Friday, April 30, 2010

Review - God's Blogs

A small book caught my attention last week in our church's book center - "God's Blogs" by Lanny Donoho. I didn't know what to expect, but it seemed to be a quick read so I sat down with it. Is it a modern/social-media paraphrase from God's word? No - it's a fairly random set of short entries from the perspective of "What if God blogged?" Lanny shares some fresh and insightful perspectives on how God views the world, revealing his character and love. He considers marriage, laughter, death, poverty, why we're here, blowing bubbles, and a lot more.

One of my favorite entries was on prayer. "I love human beings. Today I listened to millions of them talk to Me. They use the word 'pray.' Today 212 people in Keokuk, Iowa, prayed that it would rain, while almost at the same time 124 people in the same town saw clouds and prayed that it wouldn't rain." He then described how the prayers sounded. Pretty fun, or pretty sad, in several ways convicting. He continues "But I never meant for prayer to be like a vending machine, or Santa Claus. You put in your time in asking, and you ask just right and hold your moth the right way... and you wait for Me to come through for you. - That isn't prayer! Prayer is relationship. It's an ongoing conversation between you and Me - two people who want to get to know each other better. Sure, I don't mind you asking for things. Daddies like that. They just don't want to be all about responding to requests."  As a dad, I definitely relate to that! It's insights like these and fresh perspectives that make the book a very useful read (as well as very funny at times).

"Imagine... {God's Blogs} Insights from His site" is a short, enjoyable, and thought-provoking book.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Review - Apple iPad

Yes, I was one of those who pre-ordered the iPad the first day it was available for pre-order, and have been really enjoying it for the past few weeks. There have been a lot of good reviews, and many lists of favorite apps, but I'll share what I like about the iPad, and why I think it's a game-changer.

What is the iPad?

It's like an iPod Touch for senior citizens. An iPhone without the phone, but 4x the screen size. It's a touch-tablet internet-media device that runs the iPhone OS instead of Windows. It's slim, portable, and runs all iPhone apps plus a growing number of applications specifically designed for the larger screen. It has a diverse target audience - seniors looking to do email/Facebook for the first time ever, students, sports fanatics, readers, photographers, and geeks.

Why Would You Want an iPad?

Well, besides being very cool, they have a great variety of applications. There's full iPod functionality for music, it can play videos and movies, stream Netflix movies, show Google Maps, provide access to email, calendar, YouTube, weather including animated doppler maps. It's a super photo frame, a game device, a serious notepad, e-book and Kindle book reader. All those features are free, and there are many more excellent apps that cost from 0.99 to a few dollars. The base model comes with WiFi access, and for about $130 more plus $15 or $30 a month for 3G anywhere access. Compared to the cost of a Kindle, iPod, PDA, GPS and electronic photo frame, it's not a bad deal for $499. (That's the model I got, passing on the 3G option since I do have an iPhone, and going for smaller memory as my music collection isn't huge.)

Why an iPad versus a Laptop?

Most reviews that don't like or don't "get" the iPad describe it in terms of what it can't do - no Flash support, no physical keyboard or CD-ROM player, no MS Office apps, too limited in what software you can run, and locked into what Apple will allow in the iTunes store. I wouldn't call it a full-fledge laptop replacement, though it can serve as the all-you-need device for a short business or recreational trip, especially with optional keyboard and VGA adapter for projector presentations.

What am I using it for, and why do I really like it?

The main reason I got it was actually to demo web applications that I write for my clients and prospective clients at work. (They want to see the state of their huge chemical plant or warehouse on a Gantt chart over the web. I show it to them on an iPad and tell them they can even do this while walking the plant. Their eyes light up/)  I use it to read Kindle books, to check email, to listen to music, to have pictures of my family looping at work, to access my calendar and to-do list, for Bible study, and (more than) once in a while play a game. What's great is that the iPad is instant-on (no boot-up or crashing), is extremely intuitive to use, and I can access it comfortably in my recliner. I think of something I need to look up or jot down, I pick it up, do it in a few seconds, and put it back down. My kids love to play games on it (youngest boy still small enough to sit in my lap while playing). The overall user experience is very satisfying for everything but text-intensive purposes. I still prefer a multimonitor desktop for 'serious' work or writing, and I still love my iPhone which does of this and fits in my pocket. But if I have all of those devices around I find myself reaching for the iPad as my new first choice. I think we're going to see some really amazing apps and media-content systems that make great use of the iPad and touch-capability. 

