled 3 Surprises on What Pastors Get Paid. For good or ill, I found two of the surprises to be of interest:

Surprise 1: If you want to earn more, change denominations. Without getting into the details, while Presbyterian Senior Pastors receive the highest average salary, Baptist Senior Pastors average next to last on the salary scale. On the other hand, Baptist Youth Pastors earn near the top, while Presbyterian Youth Pastors are near the bottom. It’s an interesting hint about mission and priorities.

Surprise 3: That additional degree is probably worth it. The issue of whether or not further education is of value to ministry is debatable, at least among the Baptist Churches I know. I don’t know how appropriate it is to add dollars to that debate, but there is some indication that on this side of heaven and from a financial standpoint that education is worth it. As the report reads: roughly stated, moving from a bachelor’s degree to a master’s degree boosts income from 10 to 20 percent, and getting your doctorate [adds] 15 percent more on top of that … Wondering whether to finish your master’s or doctorate? Even in pastoral ministry, from a financial standpoint, the answer is yes.”

For more information click here.

We’re Not Okay, But That’s Okay

The work we’ve been working with Church Boards over the last year has created a number of opportunities to expand our ability to help raise the levels of congregational health on a more personal level. To do that well, I have been getting trained in various Church Coaching systems. Along the way, one of my greatest joys has been developing a partnership with my friend, Cam Taylor – an associate with Outreach Canada. We share the legacy of pastoral ministry. In the September edition of his Connections Newsletter, he offered a review of the book The Toxic Congregation by G. Lloyd Rediger.
 
His review outlined four different categories of congregations in need of care, each with their own stories. It’s like reading a medical casebook of symptoms … and potential cures.
 
I have to admit that reading about toxic congregations depresses me. With all the time and effort that is spent trying to find a cure for congregational ailments, I begin to despair at the thought that Church Health may ever be achieved. In sharing my angst with a friend, the thought hit me. Maybe we’re looking at this from the wrong angle. Maybe, just possibly, the natural condition of the church is that ILL is normal. Oh, not that it is acceptable, but that it should be expected.
 
After all, the human condition, no matter how fit a person may be at any given time, is prone to illness. I am reminded of the insight shared by my friend, Dr. Robert Webber, as he enjoyed a brief moment of remission from the cancer that killed him. He learned to add to his daily prayer a word of thanksgiving for “the healing of today.” We often assume that healing is permanent, and that health is expected standard of normal. The fact is, each day has its own set of troubles and none of us are immune from brokenness or the need to live in steady dependence on the God who loves us and keeps giving Himself for us.
 
If we have to live our lives that way, it stands to reason that we should be willing to share our fellowship that way as well. Somehow, I take comfort in that perspective. It eases the mind as I get back to work, serving this fragile and sometimes cracked crucible called the church.
 
For more information regarding the Leadership Network – and to access Cam’s review on Toxic churches: http://en.outreach.ca/WhatWeDo/Networks/tabid/1069/Default.aspx

Denominational Relevance

I might as well admit it, I am a fan of George Bullard. I am consistently stimulated by his writings. In fact, it’s been suggested that since I frequently post thoughts from his journal or blog that I should just post his link on my regularly scheduled posting on this blog and have done with it.

Well, George has done it again. This time it’s in a video form. A 7 minute .wpm file was posted on his journal promising a list of 20 things that Denominations must do to thrive in the 21st century. I scribbled furiously as I listened [wishing he had printed up the list]  But, watching it  did add punch to the presentation.

As I reviewed the list, a number of his points connected and confirmed some of the initiatives that I have been worked to provide. Point 1: denominations must see their primary role as servicing their churches; Point 10: denominations must help “perfecting congregations” [congregations that are faithful, healthy, and earnestly cycling through their future] to reach their next level; Point 15 denominations must find a way to make peace with the parachurch world; Point 16: denominations must find ways to become resource brokers for their churches.

Over the last Spring and Summer, my involvement with the Church Development Commission and Best Practices for Church Boards has created an interesting initiative. Because individual congregations have asked for help, and because the Fellowship Baptist churches have become familiar with Outreach Canada’s Ministry Fitness Check – I went ahead and took the training to become a coach for the Outreach Canada Vision Renewal process. One of the things that struck me in the training was the distance that exists between the denominations and an agency like Outreach Canada. That led me to take up a challenge: to find a way for a denomination, like the Fellowship, to broker a valuable tool like Vision Renewal with the fellowship churches. There is a bond that we share that can only be strengthened through partnership. It’s an interesting experiment, and it’s nice to see that if I get all the ingredients to mix well and not explode … we will have provided something substantial for our shared future.
So – go see the video! http://www.bullardjournal.org/ Can Denominations Thrive in the 21st Century? Download george.wmv
 

In Praise of Process

As I’ve been working with church boards over the last year, I’ve noticed how many churches sense the need to refresh their vision, strategy, and mission. They struggle with finding the right structure for their leadership to perform their ministry effectively. They wrestle with finding a simple focus that would galvanize their fellowship. As they grapple with this issue, some have questions as to whether or not strategic planning is a Biblical concept.

In order to address the question, I have studied the Scriptures and collected a number of studies on the subject [Christianity Today has a wonderful article in it’s archives: Is Strategic Planning Biblical? By Mark Marshall] and have come to the conclusion that not only is strategic planning Biblical, it’s a mandate. It’s also hard work. Why? Because it is the product of a process.

Process is defined as “a series of actions directed toward a specific aim.” It consumes time, it demands thought, it requires conversation and it involves viewpoints. It is hard work, and because it is hard work is too often devalued. We want answers, and want them now. We want solutions, and not discussions. I’ve become increasingly aware of the need to promote process as a Biblical value, even more than I have had to endorse planning. The simple statement is that strategic planning is a Biblical concept, and careful process is God’s chosen method.

It’s a principle that I’ve had to endorse when a pastor wants to launch an initiative without having communicated with leaders, or consulted with others. It’s a principle that I’ve had to raise when a church wants to draft a set of ministry goals without having surveyed their people or their community. It’s become such a recurring theme that I’ve come to the conclusion that if you want to be a successful pastor – you must be process-oriented, and if you want to have a healthy church – it must be process-friendly.

In his Journal, George Bullard [www.bullardjournal.blogs] asked the question: Just How Important is Process? He begins with a series of questions: In making a decision in a congregation, how important is the process used? On a scale of one to ten with ten being high, how high would you rate the importance of process? How high th e importance of outcome or decision? How high the importance of impact or application of the decision?

He then applies the question to any number of congregational scenarios: the calling of a new pastor, the construction of a new building, the initiation of a new worship service, the launching of a ministry, the statement of a doctrinal stance, the management of a disciplinary issue. None of these are solved by quick solutions or handy edicts. To the contrary. When leaders exercise wisdom by mapping out a deliberate process and follow it with diligent care, not only is God able to guide them to a solution – He is able to build a more mature community.

Bullard draws the conclusion from the scenarios [I add my own bold-font for emphasis]: In many decision-making situations in congregations, process is at least as important as the decision to be made and its resulting actions. Process is not everything, but it is significant. Process is not more important than core values, although healthy process may be a core value. Process is important enough to make sure that even when people ultimately disagree, everyone has been treated as a person of worth created in the Image of God to live and love … Healthy process builds the capacity of a congregation to handle the really tough challenges of life and ministry in community.

He ends with a question that I find myself asking more and more with each church leader I meet: Just how important is process in your congregation? The response answers so many questions.

Stickies!

I might as well admit it. I hate sticky notes. Those little slips of paper with just enough glue on them to stick to your fingers really annoy me. And yet, I might as well admit it, I am addicted to lists! I live by the list and, more often than not, die by the list. I create a list for the work that I must do annually which becomes the source for the list of things that I must do quarterly … which quickly becomes the list of things I must do each week … which grows into the list of the things I must do in a day. I know that there is counseling available for people like me, but since that’s not on my list of things to do, it ain’t going to happen.

So, for what it’s worth, I’d like to share a great little resource that has helped me overcome my annoyance with the paper slips. It’s a free, and I mean free, software item created by an Englishman, Tom Revell, called Stickies. In essence, it creates electronic post-it notes on your computer. Simple and easy, with one click of the mouse, I can create a note as a reminder, or as a memo, or – according to my addiction – a list. Quick and easy, I can even synchronize the list with my pda or email it to others. As a quick way to capture thoughts before I forget them, with one click of the mouse, I can jot things down and keep going.

I know that this blog area is meant to delve into the depths of theological understanding and Biblical wisdom, but for today, I’ll make this an offering as a practical theologian. It’s coming up to Labor Day and the practical beginning of the church year. As a pastor, it’s “game on!” If I were to offer anything that might provide aid and comfort in the rush of urgent events, I would gently suggest a simple little thing like this: Stickies! Use them, before you lose your mind… www.zhornsoftware.co.uk/stickies/.

Something You Have GOT To See

It’s one thing to study how to put together a great powerpoint slide presentation. It’s something else to see a great presentation. I’ve discovered that I learn best by seeing the best. And now, there is a site – and community – where I can study. It’s called Slideshare: www.slideshare.net. They have great examples of all sorts of presentations from National Geographic pictures to SWOT analyses. Most are worth watching just for the images. While the presentations come from all over the world, there are quite a few from the Christian side of things, examples of work done for ministry. Some of my favorite include: Death by Powerpoint, Meet Henry, Best Wife Ever, Skills for Presenters, Dieu, and my very favorite: Best Photo Cnn 2004. It’s worth a look just for the lesson.

http://www.slideshare.net/contests/contest-details

Empower or Delegate?

Among the daily eJournals and newsletters that I value, the one from Easum-Bandy associates provides consistently thought-provoking reflections. The most recent included an article by Bill Tenny-Brittian under the title Developing Leaders Under Your Nose.  His led with a daring first point: Build your leadership base by at least 400%. I’m glad that I kept reading before my cynicism kicked in. His point confirmed something I’ve sensed. The language of leadership that I was familiar with 30 years ago was peppered with the term delegate. That language has changed dramatically in the last decade to the term empower. It may be one of those instinctive signals that I pick up, but as I visit churches I’ve noticed that those who are in distress seem to use the word delegate a lot, while those who are growing in their health seem to revolve around the word empower. Tenny-Brittian’s article adds a few helpful explanations that confirm my suspicions. Interested: read more at http://easumbandy.com/index.php?id=2465.

Summer Reading

One of the pleasant perks that comes from living close to the ocean is that I am able to grab my beach chair and a book and read while listening to the gentle sounds of wind and waves. My reading this summer has ranged from real-life adventure [The Long Walk, Slavomir Rawicz; Carrying the Fire, Michael Collins] to historical novels [The Religion, an epic story along the lines of the battle of Thermopile of the last battle of the crusades waged on the island of Malta between the Ottoman hoard and a small band of Knights of St. John, by Tim Willocks.] Tucked away in my list of summer reading is one book that has captured my imagination: The Forms and Orders of Western Liturgy from the Tenth to the Eighteenth Century, by John Harper.

I’ll admit, from the sound of the title, this book does not sound like beach-reading. But, it has been so refreshing to rediscover what one writer has called the missing jewel of the church … Worship. After sitting through an endless stream of services composed of two sets of worship choruses [three choruses a piece], a somewhat thoughtless prayer [we thank you, God, for being God], sprinkled with an abundance of announcements followed by an offering, topped by a sermon, it’s been stimulating to encounter the rich tapestry of treasures that belong to worship.

Consider a few of the following quotes:

“The praise of the Almighty was for Christians the highest and most important of human activities, deserving the best of their energy, artistic endeavor, and wealth. The rich heritage…reflects this.” 

