Thursday, December 31, 2009

Little moments - Big memories

The Baxter family just got back from a wonderful vacation with family at the beach. It was a great time of relaxing, celebrating Christmas, and making some memories. Playing pool, the hot tub, dinners together, Wii golf classic, board games, sneaking off for a date with my wife, and staying up late talking. I like vacations like that; not grand moments but time spent together, where running off to the beach at midnight and staring at the stars opens up sharing from the heart. And yet... one of the biggest 'little moment' of the trip was on the long and arduous ride to get there.

We were headed into a huge snow storm but it was smooth sailing until Charleston, WV. We pressed on, but at a toll both were told to turn around, as all the roads into Virginia were closed. (What??!)  There was no alternate route, just told to go back and find a hotel room. We drove back West, but nothing was open. No room at the Inn :)  At Charleston they laughed when we asked for a room and told to go another hour West. It was getting late, we hadn't eaten, and had a long trip yet ahead. The kids asked what was wrong. "None of the hotels have a room." "Can we pray that one would have a room for us?" asked Justin. "Sure!" He did, and the three other kids did likewise. Dawn made one more phone call and asked if they had a room. The receptionist said she didn't know. The power had been out all day and had just come back on - she would know when the computer finished rebooting. "Where are you?" asked Dawn. "Exit 48". We just past exit 47. "We'll be right there to see!" After getting off I-64 we couldn't find it, but took a wrong turn up a huge hill from which we could see the Sleep Inn. A couple of people decided to leave when the power went off and so they had a room! Restaurants and stores were all shut down, but Dawn found a movie theater and got us popcorn and Oreos for dinner, to go with a huge cup of Ramen noodles. Yummy! To celebrate, I made sure the boys jumped on the bed.

I'm thankful that God taught them something about prayer (repeatedly actually with some other answered prayer on the road). Did God miraculously turn on power for 80,000 people just because four children prayed? Which is more wonderful, if He answered directly at the moment, or if He chose to act well in advance? Guiding us to a wise decision to delay one day? Using a pottie break to put us within one mile of the only open hotel in a 50 mile radius at precisely the right time? Guiding us to pick up that particular hotel guide at a previous rest stop with the needed phone number? Helping us via a 'wrong turn' to get to a vantage where we could actually see the Sleep Inn? Or simply reaching out to Justin to call us to prayer at the exact time power was about to be restored? All of the above? I imagine that often answers to prayer come by means of natural causes, but God can and does guide us and act through other people. He's not constrained by time, after all. Regardless of the how, I'm thankful for God and His provisions, and for the deep sense my kids have that He loves them. Happy New Year all!!!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Review - Glo Bible for a Digital World

In addition to "The Search for God and Guinness" Amazon sent me a review copy of a powerful new software package - "Glo. The Bible for a Digital World".  Glo is a new way to interact with the Bible that brings it life with HD video, maps, photos, 360-degree virtual tours, and a ton of other information and media. It comes on DVD-ROM and runs on Windows XP/Vista/7. It's really quite an amazing product, by Immersion Digital and published by Zondervan in October 2009.

Glo has five "lenses" through which you can view all this material. There's the most common "Bible" lens, featuring the popular NIV translation (and the KJV) with related resources and media. The "Atlas" view cover the geography and landmarks of the Holy Land, with quite a bit of video and special photos. The "Timeline" considers the Bible from a chronological perspective with a zoomable interface. The "Topical" lens covers verses and material for thousands of subjects, from a variety of scholars and experts. Finally the "Media" lens lets you browse biblical content according the media type of interest.

The installation and computer requirements are not for the timid however! You'll need over 18 GB of hard drive space, 1-2 GB of RAM, a dual core processor, and a better than average video graphics card with DirectX 9 support (!)  The installation took hours, and the whole time I was waiting for some error or problem or series of reboots. Thankfully, none of those appeared, and it went uneventfully. At this point I was thinking "This better be good" but expectations were pretty low, given the sad state of many other 'reference' or 'study tools' I've seen.

So what did I think after running it? I was immediately blown away. The amount of material on here is simply enormous. One of the first rabbit trails I explored was a 360-virtual tour of Capernaum, a fishing village on the Sea of Galilee and home to several of the apostles. Not only could you "walk through" the streets of Capernaum and explore the multilayered house of St. Peter, but you could see the town in both modern time and in biblical times. The resolution and detail was amazing. Some other pluses: the timeline, maps, videos, and the overall ease of exploring cross-references. You can find something under one lens and go explore elsewhere if you find something interesting. Also, there's new information that is added all the time (says their web site). One other thing I thought was great: it's licensed for legal installation on THREE of your own computers, e.g. on your home desktop, laptop, and that user's computer at work.

Some things that might be a problem for some users: the help system is fairly sparse, installation (and uninstallation) are non-trivial, and it's a huge install, weighing in far larger than the operating system! The reason for this is that it unpacks everything off the DVD, and makes use of a well-designed updating system to make sure that the application and materials remain up to date.

Bottom line? A fascinating approach to Bible study that will be a big hit to visually-oriented people with a relatively powerful computer. If you're the type of person who likes to surf around the web, goes to the Wikipedia to look up one thing and ends up reading about a half-dozen, you'll really like Glo. It's hard to describe the details or interface, but fortunately there is extensive information on the Glo website including a number of demo and tutorial videos, and a one-page summary sheet. If you're at all interested, definitely check out the Glo video walkthrough. Glo is available at Amazon and other retailers.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Review - Primal

A new book is coming out next week - "Primal: A Quest for the Lost Soul of Christianity" by Mark Batterson. Mark is the lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington, DC, a highly innovative church that now has multiple sites including movie theatres and a coffeehouse. He's also written "In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day" and "Wild Goose Chase: Reclaim the Adventure of Pursuing God." I'm part of a blogger's "book tour" with publisher WaterBrook Multnomah, reviewing the book right before it's released on Dec 22nd.

"Primal" a heartfelt cry that invites us to return to a more basic Christianity, something more ancient and primal, that centers around loving God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. The call is not just personal, it's for a reformation - not in creeds but in loving deeds. The book centers around exploration of four key elements of Great Commandment Christianity: compassion, wonder, curiousity and power. The goal is to help us live in light of what matters most and (re)discover what it means to love God; to reignite a primal faith.

Primal is a seriously challenging book! Despite being a very smart guy, Mark is extremely down-to-earth and passionate. You feel like he's sitting down at Ebeneezer's coffeehouse talking to you. But it's not a dry casual talk, it's an engaging plea to see your life transformed, and to return to your first love. He recognizes the fact that God has made us differently and we each have a unique love language, but that we must cultivate the other expressions of love to more fully live out the life God has called us to.

The main strength and main drawback to the book are flip sides of the very same coin - the intenstity and passion of Batterson's style and his plea for the reader to join him in a new reformation as we experience this wild adventure called life. If you liked his other books, if you're a fan of authors like John Eldredge (Wild at Heart), or feel like you're missing out on the warmth of your initial walk with God, you will very much like Primal. If you're looking for something more informative, something of a how-to on spiritual growth, then you may not enjoy it as much as other readers.

The publisher's website has a link to read the first chapter of the book if you would like to check it out. Primal can be ordered at Amazon or other retailers. It's definitely a fine choice to be the first (primal) book you read in the New Year.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Review - The Search for God and Guinness

November and the first half of December have been really hectic month at work, but things are starting to quiet down coming into the second half of December. I'm finally getting back into a more normal reading routine, and was thankful that the Vine program at Amazon could supply me with another book to review - "The Search for God and Guinness: A biography of the beer that changed the world" by Stephen Mansfield. The title intrigued me, to say the least.