(Analogy for gamers? XBox is to high-end lap-top as Nintendo Wii is to iPad as Nintendo DS portable is to iPhone. They're all good, best for different things. Our family is a Wii family)

If you have any specific questions, let me know and I'll do my best to answer them!

Monday, April 19, 2010

How Did Jesus Delegate?

The passage about Jesus sending out the 12 Disciples really caught my attention this week...
"Calling the Twelve to him, he sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits. These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff–no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra tunic. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them.” They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them." (Mark 6:7-13, NIV)
We can learn a lot from Jesus' approach as a leader to delegation of ministry in this passage. Many have found great points from this passage, but here's what I took away this week:
  1. What He asked them to do was something He recently modeled for them. This was very early on in His ministry, the disciples have only been with Him a short time.
  2. As newbies, the disciples got some very detailed direction - Ken Blanchard in Lead Like Jesus points out that leadership style should be situational - motivated new folks do need more direction.
  3. But notice the specifics he gave them were vision plus boundaries - the overall approach, who, where, resourcing, nuts and bolts things that they would otherwise never know - and that would get them completely off target if they got it wrong. 
  4. He gave very little direction on the how-to of the ministry itself - He did not give detailed instructions on what to preach, how to heal the sick, and how to get rid of demons (!) They had seen the Master model all of this, and were free to use their own judgment and be who they are in doing ministry. 
  5. Imagine how much more eager to learn the disciples would be on their return! Adults learn best by trial and error, telling stories, asking a ton of questions, really connecting the dots. This is Deploy-and-Debrief form of ministry training, as opposed to training them for years on every hypothetical situation before letting them try it. 
  6. Mk 7:1 - he gave them authority and power - this is key for delegation.
  7. Also, he sent them out in pairs - there is great benefit to never doing ministry alone.
  8. He reminded them to stay focused, it's about their message and faith, not fancy tools or equipment.
  9. He reminded them that the results are not up to them; shrug it off if no one responds.
  10. This is not an isolated incident - Jesus is consistent, repeating this approach when He sends out the 72 in Luke 10.
We find out later in the Gospels that they had a lot of great success with this method... except when they forgot one little thing... prayer!

How do you give out ministry responsibility to others? Tell them how to do everything? Delegate without direction? Train for every possible situation before letting people serve? Do you model what you ask your people to do and be? Do you paint a clear picture of the desire outcome?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Looking Back, Looking Forward at Calvary

Last Sunday we had a Leader Lunch where we celebrated what's been going on at Calvary and talked about our vision of the future. Pastor Chuck led this but it was encouraging to see the level of energy and sharing among our small group and ministry leaders. There's been a lot of great stuff going on - here's what people shared:

Our Community BBQ and Trunk or Treat were huge, and let us just have a fun time together with our neighbors and friends. Our Summer Camp also went very well, with a record number of kids participating. If you look out back you'll see grass flourishes where once weeds reigned, preparing for a number of soccer fields that will be used by the community. The modular building is also getting a huge facelift so we'll have more space, and the Connection Center is seeing constant use. We saw one of our own head for the mission field to care for the medical needs of hurting people who need to know God loves them; nationally, more people were involved in missions trips (e.g. New Orleans' Katrina victims); locally we've launched a new Servanthood Saturday ministry which has got people joining hands with others here in town who are giving food to those in need. This year the Hunt family joined us and have been a great blessing in worship. About ten new small groups have formed, and existing ones have been helping people connect and grow. Most recently we finished a series on Life's Healing Choices which has helped many people, and we've just launched a powerful "Celebrate Recovery" ministry that has huge potential to transform lives!