“Medieval liturgy was not only highly sophisticated; it was often the principal pursuit of communities of men or women whose whole lives [often from childhood] were dominated by daily worship.”

“But, the communities of clerks, priests, monks and nuns who animated these rich resources are gone. Gone too are the aesthetic, spiritual and theological backgrounds and the social framework that supported these communities.”

Each line begs for reflection. I’m just a bit unsure how far such reflection will go.

I was sharing some of my thoughts with a few dear friends who dismissed the subject with a quick “well, that liturgy stuff is dry and meaningless, just dead ritual.”

As I read more of the way worship can be expressed, I can’t help but form a mental picture of the quality of the banquet God has spread before us. Carefully prepared expressions of gourmet artistry, deep symbols, shared voices, rich textures of holy things. It’s hard to imagine that we would reject them all in favor of peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches and consider ourselves nourished.

Gentle Summer Thought

Okay, trivia fans, here’s a question. How many steps can a sparrow take in a minute? It’s summertime and as I was lounging in the shade of my deck, thinking of what I could post on this web space, I found myself watching a flock of sparrows bouncing around the yard. And I began to count. How many steps can a sparrow take in a minute? My scientific poll came to an average of 80 to 100.

Is there a point to this? I’m just repeating a study referred to by Jesus in Matthew 10:29 when He said: Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of you Father.”

Some people assume that the sparrow’s “fall” refers to it’s death which, as far as I know, happens only once. But [and here my learned colleagues may correct my understanding of Greek vocabulary] the word used by Jesus may also mean to take a step with a foot, or hop. As it applies to sparrows, I believe that “hop” would be the proper use. And, if that was what Jesus meant, then it strikes me that God has His work cut out as He keeps track of every single hop of every little sparrow. They are studies in perpetual motion, hot-footing it to a primitive beat. And God cares for each step.

But, you may ask, what does He care about? My guess is that the answer has something to do with what makes sparrows hop. As I watched my little friends, I discovered several reasons: 1. fear – those little guys are on constant red-alert, 2. need – those little guys are on a constant hunt for food, 3. weakness – they may have the right stuff to soar in the air, but they struggle when it comes to ground transportation.

Is God just keeping count of their steps? As I lazed in the summer sun, it dawned on me that it’s His will to sense their fears, needs and weaknesses – and whatever else keeps them hopping. And even more. Jesus continued, don’t be afraid, you are worth more than many sparrows.

What a comforting thought. Another reminder that God really does love us, enough to embrace everything that keeps us on our toes: fears, needs, weaknesses and so much more. A gentle thought to take into the day.

Here They Come…

In the February edition of the Leadership Connections newsletter, I recorded the results of some research that I’ve been doing on emerging leaders: [When Emerging Leaders go BOOM! http://leadership.nbseminary.com/ncld_011.htm – check it out.]

Twice this week, the issue has come up as both the Seminary – and our Churches are beginning to witness this phenomenon. So, for what it’s worth, I’ll repeat the details in part … with one distinct conclusion: if the Boomers don’t’ find meaningful expression in their church – they will go elsewhere…

“Over the last three years as I’ve been seeking to create instruments to empower home-grown leaders, I’ve noticed that the greatest personal interest being shown comes from people of a certain age. Let me share an example: ‘I am an engineer, 50 years old, chair of our church board … my wife and I have been praying about our future plans to devote ourselves to full-time ministry in the next 5 years.’ 

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised to discover a cultural phenomenon that is creating a huge impact in the church – the Baby-Boomer generation in transition. … While Boomers have been sometimes branded as the most selfish generation, there is evidence that as they age they are proving to be much different. A study from the Corporation for National and Community Service in 2005 revealed that Boomers are not only more active in volunteer participation, but fully expect to extend their volunteer commitments to more mature – even career – levels. This surge is being felt in a number of arenas. It has created an impact in the world of missions. In late 2005, Wycliffe Bible Translators built a volunteer mobilization center in Orlando, Florida in an attempt to keep up with their largest sector of missionary growth. Since the year 2000, Wycliffe has experienced an average of 40% annual increase in the number of “Boomer Missionaries.” Martin Huyett, Wycliffe’s vice-president for volunteer services explained, “these people have a certain amount of freedom and control … they want to do something significant, not just write checks.” …

One organization, The Finisher’s Project, was founded by Nelson Malwitz as a way to match Boomers with the growing list of ministry opportunities provided by Mission agencies. Currently, the Finisher’s Project is working with 100 organizations, has placed over 1,000 people in full-time missions, has 1,000 people in process, and has an additional 1,200 people expressing their intention to make a transition in the next 2 years.

Todd Johnson of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity said, “Most mission agencies are trying to work with this trend … that 20 years ago was unwelcome.” … As I reflect on the growing body of statistics generated by the explosion of the Boomer generation, I find myself almost overwhelmed by the sheer number of implications. Apart from the fact that many of them are intensely personal [since I, too, am a Boomer] each seem to have a consequence for the future of the church.

Let me share one quick discoveries:The Boomers are ready – use them or lose them: Jim Hughes of the Abilene Christian University writes, “many churches look to younger people to fill significant roles, leaving older adults to trivial tasks.” Many Boomer post-retirement plans are being built around significance, mission, and impact. With their proven record of life-skills and initiative, if their Church won’t match their intentions in a serious fashion, they will find other avenues to influence their world.”

Interested in more: check out www.finishers.org/ and www.finisherscanada.ca/

Gunproofing the Church

I hadn’t been the Senior Pastor of the Bethany Baptist Church for more than a few weeks when I got a telephone call that put a chill down my spine. At first impressions, it seemed to be the sort of random call that inner-city pastors will get from disturbed people. The caller was rambling, vaguely threatening, somewhat apologetic, but definitely disturbing. When I mentioned the call to my secretary and heard her explanation, the call took on a deeper and darker dimension.

Several years previously, a very disturbed young man had begun to stalk a young lady who had become a Christian and part of the fellowship at Bethany. For whatever reasons that defy sanity, one Sunday afternoon he entered the church, found a room where the young lady was meeting with a Bible study fellowship, and shot her to death. Before he was subdued, he wounded a few others.

The secretary showed me the bullet holes in the room that served as a reminder of the attack. For several years around the anniversary of that day, I would receive a call from the young man. He was incarcerated in a mental health facility. He escaped from the facility several times. Each time I would receive a call from the facility as a “duty-to-warn”, and each time he was apprehended within blocks of the church.

In light of the shootings in public places in recent years, this experience continues to trouble me. The Church is an open and trusting environment. But, it is also not immune to tragedy. And that is probably why an article caught my attention this week: Shooter in the Church.

The article, written by a lieutenant from the San Diego Police department, recommends: four steps you can take to reduce risk “and possibly save lives” at your church. The steps include: 1. Work with the local police, 2. Create a survey of your facility for police, 3. Create a lockdown policy, and 4. Prevent an incident. Each of the steps are explained in detail, and are well-worth your attention. You can access the article at: http://www.christianitytoday.com/bcl/areas/leadership/articles/070606.html

Read Lyle’s Northwest Centre for Leadership Development newsletters

Reverse Flow . . .

Over the last four years I’ve been focused on the phenomenon of ‘emerging leaders’. It is trend in which the Church is growing future leaders from within. In 2004, the statistics being kept by Church Central under the direction of Thom Rainer revealed the growth of this trend: 1997  4% of people in ministry were ‘emerging leaders'; 2003, the number had doubled to 8%, and the projection was that by 2010, over 30% of people in ministry would be second-third-or fourth career people.Thom Rainer has since moved from Church Central to become the president of Lifeway [the former Southern Baptist Sunday School foundation] and the co-author of Simple Church [the book he wrote with Eric Geiger that I have been recommending all year.] The new director of Church Central, Tom Harper, has picked up on the emerging leader research and has just published a new book entitled Career Crossover. According to his research, 44% of senior pastors today came from the marketplace.

While putting the research together can become rather confusing, it is becoming evident that there is a convergence taking place that deserves notice and attention. The Baby-Boomer generation is entering the realm of retirement with ministry in mind. The ‘Twixter’ generation is delaying a commitment to a career until later life. And, now, it appears that the flow of people taking ministry into the marketplace is cycling into a new direction.

As Harper writes, since almost 400,000 U.S. Church leaders have workplace experience, chances are that thousands more are hearing the call. It’s not a surprise that the subtitle of his book Career Crossover is Leaving the Marketplace for Ministry. It’s happening in increased numbers. And, the flow is not just toward conventional ministry. Emerging Leaders who are seeking to adjust a career from the Marketplace into Ministry are not necessarily concerned about becoming Senior Pastors as the numbers may indicate. The fact is they carry with them a burden that is producing any number of creative and innovative ministries into the world. My concern is that the Church would find a way to empower these people and serve as a platform to connect their ministries to the larger impact of a congregation. It was partly because of that concern that I developed the course Heart for Ministry and it’s a confirmation of that concern that I am taking a long, hard look at Career Crossover. I’d invite you to do the same. For further information: www.churchcentral.com

Read Lyle’s Northwest Centre for Leadership Development newsletters

Finding the Right Fit

I’ll begin this issue with a confession. It’s been three months since the last issue of the Leadership Connections. The silence is not due to idleness. In fact, it is just the opposite. Over the last three years, as I’ve labored hard to discover how to effectively direct the resources of Leadership Development, I’ve initiated several critical ventures. These ventures have matured to the point where they have given birth to solid products, and over the last few months their delivery has required my full attention.

One of the initiatives, The Best Practices for Church Boards, has proven to be quite fertile in creating further instruments to help strengthen healthy churches. As we’ve opened conversations with Church Boards, I’ve become aware of a number of significant shared issues. A survey of Churches that had attended the Basic Edition of Church Boards revealed that the number one issue that they faced was Vision Development and Strategic Planning. This issue became the focus for our first Advanced Edition of Best Practices for Church Boards and has produced a workshop that will be held later this month.

Running a close second to Vision Renewal and Strategic Planning was the issue of organizational structure: how to find the right structure for a healthy church governance. That struggle is faced by many churches.

There is no guarantee that if a Church finds just the right constitutional structure that it will have an effective ministry. But, having the wrong structure can almost certainly inhibit the ability of a congregation to serve and grow. Sometimes a church outgrows its structure and sometimes a structure outgrows a church. In either case, there are moments where it becomes evident to Church leaders that they are no longer configured in a way to handle to matters of ministry. It’s time for an administrative tune-up.

Gordon MacDonald, wrote of his personal experience with this moment in Leadership Journal [When The Wineskins Start To Rip, January, 1984.] While the Bible doesn’t prescribe a template for a standard Church Constitution and By-law structure, it does illustrate the dilemma. This is revealed in Acts 6 in the words “in those days, when the number of disciples was increasing, there arose a murmuring in the church.” Murmuring…interesting word related to an administrative breakdown. The complaints of the congregation expressed the sort of  friction and irritation that requires the discovery a new organizational system, one that would free people to concentrate on the mission of ministry.

In the course of research for the Best Practices for Church Boards, I have developed a catalog of different governance models. As the United Way of Canada has looked at non-profit agencies, they have identified 4 different types of Board structures: Policy Board, Policy Governance Board, Working/Administrative Board, and Collective Board [www.boarddevelopment.org] An article published by Banff Executive Leadership, Inc. [The Challenge to Govern Well] identifies five different models: Structural [Traditional], Policy [Carver], Outcome [Cortex], Process [Consensus], and Competency [Skill/Practice] Models.