Mansfield is an author who has written several books on the fringe of politics or business and faith, including "The Faith of Barrack Obama" and "The Faith of George W. Bush". In The Search for God and Guinness, Mansfield looks at the history of Guinness - a famous brand of beer, looking at the amazing generosity and innovation of a great Irish family. If the connection between the two seems odd to us now, it sure wasn't back in the 1700's in Ireland. Water was often undrinkable at the time, and the common alternatives of gin and whiskey were devastating civil society. Beer was actually brewed by Christians like Arthur Guinness, as well as monks, as a healthy alternative. Almost 250 years later, Guinness is an internationally famous brand. I can tell you from my visit to Ireland as a college student, it's held in very high regard in the land of my grandparents!

Overall, the book was a very interesting approach to the history of beer, to the need for corporate responsibility and involvement in the community, and a fair bit of philosophy. I would say the book was good, but not great. I could tell the author had become a huge fan of the history of Guinness, but the prose was not quite as compelling as the title. The search for God aspect was significantly weaker than the historical narrative, which started to drag over its 304 pages. The big highlight of the book for me was a discussion of 'calling' in Chapter 5 - "whether work that is not specifically religious can be work done for the glory of God. Another equally important question is whether God calls men to trades and vocations in the world as part of his unfolding plan...' The author makes a strong case that the Guinness family  had "absorbed the great Reformation ideal that everything a man did was to be done for God and that his calling and vocation were usually the same thing... A brewer can serve as valuable role in the Kingdom of God as a missionary, a priest or a pope."

I would go on but frankly, I'm more than a little thirsty. If you want to chat about this, we can meet at Nine Irish Brothers in town. And if you've been burned by a church or people misguided about what it means to serve God and love people, the first round is on me! :)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Review - The Walk

Author Stephen Smallman describes his new book as essentially 'Discipleship for Dummies'. It's called "The Walk: Steps for New and Renewed Followers of Jesus". While aimed primarily at new Christians, it's also very helpful for those who have wandered away and are looking to take a fresh look at their faith. I first learned of this excellent book from Justin Taylor's blog.

The strength of The Walk is that it really assumes no prior understanding or background at all. It doesn't even assume the reader has yet decided to profess faith in Christ, so there's no nagging here and no jargon unless he's teaching what a word means. The approach is to walk alongside the reader as they work through The Gospel of Mark and the Book of Romans. I have to stress that even though the book starts basic, it is not simplistic, and by the end the reader will have tackled some difficult subjects. On the back cover Smallman describes this book as being for people who want to follow Jesus, "but"... don't know anything about the Bible, don't have a Christian background, have drifted so far away they don't know how to start over, or who have no idea where to begin. With the heart of a pastor, Steve does a great job of doing this in a manner that is warm, practical, and distinctly gospel-centered.

There are several ways the book can be used, but it really begs to be read and discussed with a friend or group. With twelve chapters and discussion questions, it would work well in a Sunday School or small group setting. It should be especially effective in a discipling relationship or mentoring group.

Table of Contents:
Part One: The Basics
1. What is a Disciple?
2. Do I Have to Go to Church?
3. Learning to Read the Bible and Pray
Part Two: Discipleship through the Gospel
Step One: Know the gospel itself
4. The Gospel of God
Step Two: Know how you came to believe the gospel
5. The Call to Salvation and Discipleship
6. Conversion
Step Three: Know the benefits of believing the gospel
7. A New Record: Justification
8. A New Life: Sanctification and Adoption
9. A New Future: Glorification
Step Four: Life a Life that flows from the gospel
10. Faith Expressing Itself in Love
11. The Gospel Changes Everything
Part Three: Following Jesus on His Mission
12. Disciples Making Disciples
- A Final Word to New and Renewed Followers of Jesus: Now What?
- Some appendices with more info, suggested reading, and follow-up plans.

Each chapter has Bible reading that is explained/discussed, sidebars to address likely questions, a helpful summary, words of encouragement, and assignments such as specific Bible reading. If you're looking to take new or renewed steps walking with Christ, or have a heart to help those who do, I recommend you take a look at The Walk. You can check out the preface and first chapter for free online.

The book is available at Amazon and other retailers, including a nice discount if you order from the Westminster Bookstore.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Review - What Difference do it Make?

After reading "Same Kind of Different as Me," a powerful story of faith and friendship by Ron Hall and Denver Moore, I was excited to get a review copy of the sequel "What Difference Do It Make?: Stories of Hope and Healing." Sometimes an original can be so good that it makes it hard for the sequel to match up to expectations. "What Difference Do It Make" falls prey to this danger.

This book doesn't so much continue the original story as much as it fills in some more details, answers some questions, and shares a number of real-life stories of people impacted powerfully by Same Kind of Different as Me. That's a key cause of a significant problem with this book - it comes across as a promo book, trying to leverage the popularity of the first book. (I do not think that this was the intent of the authors! Nevertheless the book at times does read this way.)  The second aspect of the book that was awkward was that the attention paid to the relationship between Ron Hall and his father. It was a dysfunctional relationship that failed to inspire, a few tender moments notwithstanding.

The book has its strong points. It's a book about racial reconciliation, unlikely friendship, community outreach and caring for the homeless, faith and compassion. The book contains some powerful nuggets of wisdom from Denver, reflecting on his personal experience with homelessness. If you loved Same Kind of Different, you would probably enjoy this book to some degree. If you've not read that one, go read it!

"What Difference Do It Make?" by Ron Hall, Denver Moore and Lynn Vincent is available at Amazon and other book retailers.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Why Twitter?

I often get a puzzled look or blank stare when I tell people I like Twitter, Facebook, or blogging. Sometimes it's hard to explain what these things are to people who don't use social networking tools. Let me try a different answer today - rather than explain what they are, let me share some ways in which they've been a benefit over the past few months.

Thanks to Twitter, along with blogs, Facebook, and other web-based tools that build community I have...

  • Made several new friends with similar passions that I would love to meet someday
  • Received over a dozen new-release books for free, to review or from giveaway promotions
  • Been able to ask questions and get thoughtful answers from some great minds and authors like Reggie McNeal, Nancy Ortberg, Matt Chandler, Steve Gladen,  Steve Saccone
  • Helped other people out with technical questions
  • Reconnected with some friends I haven't seen in years
  • Had fun testing out some cutting edge technologies (like getting a Google Wave invite)
  • Found mentors in areas I want to grow
  • Attended some outstanding conferences "virtually"
  • Shared pictures with friends and families from events, right from my phone
  • Gotten an inside glimpse into the daily lives of many friends
  • Got a new CD via a promotion on the day it was released
  • Learned information helpful in doing my job at work
  • Received dessert suggestions for restaurants while I'm there eating
  • Been able to encourage many people when they were down
  • Been encouraged and taught on an almost daily basis
  • Learned about several critical prayer requests in real time and prayed for people across the globe
  • Likewise had folks I barely know praying for my family in times of crisis
  • Become aware I need to be able to communicate more concisely :)

So instead of answering the question of why I Twitter, I'm going to as you - why don't you?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Paradigm Shift in Education and Discipleship

There is a game-changing shift in adult education that is well underway. In thinking about how education in general and discipleship in particular have changed over the years it has struck me that we're seeing a paradigm shift in both. Later this month I'll be starting a new course at Rockbridge Seminary - The Theology and Practice of Discipleship. We'll be considering the basis and practice of pursuing an intentional strategy for encouraging the development of fully-devoted followers of Christ within the church. In doing so we'll be considering the change in the landscape of adult education.