Do you see a common theme that shows up over and over in this list? More of what we're doing and celebrating is externally focused, as we seek more and more to share God's love in both word and deed by caring about our friends, family, and neighbors who haven't experienced the blessing of being a part of the Calvary family. What's great is that this external focus is increasing -- here are some of the ideas tossed around in thinking about our vision for what could be in the next 1-5 years:

Hundreds (thousands?) of people making use of soccer fields, a gymnasium/community life center, food pantry; new ministries that are a safe and helpful place for people (like us) facing issues in their marriage, with addiction or hurts, finances, or counseling needs; greater involvement in missions foreign and domestic, and community service; partnering with schools to fill the gaps caused by ongoing cutbacks; identifying and supporting members who are already sharing love and serving those in the community.

Remember, these are dreams, not promises, but they're good dreams! :)  If you're part of the Calvary family, rejoice with us and consider how you can help these things come to be. (Got other dreams, speak up!) If you're a community member, let us know how the church can be a positive influence and meet needs here. Far-away friends and ministry leaders, please pray for us as we seek to be more relational, transformational, and missional.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Missing Florida Girl Found Alive

Nadia Bloom, an 11-year old Florida girl with Asperger's Syndrome, was found alive after missing for five days in the woods near her house. She is doing well, with a lot of mosquito bites and some dehydration. Details on the good news are now showing up in the media. (Asperger's is related to autism, awkward in interacting with others but not usually as detached.)  I heard of her story on K-Love radio where they talked about the prayer and persistence of members of her church in searching for Nadia. The one who found her had been praying for wisdom and insight on finding her, and a specific swampy area of the woods came to mind. They got up in the morning, went there, and found the girl!  God does work in mysterious ways! :)  He does, after all, specialize in finding the lost and bringing them home.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Kindle-competition post at Going To Seminary

The GoingToSeminary web site aims to help people considering or attending seminary with practical tips and inspiring articles, and information on what to consider as people consider God's call on their life. Earlier this month they had a competition for seminary students who wanted to share their journey with the world, offering a Kindle or other e-book reader as a prize. I was surprised but pleased to have been selected as one of the four winners (!) along with Nancy Wilson (Pregnant with Purpose), Gregory Hartnett (Developing a Reading Plan for Seminary) and Michael Eubanks (I Didn't Know What I Didn't Know).

My article was posted today at - "Seminary? Who, Me?!"

Have you ever thought about going to seminary? Chances are your answer is ‘No.’ Maybe “No, I’m not looking to become a minister” or “No, I want to do ministry, not just learn about it.” If you had asked me two years ago if I was thinking about seminary I would have said “No way!” Yet… I’m now near finishing at Rockbridge Seminary with a Master of Minister Leadership. I want to share a bit about how I came to that point, and why it might be something for you to consider...  [read the article]

The nature, format, and practicality of seminary has changed a lot in this new millennium. Maybe you've been thinking about it for a while; maybe you think God may be calling you to do something different; or maybe He wants to strengthen you right where you're at. In either case, going to seminary might just be something to consider.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Building Community in Small Groups - Part 3

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this three-part series on Building Community in Small Groups I looked at how two small groups in my church are doing an outstanding job of building community, and growing as disciples in the process. Their methods were often quite different, but I saw several principles at work for building a sense of biblical community. I also learned a lesson on leadership that I'll share here.

Sometimes when a leader thinks they know how to do something, or if they have done something well in the past, they are eager to share what they've done, and let other people know what methods work. If you look at a number of small group books you'll find no shortage of methods that others have found to be successful... for them anyway. More often than not if we try these in our groups or in our church, things fall flat. Why do such methods not translate well to other groups? Why can't we figure out the best practices for small groups and teach others what to do? Why can I fail to see solutions to the challenges of other groups?

The other small group leaders I've described here have done a super job in helping their groups gel and grow. In fact, each one has done a far better job than I could have with their groups, even though they have quite a bit less experience. Actually, had they switched and tried to lead the other's group, things would not have gone nearly so well. Here's the thing...
Every group is not merely different, it is unique. Life transformation flourishes in a climate of biblical community. For this to happen, the leader must love and understand their group: who each individual is, what their needs and hopes are, where they're at, what they're hoping to be, what they're struggling with. Group members can't be led where they don't want to go, but they will walk alongside someone who cares for them and can help them take a next step along the journey. Methods don't replicate well because groups are unique. Biblical principles do apply broadly because they reflect God's universal wisdom.
Ø We must be intentional about building Christ-centered relationships - because this is exactly what Christ modeled and taught. It's not enough to meet new people, to be friendly, or even to be a friend - our fellowship comes from being united in Christ, and only through Christ-centered relationships can we help one another grow as disciples.