A lot of attention has been given to the Carver – or Policy – model as a clearly defined system, and many churches are finding that – given a few adaptations – the Carver model is quite helpful. But, at the same time, I am finding that many churches – particularly smaller churches – require a different model. They are finding, as Gary McIntosh says, that one size doesn’t fit all. The problem is, it’s hard for them to find a system that fits.

Gary’s book [One Size Doesn’t Fit All, Revell, 1999] is one of the standard texts that we give to the churches that attend Best Practices for Church Boards. His argument is that the size of a congregation creates it’s own unique environmental demands. McIntosh identifies three sizes of congregations: Small [15 – 200], Medium [201 – 400] and Large [400+] Others, like Bob Gilliam [of T-Net International], have identified more distinct size categories [25-45; 75-110; 150-225, 400-450; 700-750; 1000-1200] that represent various levels of congregational character. In essence, being a Church of 700 is much different than being a Church of 225. The dynamics at each level possess their own requirements and a structure that works at one level is not appropriate for another.  In addition, the structure of a congregation is a significant factor that will determine whether or not a church both thrives at it’s level – and/or proceeds to the next. The challenge is to find a structure that would easily flex and adapt to the needs and conditions of growth patterns and leadership styles. Finding the right structure is critical in promoting healthy relationships, effective service and a mandate for mission.

The response that I am getting from the Best Practices for Church Boards churches has led me to expand my study on Church structure and Board models. Over the next year, I would like to create an instrument that would help guide churches to find a Board structure that would fit their needs.

To do that, I need your help. Here are some things I would like to know:

  1. What size is your congregation?
  2. How is the Church structured? Does the structure work well? If you were to change anything about it, what would it be and why would you change it?
  3. Who sets the direction for the congregation? How are decisions made?
  4. Who determines the use of the congregation’s resources?
  5. What is the Pastor’s role? What is the role of staff? How do they relate to Boards and leaders?

These are just a few of the questions that I’d like to know. You may have more. In fact, you may wish to send me a copy of  your church constitution with some sort of commentary: what do you like about it? How does it serve the needs of ministry? What would you like to change in it? Why?

It’s a critical issue, and we are in a position to help each other. I’ll look forward to hearing from you

It’s Not About Bob – It’s all About God

Several weeks ago, I used my assigned blog entry to muse over the death of my mentor and friend, Robert Webber. The way he prepared for death has taught me a lesson on how to prepare for life with an addition to my daily prayer: thank you, Lord, for the healing of yesterday, and I ask your healing power for today.

. . . as someone who has written a multitude of pages and taught innumerable students about worship, Bob insisted that his service focus on the great saving acts of God.

This week, I received a note from one the editors at Christianity Today, David Neff, who participated in Dr. Webber’s funeral. I’ll let his note speak for itself:

Last night I attended (and played the organ for) Bob Webber’s memorial service. The memorial service was wonderful in many ways, but I want to point to one thing in particular. It wasn’t about Bob.

Well, yes, it was about Bob, it couldn’t help being about Bob, but as someone who has written a multitude of pages and taught innumerable students about worship, Bob insisted that his service focus on the great saving acts of God.

Here is part of what he wrote for the worship leaflet:

As a Christian I have always believed in Christ as the Victor over sin and death. I believe that Christ was the Second Adam, sent to this earth as God Incarnate, suffered death, was buried and rose from the dead to restore the entire creation. I believe that it is God who narrates the entire world and creation, from start to finish. Consequently I have no fear of death although I do fear the process.

Today, there are literally hundreds of different styles one can follow … for a funeral. However, historic Christian funerals were always about God. I … truly want [my own funeral] to be about God who created this world, defeated Satan at the cross and rose victorious over death and the grave.

Today we begin with several eulogies, then when those are done, the real funeral begins and it’s all about God. I want my funeral to be a testimony to the God who raises us from hopelessness and blesses us with new life in Him. …

And that is the way it was last night. As a large crowd of mourners packed into Christ Church of Oak Brook, we heard the eulogies first, and then we focused on God, remembering Christ’s death and resurrection and looking forward to the marriage supper of the Lamb.

This is the way it should be, because there is no greater comfort than the gospel. Too often funerals play down the reality of death with sentimental poetry such as these lines from Shelley: he is not dead, he doth not sleep -/ He hath awakened from the dream of life. We don’t need romanticism, but redemption, especially at funerals.

There’s a whole lot more here than an insight on how to design a meaningful funeral. Once again, the preparation for death has stimulated thoughts on how to prepare for life. I’ve taken that one simple turn of phrase We don’t need romanticism, but redemption to heart. It’s a convicting exercise, especially as I participate in Sunday morning worship [we really don’t need romanticism as much as we need redemption], or as I prepare a Sunday morning sermon [I really shouldn’t aim for romanticism as much as I should redemption], or as I mentor students [they really don’t need romanticism as much as they do redemption.] In essence, it’s NOT about me, it’s not about us, it’s not even about Bob. It’s all about God.

Read Lyle’s Northwest Centre for Leadership Development newsletters

Why I Hate Meetings

As one whose life is defined by Meetings, it’s no surprise that I found today’s headline article in Inc.com’s Daily Resource for Entrepreneurs so compelling. The title: New Study Reveals Why Meetings Are SO Unbearable. [I added the boldface to the word SO!] The article presented research gathered by Opinion Research USA meant to measure the annoying meeting behaviors that push people past the tolerance threshold at business meetings. While there weren’t any remedies presented in the article, I have to admit the findings were very interesting … and convicting: “…27% ranked disorganized, rambling meetings as their top frustration, followed by 17% who said they were annoyed by peers who interrupt and try to dominate meetings.” There were other fascinating results:“…respondents over the age of 55 considered meetings without a bathroom break a significant issue, and for respondents ages 18 to 24, serving food is a priority at meetings…” hmmm, I just happen to be 55 this year. Interesting, indeed! If anything, the study just reinforced some of the basic principles I’ve been collecting for the Best Practices for Church Boards: “if you are someone calling the meeting, organize it, control everyone during the meeting, and make sure the people there aren’t wasting their time…” Read the whole post here: http://www.inc.com/news/articles/200705/meetings.html

Robert Webber, Rest in Peace

Robert WebberTwo days ago, I received word that my professor and friend Robert Webber finally succumbed to his long battle with pancreatic cancer late in the evening on April 27. I mourn his death. When I was a young Christian, his classes at Wheaton College taught me to think deeply about issues of faith. As the years passed, his teaching caused me to think deeply about the expression of faith. His studies on worship have served as a rich encouragement that there remains something profound to be discovered in the deep symbols and ancient voices that have been dismissed from our services. His insight, his passion and the warmth of his friendship linger in my heart.Now his death has added to the lessons I carry. In December, I knew that he was suffering tremendously. On December 9th he was told that he had only days, maybe a few weeks to live. As he wrote in an email, he was an invalid, sleeping 16 to 18 hours a day, unable to bathe, dress, or eat without aid.

"It has occurred to both of us that if we were truly spiritually sensitive, we would have prayed that way all of our lives…" Then, remarkably, he experienced improvement. By February, he was living what he called “a practically normal life.” He attributed the improvement to answered prayer, and yet was humble enough to realize that the improvement was for “however long it lasts.” In the last note I received from him, he left a remarkable jewel of insight. Listen to his words:

So, in light of my improvement, how do you pray? I want to ask God to heal me but what if he already has. But, I’m also reluctant to be presumptuous and tell everyone I’ve been healed given the statistical downside of pancreatic cancer and the fact that we are foregoing any definite tests for now, like a MRI, CT scan or PET scan. So, here is how Joanne and I solved our dilemma. We live and pray one day at a time. We pray each day and say, “Thank you God for the healing you gave me today. Please heal me tomorrow.” It has occurred to both of us that if we were truly spiritually sensitive, we would have prayed that way all of our lives but it took the threat of imminent death to bring us to this point.

“Thank you God for the healing you gave me today … please heal me tomorrow…” A hush came over my soul the first time I read that. Ever since, that simple phrase has become an echo in my nightly prayer, and, I suppose, a spiritual discipline that has unfolded a closer discovery of God’s gentle grace. What a wonderful treasure, this final gift from a caring friend. As I mourn his passing, I am learning to pray his prayer … with an added word of thanks to God for resurrection that has brought eternal healing to such a dear man.

Leadership: A Communal Experience

As I was completing the new edition of the Heart for Ministry leadership assessment course, I was tempted to revise the sessions that were focused on a definition of leadership. The conventional definitions seem to define leadership as a personal trait belonging to certain unique individuals. Recently, I’ve encountered several writers who challenge the conventional wisdom. One, in particular, is George Bullard. I constantly find his thoughts stimulating. The last blog I wrote referred to an article in his online journal [http://bullardjournal.blogs.com/] In another article in the Journal [Abandon Committees, Skip Teams, and Embrace Communities] he identified a trend that I’ve been tracking from other sources. Increasingly, I am encountering learning communities, collaborative communities … and leadership communities. While Bullard contrasts the behavior of committees, teams, and community – using 8 factors – there is an element that adds a new dimension to a definition of leadership: as a communal expression. Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard have written of Situational leadership – as the ability of a leader to manage the contribution of followers according to their commitment and competency. Leadership as a communal expression is a mirror image of the concept in that groups realign their communal relationship in order to follow the lead of whichever individual possesses the most appropriate fitness to lead through the specific issue. To do that, the community must be healthy and adaptable. And, individuals in the community must be prepared to either lead or follow with equanimity. It’s a concept that has me thinking … and one that seems to be quite relevant to the nature of congregational life. Leadership, not solely an individual aptitude – but a communal expression. Something to think about…

Mobilization – the new Assimilation…

I have always found the thoughts and writings of George Bullard to stimulate my thinking. Not long ago, I came across a phrase from his online journal [http://bullardjournal.blogs.com/bullardjournal]. In reporting on a workshop at the Lake Hickory Learning Community on Sustaining Pastoral Excellence, Bullard described a phrase used by Alex McManus that “mobilization is the new assimilation.” I love a good turn of phrase. Mobilization is the new assimilation… As Bullard caught the phrase, his understanding was that mobilizing people in the work of the kingdom of God…is the best way to assimilate them into the body life of a local congregation.

When the new “unchurched Harry” comes to church, they want to be involved in something with someone….If anything,… [to] get a measure of the quality of people’s lives through actual experience … are these people authentic, are they real, do they believe what they say, and how do they really feel about me…?

Bullard’s interpretation of the phrase took me back to a conversation that I had with one of my dear friends who is part of the leadership structure at the Willowcreek Community Church. According to him, there has been a huge shift in their approach to non-believers. The “Seeker” of the ‘80’s and ‘90’s” described as “unchurched Harry” valued anonymity, and Willowcreek honored that value by creating a safe space around those people who were “coming to God, but weren’t aware of it quite yet.” According to my friend, things have undergone a remarkable change in the last 7 years. “Seekers” no longer value anonymity as much as they now demand participation. When the new “unchurched Harry” comes to church, they want to be involved in something with someone – not so much for the long term, but in a limited fashion. My friend told me that it’s more than just a matter of finding a community and finally gaining a sense of belonging. If anything, this new demand is being made so that the Seeker can get a measure of the quality of people’s lives through actual experience … are these people authentic, are they real, do they believe what they say, and how do they really feel about me as a trusted partner? As a result, Willowcreek has had to shift their approach to the Seeker from anonymity to partnership and have discovered that mobilization is the new assimilation. It’s not been easy. They have to find appropriate ways to include the seeker into the action. They can’t very well make a seeker a Sunday-school teacher … but they are finding valuable roles for seekers to do 2 things: 1. make an impact with the seeker’s service [even if it’s helping with the parking lot managers] and 2. provide an authentic opportunity for the believers to communicate faith and create community. As I travel in our Fellowship, I find myself thinking – that would be both a challenge and an opportunity for our congregations … to think about how to make Mobilization a matter of Assimilation.

