Archive for October, 2010

Thought for the Day

A marketing guy I know passed on a bit of wisdom that made me think about the content of our message as Christ-followers trying to participate in the Kingdom of God and spread the Gospel.  It’s simple.  It’s excruciating.  I think it’s also true.

“If it doesn’t spread, it’s not worth spreading.”

– Seth Godin

Any thoughts on this?

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Can Anything be said about Leadership in the Missional Environment without Sounding Like a Pompous Mule? I Don’t Know.

Please, Remember that I am not an Expert in Anything

A friend sent me a request to help his daughter with a college paper on leadership.  I know that there are a lot of people out there who operate under the title of “Leadership Expert”, and I definitely do not fit the criteria for that kind of title.  But I gave it a shot knowing that I really don’t know anything and given that leadership in my environment is a little bit like herding cats – in the best possible way.  I learn from everybody and I am definitely very much a work in progress.  So, please let me know where you think I am being a pompous mule or simply a fool, or just plain wrong.  Believe it or not, I will thank you for setting me straight.  I responded to the request as follows:

I think that rather than say a whole bunch of stuff about leadership, which I am really not qualified to do, I might be able to be more helpful by saying a few things about a few areas of leadership that I have experienced some level of success with and have now got confidence in the veracity of:

1)      Successfully blending authority, responsibility, and accountability:  While I don’t know whether or not it is true in every denomination, in my denomination any notion of institutional or positional authority has long since passed, washed down the river by repeatedly broken trust by leaders, among other reasons. Since the title of “pastor” really carries no freight within the church anymore, in and of itself, finding the means to lead has been a constant challenge.  Since most of ministry now occurs outside the walls of the church in the mission field itself, the total lack of positional authority has required a great deal of innovation in terms of what “leadership” really means in my context.

As a result of these changes, within the church, one of the biggest hurdles I faced early on was a broken relationship between the ascription of authority, the issue of responsibilities, and the role of accountability in all of that.  Our church structure was such that many roles within it were given a lot of authority to make decisions, but their actual responsibilities (what they were actually being asked to do) were vague, and there was no one who held them accountable for results.  In the case of the pastor, they were given kind of huge and overarching and necessarily vague sets of responsibilities (like “make the church grow”, “bring in the youth”, and other institutional hoo-hah), but were given no real decision-making authority over spending or staffing, and were held accountable for things that they were not responsible for and did not have the authority to control.

Now, we are structured so that it is no one’s only job to make decisions that impact other people’s missions and ministries.  Before any authority is given, responsibilities are agreed to.  In other words, clear and measurable goals are set for the team or individual.  Once that is in place, a means of assessment for the accomplishment of those goals are agreed to by all parties. It is understood by all parties that if the mission, ministry, or position is not meeting its goals it will most likely be cut from the budget, or in the case of employees, it will have professional consequences. This sounds like it takes a long time, but it really doesn’t.  People who want to start something new come prepared with a proposal that covers most of this.  Once those two things are agreed to (goals and means of accountability), we figure out what kind of decision-making authority that team or individual needs in order to be successful in accomplishing those goals and they are given that authority.  In other words, they can spend money, hire and fire, re-structure…whatever they need to do within the agreed to authority given to them without their having to get permission for every decision.

So leaders now have the authority they need to be successful, but that authority is no longer simply linked to a title or position.  It is linked to the responsibilities that they have been assigned to carry, and that authority is held accountable to the actual accomplishments of the goals and responsibilities agreed to by all parties.  This structure and methodology applies to me as the pastor, as well.  If I am not meeting goals, there are consequences that affect to me; to include reduction in authority, reduction in pay, and even the loss of my job if I am not accomplishing what I was hired to do.  With greater responsibility comes greater authority.  But with greater authority comes greater and more specific accountability.