Ø We must desire to love God more, to grow, to reach out, to serve one another - not just out of duty, but out of love for one another, and because God has shared from His own heart that this is *the* most important thing He wants us to do.

Ø We must be vulnerable, to admit our struggles, and to be open enough to risk being hurt, and to allow others to do the same and ask tough questions, because failing to do this destroys any chance of building true community, shuts down life-transform, and turns us into white-washed fences who merely play at church.

Ø We must see ourselves as equal member of Christ's body with Him alone as the head. This is what the Bible teaches and what Christ died for. Equal members, different gifts. That's why the more the group owns their responsibility to growth, to service, to outreach, and to loving one another - together - the more we can grow as a body.

I believe it's good and right to boldly declare these prescriptively ("we must") for these are biblical principles. As a coach I want to strongly encourage small group leaders to consider these principles, check them against Scripture, and to pray what it would look like to see them lived out in their group. When it comes to specific methods, I need to be careful not to go beyond being descriptive - i.e., as some ideas found to be useful sometimes, consider prayerfully if they would make any sense for you.

After writing this post, I realized something else pretty cool. The principles described in these series were seen in the practice of several groups, generalized from method to principle, and checked with Scripture. They're pretty much the same principles I came up with about a year and half ago, coming at it from a more academic angle. At the time I concluded that to build disciples our approach needs to be TRIM - Transformational, Relational, Intentional, and Missional. Is it any surprise that what is essential for community is the same as what is essential for discipleship, and that what Christ models and teaches actually works in practice?! Shocking!

Lord, may I be more bold in encouraging others, and in teaching the principles I find in your Word, and may I have a greater spirit of humility and ears more eager to listen, as I walk alongside others who also seek to draw close to Christ and to build your Kingdom.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Building Community in Small Groups - Part 2

I talked to the leaders of another small group where I was seeing and hearing good things - believers looking to kick up their faith a notch, draw closer to God, and put their faith in action. Here's a few things I found out they've been doing or are about to do...
  • Starting to text each other nightly to encourage one other to read the bible and pray
  • Are more intentional about developing spiritual friendships
  • Have adjusted their schedule to meet together more often
  • Have prayer and/or accountability partners
  • Changing behaviors and attitudes (which has been visible to others)
  • Looking to serve together with some city ministries, putting faith into action
  • Doing Nooma, reading Blue Like Jazz, thinking more about their faith, asking tough questions
  • Demonstrating authentic leadership, showing warmth and warts, not hiding struggles
I just love the dual focus on relationships and being intentional about growing in Christ. The combination of the two has been visible in how some of these people interacting - still having fun and hanging out together, but a bit less social banter, and more encouraging one another in Christ and talking about how they're trying to grow.

In 'Building Community in Small Groups - Part 1' I looked at another group doing a great job at building community. What's similar, what's different, between these two groups? The details of what they're doing are really different - existing friends adding spiritual depth to their relationship vs completely new people getting to know one another, texting and Facebook vs getting together for kids' play date, outreach to new visitors in church vs outreach to community, different beliefs being reexamined... all great stuff! Yet despite the differences in methods, I'm seeing a nearly identical set of principles in place. Look again at the principles in Part 1; they're strongly at work in this group too: intentionality about building relationships, spiritual growth, outreach, ministry, and a freedom to ask tough questions - and the group as a whole owns all this! The group leaders are setting the tone, casting vision, and modeling these good things, but they're not center-stage, they are peers walking alongside rather than someone above the rest, driving things to happen.

