Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Review - Why Work? Called to Make a Difference

You have to like a book whose title is "Why Work?"  More specifically, Why Work? Called to Make a Difference is an outstanding book which meets the authors' goal to help the reader `better understand and fulfill your calling from God to make a difference in the marketplace through your work. It will heighten your awareness of why you work - a reason far greater than merely supplying your financial needs.' Nancy and Harold Olsen do a great job at tearing down the artificial wall between "sacred" and "secular", between ministry that goes on within church walls and ministry that occurs in all areas of the marketplace.

The book covers three topics particularly well: validating the call that most Christians have towards ministry and building the Kingdom outside of the church; helping pastors and ministers within the church to equip and empower these workplace ministers; and helping individual Christians develop a vision and practical plan for ministry in (and transformation of) the workplace.

Why Work clarifies that each of us has several "callings" in the world (in families, in society, in our church, and in our work). It's important to recognize that God has uniquely made us and gifted us for service. A few of my favorite quotes: `Instead of focusing on finding the "perfect" job, focus on identifying the passions God has given you', `God uses the workplace to transform your character', and the definition of a workplace ministers as `leaders who are called and anointed by God to serve in their workplace with the purpose of transforming people and their environment for the Kingdom.'

I particularly liked the chapters which sought to make practical the biblical principles of workplace ministry - how workplace and church ministers can work together, how to equip and support workplace ministers, and a lucid approach for developing a vision and action plan for carrying out your own ministry in the workplace. The writing is very clear, and the formatting of the book makes the key points jump out for the reader. I highly recommend "Why Work? Called to Make a Difference" to Christians passionate about serving God in their workplace, and to pastors and church leaders with a desire to see a far greater impact for the Kingdom of God within their city.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Building Character versus Controlling Behavior

Your behavior is how you act or respond, the things you do or say. Your character is who you are when nobody is watching. Often we forget that our role as parents (or other leaders) is to build character, not just make sure our kids behave the way we want them to. Your character will greatly affect your behavior, but it's a longer and more indirect process to mold character. A parable about character and behavior came to mind as I awoke this morning...

Suppose you're looking to display a beautiful painting permanently on a wall. You've got the painting itself, what everyone sees and which you want to look good, and you have the wall itself - the foundation which must support the painting. How can you make sure that the wall will support the painting over the long haul? Perhaps you'll want to use both glue and screws to make sure the two stay together. (If that's a dumb idea remember I'm not a handyman!) Glue will hold it in place the best, but it may take some time to set, during which the painting might slip down. The screws are something we apply externally to keep the painting in place until the glue dries. We can throw more screws in quickly, but doing so may mar the painting.

What happens if the painting is loose? Tighten the screws, right? Well, if they're loose, yes. But what if you've already tightened them as far as they should go? What if the threads are stripped? Over-tightening the screws at this point is completely counterproductive. You'll make a bigger hole, you'll mar the wall, and no amount of further tightening will help the painting stay in place better. Instead, you're better off taking out the screw, applying some gentle putty and let that take form before you think of replacing the screw (being extra careful this time not to over-tighten again). While you're at it, you should probably check that the painting is still hung level.

Here's the meaning of this parable. The wall is the moral foundation of the child - it needs to be solid and built strong enough to hold the weight of the painting. The painting is the behavior of the child, something we hope looks nice and will continue to do when when no one is around to view it. The screws are whatever actions we take to try to force or manipulate the behavior to stick to the moral foundation for character. The level (for Christians) is the Bible. Most important, but unseen is the painter, God Himself. The glue is love. It needs to be spread liberally, but also needs at times to be firm. It needs to be consistent, and it takes time to apply. The foundation itself cannot be neglected. The putty is forgiveness and forbearance. Screws do have a place, but keep them small and don't over-tighten them. (And for goodness sake man, put down the nail gun!!)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Servant Leadership Principles from Jesus

Matthew 20:20-28 is a vivid portrayal of servant leadership. When Jesus disciples seek positions of 'power' in His ministry, he plants in their minds the seeds of what it means to be a servant leader, in preparation for the visible demonstration they are going to see in the Upper Room with washing of their feet.
Jesus called them together and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mt 20:25-28, NIV)
Looking more closely at the passage, there are several other key principles for servant leadership:
  • He explicitly asked "What do you want (from me)?" rather than assuming what they want. He did this even for blind and sick people.
  • He engaged his followers in dialogue that caused them to think ("Can you drink the cup...")
  • He worked with their response (again, as He did repeatedly, e.g. feeding of 5000), which both validated them, showing respect, and helping to seal in the learning
  • He explained the reasons for His decisions, not just a "No." The reason is, he wants them not just to obey, but constantly wants them to learn. Sharing the "why" behind as many decisions as possible is crucial I think for a mentoring leader.
  • He nipped conflict in the bud!  He was in contact with His people enough to know there was grumbling, and He addressed it immediately.
  • He went one further (as usual), going beyond the specific to the general. He introduced the bigger principle of servant leadership, for which He Himself was a model ("just as the Son of Man...")
  • Despite a great job engaging and teaching, he didn't let it sit there. He pushed forward all the way to a heartfelt command - Not so with you!  He provided a contrast between a don't-do word picture (Gentile lords) and one to emulate (servant/slave)
  • He does NOT discourage ambition - there's nothing wrong with wanting to be great, with being a leader, with getting things done. Jesus specified the path to greatness, He didn't block it off.
Not so with you?  By this he is absolutely inverting the idea of what it means to be a leader, and of greatness, completely upside down, in a way that had never been seen before. The ultimate great person, became the most unselfish servant to all, even those who rejected Him. His call here was for a radical transformation of perspective of leadership - a change that if internalized and carried out by us as followers would do tremendous things to build both trust and community, and ultimately, effectiveness.