In essence, both education and discipleship are shifting away from the transmission of prepackaged bundles of information with the topics and answers provided by an authorized teacher, to personalized and pragmatic learning that is far more interactive, answering real-world questions and addressing challenges in the same context where they are faced. For followers of Christ the ultimate goal of spiritual formation has not changed - to be more like Christ, loving God and loving people - but the methods by which this is pursued are definitely changing.

Consider traditional seminary education. What comes to mind? People hearing "a call to the ministry" who put their life on hold for several years to prepare for a vocation as clergy. There they will follow a set curriculum emphasizing subject mastery, learning as individuals taught by a professor, proving themselves via tests which probe how well they have received the information. Sounds exciting? Good preparation for leading a congregation today? Some would say there is a better way. Rockbridge Seminary Online is an innovate new paradigm seminary in which students learn in community, engaging at a deeper level in their current ministry without putting life on hold. The professor is more of a guide than a teacher, and each students develops their own personalized learning plan. Sure, there are still core courses and electives, but the goal is to develop ministry competencies that span the purposes of the church and meet the needs of the people they serve.The student learns how to be a life-long learner, integrating their learning with the ongoing challenges they face while in ministry.

How has the pursuit of discipleship changed within the church? The old paradigm emphasizes programmatic education on Sunday morning and Wednesday night, curriculum and topics determined by church leaders, and teaching people the right answers to defend the faith. The new paradigm views living as and growing as a disciple as a 24/7 process, done in community with other believers and lived out in the community, led by a shepherd or guide rather than a teacher. People have less time to go through comprehensive programs learning everything before they need to know it, and instead want to find answers as they run into challenges. They want to take more control over what and when they learn, to face felt needs and to better serve people who are hurting. Learning is more personalized and decentralized. The tools are also changing, supplementing exhaustive concordances and commentaries and denominational quarterlies with online classes and sermons, and tools like Monvee and YouVersion. Likewise our approach to leadership development is changing, helping people to be leaders in whatever sphere of influence they serve, not just in their roles as 'church leaders'.

How can we do a better job at encouraging the development of fully-devoted followers of Christ? How can we help people to take more responsibility for their own growth? How can we do this in a way that is more relational, interactive, and ultimately fosters life transformation? These are important questions for which there are no easy answers, but ones I look forward to exploring!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Environments for Developing People

I recently listened to an audio MP3 of a conference call on "The Small Group Fraternity" led by Mark Howell. This featured an interview with Jeff Galley who serves at as Central Team Leader for Life Groups / Life Mission. Jeff discusses small group coaching, people development, life coaching, and some big shifts in how they think about discipleship in their church. I found it really interesting, and wanted to share a few highlights here. If any of those areas of interest to you, definitely check out the MP3 (time points listed below are from this audio).

Small Group Coaching  (8:00-15:00)

Every environment is unique, so every campus needs their own approach to small group coaching. One of the more popular models adopted/tweaked by different campuses is very decentralized. When a person signs up to lead a group they meet immediately with a coach and dive right in, pulling people together the start their group. About twice a year clusters of 4-5 group leaders under one coach will come together for a huddle. At that point they go through a more intentional development process that takes about six-weeks, based on conference call discussions with reading or an e-learning lesson between sessions. The point is let leaders jump in when they're excited to do this, and train them after they've been doing it when the questions and discussion will make sense. The use of the 60-90 min conference call and reading in-between is to fit their schedule. is big on open source - actually they provide these lessons for any church to watch! That site is currently down for updating but will be available again soon. After leaders been through this training, what happens next? The coaching becomes much more informal, mostly driven by the leaders' need or questions as they arise. Once a month coaches will give a phone call to each leader he or she has on their list and just touch base, letting them know they're praying for them. LifeChurch structures this for growth, not control.

People Development (23:10-27:30)

It's not about the program, but in life change - they have identified five specific behaviors they want to see people engage in. They can't force people to exhibit these behaviors, but their goal is to set up environments which foster these, support leaders, inspire people to want to be a follower of Christ, then step back and coach the process. Specifically, they've identified Four Environments that are effective in supporting development. This is NOT four programs, not four buckets to discipleship, and in some cases these things might go on together in one venue, or four different ways of viewing the same activity. Their four key environments:

1. Group  (be in a small group / life group)
2. Learn Something
3. Serve
4. Get Coaching  (for my own life and development, or functional development towards helping others)

This actually represents a major shift in their shift in thinking on discipleship -- 
"Not all the environments are going to be the right thing for people at the right time." Not everyone wants to be in a small group / life group, and that's ok. As a result what they're doing in their campus is to set up some best practices to encourage these environments, but promote the desired behaviors more than programs, and allow people freedom to choose their own path in this common direction.

Their new approach is pretty simple, asking their people these questions:
"Where are you now?" "What's next for you?" "What should you do?" These lead to: "Which of these four environments is going to help you go down that road?"

Five Behaviors they're looking for, what does a "win" look like at LifeChurch? (29:30-35:45)

1. Lead people to identify their next step for personal and spiritual growth
2. Generously serve others
3. Build healthy relationships (healthy family, relationships they're investing in, and people investing in them)
4. Read and reflect from Scripture
5. Be Christ-Centered - He is the compass for all areas in their life

What they would like to do is measure these outcomes rather than just program participation. The 1,000,000 dollar question is of course, how? For example #3 is pretty hard to measure. What they're likely to try is to develop an evaluation process including a survey, some kind of self-evaluation, plus a follow-up personal interview. Then repeat this a year later and see how people have changed.

A natural question is: "How do we track people's participation in these four environments." (43:20-46:30)
Jeff's answer may surprise you: "Why do we need to track them?? What we want to see is the behaviors. If we're seeing those, we don't really care how they got there." They don't cast vision for groups, for coaching - they're casting vision for growth, for life change, for the things a Christ-follower does, not the methods themselves. That said they're not going to stop tracking these other numbers - they do give some useful info - which environments are working, and which need some help. But the key to remember is that these are not the primary determinant of success, God-honoring behaviors are.

Coaching - What might it look like? (36:07-40:00)

Probably there will be an intentional structures to do these two kinds of coaching:
1) Life coaching - How can someone sit down with me and help me develop a plan for my growth, my next steps, or more broadly, how do I get a better understanding of my life purpose? Maybe it's a marriage situation, or parenting. Not a counselor, but a coach.
2) Functional coaching - To do this, we will have to train volunteers to do these very things and to better craft these environments. Jeff is going for coaching certification and will setup a program to train people interested in learning how to coach. He wants to help interested leaders to mobilize people to become effective coaches who can in turn help others. As a great benefit, these skills are completely transferrable. They may also develop several Coaching Journeys (maybe doing a book together) along with a common coaching methodology.

Other interesting comments from the interview

- It's not attractional vs missional, it's both. We definitely need to live out our faith outside of Sunday morning, but we have them here together at that time, how can we make best use of this?
- For things to move forward well it's important to identify catalytic leaders and encourage them strongly, seeing what they're fired up about and seeing how you can help them.
- Any time we use the word "leader" to refer only to people leading in a church program, we lose some of our best leaders and fail to move forward our real mission. (50:00-51:00)

Some of my own thoughts on all this...
- Wow, a lot of this touches on things we're doing or want to do at Calvary. Much of it echoes what Pastor Chuck and other staff have been thinking.
- The five behaviors seem to encompass four of our five purposes, and it seems like anyone doing these four will be wanting to do the fifth. They also stress outreach through several environments including their Life Groups and through Serving.
- I wonder how Monvee might be used as a tool to help people develop in a framework similar to what's described here. Monvee is a tool for encouraging personalized spiritual growth - it should be launched later this year as an online tool tied into what is already going on and supported in a local church setting.

