Monthly Archives: April 2008

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.

“Being Imitators (mimētai) of God”

Paul’s choice of words in his letter to Christians in the province of Galatia reflects careful intention. The issues he confronts are extremely serious, the opponents powerful and persuasive, and his audience somewhat befuddled. Strong warnings mingle with cries of frustration as he encourages these believers to keep running well the discipleship race. He has equally strong words for those unidentified proponents who articulate a “different gospel – which is really no gospel at all” (Galatians 1:6-7). In the conclusion to his argument Paul tells the Galatian congregations: “Do not err; God is not scorned (muktÄ“rizetai)” (6:7). This is the only place in the New Testament where this verb in its simple form occurs.

The verb muktÄ“rizō and its related compound ekmuktÄ“rizō derive from the noun muktÄ“r, “nose” and have the sense of wrinkling or turning up the nose to demonstrate contempt, scorn, distaste, or ridicule. The idea of mockery or derision is conveyed quite explicitly by various facial expressions, i.e. body language. The nose, for whatever reason, when contorted in certain ways, communicates in many cultures a sense of disagreement based in scorn or contempt. The person finds the message, action or very being of another completely disagreeable and by wrinkling the nose displays this contempt. Of course the reason for this ridicule or contempt needs to be defined. Hellenistic Greek used the noun muktÄ“rismos to describe “sneering” or “derision”.

We discern the contemptuous hostility expressed by the compound form of this verb when Luke uses it to describe the actions of the Jewish rulers towards the crucified Jesus. In his narrative (23:35) these rulers stood watching the proceedings and they “even sneered (exemuktÄ“rizon) at him.”1 The following verse turns our attention to the soldiers and they “mocked (enepaixan) him” (23:36). These two verbs used in parallel define one another to some degree. Luke also used this compound verb (16:14) to describe the Pharisees’ response to Jesus’ teaching. When they hear his teaching that a person cannot serve God and ‘mammon’, according to Luke’s narrative, the Pharisees “were sneering (exemuktÄ“rizon) at him” because they “loved money.”

We catch the wider significance of Luke’s choice of terminology when we examine the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint). Although both forms of this verb, as well as the noun muktÄ“rismos occur in the Septuagint, the compound verb ekmuktÄ“rizō only occurs in biblical and post-biblical literature. The sense of these terms is discerned when we see them in context. For example, when Elijah is in contest with the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel, he “mocked (emuktÄ“risen) and said, ‘Call in a loud voice! For he is a god, for prating occupies him and at same time he is perhaps giving an oracle….”2 The sense of ridicule and contempt is clear. When Hezekiah consults the prophet Isaiah about what to do in response to the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem, God ridicules the Assyrians through the prophet’s word:
“Virgin daughter Sion made nothing of you and sneered at (emuktÄ“risen) you; daughter of Jerusalem shook her head at you.” (2 Kings 19:21)
The Rabshakeh, the leader of the Assyrian forces had taunted the inhabitants of Jerusalem, ridiculing their ability to resist his armies, but God says in response that Jerusalem will “sneer at” the Assyrians and their claims. That night God slays 85,000 Assyrian soldiers and Sennacherib must retreat in disarray.

The rest of this article is published on Dr. Perkins’ Internet Moments with God’s Word blog site.

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  • 1Luke used the imperfect verb form implying a continuous activity.
  • 2New English Translation of the Septuagint.

Resolving Intercultural Tensions: Understanding Leadership in High and Low Power Distance Contexts

The Power Distance Contrast

Pir with disciplesIn Pakistan there is a strong tradition of "holy men" who are called Pirs. One day I had a visit from a young man who informed me that he was the Pir of his village. I was puzzled by this because he was dressed in modern clothes and did not have the religious, spiritual air one would expect from a revered holy man. He explained that in the tradition of his tribe, the honor and authority of the Pir was passed on from father to son and his father had recently passed away. For his part, he did not believe that he was able to give blessings to people, nor that his prayers were especially efficacious. In fact, when his father died and the mantle was passed on to him, he tried to refuse it. He told the people that he didn’t believe and that he didn’t want the responsibility. They replied, "It does not matter what you believe. You are the one chosen for this position and no other."

HPD = High Power Distance

Pakistan is a High Power Distance culture (HPD).  It is the role and status of the leader, rather than his or her particular character or ability that is of greatest concern. In this context a high priority is given to maintaining harmonious relationships and affirming the historical traditions and social structures. Rules of conduct are paramount, and anyone who does not function within that protocol is ostracized, no matter how reasonable or beneficial their proposals might be. In HPD cultures, it is assumed that the status quo is the way life is intended to be; the established hierarchy is ordained, competition is bad, and conformity to tradition and roles is good.

LPD = Low Power Distance

Canada, on the other hand, is a Low Power Distance culture (LPD). Titles and status mean little if the person in charge cannot fulfill their responsibilities. Harmonious relationships may be sacrificed in order to pursue a particular goal and the measurement of success is accomplishment. In LPD cultures, it is assumed that reversal of fortunes is a part of life, competition is good and no one has ordained or fated priority.

