Category Archives: Leadership

Walk in Discipleship

walkFor the last three weeks, we have been exploring the idea of walking, or how we live our lives. We have looked at the call to walk in unity, the call to walk as a prisoner of Jesus and how we can walk in a way that helps us remember who we are and who God is. As we close out this little series, I want to look at another “walk” passage: Colossians 2:6-7. These two little verses, written by the Apostle Paul, help us see the stepping stones of walking in discipleship.

About two years ago, I wrote a short e-book on how this passage can be used as a template in the process of discipleship. If you lead others in discipleship in some way, I think it might be useful to you.

Download the PDF- Benchmarks.

 

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Too Important Not To Care

Though I will return to the theme of doubt throughout this year, I’m going take to talk about something else that has been on my mind.

A few weeks ago I had an email “exchange” with a fairly prominent Baptist denominational leader, who also happened to be someone I would call a friend to my in-laws. I wrote asking if this person knew of someone who could help me in an endeavor I was working on. The response I received was the email equivalent to an automated phone system: “Thank you for your email. Your email is very important to us but not important enough for me to actually answer you.” This coming from the person’s assistant. Needless to say, it wasn’t the response I was expecting. And truth be told, it made me really mad and I lost a lot of respect for this person.

There has been a lot written on our culture’s idol if busyness. Busyness is seen as a measure of success. It is seen as a status symbol, although a rather sadistic one. The same has become true for availability. You can see how these two would go hand in hand. When my life is going so well (as we mistakingly define “well”) that I’m busy to the point of exhaustion and insanity then I naturally become unavailable when you need my attention, my perspective or my opinion on something that is important to you. It’s another way to project that my life is more important than your life. My time is more important than your time. My problems are more important than your problems. The things I have to do are more important than the things you have to do. I’m more important than you.


Unavailability= I’m more important than you.


Sadly, Christians are no less unavailable than anyone else and even within the church environment, busyness and unavailability are markers of success. We have mistaken busyness for good ministry, good business and good parenting and our unavailability to church members, co-workers, family and strangers somehow shows that our work is important and therefore we are important.

Jesus, however, was never unavailable. Over and over within the gospels we see Jesus available to any and everyone who needed him. Whether it was a Roman Centurion, a poor widow, a leper, a blind man, a Pharisee or a demon possessed man, Jesus made himself available to them. In his availability, Jesus showed that his plans, his schedule, his life were not as important as the lives of others. The most important person who ever lived wasn’t too important to care about other people. Jesus was too important not to care.


Availability= Choosing to make you more important than me.


What does that mean for you and me? Do we need to be available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week for any and everyone who needs us? Does it mean that our plans, schedules and lives are unimportant? I don’t think so (unless you happen to be a parent). I think Jesus does give us an example to follow and the example is for you and I to go the second mile, turn the other check, offer our coat and make ourselves available in order to show that our lives aren’t the most important thing. If Jesus wasn’t too important for us, we shouldn’t be too important for others.

Living like others are important doesn’t mean answering every phone call, responding to every email or being available at a moments notice- but sometimes it does. Living like others are important does mean there will be times of inconvenience, times when plans change and sometimes it means helping a nobody who asks for it.

It’s good to be important but don’t be too important to care; be too important not to.

Exploring God: Part 3

 

There are times when I sit down to a post and I know exactly what I want to say. And there are times when I have no idea what direction a post will go and this is one of those times. I know where I want this discussion to begin but I don’t know exactly where it will end up. I want to begin with two of the major news headlines: Ferguson, MO and Mark Driscoll. If you don’t know about these news stories, you can do a quick Google search and catch up on all the facts, updates and opinions. While these are two very different news stories there is a similarity that deserves a mention. Both of these stories have to do with authority and the way that authority is exercised within a community. In the case of Ferguson, MO, the authority is the police and the community is the city and the people within the city they have taken an oath to serve and protect. In the case of Mark Driscoll, the authority is the church pastor and the community is the church.

In both cases, there are questions of whether each overstepped it’s authority- Ferguson, MO in the shooting of Michael Brown and the handling of the subsequent protests and Driscoll in the manner, method and approach in the way he pastors, leads a church and staff and replies to critics and those who see Christianity in a different way.

There is an old saying, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely” and I think we can safely say (no matter where you land on the two issues mentioned above) that pastors and police officers are among the few groups of people that have a kind of authority that could easily become corrupt. When a pastor teaches the Word of God to a congregation, there is an inherent danger in a pastor preaching his (or her, depending on your tradition) own ideas, beliefs or prejudices as God’s. A police officer could come to love the badge and the gun and the power that comes with them over protecting and serving people.


One of God’s attributes that we often neglect is God’s authority.


What does all this have to do with exploring God? Well a lot actually. When we explore God or discover God, there are a seemingly endless number of places to begin: God’s love, God’s grace, God’s mercy, God’s righteousness, God’s holiness, God’s presence, God’s forgiveness- and we could go on and on. One of God’s attributes that we often neglect is God’s authority.