What Makes A Christian Relevant?

I never met E. Stanley Jones, but over the years he has served as a Mentor to me. His book Song of Ascents is one that is a constant source of insight and wisdom … and perspective. Over the last couple of years it’s been hard to find perspective. Not since the Jesus people revolution of the ‘60’s have I detected a spirit of struggle among pastors and churches desperate to be “relevant.” It’s hard enough to define what it means to be “post-modern, seeker-sensitive, emergent, and missional.” It’s even harder to prove that you are all-of-the-above. And, if you aren’t? Well, to mangle a phrase from Hughie Lewis and the News, “it ain’t hip to be square.” Carrying all of this angst about being irrelevant, I turned to my Mentor and on page 132 of Song of Ascents found a truth that set me free. There, E. Stanley Jones described his first meeting with Mahatma Gandhi. As a young missionary in India, he went straight to the point, “You are, perhaps, the leading Hindu of India. Could you tell me what you think we, as Christians, should do to make Christianity more naturalized in India. Not a foreign thing … but a part of the national life…? He immediately replied: “I would suggest four things: First, that all you Christians, missionaries and all, must begin to live more like Jesus Christ. Second, that you practice your religion without adulterating it, or toning it down. Third, that you emphasize love and make it your working force, for love is central in Christianity. Fourth, that you study the non-Christian religions sympathetically to find the good in them.” “This is genius” Stanley wrote. The sheer simplicity of the idea that to be more “naturalized” or relevant to a society is to be more Christian freed him from trying to be something he wasn’t in order to simply be who he was – a Christian, and work by love. Stanley was astonished that it took the leading non-Christian of the world to give him permission. After offering a few examples to support this perspective, Jones then wrote a paragraph that I wish everyone who struggles with the search for relevance would take to heart: “People say that we must adopt the language and culture of the day to be relevant to today. That is a mistake. If the church marries itself to the spirit of the times, it will be a widow in the next generation. There is a universal language – the language of reality and the language of love. Have those two things and you’ll be understood and appreciated in any situation, anywhere, in any age. [page 133]” Tucked away in the passage is a phrase that gives balance to my heart: to be home in any given situation, be like Christ…be just what I am – a Christian – and work by love!

Easter Surprise!

While I love Christmas and Easter, over the years as a pastor I found it an annual challenge to find something fresh to add to my preaching. I would thrill at any new insight that would add a new voice to the message. One year the Pastor of the College Church in Wheaton Illinois, Kent Hughes, introduced me to a familiar passage with an added twist. At his advice, I turned to Matthew 27 and attempted to relive the scene of Pilate’s final judgment from a prison cell on death row with a convicted felon named Barabbas. In verses 16 and 17, it was apparent that Barabbas was living on a bubble. His crimes deserved death, but his name was up for the annual pardon. It takes a bit of imagination, but it’s easy to picture him listening intently to the sounds of the crowd through the bars of his prison window. It would have been almost impossible for him to hear Pilate give the crowd a choice in verse 21. But it would have been impossible for him not to hear the crowd roar out his name: Barabbas! That got his attention. From that point, the only voice he could hear would have been the crowd as it continued to shout out: Crucify Him (verse 22), Crucify Him! (verse 23) Let his blood be on us and on our children! (verse 25.)

"But, I thought I was the one to die?! Isn’t that what the crowd wanted? Isn’t that what my verdict says? Isn’t that what I deserve?"

He had heard all he needed to hear. His life was at an end. It was judgment day. The sound of the crowd would have been in his heart as he heard the guards open the door to his cell. Forget a pardon, it was time to die. Except there was a voice he hadn’t heard. The one that said, “release Barabbas, crucify Jesus [verse 26.]” You can imagine the mental confusion: But, I thought I was the one to die?! Isn’t that what the crowd wanted? Isn’t that what my verdict says? Isn’t that what I deserve? All of that was true, except for one thing. Somehow, by a divine plan, Jesus intervened. The Bible says of Jesus, “He was pierced for our transgressions…crushed for our iniquities…the Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:5,6)” Somehow, I have to think that Barabbas was the first human to fully appreciate the sheer intensity of that fact. And, somehow, I’d like to think that what he discovered would give me, give all of us, even greater reason to give thanks!

Read Lyle’s Northwest Centre for Leadership Development newsletters

Making Health Part of a Natural Cycle…

Over the last two months, I’ve been gathering together research in preparation for the Best Practices for Church Boards: Advanced Edition workshop on the role of the Church Board in Vision Development and Strategic Planning. I’ve sorted through a number of coaching programs – from Church Central’s Church Consultancy, to Natural Church Development’s Coaching system, to Stadia’s New Church Strategies, to Outreach Canada’s Vision Renewal. [Hartford Seminary has an interesting list of consultant operations at: http://hirr.hartsem.edu/leadership/consultants.html.] telescopeOne of the things that I’ve discovered is that for the most part each system follows a similar outline: Prepare for evaluation, Evaluate, Analyze, Resolve, Act … and then Monitor a renewed Ministry Plan. When you chart out the steps, it seems so simple and direct. Yet, as I talk with the consultants who guide and coach congregations through the process, it is one of the most difficult shared tasks congregations will endure. At first, I thought that the actual work that went into building a Ministry Plan was what made it so difficult. It is a lot of work. Most of the programs estimate the cost of creating profiles, taking assessments, crafting vision statements, and creating effective communication patterns to take: an average of 6-8 months at the cost of approximately 1 month of a senior pastor’s salary. It’s hard, costly work. But the work is not the most difficult thing. One consultant revealed the greatest hurdle faced by the Church: having the courage to embrace the cold, hard facts. It’s a direct reflection of what Jim Collins defined as the third key element of Great Institutions [Good to Great]: Yes, leadership is about vision. But leadership is equally about creating a climate where the truth is heard and the brutal facts confronted … the good-to-great leaders understood this distinction, creating a culture wherein people had a tremendous opportunity to be heard and, ultimately, for the truth to be heard…to confront the brutal facts and to act on the implications [p, 74,89.] I suppose that it’s no surprise that most churches initiate the Re-Visioning process with a spirit of desperation, as a last resort. They can no longer ignore the brutal truth. And, I suppose it’s no surprise that those who work with such churches have such a sense of critical care. But, it could be different. As I continue to work with such instruments as Best Practices for Church Boards … I take great satisfaction in helping hurting congregations get healthy … but I am also resolved to help healthy churches see the process of Re-Visioning as a natural, normal, expected part of the cycle of their life.

Not Alone …

Over the last two years, through our Best Practices for Church Boards workshops, we have gathered together church leaders from all over the province. They’ve come from all directions: large churches – small churches, urban churches – rural churches. Last week, as we met with 5 churches in the Kootenays, I found my reflections moving beyond their differences to their commonalities: Is there anything specific that all church leaders share? Among the possible answers, there was one thing that stands out: Anxiety. All church leaders wrestle with anxiety. They worry about their church. They spend sleepless nights in agony over their church. In idle moments, they fret over their church. And, I wonder if there is a cure for their agony,. In Acts 20, the Apostle Paul delivers a charge to those who would lead that creates a perspective that serves as a cure. “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with His own blood. [Acts 20:28]” The fact is, while leaders serve the church – God owns it. While there is a unique sense of diligence that is woven into the words “my church” the fact remains that it is “His church.” While that reminder may not cure the causes of anxiety, it does create a perspective for leadership health. Church leaders are not alone! If it’s true that they worry and fret and fear over the life of a congregation – how much more does God carry the concerns in His heart. Church leaders are not alone! If it’s true that they serve and give to the point of exhaustion – how much more is God able to do for what belongs to Him. I shared this thought with one of the leaders at the Best Practices workshop. I just wanted to see if it would make a difference. The reaction was immediate. It didn’t remove his problems or solve his issues – but it did make a difference. “I’m not alone … Someone else owns this venture, and I’ll work it out with Him.”

Webpage reflections…

What began this morning as a casual conversation has become a reflection that I just have to put into words. The subject of Community came up as Dr. Perkins mentioned his wonder of what sort of unifying symbols we have as Canadians that express our shared identity. Even more, what sort of unifying symbols do we have as Christians that allow us to recognize each other in the Canadian community. An image immediately came to mind. Last week my son and I had a chance to see the Coyotes play the Calgary Flames in Phoenix. In the parking lot we witnessed probably the most common unifying symbol of Canadian identity as a crowd of fans – all wearing Flames jerseys – discovered each other in the parking lot. By the time we were in the stadium, it was obvious that the Canadian “community” had arrived as more and more Flames fans were attracted by the gravitational pull of the jerseys. I must confess, even though I was determined to protect my interest as a Vancouver fan to cheer for a Coyote win against the hated Flames, my son and I found ourselves drawn to the Canadian crowd behind the Calgary bench as we watched the pre-game warmup. If there were a unifying Canadian symbol, it would have to have something to do with Hockey. But what about a similar symbol for the Christian community. Again, an image came to mind. The hockey game was on Thursday. On Wednesday my son and I had tickets to see the Phoenix Suns play the Boston Celtics. Different arena, different sport … but as we bumped our way into the stadium, I noticed another symbol. There was a large number of people in the crowd with smudges on their foreheads … Ash Wednesday, don’t you know. I must confess, there was a part of me that wanted a smudge on my forehead if for any other reason to be able to sense, in the crowd, that I – too – was one "of them." I realize that it’s not very Baptist of me to say it, but there is something quite compelling about the power of ritual and deep symbol. Maybe it’s part of this yearning for a tangible sense of identity and community that has animated a revival of interest in the “new Evangelicals” as named by Robert Webber toward ritual and orthodoxy. Back to this morning. As I returned to my office, I read an article by Nathan Bierma in the Christianity Today daily newsletter, The Shape of Faith. It was a review of two books, both of them historical studies of the ancient Christian practice of the sign of the cross: The Sign of the Cross: The Gesture, the Mystery, the History by Andreas Andreopoulos, and The Sign of the Cross: Recovering the Power of the Ancient Prayer by Bert Ghezzi. Again, I confess that I was fascinated by the study. As Bierma writes, Protestants have traditionally dismissed the act as “a Catholic thing.” But, the fact is that it has roots much deeper into the early church and practice that extend beyond the Reformation. In the Small Catechism, Martin Luther prescribed the practice because of the powerful potential for physical demonstration and the remembrance of deeper meanings. As Bierma writes, the faithful can treasure the multitude of meanings behind symbols. It is something that identifies community: the sign, as an act, small it may be, expresses the impetus of crossing the threshold between thinking in theological terms and practicing the Christian life. So, I linger on the question with a sense of wonder. How do we, as Baptists, create a sense of identity not just as a human community, but as members of a heavenly family?