Small group leaders, coaches, Calvary folks, what are your thoughts on developing people?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Review - Forgotten God

"Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit" is the latest book by Francis Chan, the author of "Crazy Love." Chan, along with Danae Yankoski, aim to write "a compelling invitation to rediscover the Holy Spirit's power in our lives," and on this mark they succeed.

The message of the book is straightforward, not intending to break new ground but to concisely teach, remind, and exhort us to stop neglecting the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Chapters include "I've Got Jesus, Why do I need the Spirit?", "What are you afraid of?", "Theology of the Holy Spirit 101", "Why do you want Him?", and "A real relationship". The most interesting and thought-provoking chapter for me was "Forget about His will for your life!" Here he points out that as Christians we often use our lack of a good understanding for His will as an excuse not to follow Him day by day, an excuse for inaction or even disobedience. "God cares more about our response to His Spirit's leading today, in this moment, that about what we intend to do next year. In fact, the decisions we make next year will be profoundly affected by the degree to which we submit to the Spirit right now, in today's decisions." The implication of ignoring the Spirit for both our lives and for the health of the church is a complete lack of power, and severely diminished ability to carry out God's will. Forgotten God is a solid book worth reading.

"Forgotten God" was received as a Review Copy from the Amazon Vine program. The book is published by David C. Cook and is available at and other retailers.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Review - Find Your Strongest Life

Marcus Buckingham is the author of several excellent books on discovering your strengths and the how and why of using them for a happier and more productive life. I really enjoyed "Now, Discover Your Strengths," and so I was happy to get a review copy of his very latest book, "Find Your Strongest Life: What the Happiest and Most Successful Women Do Differently." I know, I know, I'm not exactly his target audience, but I have a wife, daughter and many friends that I care about and would love to see happy and successful :)

Buckingham addresses some very significant issues in his book, including the question of whether in today's world a woman can truly "have it all"? Fulfilling career, being true to herself, a happy, healthy life outside of work? That can all seem overwhelming, but in his book he tries to convey the keys to help women draw strength from life to feel fulfilled, loved, and in control. This key is based on his research as well as previous work looking at the power of understanding and focusing on your strengths.

The book has three parts. The first looks at the challenges that women face today, and how things have changed over the past decades. He gives some extremely interesting findings from research in this area. These are presented as 'Ten Myths about the Lives of Women'. For example, you might think that with better education, jobs and pay, that women today would feel happier and more fulfilled than forty years ago - not so. You might also be convinced that if only they had more free time, they would feel less stressed. Yet research shows this isn't the case. According to a twenty-five year study each extra hour of free time doubles a man's feelings of relaxation, but does nothing for a woman's. (Don't ask me to explain that one!) The second part of the book gets into the heart of learning to live your strongest life. The central focus here is on his 'Strong Life Test' which considers nine life roles which were unveiled in his research - or 'soul codes' to use Professor James Hillman's phrase. These roles are: advisor, caretaker, creator, equalizer, influencer, motivator, pioneer, teacher, and weaver. Part three gets into some very specific questions, or challenges, faced by women, and how knowing your strengths can help you find and answer to these challenges.

I found the book to be quite interesting, and potentially very useful. As an outsider of sorts, I still found much to think about, and came away with a greater appreciation of the unique challenges women face. (I also found out I seem to fit into roles of teacher and equalizer, if the test is applicable for men!)   The book is not hard to read, and seems to be a decent mix of the soft and hard side of life. I would recommend this book to women who are finding it challenging to find happiness and success in those areas of life which are important to them. The solution he proposes is not to simply "find balance" - in fact one of the best chapters is "Strive for Imbalance." A favorite quote of mine from Buckingham - "Don't try to put in what God left out. Try to draw out what God left in. That's hard enough!"

You can read a preview at the Thomas Nelson publisher website, or get the book at Amazon or other retailers. Or you might start by checking out the free online test directly at (no book purchase required, but to learn how to put the results in practice it will be very helpful).

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Review - A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

I didn't quite know what to expect from Donald Miller's brand new book "A Million Miles in a Thousand Years." I read 'Blue Like Jazz', perhaps too quickly, and thought it interesting but not altogether helpful or compelling. But with the buzz surrounding his new book, I was glad to get an advance review copy from Thomas Nelson Publishers. The book far exceeded my expectations...

The subtitle itself tells a tale - "What I Learned While Editing My Life." Miller's new book actually is a story about becoming the editor for a screen adaptation of his previous book "Blue Like Jazz", which itself was a mixture of autobiography and philosophy. Essentially then, Miller gets the chance to "edit" his own life's story! In doing so he explores some fascinating ideas on what it means for your life to be a story, what makes for a good life story, and the relationship between a character in a story and the author (or in this case, Author).

Donald Miller's writing is very engaging; it really was difficult to put the book down. There was a compelling interplay between what was going on in his own mind, the travails of the main character's pseudo-life, and what it means for you the reader to be writing your own life story. It's rare for a story to be this effective in quietly encouraging the reader to examine his own life and where it's going. The phrase "the character is what he does" really struck me, as I'm a man too often caught up in reflection instead of action. The former if it does not lead to the latter, is of little value.

A key theme running throughout the book is that "at the heart of a good story is a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it." Without the struggle, without the conflict, the story simply isn't worth telling. When I finished reading the book I was somewhat disappointed that there was not really any discussion about what constitutes a worthy goal for the character to pursue. If a person or a character wants something that is a selfish adventure or doesn't touch the lives of others, what kind of story is that? I felt that same unease I had while reading Blue Like Jazz - is it enough to point out problems without directing toward a solution? Ultimately, while that's an important question it's not the one Miller is looking to address in this book, so I won't hold it against him; I give it a full five-stars. My advice: Treat the book as a mirror, not a compass. Fans of Miller will love this book; those who've never heard of him or who had reservations about "Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality" should still check it out. The potentially best thing about Miller's book is that it might offer you a second chance at life, the first time around.

You can read an excerpt from "A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life", or you can find it at Amazon or other retailers.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Connecting with People Requires Energy

John Maxwell is getting interactive with his upcoming book "Everyone Communicates, Few Connect." He has been posting a chapter of the book in progress each week, getting feedback from readers. This week he shared an exceptionally strong chapter entitled 'Connecting Always Requires Energy .'

So far in the book he has talked about the importance of the need to connect with people to be an effective leader and communicator, how connecting is really all about the needs of others, and that communications go far beyond words. Because this is a work in progress for Maxwell, and because the posts are only available for a week, I can't provide any quotes from the post. But his emphasis on Chapter 4 this week is that no matter what your personality type, no matter if you consider yourself a people-person or not, connecting with others is something you can do, though it takes energy. This energy must be focused and strategic, so John shares several excellent tips for doing this. What I found exciting was that the ideas and encouragement on how to be a better communicator and connect with others are useful even for those of us who consider ourselves introverts. Check out Maxwell's chapter online, and be sure to do it this week!

Friday, September 11, 2009

What is Wrong with being a Leader?

I've been reading a lot in the past few years on leadership, trying to understand how to better encourage and equip others to make a difference with their lives. While everyone knows there are good leaders and bad leaders, I've never heard anyone question the value of being a leader, or trying to develop leaders... until this month.

In thinking about leadership development, I've had discussions (face to face and online) in which others I respect question the idea of leadership development. Others are uncomfortable with the very word 'leader', refusing to be called a leader, or considering it reflective of a dangerous mindset - a leader being someone who (sees themself as) 'above' others. These folks are bright, younger, and have a great desire to help others, so I'm left scratching my head wondering "What is wrong with being a leader?" What's the stigma? Is it semantics? A generational thing? Distrust of 'old school' authoritarian _styles_ of leadership? Or am I missing something important?