When I was doing my master’s thesis on Chronological Bible Storying among the Sindhi people on the story of the washing of the disciples’ feet (John 13), one aspect that the Sindhis who were interviewed emphasized over and over again was the importance of the disciple to always obey the teacher. They were appalled at Peter’s audacity when he refused to let Jesus wash his feet, and they found Jesus’ stern response, "You will not have any part of me," to be necessary and appropriate. HPD cultures, like Pakistan, consider the student insubordinate and rude who would question or contradict a teacher. Rote learning is the preferred method of learning as it emphasizes the teacher’s status above the student. In contrast, a teacher in a LPD culture like Canada encourages the student to challenge and question. Ideas and the stimulation of the mind are of first importance.

Due to Power Distance, leadership within a LPD context will function differently than within HPD groups. Awareness of this dynamic in interpersonal relationships along with appropriate adjustments can greatly reduce tension in multicultural churches.

Read the complete Cross-Cultural Impact Article

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 perception of a loving church depends on where you stand

In the book UnChristian (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), which deals with research from the Barna group, David Kinnaman refers to a survey which asked the participants to agree or disagree with the statement, “Christian churches accept and love people unconditionally, regardless of how people look or what they do” (p. 185). 20% of non church goers (outsiders) agreed strongly, just over 40 % of church goers agreed strongly, but 76% of pastors strongly agreed that this statement described Christian churches.

The discrepancy is intriguing. Do the pastors have a good sense of reality based on personal experience, or is this an expression of their desire for this statement to be true? Have the outsiders been biased by unfair reports, or have they had negative experiences that contradict the statement?

I suspect that part of the discrepancy has to do with the difference between standing inside looking out verses standing outside and looking in. For example, I have a love / hate relationship with hospitals. I think they are wonderful but I am happiest if I don’t have to be inside one. When visiting I feel quite out of place and uncertain about what I am permitted to do and am always relieved to leave. On the other hand, my daughter, Becky, has just completed her nurse’s training. She enjoys the environment, loves to be busy and experiences significance as she helps the patients. The hospital is the same, it is our separate and distinct relationships with and experience of the hospital that is different. It is a matter of perspective.

those of us who are church goers need to learn to speak another language of love

This illustration may parallel the contrasting perspectives between pastors and the outsiders described by Kinnaman. What looks like love to the pastors is seen through another lens by the outsiders and experienced as uncomfortable, judgmental or cold. Most likely the relationships and environment of church speak differently to outsiders. Perhaps their language of love is different from what is normally expressed in church. If this is so, then those of us who are church goers need to learn to speak another language of love, one that is understood by those outside of the church.

This missional stance – becoming like others, as opposed to inviting others to become like us – has even greater urgency when relating cross-culturally. What is considered comfortable, familiar and accepting varies from culture to culture. Cross-cultural experiences tend to be stressful due to the many unfamiliar cues which bombard the person who is not used to the setting, cues that need to be interpreted. In that context even expressions intended to communicate love and acceptance can be misunderstood or judged negatively. On the other hand, when God’s people learn how to make people from another culture feel comfortable and accepted by speaking that people group’s language of love, rather than waiting for others to conform to the church’s way of relating, then the experience of the outsider will correspond to the perspective of the insider.

Alumni: Jim (2006) and Janet (2006) Visbeek

Jim and Janet Visbeek graduated from Northwest/ACTS in April 2006. They both earned the MA in Christian Studies, but Janet’s focus was in Chaplaincy. Dawne, one of their daughters, also graduated in April 2005 with the Master of Counseling degree. Jim is the Managing Director of Cedar Springs Retreat Centre, Sumas, Washington. They have three married children – Dawne, Aaron and Renee.Jim and Janet Visbeek

Jim, what led you and Janet to attend Seminary?

I was managing a large regional electrical and automation distributor in Bellingham, Washington. Every summer, Janet and I with our family attend conferences at Cannon Beach, Oregon. In 2002 the speaker challenged the audience to get off the curb and into the parade with respect to Christian life and ministry. God used that time to speak to me and encouraged me to start thinking about getting more involved in Christian service in some way. Without my knowledge Janet felt the same urging.

That same summer our daughter Dawne graduated from Moody Bible Institute in Counseling. She wanted to take a graduate program in counseling and applied to ACTS. When we shared what we thought God was urging us to do, she told us about ACTS and encouraged us to consider applying to seminary. So we decided to check it out.

We had not set vocational goals, but wanted to be obedient to God’s leading, unsure of how it all would turn out. So we applied to the MA in Christian Studies and were accepted. We wanted to be ready for whatever God might have us do.

Jim, you have been an entrepreneur for most of your adult life. How did you find the fit between your business experience and preparing in seminary for potential ministry leadership? What adjustments were necessary?

Yes, the adjustments were immense. I had to maintain my business throughout my seminary studies in order to support my family. Janet has a passion for Christian history and so she took to the studies naturally. For me, the move from the business context to the graduate classroom required greater energy and transformation. It required a different way of thinking – and writing papers!