Put Weakness in its Place

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve found myself at the center of a number of converging themes. As we’ve been preparing to meet with the churches in the Kootenays for the Best Practices for Church Boards Basic Workshop, I’ve noticed that a number of the congregations are eager to address strategic planning. At the same time, I am working to develop the Advanced edition of the Best Practices for Church Boards workshop to be held in June. The topic for that workshop was selected because of the high level of response from churches that have attended the basic workshop. I guess it’s no surprise that it, too, is focused on the role of the board in Vision Development and Strategic planning. A third stream along the same theme that captured my imagination came when I asked several church leaders what they hoped to accomplish in creating a strategic plan. Their answer was revealing: "we want to get rid of our weaknesses." That has always struck me as a good way to doom the process to a spirit of desperation. To start with a negative seems a good way to insure that things will go downhill from there. Which is why I was caught by an article that made its way through my newsletters this week. Tucked away in the Strategy and Vision resources of Building Christian Leaders is a tidy little article by Larry Osborne, "Unconventional Wisdom That Works: Doing Things Differently Can Pay Off." In it, he lists three principles to guide a healthy, intelligent planning process. At the top of the list he writes:

Ignore your weaknesses: The usual pattern for planning in churches goes something like this: size up the ministry, identify any major weaknesses, develop and implement a plan for removing them. Yet, this strategy is counterproductive: time spent worrying about weaknesses siphons away time and energy better spent on identifying and developing strengths. Instead of taking a creative and proactive approach, planning ends up defensive and reactive. The result is most often a mediocre program. Churches, like individuals, have been gifted and called to do some things uncommonly well – and other things not at all. [http://www.christianitytoday.com/bcl/areas/vision-strategy/ articles/howto-030610.html] ……..

Some may react to the thought. It may sound unrealistic. After all, we can all list our weaknesses without any problem. Our strengths, however, may been hard to recognize. Even harder to own. But, they do exist, and if we were to humbly begin to build on them, we might just be able to have enough momentum to do something positive about our weaknesses.

“Simple Church”

Simple Church: Returning To God’s Process for Making Disciples, Thom S. Rainer and Eric Geiger [Broadman and Holman Publishers: Nashville, Tennessee, 2006]

At the end of a fairly prominent church leadership conference, I noticed the glum expression on one pastor’s face. “Seminars like this sometimes get me down. It’s like looking under the hood of a finely tuned race-car, all the machinery humming, everything clicking on all cylinders. And then, I look at my church and have no idea where to start.”  There is something quite dispiriting about learning lessons from the seeming complexity of a healthy, hard-charging church.

With that in mind, I was thrilled this year to welcome the latest study by Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger: Simple Church. The book itself is appropriate to its title. Just over 250 pages, large print, it can be read in a single one-hour sitting. The source of its research and the impact of its discoveries, however, are far from simple. They are, quite simply, profound.

The authors researched over 400 evangelical churches [admittedly, all of them in the United States – 37 states in all – and mostly Southern Baptist congregations.] The research tool they used went deeper than the methods, styles, or programs of a church. Instead, it sought to measure the underlying process that defines the congregation. The churches selected for the study fell into one of two groups: Vibrant churches – those demonstrating at least 5% growth in a three year period, and Plateaued/Declining churches – those with less than 1% growth over the same period.

The results were astonishing. With a remarkable degree of certainty, the survey results revealed: Healthy Growing congregations are – at their core – simple in the extreme. By the same token, Churches in decay are mired in complexity.

On the surface, it may seem to defy the senses. Vital churches appear to have a multitude of options and programs which, if mapped, would appear complex. But, digging deeper, the is a simple process beneath it all. Declining Churches, on the other hand, suffer from what Rainer and Geiger call: “ministry schizophrenia” which “occurs when churches and church leaders are not sure who they are” and end up trying to glue together a hybrid of programs drawn from a wide spectrum of methods and programs.

Simple Church, as defined, is “designed around a straightforward and strategic process that moves people through the stages of spiritual growth…[where] the leadership and the church are clear about the process [clarity] and are committed to executing it. The process flows logically [movement] and is implemented in each area of the church [alignment]. The [Simple] church abandons everything that is not in the process [focus.] (Page 67-68]

Four stages to a simple process: Clarity, Movement, Alignment, and Focus. Each serve a valuable purpose worth any church leaders study and attention, and as the book is packaged – each is presented with a guide for study.

There are several cautions to the book. “Simple” should never be confused with “Easy.” As Church leaders read through the book and study through the questions, they will quickly encounter the difficult challenge of sorting through the competition of values and visions, egos and agendas – in order to arrive at a common purpose. The road to a simple church requires selfless, prayerful commitment. But, the results are worth it.

Final Note: As an additional recommendation to read this book … Church leaders might find it helpful to experiment with the Process Design Survey used as the research tool for Simple Church. It can be accessed at www.ericgeiger.com. Upon completion of the survey, you will be able to review your personal results and evaluate the level of vitality in your own church ministry.

When Emerging Leaders Go BOOM!

Over the last three years as I’ve been seeking to create instruments to empower home-grown leaders, I’ve noticed that the greatest personal interest being shown comes from people of a certain age. Let me share an example: “I am an engineer, 50 years old, chair of our church board … my wife and I have been praying about our future plans to devote ourselves to full-time ministry in the next 5 years.”

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised to discover a cultural phenomenon that is creating a huge impact in the church – the Baby-Boomer generation in transition. Over the last month, it has not been hard to collect a significant amount of research. This movement has been tracked by researchers for over a decade.  Consider a few of the details:

  • 1 baby boomer retires every 7 seconds in the US.
  • Baby Boomers [those born after WWII through early 1960’s] make up 25% of the total population of North America.
  • Baby Boomers in the US number 82 million. In 2001, the leading edge of this group turned 55.
  • Financial planners have recorded a significant shift in retirement planning indicating a significant rise in early-retirement, and active retirement.
  • Baby Boomers have the highest volunteer participation rate of any demographic group.
  • There are 12 million self-described Evangelical Christian baby boomers according to the Wall Street Journal.

The age wave is beginning to break over society with surprising impact. While Boomers have been sometimes branded as the most selfish generation, there is evidence that as they age they are proving to be much different. A study from the Corporation for National and Community Service in 2005 revealed that Boomers are not only more active in volunteer participation, but fully expect to extend their volunteer commitments to more mature – even career – levels.

This surge is being felt in a number of arenas. It has created an impact in the world of missions. In late 2005, Wycliffe Bible Translators built a volunteer mobilization center in Orlando, Florida in an attempt to keep up with their largest sector of missionary growth. Since the year 2000, Wycliffe has experienced an average of 40% annual increase in the number of “Boomer Missionaries.” Martin Huyett, Wycliffe’s vice-president for volunteer services explained, “these people have a certain amount of freedom and control … they want to do something significant, not just write checks.”

Along with Wycliffe, many mission organizations have begun to realize the value of the Boomer generation as the most healthy, well-financed, and highly educated retirement generation in history. According to Martin Huyett, “today’s 60-year-old is mature and needs far less training in living skills than his or her younger counterparts … a person in his or her 50’s and above has triumphed through their productive years and has built-in strategies for success.”

One organization, The Finisher’s Project, was founded by Nelson Malwitz as a way to match Boomers with the growing list of ministry opportunities provided by Mission agencies. Currently, the Finisher’s Project is working with 100 organizations, has placed over 1,000 people in full-time missions, has 1,000 people in process, and has an additional 1,200 people expressing their intention to make a transition in the next 2 years. Todd Johnson of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity said, “Most mission agencies are trying to work with this trend … that 20 years ago was unwelcome.”

Engaging “seniors” [according to Win Arn, Boomers prefer the title “middle adults”] in ministry may have been “unwelcome” 20 years ago. Now, they appear to be absolutely crucial to the life of the church. Jim Hughes, professor of Aging at Abilene Christian University, has questioned several conventional thoughts that may stand in the way of propelling Boomers into service. One has been the emphasis on youth ministry – with the conventional wisdom being that youth are the most open to faith commitments. Considering the level of interest in “significance studies” reflected in books like Bob Buford’s Half-Time, older adults are proving to be extremely responsive to issues of faith.

Another idea is that age, for older people, equals inertia. The reality of the Boomer generation is that there is an eagerness for change. Life passages such as retirement, the “empty nest” syndrome, are no longer viewed as debilitating. Instead, Boomers are proving to value mobility and the freedom to pursue creative options. Nelson Malwitz of the Finishers Project described this attitude: “as you hit 50, you no longer count your years from the time you were born, but you count the amount of time you have left. The BIG idea [of the Boomers] has to do with finishing well.” Backing up his comments, a survey sponsored by the Finishers Project among 600 evangelical Boomers reported that 61% are planning to retire early [as soon as possible as no later than 65] and pursue a second career. 54% said that they would consider a second career in missions. 81% expect to be able to pursue this service together with their spouse. 

As I reflect on the growing body of statistics generated by the explosion of the Boomer generation, I find myself almost overwhelmed by the sheer number of implications. Apart from the fact that many of them are intensely personal [since I, too, am a Boomer] each seem to have a consequence for the future of the church. Let me share three quick discoveries:

1. The Boomers are ready – use them or lose them: Jim Hughes of the Abilene Christian University writes, “many churches look to younger people to fill significant roles, leaving older adults to trivial tasks.” Many Boomer post-retirement plans are being built around significance, mission, and impact. With their proven record of life-skills and initiative, if their Church won’t match their intentions in a serious fashion, they will find other avenues to influence their world.

2. The Boomers are capable – adapt and enjoy: One of the things I have noticed as I’ve sought to empower emerging leaders is that very few of them have aspirations for what the church would consider conventional ministry. Very few 50 year olds are eager to become Senior Pastors. Instead, one of the reasons that they are considering a more mature level of ministry is that God has stimulated a burden in their hearts for specific ministries – some of which are unique and exceptional. Todd Johnson, of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary reports that the Boomers are more interested in being active than just giving money. They have a passion to “start NGO’s, orphanages, business centers, health clinics, all at local levels.”  Churches that strategically empower Boomers are discovering themselves suddenly engaged in ministries beyond their imagining.

3. The Boomers are passionate – put them at the nozzle: I discovered one subtle, but profound, comment that revealed the Boomer attitude. Their vocabulary reflects a difference in generational attitude. When it came to management and administration, Boomer’s parents would frequently use the word “delegate.” On the other hand, when Boomers speak of management and administration, they more frequently use the word “empower.” The difference between the two words reveals, I think, the key to mobilizing this generation in the local church. Since they already possess a history of initiative and responsibility, when it comes to initiating Boomer ministries – they should be set free to identify the target and aim the flow of ministry.

Those are just three quick, off the cuff reflections. You may have more – and I’d love to hear them. Better yet, maybe your church should hear them too.

Sources: Articles:

“Retirement: Retirees May Become Ministry Cutting Edge”, Andy Butcher, Christianity Today Online, 16 June 1997  [http://ctlibrary.com/1140]

“A Boom for Missions” John Kennedy, Christianity Today Online, February 2007 [www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2007/February/18.20html]

“Boomers: The New Wave of Volunteer Missionaries” Alex Coffin, Christian Newswire, 14 November 2007 [www.christiannewswire.com/new/356371502.html]

“Issue Brief: Baby Boomers and Volunteering: An Analysis of the Current Population Survey”, Corporation for National and Community Service, December, 2005 [www.nationalservice.gov]

Books:

FutureThink: How To Think Clearly In A Time Of Change, Edie Weiner and Arnold Brown, Pearson Prentice Hall, Toronto, 2006.

Organizations:

Finishers Project: www.finishers.org

The Power of Empowerment

I am always fascinated by those who study trends and are able to discern the shape of the future. Their findings often allow me to see things I have not noticed before and to pay attention to things that matter most.  I had that experience recently as I was browsing through one such study, Megashift by James Rutz [Empowerment Press, 2005.] While I tend to be a bit skeptical of raw, global statistics, I was surprised to read his report that: in 1960, there were 24 nonbelievers for every believer in the world. Now there are only 6.

Now, I am not sure how to verify those statistics [especially when I weighed them against other claims made in Megashift], but it did cause me to look beyond the Canadian border. There has been some limited growth reported in North America. Reginald Bibby recently reported of encouraging signs in Canada,. But our experience hardly sets the global lead. However, it’s true that there are significant pockets outside North America that are experiencing phenomenal growth. Wherever it may occur, that growth has set the stage for a trend – a Megashift – that is affecting the face of leadership in the Church.