I have a feeling that much of the discomfort with 'being' a leader is a having a mental picture of a leader as someone in a role or position, telling other people what to do, without their best interests at heart. In this view, leaderhip = power. The 'effectiveness' is a leader is the ability to make people do what they don't want to do. Their style of leadership is probably the one more prevalent in days past: authoritarian, directive. The leader is the boss, the person in charge, and they tell others what to do, and their goal usually includes moving 'the organization' forward. If that's what people think of as a leader, and if leadership development is training people to be like this to meet corporate goals, then I'm with them - I sure don't want to be _that_ kind of leader!

When I think of the term leader, I think of someone who cares about other people, and influences them towards some towards the achievement of a worthy common goal. The authority of a good leader comes not from their position, but from their character, vision, competency, and care for those they lead. From a biblical perspective, the only legitimate form of leadership is servant leadership. Ken Blanchard describes two parts to servant leadership - The first is: Values, Vision, Direction - what's important to us and where are we headed because of this? The second is: how do you turn the pyramid upside down, how do you serve others? That's how Jesus led, and how He wants us to lead. This view doesn't eliminate hierarchy per se, but changes the nature of what it means to be a leader.

A leader then is first of all a servant, one who cares about others and helping to draw out the best from them. A leader believes in others, encourages them, and helps people come together to get something good done. The vision may come from the leader, or it might arise from those they serve, but they will cast that vision and clarify the goal such that it inspires others to action. For an effective leader, earning trust and being authentic are critical factors. Leadership = influence by serving.  It's inherrently relational.

Friends, if you influence others, if others look to you, if you want to bring out the best in others, you are a leader. The key questions (as they seem to me) are: What kind of leader are you going to be? Will you be a servant leader? How will you lead others to do great things? In what direction are you leading them? How effective are you? What do you need to do (or to be) to be more effective?

Why do we need leaders? I really like Mac Lake's comments on this at his blog today:
"Leaders make things happen.  Leaders change things.  Leaders question “what is” and dream of “what could be”.  Leaders learn from the past but lean toward the future.  Leaders are bent toward seeing possibilities and potential.  Leaders stir discontent, make people think and build teams that birth new realities.   Leaders are criticized but don’t give up.  Leaders push through obstacles, persist through discouragement and pay the price for the cause.  Leaders understand the journey is just as important as the destination.  Leaders take people where they’ve never been before."

So, does servant leadership sound like something that is worthwhile, or am I still missing something? If the former, I want to help people understand what it means to be a 'leader', not throw away the term; if the latter, I have much to learn. Or are objections to the term 'leader' due to rejection of authoritarian styles, or is it more than that - is it from a postmodern view that views any kind of hierarchy as inherrently dangerous?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

One Thing I Know

This Sunday Pastor Chuck shared on the story in John 9 about the man born blind who was healed by Jesus. He was grilled by the so-called religious leaders about how this couldn't be a miracle, on how Jesus was wrong to heal on the Sabbath, or that Jesus was a sinner. In the end, how did the man respond? Verse 25 tells us...

"I don't know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!"

It's a simple story. Faith. Jesus. Response that leads to action. Healing. Worship.

I have a pretty small story to share this morning along these lines. Last night I was reading "The Air I Breathe: Worship as a Way of Life" by Louis Giglio. It talked about the proper response to understanding who God is and what He has done for us - giving our whole life to Him as an act of worship. Not singing, not saying you'll do something, but acting as if the phrase "You're my Lord and I love You!" were really true. I made a decision and a small but deliberate act of obedience, and just spent some time in prayer and praise. Then off to bed. Just before turning in, I felt led to pray for healing for my shoulder which has been bothering me for two weeks. Advil, heating pad, cremes, nothing was helping. I think it's a big knot in my muscle. Anyway, simple prayer for that, knowing God can easily heal that if He wishes, and loving Him whether He chooses to or not.

This morning, I get up, stretch, here something like a crinkling/uncrinkling sound in that area. Hmmm, that's odd. I move it around. Pain is gone from that spot. Other pains in my body still there :)

I'll leave it to you to explain away or praise God with me, but I'm going to respond with worship, a public 'Thank you Lord!', and this comment: "Who God fully is or how He works, I don't know, but this I know - last night and the past two weeks I was in a ton of pain. I prayed, I obeyed when He told me to do something, and this morning I am not hurting."  The timing is interesting - today I plan to watch as much as I can of a conference called "TheNines" which is several dozen amazing people sharing for nine minutes each whatever is on their heart that they wish they could tell pastors and church leaders across the country. It will be a major blessing to those with faith that God moves and he wants to work in and through you! If interested, you can watch too -- it's at

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Review - Love and Respect

"Love and Respect" is a new book by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs - one with a simple and practical message for those looking to strengthen their marriage.
"A wife has one driving need - to feel loved. What that need is met, she is happy. A husband has one driving need - to feel respected. When that need is met, he is happy. When either of these needs isn't met, things get crazy. Love and Respect reveals why spouses react negatively to each other, and how they can deal with such conflict quickly, easily and biblically." [back cover]
I just finished reading a review copy provided by Thomas Nelson, and found the book to be both challenging and helpful. Challenging in that my model for how I am to love my wife is how Jesus loves the church, helpful in that it describes the 'Crazy Cycle' of conflict that so easily arises and how to break that cycle. Too often we think or act along the lines of "I'll love my wife when..." or "I'll love her as long as... or if..." On the flip side is often found "He's not treating me right, how can I possibly respect him?" or "Well I'll respect him once he starts...". These are examples of conditional love and conditional respect.

The Bible calls Christians to something more in Ephesians 5:33, which is the central verse of the book: "However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband." Eggerichs explains what this looks like. Unconditional love and unconditional respect mean you don’t wait for the other person to ‘get it right’ first. You just do it. Don’t look for your reward from him, from her. God will reward your faithfulness – and that’s what it is, really – obedience to God’s Word. The only way we can love or respect unconditionally is by not basing it on the other person’s response, but doing it as an outpouring of love to God, especially when they don’t deserve it. The book may not be for everyone; readers who don't share this world view will likely view the book as a bit archaic, simplistic. Those who believe it 'in their heads' but don't know how to put it into practice will however find the book encouraging.

Love & Respect is available at Amazon and other book retailers; it's produced by Focus on the Family. If you find yourself 'stuck in the Crazy Cycle and want to understand some practical biblical principles to get out of this cycle, check it out.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Making school, family and ministry work

After recently posting about my studies at Rockbridge Seminary on my blog and over at the Swerve blog at, I got an excellent question from Jonathan H - "How have you handled scheduling time around family, work, and ministry?" It's so important to think about that when considering any kind of back-to-school situation, so I thought I would share how that's been working for me so far.

Obviously, before going back to school I wasn't sitting around with an excess of free time, looking around for something to fill it. Instead, I was sensing in my heart that there was so much more God wanted to teach me, and in particular wanted my life to be less about me and more about others. I was involved in a lot of little things, all seemingly disconnected, without having much of an impact in any one area. So I needed to get a better handle on why I am here, get training on how to be a better leader, and get a deeper understanding of God's mission in this world. Together, those pointed me to considering seminary. Practically speaking, my job, marriage, four young kids, and a desire to stay active in the church and community where I'm located but some extreme restrictions on what that education would have to look like. I was so glad to find out about Rockbridge right at that point, as it was everything I was looking for. (Others with different needs or priorities may well find other choices more suited for them; I'm not trying to over emphasize one school :)

The program there is really meant to integrate closely with your existing life and schedule. Here's basically how things have played out for me, and how I've made things work...