The group described this week are mostly single Gen-Y people, the group in part one is mostly Gen-X couples, and my own small group tends towards boomer parents. As you might expect, the details of what our group does is different from the others. Anything we're doing well comes from what our group members are putting into it, and reflect these very same principles. We can learn from these younger groups as they model a greater willingness to live transparently, freely talking about struggles. We can also be encouraged by their passion to follow Christ with all their heart, and by knowing that the generations that come after us are growing as disciples, disciple-makers, and leaders. Man, that's exciting! I think I may have learned something about leadership as well - I'll save that for part 3!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Building Community in Small Groups - Part 1

We often stress the importance of relationships and building community within small groups, but what does that look like? Having socials or getting together outside of group time are good ways to start, but how can we move beyond socialization towards biblical community? Recently one of the small group leaders at my church saw three members of her small group get baptized together. I had been hearing good things about this group, but was blown away by this expression of fellowship, and so I asked her what she or group members were doing to develop such a strong sense of community. Several exciting things stood out in talking with her...

1. Intentional about being relational - The group studies good materials, but they're far more interested in growing in their relationship to God and with each other. The agenda sometimes goes out the window to meet the needs of the group members in a given week. Several people coming are brand new to small groups. Not only have they not been pressured about attendance or sharing/praying in group time, they've been explicitly told that it's fine to participate at whatever level they are comfortable. (So often as group leaders we want to push people rapidly towards being more committed disciples. God is patient.)

2. Intentional about being a safe place to ask questions - The group leader takes a few minutes during most meetings to talk about what is going on in the life of the church. People are free to ask the "why" behind what we do, and get good answers. So talking about a special baptism day was very natural for them, not a big pitch.

3. Intentional about outreach. This is one of our largest small groups. The group members really love getting together, and have taken it upon themselves to ask just about every new person they see to come to their small group. There are many young adult couples, many without a Baptist background, and several have never really thought about being baptized. By talking about it both in the group and one-on-one, they were able to get over any concerns or fears they had - and having a friend getting baptized at the same time made it far easier to take that step.

4. Intentional about spiritual growth - this group leader had already spent some quality time with one of the women considering baptism, without any agenda. This did help build trust, and also allowed her to be comfortable asking her friend to consider baptism. Sometimes as leaders we do need to "make the ask" and encourage people to take a next step as a disciple; this is best done when we know each other as individuals.

5. Intentional about distributed responsibility for ministry - one cool thing that happened was that a fourth group member was the 'baptism helper', walking the others through the process and making sure they had clean towels! The attitude of the group leader was for people to genuinely care for and serve one another, and not for the group to be dependent on her, or let others do all the serving or caring.

6. Group responsibility for building community - the whole group owns this, it's not the leader's job; that was one of the most encouraging parts of our conversation. The group leader really didn't feel like she had done anything too special to "push" community, rather she fostered an environment where community arose organically.

As I've been reading and discussing Joseph Myers' book "Organic Community", I'm seeing more clearly the difference between being intentional (having a purpose and encouraging things you hope to see) vs. being prescriptive (defining a purpose for someone else and telling them what they must do to get there). I think that being intentional, and being strategic in a flexible way, is tremendously important for healthy small groups, for building community, and for making disciples,

If you're a small group leader, is there something you might want to consider about being more intentional, more relational, or more organic, as you shepherd your group and help them to become more fully devoted followers or Christ?  (Part two will share the story of another group growing in community, and Part three a few things I'm learning from these leaders.)

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Apple iPhone OS 4 event

Today at 1pm Eastern Apple will host an event revealed their next generation of iPhone OS software. Ok, maybe that's not so very newsworthy, but it's a slow news day! Several sites, such as MacWorld will be blogging with live updates about the event. No one knows what they're going to unleash - multasking? more social networking integration? I don't think the news will be as big as the recent iPad launch, but new capabilities are always fun. I hope they don't leave out the original first version iPhone in all this :)  If I can stop playing with it, I'll try to write up an iPad review sometime before long.

(Edit: The preview revealed: Multitasking, folders, enhanced mail (unified inbox),
iBooks, improved enterprise functionality (multiple Exchange accts), Game Kit,
and iAd. Due this summer, not for early iPhone models)

Stuff Christians Like Audiobook available

Every month Christian Audio offers a free audiobook for download. This month the title is "Stuff Christians Like" by Jonathan Acuff. It's both very funny and pretty insightful. One of the things he describes is "Serious Christian Syndrome" - at times the book is pretty out there or might poke fun at something you're quite fond of, so if you suffer from SCS you might want to steer clear. If not, check it out and find out more about stuff Christians like!