"Empowerment," Rutz writes, ".empowerment of what used to be called "the laity" is the greatest paradigm-shattering event since the rise of the priesthood class in the second century. What we are seeing today is the greatest mega shift in the history of the church: a transfer of momentum from the steady hands of the leaders to the fleet feet of the followers. Empowerment of non-professional Christians is . rapidly revising Christianity."

That is certainly reflected in the rapid-growth areas of the world. Talking with missionaries, whether from the Philippines or Columbia or Nigeria, I’ve detected a common theme. Growth has required empowerment. Often the needs of ministry are filled by laity regardless of training or certification. Ministry happens, and in the words of Larry the Cable-guy, men and women of God "get up and get ‘er done."

The idea of empowerment, however, is not as simple as it may sound. One of the best books on the subject appeared in 1996, written by Ken Blanchard of the "One-Minute Manager" fame. Like many, I had read a number of his "One-Minute" books: The One-Minute Manager, Leadership and the One-Minute Manager.The One-Minute Manager meets the Monkey." The title of his book in 1996, now reissued and updated, was a message in and of itself:Empowerment Takes More Than A Minute [Barrett-Koehler, 2001.]

As I reflect on my life in ministry, and my experiences with congregations, I have to admit, empowerment is not necessarily easy. The "paradigm-shift" is a challenge to familiar structures, roles and responsibilities. The idea of empowerment is as much a mentality as it is a method.

Over the last three years as I’ve been focused on creating initiatives that would enable congregations to develop emerging leaders from within. At the heart of leadership development lies the spirit of empowerment. As I’ve reflected on this, I’ve come to some conclusions that are both Biblical . and obvious . that define empowerment:

Conclusion 1: Empowerment recognizes the inherent giftedness of God’s people. One word that could describe a more conventional form of ministry management would be Delegation. The difference between the two is that delegation is about giving power to people. Empowerment is about releasing the power that already exists in people – and getting out of their way.

In Romans 12, I Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4 the source of power behind empowerment is the Holy Spirit. If one of the tenants of our faith is based on the "priesthood of all believers" it would seem reasonable to assume that God’s people are invested with knowledge, experience and power that awaits release. The mentality of empowerment begins when we look at each other through God’s eyes and realize that we are able.

Conclusion 2: Empowerment requires honest, candid communication. The first of three principles presented by Ken Blanchard is that for empowerment to occur is that Information must be shared by everyone. For whatever reason, it seems that there is a hesitation to risk free speech.

Bob Nelson [of FirstMoves.com] wrote that "traditionally, managers have been reluctant to share financial information." Yet there is truth to the principle that "while people without information cannot act – people with information cannot help but act."

Conclusion 3: Empowerment honors people by wedding authority with responsibility. Blanchard calls itautonomy within boundaries. General George Patton was a bit more blunt in saying "never tell people how to do things.tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity."

Conversely, people who willingly accept responsibility but are prevented from making decisions or executing actions because they lack the authority become quickly and sometimes deeply demoralized.

Conclusion 4: Empowerment produces partnership. The third principle of empowerment presented by Blanchard is that old hierarchies are softened and replaced by energetic teams though empowerment. We often take a certain level of pride in the term "servant leadership." Empowerment actually turns the term into a reality. Again, Bob Nelson concludes that the structure of an empowered organization experiences a 180o shift . from being a triangle with bosses at the top with people working beneath, to become a triangle with the employees on top and leaders at the bottom working for them..

Final Conclusion: any congregation that aspires to become an environment where people grow and leaders emerge must learn the lessons of empowerment . to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the Body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Ephesians 4:12-13.

The Leadership Body

Consider the following episode. In an effort to start a small-group ministry, one church encountered a familiar problem: identifying small group leaders. Inspired by an example, the pastor invited everyone interested in small-groups to a dessert evening. As people arrived, they were seated around tables in small groups. They were each given a very simple piece of paper: a Bible verse, followed by a few questions … and instructed to “have at it…”

After about an hour of conversation, the pastor called the room to attention. Thinking that they were going to have a chance to share their insights, everyone was surprised when the pastor said, “Now, could I ask you to please put your papers and Bibles aside. I really hope you enjoyed your study, but I invited you here this evening for a different reason. Could I now ask you to do one thing as a group. At the count of three would you please, all of you, point to the leader in your group… one, two, three…”

The results were stunning, In every circle the fingers were all pointed in the same direction. While the people began to laugh, the pastor quickly added, “Now please keep your fingers pointed at your leaders while we take down names.” That night, the leaders were revealed.

Over the last few years as I’ve focused on leadership studies, I’ve come to the conclusion that leadership isn’t so much about leaders – but about community. At last count, I have reviewed 12 different instruments used to identify leaders – “Psychometric tools” like the DISC profile, Ministry Match, Spiritual Gift Profile, MMPI-2… They all provide a measure of insight into the types of personal strengths and weaknesses that pave the developmental pathway for an emerging leader. But, according to the pattern of Spiritual leadership, I have to believe that they only reveal a narrow band of discernment.

In the Pastoral Epistles, Paul instructed Timothy and Titus to identify leaders according to character traits, and I have to believe that such traits were detected by the community. When it came time for Titus to appoint elders in Crete, my imagination pictures the scene. Titus joins the Christians of the village at their weekly meal, and then stands before them. “Brothers and Sisters, I now ask you to do one thing as a group. At the count of three, would you please, all of you, point to the person who is blameless, not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain…the one who is hospitable, who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined…who holds firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, is able to encourage others by sound doctrine and able to refute others who oppose it [Titus 1:7-9] Got that? Okay, one…two…three! All that was left to do was to take down the name of the new “overseer.”

Again, I have to think that when it comes to leadership it’s not so much about leaders…as it is about community.

Leith Anderson argues that spiritual leadership is more about “the matrix of followers.” Peter Senge expands that thought by saying that “we are coming to believe that leaders are those who “walk ahead” people who are genuinely committed to deep change in themselves and in their organizations. They lead through developing new skills, capabilities, and understandings – and they come from many places within the organization.” Combining those comments, Warren Bennis writes that “we…move into an era in which leadership is an organizational capability and not an individual characteristic that a few individuals at the top of the organization have.” [Taken from Leadership Next by Eddie Gibbs, IVP, 2005]

In essence, the discoveries turn the attention back to the church where leadership is not so much about leaders … as it is about community.

As I’ve continued studying leadership development, I’ve drawn some conclusions based on this discovery:

  1. While it may be true that a good leader can build a healthy congregation, it is almost certainly true that a healthy congregation will give birth to good leaders.
  2. While it may be true that a good leader can build a healthy congregation, it is equally true that an unhealthy congregation can damage a good leader.
  3. It is certainly true that a healthy congregation in which all members: find personal significance in intentional relationships, develop to their full spiritual potential, and are able to weave their distinct contributions into the fabric of fellowship – continually produce great leaders.

The balance of concern in leadership development rests squarely on the quality of the congregation. Over this last year, we produced the course: Heart for Ministry as the first course in an initiative to provide a process for emerging leaders to be trained toward mature ministry. Within the month, I hope to build on this initiative with an announcement of a diploma program for emerging leaders. It is momentous initiative … but will only have limited value if it isn’t coupled with initiatives that make leadership not just about the leader … but about the community. The concern expressed by Fellowship Baptist churches … by your church … concerning leaders needs to be addressed with questions about community.

In the next issue of Leadership Connections, I intend to present news about a new diploma program AND an instrument for Church leaders shaped by the retreat in May: Best Practices for a Church Leadership Culture.

The Good to Great Church

In 2001, Jim Collins produced the book Good to Great. His book was drawn from the world of business and intended to answer the question "Can a good company become a great company and if so, how?" The fact is that some companies have continuing, sustained growth in comparison to similar companies in the very same field. This factor captivated Jim Collin’s imagination. “Why are there companies that defy gravity and convert long-term mediocrity or worse into long-term superiority? What are the universal distinguishing characteristics that cause a company to go from good to great?

Good to Great has become a defining management study beyond the world of business. It didn’t take long for people to discover that the key discoveries had a direct application to Church life. As an example, the first discovery that they made was that a “great institution” was built upon a unique sort of leader – the Level 5 leader – marked by a blend of two distinctive traits: personal humility and utter persistence. It’s not hard to read the description of a Level-5 leader and see the epitome of a servant leader. As Jim Collins writes: Level 5 leaders channel their ego needs away from themselves and into the larger goal of building a great company.

In researching Christian Leadership Studies, I have encountered a number of presentations drawn around the outline of discoveries presented in Good to Great. It’s no surprise that in the five years since the publication of his book, Jim Collins was to pick up on that similar discovery. As expected, his study produced a significant number of invitations to address leaders in business – at conventions, in board rooms. What came as a surprise was the sheer volume of interest he received from what he calls “the social sectors”… in particular, the Church. Most notably, he was invited to participate as a speaker at the Willowcreek Leadership Conference. What he discovered was that while he was generally categorized as a business author, over a third of his readers came from the non-profit sector.

This interest intrigued him and prompted him to look beyond business and into the world of “the social sector.” What he discovered was that within the social sector [read: the Church] exists the possibility of true greatness. Simply stated, he discovered that “Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice, and discipline.”

That statement is made in his latest writings, an appendix to the book: Good to Great … and the Social Sectors. He begins his monograph with a statement that may bring a smile to many: We must reject the idea – well-intentioned, but dead wrong – that the primary path to greatness in the social sectors is to become “more like a business.” Most businesses – like most of anything else in life – fall somewhere between mediocre and good. Few are great … why would we want to import the practices of mediocrity into the social sectors?

While his study heads in a different direction, what he discovered touches on the truth. There is a resource of motivation that runs deeper in the Church than it does in the world of business. It is in the enterprise of ministry that people go beyond product lines, production quotas, and the accumulation of net worth. It is in the Church where work is worship, and service is substantial. It is through ministry where people activate the new creature that is coming [II Corinthians 5:17] It is in the “business” of ministry that Gifts are expressed, passions discovered, purpose defined, and God is honored. And, it is through the labor of ministry that eternal transactions are made, and the “product” endures forever. At least that’s what it could be, should be, and would be if we employ another discovery.

As Collins reflected on the difference between “the good and the great” he uncovered a critical element, a culture of discipline created by conscious choice. He called it a relentless culture of discipline – disciplined people who engage in disciplined thought and who take disciplined action. Greatness comes from a culture that transcends business practices, and one that is created by the conscious, deliberate choice made by people of conviction.

Over the last several months, I have been doing research to prepare for the Convention Workshop: Best Practices for Leadership Culture Churches … and the Pursuing God’s Heart Workshop expanding the same issue. Over the last year it has become evident that Churches struggle with leadership development. Among the churches that have participated in the Best Practices for Church Boards, Leadership Development was the third most common issue identified as a critical concern.

As Churches seek to unlock the potential for greatness that God has invested in His people, this element of discipline becomes the key. Certain words keep appearing as Churches with a healthy leadership culture. Words like: Conscious – well-understood, commonly acknowledged values; Deliberate – well-planned, well-resourced processes; and Intentional – focused commitments. When disciplined people are galvanized by disciplined thought – it produces disciplined actions – that’s not just the theory described by Good to Great. It’s a pattern designed by God where People who are Disciples are galvanized by the teachings of Discipleship which produce a world inhabited by more Disciples. After all, isn’t that the definition of the Church’s mission: Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit., and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you… [Matthew 28:19-20] The big questions: How well is the Church taping into this well of greatness? How intentional is your Church in creating deliberate processes to empower Disciples? How conscious and aware are the people of the processes designed within the Church that would allow them to go as far as God leads them? Churches with a healthy culture of leadership development are churches aimed toward something great.