  • I'm a night owl. Instead of goofing off and watching TV from 11pm to 2am while the family is asleep, I now "go to class" without taking away from family time.
  • I was already a heavy reader. Now instead of picking up random books that strike my fancy I have a well thought out reading and learning plan and get to discuss and internalize what I read.
  • I love to discuss things, both theory and practice, so the chance to have deep interaction with other students online via forums was something I loved. It's so enjoyable for me it's just not a burden.
  • At lunch time I'll now often stay in and heat up a frozen healthy choice meal and work on my written assignments / papers.
  • Each class requires time with a mentor. Usually that's with my pastor or other ministry leader, and the class provides focus and a number of interesting things to discuss. Again, it's not taking more time, it's providing focus. My pastor has been hugely supportive of this, which is very important.
  • A key thing I happen to like about Rockbridge's Master of Ministry Leadership Program is it's practical emphasis on ministry. There are a number of projects you need to do for the course, and they highly encourage when possible to do things that are actual value in your church or ministry. This is a huge time-saver (avoiding doing double the work) and applies what I'm learning to what I'm doing - win-win!
  • I have had to push myself to learn better time management skills. I've found some ideas in Getting Things Done, Michael Hyatt's blog, and an app called Toodledo to be extremely helpful. This has really helped me to stop dropping the ball in important but not urgent areas of life and ministry.
  • I've dropped out of a few activities that I didn't need to be doing. Not much, but a few. Getting to play the "I'm enrolled in an online Master's program and need to pull back a bit" can be nice.
  • To some degree I can adjust the overall pace and how much I'm spending per year by whether I take classes back-to-back or with a break in between. I'm mostly plowing ahead, but other classmates are taking advantage of that flexibility.
  • The kids think it's kind of cool that dad at his age is going back to school and has to do homework. Sometimes on Saturday morning we let mom go and play tennis, and all hang out on the coach and read our school books. It's fun to answer questions like "what are you learning?" with something like "Right now I'm learning how to talk about problems when we feel hurt rather than ignore them. Do you ever feel better by talking through problems you're facing?"  When an adults asks that question they get a much more boring "We're doing a TKI assessment for conflict resolution styles."
  • Work has been a challenge at times. I'm fortunate to be at a place that is very flexible. I've not been able to put in as long hours as last year, but I'm more focused on getting the most important things done and keeping clients happy. For better or worse the economic downturn has given us a few less projects. While I hope that turns around soon, I'm making the best of that situation right now.

In a nutshell, it's taken a huge increase in focus and paying close attention to not let school interfere with work or family, and making sure it integrates with ministry rather than competes with it. How about you readers who are going back to school? How are you making it work?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Some insights on small groups

Two posts this weekend really caught my eye, each on an important aspect of small group ministry - how we learn, and how we care for those who help us learn.

1) Dave Treat commenting on the book "Sticky Church" by Larry Osborne
A quote from the chapter "Velcroed for Growth" - "Most spiritual growth doesn’t come as a result of a training program or a set curriculum. It comes as a result of life putting us in what I like to call a need-to-know or need-to grow situation." Dave adds "I grew up under the linear model and recognize the defining features: learn it all (in order); store it in your head; apply it later. We argued over what “it all” means, and in what order. Long-term storage is especially tough when the knowledge is academic and not linked to real-world situations. Application may be hardest of all..."

"The ultimate goal of a sermon-based small group is simply to velcro people to the two things they will need most when faced with a need-to-know or need-to-grow situation: the Bible and other Christians."

2) Mac Lake of Seacoast with 'Three Movements in Small Group Coaching'
He points out three growing approaches that he disagrees with while finding good points they make and common principles to learn from. 'Hired Gun' approach hires part time staff to oversee about 30 small group leaders; 'Remove the Middle Man' approach has one staff member firing the coaches and handling 50-70 groups directly; 'Call Me if you need me' approach is purely reactive way to oversee 20-30 groups. As he looks at why many are abandoning the coaching model he finds three essential lessons for any small group coaching structure.

   1. Provide and maintain a span of care that is reasonable and realistic for your coaches
   2. Make the role less about resourcing and more about relationship
   3. Raise the level of significance of the role by emphasizing spiritual care of leaders

Note to self - I need to write another post soon on what I've learned from Steve Gladen which has addresses several of the key points from both perspectives. 

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Thinking about Seminary - Grow Where You are Planted

Graduate school of any kind is a huge investment and usually means uprooting your life and putting it on hold for a few years. That's also the case for seminary... usually. Rockbridge Seminary is a 100% online seminary offering M.Div. and Master of Ministry Leadership degrees, allowing students to continue their lives and ministry as normal while studying towards a seminary degree. As they like to say "Grow Where You Are Planted."

Rockbridge has just made it extremely easy to get started - enroll now for the term Sept 1 - Oct 26 and they will waive tuition for your first course. Rockbridge has a unique approach that is extremely practical while providing a solid biblical foundation. In addition to coursework there is an emphasis on doing projects right in your church/ministry setting to display proficiency in a series of ministry competencies. I've been studying at Rockbridge for about a year now, half-way through the Master of Ministry Leadership program, and I can't recommend it strongly enough! The classes are excellent, highly interactive, and I can do all the work on my own schedule. It's a serious investment, in time and resources, but for those wanting to build a firm foundation for effective ministry, it's a great investment.

For more information on admissions see:

Applicants to either the Master of Ministry Leadership degree program or the Master of Divinity degree program must be at least 22 years of age and must be actively serving in a local church ministry role (either as a lay ministry volunteer or as a paid staff member). A bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university and a church endorsement are required for admission to these programs.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Finish What You Start

I'm definitely not one to rush into things, and have been known on occasion to over-analyze things instead of taking action. This week I got the hint with some help from my Pastor's sermon and a blogger.

In last week's sermon (7/26), Chuck Grant shared on "How to Finish What We Start". Rather than just scribble on my bulletin I took notes on my iPhone and emailed myself, promising to blog on this before the week is up. It's Friday, so I made it :)

How to Finish What We Start
1. Stop making excuses (Prov 22:13)
2. Get started immediately (Rom 12:8)
3. Focus on the gain not the pain (Heb 11:26)
4. Depend on God (1 Pet 4:11)

• What do I need to finish?
• What is my next step?

As if to remind me today, Jason Curlee had a blog post on 'Bring Change'. Jason shared:

"Often times we make little or no progress because the task ahead is too great. When it comes to turning around an organization, whether a church or a ministry department, it can be turned around by making little changes day after day and week after week. When you know change is needed there is no point in delaying. What you can begin to do to see massive change over the long haul is to initiate smaller micro changes that will add up over time." Since change doesn't happen overnight, don't act like it did, and basically... get started! Do something now, and continue to do something each week." His formula for this is:

Small Daily/Weekly Changes + Consistency = Massive Organizational Change Over Time

Going back to Chuck's comment on 'Stop Making Excuses', I simply couldn't get this video clip from the Bob Newhart show out of my head...

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Review - God's Little Princess Devotional Bible

"Every girl is a princess, the daughter of a King... the greatest King who created and rules over everything!" That is great news for a young princess, and is the message conveyed by a new book from Thomas Nelson Publishers, "God's Little Princess Devotional Bible" by Sheila Walsh.

Having a young princess of my own, I jumped at the chance to review this book via the Thomas Nelson Blogger Review Program. Before even opening the book I was impressed by the beautiful front cover and durable construction. It is a 337-pg devotional Bible aimed at young girls of ages 4-8. It contains about 80 segments with a short Bible story followed by application or devotional thoughts. These include Beauty Secrets (inner beauty), Princesses of the Bible, Royal Truths, My Hero (scripture promises) and others. Scripture quotations are from the highly readable International Children's Bible.