Time management became critical. The first semester we both took four courses – we soon discovered that was a plateful! Yet, God enabled us to get through, but we moderated the pace during the ensuing semesters.

In some areas of study I found the relationship between business and ministry leadership quite similar. For example, in business I had to deal with a lot of conflict resolution and in seminary one of my courses dealt with conflict resolution and my internship that same semester involved me in conflict resolution work within a Christian agency. What I discovered was that the spiritual dimensions of conflict resolution in ministry contexts shaped the process and dynamics quite differently from my business experience.

We did the entire program part-time and through it all God marvelously enabled us to balance business, family, church, and seminary. The challenges were great, but God’s grace was sufficient. All five of our family were in college or grad school at the same time, so when we were all together, we would all compare our various studies.

Janet, what led you into chaplaincy?

When I began seminary, I had no inkling that I would select the chaplaincy option. My natural interests were in history and theology. I loved those subjects. In one of my Christian Leadership Development courses, my mentor happened to be a volunteer community support officer for the local 911 call centre. For one of my assignments I shadowed him in this work and discovered that I could minister in situations of personal trauma and death. So I followed this lead and found God opening up a whole new world of ministry opportunity. It was transforming for me.

Since you both were attending seminary together, how did this enrich the experience?

First, we are grateful for the spousal discount that reduced the overall costs substantially. Second, we discovered that our study patterns were quite different, but complementary. The papers we wrote when we took the same courses were very different. However, we could work through questions and issues together. Third, because our learning styles are quite different, we discerned different things in the courses.

After finishing Seminary, how did God lead you into your current roles?

When we graduated, we were still uncertain about the specific ministry situation that God might have for us. Initially we considered various opportunities for pastoral ministry. However, none of these seemed to be the right fit. Several months after graduation God directed us to the position of managing director at Cedar Springs Retreat Centre. As we interviewed for the role, prayed about it and considered our gifting and experience, this role seemed to provide a wonderful opportunity to blend business experience with pastoral ministry. We began serving in this role in Summer 2007. The longer we serve in this position the more it seems that this is what God was preparing us for many years ago.

Janet has the opportunity to work with staff, praying and encouraging them. She is a staff cheerleader, giving people hope. As well, she volunteers three or four twenty-four hour shifts each month as the support officer for the 911 emergency system in our area. This enables her to offer spiritual guidance for people in difficult, often life-threatening situations.

You are now leaders in the Cedar Springs ministry. Tell us about your vision for this ministry.

Cedar Springs desires to nurture Christian character and enrich the church by offering a peaceful, natural environment for adult discipleship. We want to fulfill this mission. And so we hope to expand our ability, for example, to help pastors who need a quiet space for restoration and recovery. Perhaps God will enable us to provide some programs that will strengthen marriages or help with parenting issues. Maybe we could offer some workshops on organizational leadership. We are also able to help fill in on Sundays for pastors in the area that need a break in pulpit supply. We are open to God’s direction here. We know there will be rich possibilities.

As you reflect back on your seminary experience in the context of the Cedar Springs ministry, can you discern general or specific ways in which your education through Northwest/ACTS has assisted you in pursuing God’s call?

In my (Jim) case Seminary enabled me to discern what ministry was all about. I had opportunities in my internship to teach, participate in conflict resolution, plan and initiate ministry projects, preach, etc. As I worked in my business, I would be reflecting on how means and methods of ministry were similar to but different from the business world. It also taught me not to be so judgmental. I do not know everything and I must listen to the views of other believers. When I reflect upon the way God led me in business and through seminary, I can see that He has equipped me in special ways to fill my current ministry position at Cedar Springs.

For me (Janet) Seminary opened up the world of chaplaincy. I probably knew it existed before Seminary, but I had no idea that God had gifted me for this ministry. The need to look at culture compassionately was impressed upon me. People are lost; the products of our culture constantly give voice to the pain of this lostness. There is a lot of hurt being expressed and God gave me through the Seminary the heart and skills to respond to these hurts through chaplaincy. As God transformed me through the Seminary experience, even my children noticed the difference.

Many people think that Seminary education only relates to people who are thinking of becoming pastors or missionaries. Obviously, this is not how God has led you, yet He has given you a very significant ministry. Do you think seminary education has relevance for Christians whose calling lies outside these traditional areas of vocational service?

We did not know how God would use us when we began our Seminary training. What we did know was that it was time to get started and to begin our preparation for whatever God had in mind. Seminary became for us the place to acquire understanding, skills, and spiritual depth so that we could serve wherever God would place us. We had to get up off the curb and into the parade and Seminary provided the best way for us to achieve that.

It has been transformational. I (Jim) remember reading the book Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper. He challenged me as I was in my late forties to consider seriously what I was going to do with the last twenty years of my life. I was not satisfied with the status quo and this message energized me to seek God’s direction. Today I am filled with a sense of wonder that God has given us this opportunity at Cedar Springs. We would not be in this role today, unless we had taken those first steps several years ago.

Seminary can be a significant place to discern more clearly how God is directing your path and to be equipped to serve Him as clarity is received.