Intentionality – The Key Ingredient

In the process of researching leadership development programs, I’ve discovered that one word keeps appearing. In Building Leaders, Aubrey Malphurs defines the term “leadership development” as the intentional process of helping established and emerging leaders at every level of ministry to assess and develop their Christian character and to acquire, reinforce, and refine their ministry knowledge and skills [p. 23].  In Leadership Baton, the creators of the Center for Church-Based Training describe an intentional process of Discipleship Training and Leadership Development [title.] In The Equipping Church, Sue Mallory talks about the equipping culture of a church as having systems that intentionally change lives [p. 51.]

Intention…Intention…Intention… It’s the critical ingredient that breathes life into ministry. It’s what takes inert programs and fills them with purpose and meaning.

When I first started as the director of the Northwest Centre for Leadership Development, a number of wise advisors warned me: Lyle, whatever you do…whatever you do…don’t fixate on program. Make sure you understand process. Don’t obsess on curriculum. Make sure you grasp the plan first and foremost. Great advice! Wise counsel!

Too often, in ministry, the pressures of the moment demand an swift, effective, and urgent response. I have to confess the tendency to look for products that work without asking the question “why.”

With the warning, my advisors provided a word of assurance: Lyle, when you understand the appropriate process that connects what God wants, how God’s people are designed and how the Fellowship Baptist systems work…then finding curriculum won’t be a problem.  It’s true. Over the years, I’ve been exposed to over 50 programs for leadership development, seen more books on leadership development than I can read, and discovered a world full of glossy courses and classes. The easy thing for anyone in church leadership would be to simply open a checkbook and start buying.

But, that just fulfills an old Chinese proverb: If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.

Intention…Intention…Intention. I can’t read the Bible without realizing how important that word is to God. He created the world by design. He created humans for a purpose. He guides lives with a will. He fills life with meaning. He conducts Himself according to Intentions…and it’s no surprise that He would expect the same from us.

I love the way Phillips translates God’s command in Ephesians 5:15: Live life with a due sense of responsibility, not as those who do not know the meaning of life…but as those who do!

Every step taken toward Spiritual Maturity has to be “on purpose. Becoming a believer is an intentional act: if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord”, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.. Romans 10:9. Forming Spiritual disciplines is an intentional process: …make disciples…teaching them to obey everything I have commanded… Matthew 28:18-20. Learning to serve demands intentions: …each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms…I Peter 4:10.

In Ephesians 4, Paul speaks of Leadership Development as process intended to prepare God’s people for works of service. It’s not hard to look at leadership development and expect it to be guided by required learning objectives and measured ministry experience. But, the fact is, that’s not where Intentions begin…it’s where they continue.

Over the next few months, I will be producing a number of initiatives from the Centre. After working with a design team representing 11 churches over the winter, I will be circulating the first template of a template for an in-church certificate in Christian Ministry: The Next Step. In April at the Convention, and then in May in a Centre-sponsored workshop, I will be initiating a leadership conversation network with church leaders. As I prepare for each initiative, I am duty-bound to focus on process first…and an intentional process at that.

I’ve discovered that the churches who provide the very best environment for leaders to grow are churches who don’t wait until it’s time to train leaders. That’s not where their intentions begin…it’s where they continue. In fact, the churches who have become the best culture to raise leaders are those who have made every step of discipleship a clearly understood path of purpose and meaning.

Turning the Chinese proverb around, they are churches who “know where they are going, and pave a road to get there!”

The Spiritual Dimensions

In the book, The Unnecessary Pastor, Gene Peterson wrote a challenging thought:

As community diminishes, the “frenzy” for leadership accelerates, but it is more often than not a leadership that destroys community by functionalizing people. The more “effective” our leaders become, the less community we get. [Unnecessary Pastor, Eerdmans, 2000,  p. 203]

Every time I read of another book on leadership, or another seminar on leadership, Peterson’s words come to mind. It does appear that when it comes to issues of leadership there is a frenzy. In a casual conversation a few weeks ago, a friend described a conversation he had with Dr. Allen Churchill, former senior pastor of the  Dominion Chalmers United Church in Ottawa. In reflecting on the state of the Evangelical movement in Canada, Dr. Churchill commented on how similar our conditions are to those of the United Church in the 1960’s. It was in the ‘60’s, that the United Church began what he called an “incidental drift.” Issues of ministry took on a mechanical nature, and there was a unique focus on Leadership as a pragmatic study. From the seminaries, down into the churches, leadership became a matter of theory and management principles and technique.

The “drift” took the definition and practice of leadership further away from the Bible. Rather than referring to the Scriptures, or relating leadership to the dynamics of faith and the community of faith, leadership was measured through the models of management and through the school of business. As Peterson describes it, it became a matter of “function.”

If we were to anchor our definition of leadership to the Scriptures, we would find – at the core – that it is a matter of character. In the Pastoral Epistles, both to Timothy and Titus, we find that the measure of a leader refers to a person whose life is oriented and shaped by Scripture and whose speech flows out of that orientation and shaping, it is more a matter of character than of skill [Unnecessary Pastor, p. 202]

Sift through the lists of qualifications in Timothy and Titus and you will have a hard time writing a job description. Paul’s orders are not to find people who are able to run programs or raise finances. His concern revolves around the quality of character and spiritual formation.

Leadership and leadership development are not unique disciplines. If anything, they are an extension of the natural process of spiritual growth. The essential elements of a mature leader are rooted deep in the foundation of a character given birth in conversion, finding a voice through spiritual discipline, and discovering expression through obedient service. And, because service is something that is done in community, it is a matter of fellowship.

Over the last year, as I gathered materials for the Heart for Ministry course, I discovered a good number of assessment tools, tests that help a person assess their fitness. Many of the tests are helpful. But, I have this growing suspicion that they fall short.

When Timothy and Titus sought to detect people with the character traits described by Paul, they didn’t have computerized tests. As far as I can tell, they didn’t require anyone to sit down and take a Spiritual Gift inventory. Instead, they circulated in the community with a sensitive heart.

It’s as if God designed the Church, the community of Faith, to be a natural detector. It was in the community that a person would grow and it was the community that would be able to detect the integrity of their growth. It was among the people of God that a person would serve and it was the people of God who would confirm that their service was empowered by God.

It’s no wonder, then, that Peterson would have tied leadership and community into an essential partnership: If we let our imaginations be trained by the Pastorals when we go to work developing leadership in the community of faith, we are not going to be looking for talented people whom we can use. We will seek nurturing souls who are trustworthy and faithful.”[Unnecessary Pastor, p. 203.]

The Church is God’s chosen environment for leadership development. Over the next few months, I will be drafting a business plan to build a process for leadership development. It can’t be done without the Church in mind. It can’t be done without a healthy community. It can’t be done with congregations who make it their business to create and cultivate leaders from within. That is our Biblical mandate.

Home Grown Ministers

In the May/June 2005 issue of the Evangelical Baptist magazine [p. 16], I wrote of the new trends in leadership development that demand attention. In it were themes that have I’ve echoed at the FEBBCY association meeting in Vernon, in conversations with pastors and leaders. The message has, for me, almost become a mantra.

Quick review: surveys reported in 1999 that 4% of people in ministry were "home-grown" ministers. By 2003, the number had doubled to 8%, and estimates [which are proving already to be low] were that by the year 2010 30% of people in ministry would have emerged into mature ministry from within the fellowship of the local congregation. The Church is proving to be God’s chosen source for a new generation of ministers.

Over time I have noticed two general responses to this news:

1. A few people find this to be a bit disturbing. Just a few. For at least 50 years the standard conduit for leadership development has been a fairly direct academic route. The path to ministry led from Secondary School graduation to Bible School/University to Seminary.directly into Ministry as a final career. While there still are good numbers of people who follow that direct path, it is in decline [the average age of students in Seminary is in the mid-30’s.] This decline disturbs some people who possess a number of fears including a question over the survival of precious institutions [like Bible Schools.] The fact is, these institutions are working hard to refocus their efforts to target an older, church-based audience.

2. Most people celebrate the news with the comment that "it sounds so Biblical." After all, the Church has, from the beginning, been the environment where leaders have emerged into mature ministry. The assumption was made in the book of Ephesians that a spirit-led fellowship would "prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up and we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ [4:12-13]"  In the Pastoral Epistles, Timothy and Titus were directed to identify leaders from within congregations and empower them into mature ministry. When most people hear about the trend of "home-grown" leaders, they see a return to a Biblical pattern.

One pastor added a further reflection. He shared his reflections on how people like John Maxwell have identified the pastorate as a "toxic profession" in light of what appears to be growing numbers of conflicts between pastors and churches. One of the reasons he identified was that the conventional route to ministry created distance between pastors and churches. Churches sent emerging leaders away to get trained, and then imported other leaders in to serve. "No wonder there’s a disconnect," he said. Good point.

My reaction to this is mixed. On one hand, I am thrilled to see the "leadership culture" of the local church strengthened. It is a sign of health, and an indication that Ministry is a natural expression of the whole process of Spiritual development. People are growing into ministry, and God is guiding them all the way.

On the other hand, I am concerned that we may cut the development process short. Home-grown leaders are moving into mature ministry, and they are being discovered primarily because of their ability to run programs well. But, being a mature minister is more than being a good mechanic.

I continue to find Paul’s orders to Titus to be a challenge. In Titus 1:5, Titus was ordered to appoint elders to lead the churches in Crete. Nowhere in those orders do I find: "an elder must be one who can run a good program, an elder must be one who preaches a powerful sermon, an elder must be one who can chair an efficient board meeting." The criterion given Titus go deeper. The qualifications of a mature minister are largely a matter of character.

Not long ago, I was reviewing a list of competencies that would guide the training of a mature minister. It caused me to think of the distinctive marks I’ve seen in those who have influenced my life, those who have lived lives of profound impact in ministry. Three phrases began to form in my mind. They were people possessed of: a greatness of soul, a depth of perspective, and a breadth of wisdom.

They were also people who were also able to perform with excellence. But the weight of their character went far beyond the programs they ran. And, I suppose the focus of training that we would design for the "home-grown ministers" would have to center on these profound dimensions of inner character.

During this next year, I hope to galvanize a plan for churches to design a program of development for their emerging leaders. I’ve already discovered that some people discount some of the offerings available from academic institutions as irrelevant. Fields of study like Theology or Spiritual Formation pale in comparison to what are viewed as practical "how-to" courses. While such courses appear irrelevant, they demand reflection – and produce such things as "greatness of soul."

REFLECT:

I would appreciate your response. As I seek to catalog the competencies that would go into Leadership Development, what would you identify? As you have been engaged in ministry, what are the resources of character you have had to draw on? As you have learned dependence on God, what competencies has the Holy Spirit brought to life in you? As you think of those who God has used in profound ministry – what is it that allowed them to serve so well?

New trends in leadership development

In September 2001, the Alban Institute issued a special report identifying three major crises facing the North American church. Two of the three related directly to leadership development. A key finding confirmed the experience of most denominations; there is "a shortage of clergy to meet current congregational demands."[1] In essence, the attrition rate among the current pastoral leaders either matched or exceeded the replenishment rate. At the same time, the church is facing a period of growth where the need for mature ministers is expanding. In February 2005, Debra Fieguth reported in Christianity Today the results of three national polls conducted by Focus on the Family, Time Canada, and the Vanier Institute. For the first time in decades, weekly church attendance had risen in Canada, up 25% from the year 2000.[2]It is easy to identify a mounting challenge. While the numbers for the Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches in Canada are difficult to calculate, in May 2003 it was estimated that 600 new, trained ministry leaders would be needed within a decade.[3] Over the next 10 years we need to see hundreds of newly trained pastors, church planters, missionaries, chaplains, evangelists, youth pastors, children’s ministers, theologians and Bible teachers emerge in our midst.