It took me longer than I expected to review this because, frankly, I haven't been able to pry it out of my daughters hands! She's been reading it frequently, trying to memorize some verses, and sharing some of the things she finds interesting with her mom and brothers (wow!) While it contains Bible stories, and while youngest readers will enjoy having it read to them, what really sets this book apart and makes it unique is that it is designed to be read by the young princess herself. This is clear from the first page, which begins "Dear Princess, you hold in your hands stories from the most wonderful book in the world. Within these pages you will discover amazing things you need to know about your Father God and how much he loves you." The girl isn't treated like she is a princess from a fairy tale; she learns that she IS a princess because her Father is the King. Sheila shares how sometimes she didn't feel like a princess growing up, didn't feel pretty, didn't always feel loved, and wants you to know how much God loves you. When my daughter read this intro for herself, she couldn't wait to dive in. Reading comes a bit slowly for her and she is a couple of years older than the target age for the book, but as a girl wanting to live out her faith and know God better, it's just perfect!

"God's Little Princess Devotional Bible" is available at Amazon and other retailers. I highly recommend it for young princesses.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Building a Balance in Emotional Bank Accounts

Stephen Covey in his popular book "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" discusses the process of making "emotional bank account" with those we love. These are not only important with friends and families, but for building trust within teams.

Over at Philosophers' Notes there is an excellent summary (post and audio) of these "six major types of deposits that build the Emotional Bank Account", repeated below:
  • Understanding the Individual. Few people actually take the time to listen to and understand someone. Be one of those people. Slow down. Seek to understand.
  • Attending to Little Things. Do you consistently do the little things to show your love? Little forms of disrespect are large withdrawals. Make little deposits of kindness all the time.
  • Keeping Commitments. Keep your Account high by honoring your commitments. One of the easiest ways to make huge withdrawals is to not keep your word.
  • Clarifying Expectations. A cause of most relationship challenges is rooted in conflicting or ambiguous expectations around roles and goals. Take the time to clarify.
  • Showing Personal Integrity. Integrity includes but goes beyond honesty. Do your actions truly line up with your words? Be integrated. Make big deposits.
  • Apologizing Sincerely When You Make a Withdrawal. Learn how to say “I was wrong. I’m deeply sorry.” It takes a huge amount of character to apologize sincerely and quickly. Do it.
 As you think about your closest relationships and about the teams you are a part of, how are you doing at building up the emotional bank accounts of those you love and serve with?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Compassion (literally "to feel with") is a deep awareness of, and sympathy for, another's suffering. But more than that, more than empathy, there is an active desire to do something about it, to alleviate another's suffering. In what ways is compassion a natural response, and in what way is it a discipline?

As a human, as one created in the image of a compassionate God, compassion should be a natural response to seeing the pain of others. Some of us are naturally less inclined to feel compassion towards others, but that's no excuse for having a cold heart and not caring for others, or not wanting to do anything about it. One antidote to a heart that is feeling a lack of compassion is to go ahead and be compassionate. Sometimes our feelings guide our actions, but often our behavior can drive our feelings and thoughts in a positive way, reinforcing the behavior and ultimately changing the heart.

The spiritual discipline of compassion then is about breaking the habit of indifference. It's about extending practical help towards someone who is hurting, become the healing presence of Christ to them. Scripture frequently talks about Jesus' compassion (e.g. Mk 1:41, Mt 15:32) and commands us to do the same (I Pe 3:8-9).

What are some practical ways we might practice this kind of compassion? Adele Calhoun lists several in her "Spiritual Disciplines Handbook"
  • Find opportunities to comfort and support those who suffer or are oppressed
  • Rather than react to your own wounds by lashing out, seek to heal relationships
  • Rather than passing judgment on someone hurting due to a poor choice, show mercy
  • Read the newspaper with a prayerful attitude and a compassionate heart
  • Volunteer in some kind of community-based service like a soup kitchen
  • Visit someone who is sick, hospitalized, shut-in, and attend to their needs in love  

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Control is Your Albatross

I read an excellent post by Tom Asacker on how we can over-complicate things and how the need for control can hurt us. (He's also trying to make the case that we read too much, but I'm not buying that!!)
"Control is your albatross. Control destroys relationships. Control blinds you to opportunities. Control shuts down your inner voice. Control is driven by your ego's need to serve itself. Control is an illusion you cling to primarily to alleviate your fears. Great leaders give up the need to control, come to terms with their own egos, and dedicate themselves to helping others. They inspire. They embrace change. They accept the uncertainty of the future. They trust people and help them live their dreams."

Monday, June 8, 2009

Alignment in Teams

Pat MacMillan in "The Performance Factor: Unlocking the Secrets of Teamwork" calls the creation of alignment one of the most important roles in leadership. Alignment is not something that comes from a mandate or a passionate plea. It is the degree to which an individual's goal and direction matches that of their team or organization. Each member of the team must work through these issues if alignment is going to occur, although each may have different motivations. MacMillan presents five elements of a team purpose that promote alignment.
1. Clear (I see it) - benefits of team effort clear and understandable to all
2. Relevant (I want it) - team goals must matter to the needs/goals of the members
3. Significant (It's worth it) - objectives must be important enough to be worth effort
4. Achievable (I believe it) - individual team members must believe mission is possible 
5. Urgent (I want it, ... now!) - goal must be urgent enough to do something... now

Alignment presupposes that the purpose of a team is clear. If you're a leader, how clear is the mission of your team? How well is each team member aligned with that purpose? If "not very", which element do you need to address to help your team members find alignment, so you can actually make a difference?

Friday, June 5, 2009

I'm getting Less Clutter

Not only Less Clutter. But Less Noise too! Are the kids heading to the grandparents for the summer?

Nope, even better, I won a book!?  (Don't laugh at the even better part, I kinda like to read!)
Kem Meyer, Communications Director at Granger Community Church, just had a 'blog tour' to get the word out about her new book "Less Clutter. Less Noise." This book is about using simple strategies to get your word out, reducing the clutter and noise. With lots of stories and tips, it's a great book for those wanting to improve their communication skills. 27 blogs participated, each asking a question for Kem to answer, and giving away a free copy of the book. I went to make a comment or two, but found the answers too interesting and I kept following the tour. In the end, I found several new blogs to follow, and made connections with some neat people.

I won a free copy of the book on Adam Mashni's blog. Adam is the Associate High School Director at NorthRidge Church in Plymouth, Michigan. He loves helping teenagers find truth in a world where they’re surrounded by uncertainty. Thanks Adam!!

I also won a free copy from Kim Bontrager's blog. Kim is the worship leader at First Mennonite Brethren Church in Wichita, Kansas. She's also a mom, a wife, and a creative person with a great heart to love and serve God in a number of ways. I knew of another creative leader/mom/communicator who would benefit from Kem's book, and Kim graciously offered to pass on that giveaway copy to her. Thanks Kim!!

Then something else cool happened. On Faye Bryant's blog the winner was Chris Hill. Chris is the iCampus pastor for The Ridge Community Church. Chris has a passion to help people connect with Jesus Christ, build real community in a virtual world, and help other people to grow and make a difference. Well, he practices what he preaches, and shot me an email offering to send me the book when he was finished reading it! I told him that was no longer necessary, but that his gesture (along with the whole blog tour) has really shown me that 'online community' is not an oxymoron. Bloggers are not just people who vent their opinions and tear down other people, they can really have a heart to work together, share thoughts and resources, and grow together as we serve the same Lord.

I followed along the blog tour looking for information, and instead found some great people, and some wisdom. So thanks to all who participated, bloggers and commenters alike, and to Kem for pushing hard to get all that writing done in a single day!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Nancy Ortberg on the Benefit of Collaborative Teams

We've been studying how to build effective ministry teams and the advantage of a strong team-based approach. I got some unexpected insights on this yesterday on "The Show" by Leadnet, from their guest Nancy Ortberg. She shared on the topic "Provocative Leaders for a Dangerous Church," and made a number of insightful comments on leadership and teams.