2)      Integrity: You can have all the gifts and talents in the world, and they will take you to the top.  But to stay there, you have to have the character not to blow it.  We all lead out of our own character and personhood, and any leadership (ability to influence outcomes) is inextricably linked to our character.  Sometimes it’s a tough reality because we all fall short of the Kingdom of God in this arena of existence.  We all have junk to work out.  On the journey to integrity, no one has arrived yet.  But it is still a reality.  This encompasses a lot of stuff.  Looking out for the good of others even when they aren’t looking and we won’t get credit for it, is a matter of integrity that takes years to establish as a part of our character.  Telling the truth as best we see it even if it costs us everything is a matter of integrity that makes or breaks trust in our character. Perseverance in the face of withering criticism and misunderstanding, and an ability to stay the course even in the midst of doubting is a matter of integrity that takes years to establish.  Our willingness to lead from the front and by example, never asking anyone to do anything we aren’t willing to do ourselves or do with them is a matter of integrity.  Never putting ourselves in a position where we could be seen as “using” someone or “taking from” someone.  These are all matters of integrity, and since there is no positional authority out there anymore in my denomination, it is all we have as pastors and leaders to leverage to influence outcomes.  If you have to have a title to gain people’s respect, when you get that title, you still won’t have their respect.

3)      Have a set of skills and competencies: You have to be good at what you do in order to get people to follow you.  I am sorry, but it is just that way.  As leaders, we must have skills and competencies.  Ministry is terrible place to try to work out your issues and incompetencies.  We have to know some things. And we have to be able to move things from the arena of idea into the realm of reality.

4)      Effective alliance building:  It’s all about networking now.  I don’t have to know how to do everything, but I do need to know someone who knows how to do whatever it is that I need done.  And I have to have established a relationship of trust and mutual benefit with that person so that we can form alliances to accomplish goals.  If I am a person prone to politics, jealousy, personal accolade, or professional advance at the expense of others, I will never be good at this.  And this is how we get things done in my arena and mission field.  You have to lose yourself in order to find yourself.

5)      Gotta really love your people and want the best for them, and be willing to act on their behalf even at personal cost:  Love covers a multitude of sins.  The truth is that if you see your people as the enemy (though at times some of them may be in reality), then it will be very difficult to lead them.  Being a basically warm and hospitable person is a key element of leadership.   Eccentrics and cold people do not fare well in situations where their position alone offers them no authority.  Love your people.  Be willing to put their needs in front of your own always, even if they would not do the same for you.  The accomplishment of the mission supersedes the needs of the people you are trying to lead, but the needs of the people you are trying to lead must always supersede the fulfillment of your own needs.

Okay.  So that’s my two cents.  Keep in mind that I have been flying by the seat of my pants ever since I went into ministry.  I usually have no idea what I’m doing, and almost all of the good that gets done in our missions and ministries is through miraculous intervention on the part of God.  So what the heck do I know? Please, take this with a grain of salt. Peace.

Forgiveness

Forgiveness

“I worry about fast forgivers. They tend to forgive quickly in order to avoid their pain. Or they forgive fast in order to get an advantage over the people they forgive. And their instant forgiving only makes things worse…People who have been wronged badly and wounded deeply should give themselves time and space before they forgive…There is a right moment to forgive. We cannot predict it in advance; we can only get ourselves ready for it when it arrives…Don’t do it quickly, but don’t wait too long…If we wait too long to forgive, our rage settles in and claims squatter’s rights to our souls.” – Lewis Smedes

Forgiveness is the only way forward.  In a world such as ours with so much violence and wrong-doing, there is no other way forward.  When I was a young man, I spent a lifetime in Lebanon as it tore itself apart in 1983-84.  I remember asking a local man why they were fighting.  He took me by the hand and led me to an old swimming pool.  He told me that that was where “they” had machine-gunned his family.  He told me he lived only for the opportunity to exact revenge.  He wanted the chance to destroy their village – to kill them all.  I didn’t correct him.  I don’t correct grief.  But I thought to myself that if the remedy for his pain at the loss of his family was the visitation of a greater pain by the annihilation of their village, what would be the remedy for that pain? Would two villages suffice? When does that end? In whose swimming pool does that end, and how much blood will it take to fill it up? He spoke as if he held vengeance on a taut leash as a beast at his heel and his command, waiting for the moment he had prayed for when he would let go of the leash and sic the beast upon his enemies.

I hear the chuckle of the same dark spirit when I hear about how two or three young people were gunned down on our streets in revenge for a gang-related shooting the night before. Sometimes I even know them. No one ever really remembers how these things start.  But with hate dancing across their eyes, they can show you the place where “they” did them wrong.  A young man showed me the place where he was shot…a porch on a slum street. The wounds left him in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the waist down.   He told me he knows the man who did it.  I asked him why he hadn’t turned the man in.  With a mocking look, he only smiled at me. I fully understood his meaning.  How much blood will it take to heal that wound?  When he gets his revenge, will that make him walk again? And with that new wound inflicted in vengeance on some day yet to come, how many mocking looks will cross how many faces of that man’s family members as they tell someone where “they” had done them wrong and are asked why they haven’t turned in the shooter?

