Monthly Archives: August 2008

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.

Ministry Talk: Reflections on “The Shack”

William Young writes an interesting novel (as the title page describes this book) — and we have to remember that The Shack is a novel! According to the foreword Young is telling the story of Mackenzie Allen Phillips and his encounter with God at “the shack”, the place where Phillip’s youngest daughter was murdered. Young recounts how ‘the great sadness’ that overwhelmed Phillips after the kidnapping and death of his daughter was removed through this encounter with God.

Theology finds expression in this novelistic narrative in ways that suit the postmodern perspective. As the story unfolds, the reader is led skillfully to reconsider the very nature of God in the context of such a tragic circumstance. Young emphasizes the Trinitarian essence of God and the primary element of love that defines God’s inner relationships. Some might find his characterizations of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit somewhat unusual, but Young is not deliberately sacrilegious and always treats God with respect in this novel. His description of the human Jesus and his assertion that Jesus was totally dependent upon the Spirit (pages 99-100) for any miraculous power he displayed will raise some eyebrows. Jesus’ description of his intimacy with God and sharing of understanding and power in John’s Gospel and Matthew 11:25-26 suggest that Young’s description is somewhat inadequate. And what do we do with the Transfiguration?

Personally I think that Young’s portrayal of Jesus in the story (apart perhaps from some elements in chapter 15 entitled “A Festival of Friends”) fails to show him as the ascended and reigning Lord. Jesus is friend, companion, and saviour, eagerly wanting a relationship with each human being, but his Lordship seems strangely muted.

In my view, Young is at his best in the narrative when Phillips engages one of the members of the Godhead in conversation about a difficult theological issue. Why did God let Phillips’ daughter die in such an evil way? If we blame God for these kinds of events, are we in effect judging God?  What kind of relationship does God want to have with human beings and how does Jesus’ death on the Cross enable this restored relationship to become a reality?  How does human freedom work in connection with divine sovereignty? How does God want us to live as his saved people? What does holiness look like? The dialogues explore these theological nooks and crannies, providing helpful perspectives.

We cannot expect a book, especially a novel, to deal with every significant question or the writer’s selected questions equally well. Young’s novel is no exception. He focuses on some very critical issues. However, we are left wondering somewhat about the relationship of a Jesus follower to the local church. Is the local church too much a part of ‘religion’ to be of any significant help for someone in Phillips’ situation? This seems to be a conclusion, whether intended or not. Perhaps the central focus on relationships is the way that Young seeks to define how a believer finds sense and meaning as part of a local assembly. As well, sin and evil are certainly key components in the narrative, but we have no discussion about Satan or his role in the events described. Young makes the point that God is not responsible for evil, because human beings are independent agents. And God is able to bring good out of evil. But where is Satan in this mix?

And then there is the continuous emphasis upon emotions – not unexpected given the subject matter.

Young’s novel deserves a read, but one that is critical (in the best sense of that term) and discerning. Bad things do happen to good people and resolving this question within a Christian frame continues to require the very best of our thinking, a robust theology, and a deep relationship with God.

What will you do with the rest of your life?

Lorry Lutz, in her book, Looking Forward To The Rest Of Your Life? Embracing Midlife and Beyond,1 asks the challenging question, “What specific ministry/service do you think God expects of you in the years after retirement?” For Joe and Lourdes De Guzman, it is training church leadership in the Philippines. For Herm and Joan Braunberger it was hospitality and administration in Pakistan.

Did you ever have a dream of serving God in missions? – holding the hand of woman who has brought her sick infant into Shikarpur Christian Hospital, praying with a family who lost their home in a landslide, comforting an abused wife at the Hope center, Kazakhstan, using your administrative skills to bring some order and structure to an outreach ministry, provide tech support for a Bible correspondence school, have tea and a significant spiritual conversation with a friend who wants to learn English, being a house parent for missionary children, spending your time making a significant impact.

In today’s world the possibilities are endless and Fellowship International Ministries is assisting people from our Fellowship churches find their place of service in God’s mission to the world. In particular, those 55 and over who are facing retirement are encouraged to face the challenges of missions through the “Finishers” program.

Northwest Baptist Seminary and Fellowship International Ministries are teaming up to sponsor a Serious Missions: “Reaching Ahead” retreat a camp Qwanoes in Feb 2009 for those 55+ who believe in the importance of missions and would like to explore the possibility of their involvement through FEBI.

View the Serious Missions website
Download the Serious Missions brochure
Download the application form

You have no idea what God is ready to do through you.

    ____________________


  • 1 Lutz, L. Looking Forward To The Rest Of Your Life? Embracing Midlife and Beyond, Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004.
  • 2 ibid., p. 107.
  • 3 Ibid. p. 96.

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!