"Leadership is much more about managing tensions than solving problems."
"Innovation happens best in teams...  You are absolutely underestimating what God wants to do in your church and you're holding back your innovation if you are not predominatnly using teams not as a slogan, not as a buzzword, but as a leadership strategy."
"One of the signs something is a core value is that it causes pain"
"Risk and failure are kissing cousins, they go together."
"Insist on collaboration. That goes beyond just having a team. Insisting that everyone shows up to the table with their ideas and opinions instead of dividing people into silos."

At the Leadnet archives you can watch a video of Nancy's talk and listen to the audio of the follow-up call-in Q&A session. I was fortunate to be able to ask Nancy a question. (It's between 7:22-10:16 on the call-in mp3.)

"What's the advantage of a collaborative culture (a team-based approach) vs people doing their own things in silos?" 

Nancy Ortberg's answer:
"All of us have been through the education system, so let me give you an illustation out of that context that I think will make sense and you can extrapololate it to any kind of company or organization. It's the difference between one great third-grade teacher and a great school and a great district. If everybody is only caring about their own area, you might have pockets of greatness in your church, but if people are only working their silos they're going to start competing for resources. They're going to start getting competitive and comparative in ways that don't build team and pit each other against each other; that's going to create a lot of little fire areas in your church of pockets of places that are doing well but there's no forward momentum, you're not moving the tipping point where you then begin to change the tide and shift the whole culture and cause an exponential growth because everybody is faced in the same direction. We're not building our own little kingdoms which is a lot of ego - 'My junior high department is doing really well. I know the worship department is struggling, and I know that the pastoral department is struggling, and that's ok with me because my area is going well.' That's a lot of self-absorption, that's not ministry, that's not healthy. So I think to get everybody on the same page you have to have shared vision and shared goals that define your agenda for every time you meet together and we ask people to take off their silo hats and stop thinking of themselves as part of the worship department or part of the junior high department, and in this meeting we're looking at the church as a whole organization, and they're the leaders of that organization we're going to set goals together that supersede any one department. They're still running their own departments as best they can, but in addition to that it's seeing the whole big picture and how we're going to get our church to flourish."
Thanks so much, Nancy for sharing your insight with us, and Todd Rhodes of Leadnet for hosting The Show on Leadnet! (Check it out Tuesdays at 4:00 Eastern)

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Four Defense Mechanisms We Use

I'm currently taking a class on building effective ministry teams at Rockbridge Seminary, and this week we're looking at building collaboration and trust. Handling disagreement well is a crucial factor for effective teams, both at work and in ministry settings.

Herrington, Bonem and Furr have written an excellent book called "Leading Congregational Change" In the chapter on Enabling Team Learning they discuss 'defensive routines' which "keep the team from fully and openly exploring an issue." They give four of the most common as:
  1. The logical put-down - a strongly analytical person may imply that everyone would see if their way if only they could just think clearly and logically.
  2. Passionate discourse - when a persuader uses force of personality and persistence to convince the group to accept his point.
  3. Peace-keeping - a conflict avoider tries to keep the group from expressing honest (and sometimes passionate) differences of opinion.
  4. Hurt-feelings - a silent person refuses to acknowledge hurt feelings, and shuts down, disengaging from the dialogue.
These defensive routines undermine the team's ability to work together effectively and to learn. Effective leaders work with the team to identify these routines, and help people modify counter-productive behavior. They also model more effective behavior and keep the dialogue alive when others try to curtail it, or derail it.

As I thought about this lesson, the Bible verse on not letting the sun go down on your anger came to mind (Eph 4:26). Looking at the context of this verse, the whole chapter 4 is so applicable to these defensive routines, and team effectiveness. The theme of the chapter is unity in the body of Christ. The same unity we sometimes confuse with artificial harmony, a mere absence of visible conflict. We're called to be humble, gentle, patient, bearing with one another in love (4:2), making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. BUT (vs 7) each one of us is different, with different gifts, for different purposes. Different service in service of the same One, for the purpose of building up the body until that day when we all reach unity in the faith and in knowledge of the Son. As we do this, speaking the truth in love (vs 15) we grow up. Therefore (vs 25) each of us must put off falsehood, speak truthfully, and in our anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry. How often do we let conflicts fester sometimes? Days, months, years?

The passage continues, Ephesians 4:29 - "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it might benefit those who listen." If that verse were applied consistently we would not see much of these defensive routines. Steamrolling by persuasion isn't according to the needs of others. A logical put-down may be speaking the truth but not in love. Shutting down in anger ignores verse 26 to address hurt and anger without delay. Peacekeeping is strong on love but weak on truth, and weak on allowing the body to be built up.

It's fairly easy to spot defensive routines when other people use them? Sad to say, I know I use all four from time to time. How about you, what defensive routine do you use?

Monday, June 1, 2009


Abba. Father - Daddy, really. Today I'm feeling very blessed to be both a dad and a child. Last night we went to a hymn sing at church, and this morning my oldest son came in our room and asked if we could sing some of those 'old songs' together. Sure! When he was done, he ran down the stairs to play with his toys, singing 'Go Tell It On the Mountain' as he went. That woke up his two brothers, who came into our room, and wanted to sing some "hymnals" too! Thanks, Greg and Pat, for leading that hymn-sing!

I had another great blessing last night. Christian was trying to remember the nine fruits of the Spirit which he learned about Sunday morning (thanks Jeff!) For my devotional time last night, I thought I would spend some time in Galatians 5 (where the fruit are discussed). Still exploring the spiritual disciplines, I wanted to do some  lectio divina (aka 'Sacred Reading'). To quiet my heart I began with a breath prayer. "Abba, Father, be glorified." After a few minutes repeating this, I opened my NKJV Chronological Bible and turned to Galatians 5:22. On that very page guess what there was sidebar about? Was I in for a shock.

In big bold print I see... "Abba Father" (!!!)  There I found a discussion about the word 'Abba', which is the Aramaic word for Father. But it's the personal intimate word used by children. In English the closest equivalent is "Daddy". So in the process of a dad looking up some Scripture to bless his son, the Father blesses this dad His son with a moment that rocks my world, as I shift my attention out of Galatians 5 and back into chapter 4. For you see there, I am reminded of an absolutely mind-blowing truth - I am literally an heir of God the Father, creator of heaven and earth. He no longer calls me a slave, and not just a friend (awesome though that is), he calls me His heir. Here's the passage that led to the sidebar on Abba, on why knowing God is such a personal and awesome thing...
"What I am saying is that as long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. He is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world. But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father." So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir."  (Galatians 4:1-7, NIV).
We all belong to God; He made us and that is a condition common to all. Under sin, we are all separated from Him, but He longs for us to be in right relationship with Him. Because this is something we cannot do on our own, he made a way, through Jesus Christ His Son. Jesus, born of a woman, born under the law, was able to redeem (pay the price to get someone out of slavery) those of us born of woman, under the law. Not only that, as our sins are paid for by Him, the Spirit of God in Christ now lives in our hearts, and as He is in our hearts we are adopted and are now sons and daughters of God - no longer slaves but now heirs. My sons are adopted, and this is a special blessing on my life like no other, but to know that I am adopted, and loved that much more by my heavenly Father... words can't describe the joy found in this. Abba, I love you!!

God longs for you to know how much He loves you. He longs to call you friend - to call you son / to call you daughter. All that it takes to do this has already been done by Christ. Will you call on Him?