And what of the little terrors…the less bloody betrayals and hurts? What of those? I hear the cackle of the beast of vengeance in the muttered hatred between ex-spouses fighting over custody rights.  I hear its mockery in the curses of the worker unjustly fired by a boss seeking to rise on the ladder of success.  The specter of  vengeance isn’t confined to the ghetto. It doesn’t feed itself only among the poor. It prowls factories, boardrooms, and school hallways…even church aisles and fellowship halls.

Forgiveness isn’t merely an option for those seeking holiness.  It isn’t an act of naivete, either.  It is all that stands between us and chaos.  It is an act of disciplined will – an act of incredible, responsible love.  It is a cross endured for the sake of a humanity that not only will not understand, but will most likely not even notice.  It is also wisdom.  It is the realization that it is evil that perpetrates evil…a spirit at work in the world.  Forgiveness is an act of radical love…the absorption of evil and the refusal to send it back out.  Vengeance isn’t an act.  It is an entity.  The only way to stop its rampage is, when it sets itself upon us, to lay its leash in the hands of God – the only one who can control it.  As Ghandi said, “An eye for eye makes whole world blind.”

A Learning to Share

A Learning to Share

The specter of burnout is something that we all deal with on the missional journey.  I do not have an easy or simple elixir for it, but we have learned something that has helped us to keep it at bay among the people who participate with us in the mission.  What we have learned is that the mission, for us, always involves at least two people.  It isn’t that from time to time we don’t have to do a chore or two by ourselves.  Sometimes doing things by ourselves is a reality.  We call things that we do alone “service” or “chores”.  What we have learned is that if our faith journey, or our lives for that matter, involved doing nothing but chores, we would all burn out rather quickly.  So we have learned to take the Biblical example for mission very seriously – they were sent out two by two.

Having someone with us is an important aspect of the “Object and Subject” nature of living out the mission of the Kingdom.  Relationships feed us. “Doing with” feeds us in a way that “doing for” does not.  It can even be argued that relationships are the very culture where the Kingdom is grown and participated in.  Having learned this the hard way, we do not support missions that are primarily accomplished by just one person. We encourage people to serve the Lord in whatever way that they feel called has called them to serve as a part of mature faith and calling, but we do not support “individual efforts” as a part of the mission. The world is a better place because of individual acts of goodness and kindness, but we do not call that “mission”.  Over ten years, we have seen those things that are constantly done alone take the life out of the journey for people time and time again.  Once in a while, due to a temporary necessity? Yes. As one aspect of a life of faith? Yes. But as the sole outlet for God’s love? No.  As a part of missional planning? Never.

Find someone to take with you.  We encourage people to invite a friend who isn’t yet connected to the mission, and use the needs of the mission as a reason to invite them. “Hey, I have to go and do the purchasing for a food pantry I am committed to, and I need an extra hand.  Do you think you could give me a couple of hours this week?  Maybe we could get some lunch, too.  It’ll be fun and if I don’t get it done, a couple hundred people won’t eat this week. I really could use your help.” Over the years, this Way of being has borne much fruit in the lives of those who are in mission, and in the lives of those who are invited into the mission with us.  Give it shot…nothing to lose, and everything to gain.

The Kingdom of God is a Movement, not an Institution

Distractions – Which hill are you willing to die on?

A really wise friend and a fellow-traveler in the missional journey had some deeply meaningful words for a young lady in our mission network.  Westboro Church was coming to her campus and she wanted to know what some of us thought she should do about it.  If you don’t know who Westboro church is, Google them.  My friend, Dan Miller from a missional community and ministy in Saginaw, MI, offered the following to the young Christ-follower. Being in the middle of distractions and opposition myself today,  I found these words convicting and helpful.  I share them with you with his permission.  I hope they bless you as they blessed me.

“Allison, when you sell out to the mission like you have, opposition will become the norm. Remember this really is not your battle to fight. This battle belongs to the Lord. You have to decide a couple of things. Number one, when it comes to the mission, what battles are worth fighting, and which ones are not. Number two, you have to decide which hill you are willing to die on. You can decide to die on the hill where lives are won or lost for the kingdom, or the hill of distraction and politics that hinder the mission. This probably contradicts what you have learned growing up in the church, because the institutional church is willing to die on the hill of church politics that have little or no relevance in kingdom building. I believe you have already made that decision, and I believe you are willing to die on the hill of the mission. I personally have no fight left for anything other than the mission.