New generation takes a new career path.

We need to ask, "What is God’s chosen source for a new generation of ministers?" In the past, young people often moved into ministry as they would other vocations. After graduating from secondary school, they entered Bible school or university, and then proceeded to seminary to prepare for ministry. While such a flow continues, it is no longer the path followed by the majority of the current generation. In January 2005, Time Magazine reported on a phenomenon affecting the entire marketplace.[4] To a large extent, young people do not expect to settle on a career path until their 30’s. Social scientists call them "Twixters." They keep their options open, expect to experience a variety of careers, and delay making permanent commitments to family, career and ministry. Unsurprisingly, the average age of a seminarian across Canada is in the mid-30’s.

Once again, the big question is: "Where will God draw out a new generation of leaders and ministers to meet the needs of the harvest?"

The "homegrown" factor.

In 1999, Thom Rainer and the members of his research team at Church Central discovered a fascinating development.[5] In researching over 4,000 churches in North America, they uncovered a movement they entitled "homegrown ministers." At the time, it was only a "blip" on the radar, but a growing one. In 1999, 4% of people in ministry were "homegrown." In other words, churches were finding full-time ministry staff from their own membership. Within three years the proportion of "homegrown ministers" had doubled to 8%. God was doing something surprising. In 2003, researchers projected that by the year 2010, over 30% of people in ministry would be "homegrown." This figure has already proven to be a low estimate. In October 2004, Tom Harper, the publisher of Church Central, reported that 38% of all church and Christian non-profit leaders have come into their ministry as a second, third, or fourth career. We can draw some significant conclusions from this new trend. First, ministry is an expression of spiritual development and maturity. As people grow in faith, they learn the joy of service and ministry. The principle found in Matthew 25 in the parable of the talents is expressed. The Master reviews the investments made by his servants and promotes some of the good and faithful ones to positions of greater responsibility. A second conclusion is that God has designed the church to be the culture for developing leaders. People are brought to faith within the church and that is where they learn spiritual disciplines, discover their God-given purpose in life, and develop skills for ministry. A church that identifies itself as God’s chosen culture to develop leaders unites all of these into a meaningful process. People expect to grow, and it’s no surprise that when they do, God is able to tap a few on the shoulder with the invitation to "take it to a new level." A third conclusion is that those responsible for leadership development need to direct their attention to the church. It’s not unusual to hear pastors report conversations like this one: Pastor, I need your advice. I’ve got a reasonably successful career, and spend a lot of time at work, I find that I am living for the two hours a week when I am leading a Bible study.I can’t seem to shake this feeling that God wants me to kick it up a notch. What should I do? The efforts of the Northwest Centre for Leadership Development, and the FLTA need to focus on the answer to that question. What should a person do when God’s call them? The tools that are being developed, "Reproducing Spiritual Leaders, Heart for Ministry – a 12-session assessment study for pastors to serve as mentors with emerging leaders" are critical to the future of the church.

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  1. Wind, James P. and Gilbert Rendle, An Alban Institute Special Report: The Leadership Situation Facing American Congregations. September 2001 – available via download Duke University’s publication Pulpit and Pew, a journal devoted to research on Pastoral Leadership: www.pulpitandpew.duke.edu/links.html.
  2. Fieguth, Debra. "Finally, Church Growth in Canada", Christianity Today Daily Newsletter, 1 February 2005.
  3. Northwest Baptist Seminary FAQ, edition 3, 23 May 2003.
  4. Grossman, Lev. "Grow Up? Not So Fast." Time Magazine, 24 January 2005.
  5. Rainer, Thom. "Ten Predictions for the Church by 2010", Church Health Today enewsletter, Church Central, 10 January 2003.

Key principles that God uses to get our attention

God’s Calling – Next Step. Identifying key principles that God uses to get our attention.

In the Bible, the term "call" does not simply describe God’s invitation for an elite few who might enter full-time ministry. In the last issue of Leadership Connection, ALL BELIEVERS were identified as "called people." Calling describes the way God expresses His will for Human lives: Believers are "called" to salvation – because it is God’s desire "that anyone perish, but everyone come to repentance" [II Peter 3:9]. When God expresses His will, you could say that the "voice" He uses issues a "Call." For whatever reason, whether it’s His will for people to find Him in salvation, grow in discipleship, or serve in ministry, when people respond to His call they do it is an act of faith, belief, and obedience. In essence, they become "bodies in motion." Each step they take in obedience creates a sense of momentum that God is able to direct and lead their lives.

That’s an important principle for believer’s to grasp. Not only because it extends the dignity of "calling" to all believers, but because it activates God’s presence into every corner of a believer’s life. It is this sense of Calling that makes all the difference in a believer’s life.

Not too long ago, I read what appeared to be a remarkable insightful assessment of North American Christianity written by the Swiss Theologian, Philip Schaff: [it is] more Petrine than Johannean; more like busy Martha than like the pensive Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus. It expands more in breadth than in depth. It is often carried on like a secular business, and in a mechanical or utilitarian spirit. It lacks the beautiful enamel of deep fervor and heartiness, the true mysticism, an appreciation of history and the church; it wants the substratum of a profound and spiritual theology; and under the mask of orthodoxy it not infrequently conceals, without intending or knowing it, the tendency to abstract intellectualism and superficial rationalism. This is especially evident in the doctrine of the church and of the Sacraments, and in the meagerness of the worship … (wherein) nothing is left but preaching, free prayer, and singing.

Would it surprise anyone that Dr. Schaff wrote this assessment in 1854? In a century and a half, it doesn’t appear that much has changed. If anything, the spirit of "mechanical utilitarianism" [I  love the richness of that phrase] has become the hallmark of Church life and ministry. We don’t lack for an abundance of business or busyness in our fellowship. What we lack is a thorough sense of "calling" that enlivens every moment of life, including the moments invested in Kingdom service. Without the profound sense of God’s presence – of God’s involvement in every corner of life, ministry can become just another job, a sterile responsibility.and occupational drudgery.

That’s not the heritage God intended for His people. The most powerful voices of the Reformation, Calvin and Martin Luther rightfully identified the Biblical teaching that included ordinary work, ordinary life, as a matter of  spiritual "Calling." In 1520, Martin Luther put forth the case in The Babylonian Captivity – that the farmer in the field, or the farmer’s wife in the farmhouse, if they are doing their work by faith for the glory of God, are fulfilling as high and holy a calling as the pastor in the pulpit. The whole of life, lived in obedience to God’s will, becomes a matter of dignity and honor.

In his wonderful book The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life, Os Guinness writes If there is no Caller, there are no callings, only work. I have to think that every believer has the responsibility to recognize God’s interest in every corner of life. To deny His ability to "make the call" in simple things is a tragic mistake. It mutes His ability to speak in strategic ways at crucial moments.

We have the choice to make a critical decision with our life. We can choose to live ordinary lives doing ordinary things in ordinary ways without any extraordinary sense of purpose. Or, we can choose to invest time, talent, and treasure in obedience to God’s will and direction, no matter how simple it may seem, knowing that even the most simple investment welcomes the God who Speaks, who Calls, who Directs.

There is a word for the first choice, the ordinary option. It’s a life as Occupation. For too many, that’s about all there. Occupy, occupy a spot, a place, for a period of time. God intends so much more for all His people. For those who deliberately make the first choice, there is another, a treasured word that describes each moment of their day. Vocation. Whether it is washing dishes or composing sermons, their labor possesses the dignity that comes from purpose and meaning. It is an expression of obedience, it is Vocation.

Vocation is rooted in the Latin word vocare, [rooted in the Latin word vox – voice] which is exactly the same word call, which has an Anglo-Saxon root. If we were to be painstaking in our theology, the word Vocare would appear on the list of God’s attributes as one of His imminent qualities. He is a Calling God, one who speaks with clarity. When He speaks with a Vox and we respond with obedience, we discover Vocation, a life of divine presence and personal purpose and.

When it comes to discerning God’s Call, the most obvious questions tend to measure a sensitivity to God’s Work and Ministry needs: Is this a work God wants me to do? Is it a work that I am able to do? In reality, there are a deeper set of questions that measure that assess the quality of the human heart: Have I become a person able to find God present in all areas of life? Have I been faithful in even little things? What areas of my life have been reserved for God and His purpose? How could the rest of my life been lived to His service? Do I rely on His resources for only certain actions, or have I learned to depend on Him for it all? If I were to look in the quiet corners of life, do I sense the presence of God? What lessons has He taught me in those corners?

In an earlier generation, Brother Lawrence learned the nature and value of such discipline. His book, The Practice of the Presence of God, he refused to discriminate between the chores of life and the labor of ministry. He was determined to find the presence of God whether he was working in his kitchen or worshipping in his church. He had a simple daily prayer that opened a whole new realm of understanding, Lord of all pots and pans and things.make me a saint by getting meals and washing up the plates.

It’s a curious thing to think that God would "make a saint" using simple chores. And, yet, that’s where the important lessons of ministry are learned.and discerned. Are you capable of faithfulness? Do you live in reliance upon God? Are you humble at heart? Are you able to serve? Are you willing to move according to His leading? [Next issue: 8 Heart-felt lessons that Measure God’s greater call.]

What is “Training Leaders”?

Over the last year, I’ve quickly discovered that leadership training has become something close to an obsession for this decade. In September, 2001, the Alban Institute published a special report: The Leadership Situation Facing American Congregations. This report identified 3 major crises facing the North American Church – two of which addressed issues of leadership development. The first was the general shortage of ministers available to the church. In essence, the annual attrition rate of pastoral leaders was beginning to exceed the replenishment rate leaving the church with either a declining or static rate of available ministers. The second crisis was related to the first. It identified the "burnout statistics," a crisis of concern for the quality and health of those in ministry.

Along with those finding, I discovered a number of dynamics that were beginning to emerge as a response to this "leadership crisis." One of the most telling was the emergence of "homegrown" ministers. According to the Rainer Report, in 1994, 4% of people in ministry were "homegrown." In other words, these were people whose service had proven so valuable to their local congregation that they were being employed as staff ministers. In 1999, that number had doubled to 8% . Estimates now indicate that by 2010, over 30% of ministers will have been "homegrown."

The combined impact of these findings can be seen in the tools being produced to train leaders. Over the year, I reviewed 45 different programs designed to train leaders. Some, from church and denominational efforts.others by separate professional agencies. 45 programs.and there even more to be discovered. The effort is there and the resources are being developed. But behind the scenes, several critical questions have to be raised:

What does it mean to be a "leader"? How does this training relate to followership and servanthood? Does this training recognize the process of spiritual development? Does it define ministry as a natural expression of mature discipleship?

Where is the emphasis of training focused? Is it to produce leaders who are able to do ministry – or on leaders who are able to be ministers? Or does that really matter?

What does this training mean to church when it comes to roles in leadership? Does it relate to a sense of "higher calling" and is there a sense of place and respect for those who would be called as ministers?

What are the critical elements that are required for training? Is there a healthy interaction between the individual and the community? Is there a forum required for deeper reflection? Are there relationships of mentoring and accountability and affirmation built into the process? Are important relationships – spousal impact – addressed through the process?

What culture does the program identify as the necessary environment for the leader to grow? Does this reflect God’s choice for the ecology of leadership development? I ponder these questions as we begin to build a foundation for a leadership model.