If you are caught in a situation where you are forced to engage in some debate with them, here is what I would consider. Number one clothe yourself in humility. Speak biblical truth without being confrontational. You know why you beleive what you believe. You know that judgement is the Lord’s to cast, and not that of any sinful man like the folks from Westboro. You know that God created everyone in his own image, and loves each one of them just the same. At the end of the day, do not waste too much time and energy debating with these people. Pray for this group of people from Westboro before they even arrive. Ask God for wisdom, and it will be given. Ask the Lord to give you the words to say at the moment they need to be shared and He will. Above all else keep your eyes on the mission, and the distraction will fall, but if you engage in the distraction, then the mission will fall. When David faced Goliath, he mentioned the giant twice, but he mentioned the Lord in some form or fashion nine times.

I love what you are doing, and what the Lord is doing in you. Keep doing what you are doing, and let God take care of the rest. God’s grace is sufficient for everyone, including homosexuals, and Christ died on the cross for everyone including them. Let us know how it goes.” – Dan Miller (Christ-follower)

Thank you!!!

Thank you to everyone who gave out their incredible generosity to get the truck working again and back on the road.  We were back on the road as of today getting blankets and coats out to the homeless (it’s going to drop below freezing tonight).  Without your generosity and concern, we could not do what we do.  I am humbled by your generosity.

The Kingdom of God at Work in a Heart for Christ

I have been repeatedly asked what missional church looks like, and I have tried to post some video snapshots of the Kingdom at work in the mission.  But sometimes a better question might be: “What does the missional church sound like?”  Through our networks I know a young lady (graduated from high school in ’09) who is on fire for Christ and has experienced frustration after frustration trying to find an outlet for her faith through traditional and institutional avenues.  She got pretty beaten up last summer in that effort.  But through it she has emerged with a new fire and has learned a new Way.  Here’s a snippet of how missional church networks function.  This is from a Facebook communication.  It might help you to understand how the network functions to be the Body for this young lady even though she is very far away, and how the Kingdom has created an opportunity for her to let her faith flow to suffering people.

Young lady writes (as written by her) to her prayer network:

“hey guys. tonight was the first night of homeless ministry for a college group that is forming at Community Bible Chapel Mt. Spokane. I’m a part of the leadership team and our vision is 2 weeks a month we will meet for fellowship, food, and worship, and then the other two weeks we will be doing homeless outreach. this week we made sandwiches and took out some pepsi and just walked around and made relationships with people. It was really cool. I ran in to a man named Randy, who when I got in to spokane was high, confused and begging for money of the streets. I’ve been praying for him, and buying him dinner (he loves jimmy john’s). He’s getting cleaned up and living in an alcohol and drug free christian apartment complex. its so awesome to watch God work on people.

anyways, I would love for all of you to keep our college group in your prayers on thursday nights. and just pray that the spirit opens people’s hearts to the love we are trying to show them and give them a curiosity about the source of our fire and passion for the ministry.”

Mission prayer network responds:

“This is what it’s all about, Allison!! You GO, girl! I am definitely in for prayers on this. I have some other ways that I can support you, too. Shoot me a mailing address. I have a couple of things I can pass on to your team.

BTW, I am doing some work for a group, kind of putting together a snap-shot of why people do what you are doing and how what you’re doing relates to faith. So…while I have you here, so to speak, what was the motive behind this change in your faith life and ministry? Are you reading scripture differently now than before? Was it somebody’s idea? How does this relate to your faith?”

Young lady responds:

“What was my motive? hmm, i don’t know if i have a specific motive. last year i was struggling a lot with self pity and selfishness. It was honestly one of those explosive special revelation moments where God showed me i just couldn’t live like that anymore. I acquired an extreme hunger for the word and ever since i can’t seem to find happiness in anything but giving my love for God away. It’s just really the most satisfying thing to me.”

Sounds like God is doing something amazing in this woman and those that she is doing mission with. Listen to the beating of her heart for Christ.  Let those with ears to hear, hear.  Please pray for this mission plant.  May it grow and bear good fruit.