Since the time of the Fall, we all have issues with authority. We naturally mistrust authority figures. We either believe that authority figures do not have our best interest at heart or that they simply have a plan to destroy us entirely in order to exercise or expand their authority. I wonder if we bring those same mistrusting feelings with us when we think about or explore God. When we explore God are we hoping to find a beautiful lover or are we fearful we will stumble upon an angry and destructive demigod? To be honest, plenty of people have searched for God and come to both of those conclusions.


When we explore God are we hoping to find a beautiful lover or are we fearful we will stumble upon an angry and destructive demigod?


If God maintains absolute authority, how can we trust God and Jesus, as God’s Son and recipient of all authority (Matthew 28:18, Ephesians 1:20-21), not to become corrupted by that authority? We could easily shrug off the question and reply that God is also absolutely good and therefore cannot become corrupt. That response would be correct, however, why don’t we look a little deeper.

Authority corrupts for two reasons: ego and fear. Ego says that I can use my authority to take advantage of you because I am stronger, smarter or richer than you- and I want to become even stronger, smarter or richer than you. Fear says that I have to overpower you because I am afraid my authority is in danger of being taken away.

Jesus defeats the corrupting influence of ego and fear with humility. We see this explicitly in Philippians 2:5-11. In fact, Philippians tells us that Jesus’ humility allowed authority to be given to him. It makes sense that humility is the attitude that defeats the corrupting forces of authority. Imagine the difference in Ferguson, MO if those in authority sought humility. Or imagine pastors or other leaders who place humility before ego.

How do you think our world would look if humility overshadowed our desires and potential abuses of authority?

The Story Behind the Story: Change

For the last few weeks I’ve been trying to see through and behind some of our initial thoughts and beliefs on a few big idea topics in my Story Behind the Story series. We’ve looked at topics of life, death, personhood, heresy, confession and community. In these posts I have, like I have typically done in this blog, challenged our standard way of thinking and sought to examine a topic from a unique perspective. My desire as a writer is to leave people thinking, “I never thought of it that way before.” And as I writer who attempts to write in this way, I appreciate other writers who leave me thinking, “Wow, I never thought of it that way before.” Right now I’m reading a book that has been making me utter that statement many times; it is Shane Hipps book Flickering Pixals: How Technology Shapes Your Faith and it will be the subject of my next blog series as I share some of the thoughts and observations that I have found challenging and invigorating.

Before getting into that series, however, I want to offer one more thought within The Story Behind the Story series: change. The story or the motive behind many of the blogs I writes is the desire to affect change, especially within the institution of the church- whether that is in how churches fill hiring vacancies, what the church can learn from other media outlets, new perspectives on historic doctrines or what is really going on in our Christians fads. Through all of this, I have begun asking the question, what causes change to happen anyway? Is change brought about by merely new information or through emotional connection?

In the end, change comes down to a decision, an intentional decision to change. Perhaps the question should be altered; how do we make decisions?

UnknownChip and Dan Heath explore this question in their book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. Taking the image developed by psychologist Jonathan Haidt, they describe our decision making as a battle of wills between an elephant (our emotional side) and a rider atop the elephant (our rational side). They write: “Perched atop the Elephant, the Rider holds the reins and seems to be the leader. But the Rider’s control is precarious because the Rider is so small relative to the Elephant. Anytime the six-ton Elephant and the Rider disagree about which direction to go, the Rider is going to loose. He’s completely overmatched.”


 

In the end, change comes down to a decision; an intentional decision to change.


How we make decisions, they argue, is similar. We would like to think that our rational side will cause us to make rational decisions, and perhaps it will (at least for a while). But when our emotions are touched, enraged, tickled or offered pleasure, the elephant takes over- even against the rider’s best efforts to make a rational choice.

The power of the elephant is why advertisers almost exclusively cater to our emotional side. When the ASPCA ad comes on with pictures of sad animals while playing a sad Sarah McLachlan song, they are trying to make our elephant sad enough to call or go online and make a donation. They aren’t concerned about making us animal rights activists or lifetime ASPCA supporters, they just want our emotional side to be sad enough to give money before it becomes distracted by another emotion. That’s just one of a million examples.

Ultimately, the Heath brothers conclude, for true and lasting change to take place, the elephant and rider must agree on what direction to take. That can be hard because neither the elephant nor the rider is all good or all bad- we need them both, but both going in the same direction.

What does all of this have to do with affecting change within whatever setting you find yourself in? While my passion just happens to be within the church, you might find yourself in business, in school, in a social organization or a dozen of other places in which you desire to move a person or a group of people to or through a change. What does this have to do with my setting and your setting?


 

Engage the rider? Or the elephant? Or both?


Most basically, it means that affecting change must include a rational aspect and an emotional aspect. Remember, we have to get the rider and the elephant moving in the same direction. Once the elephant and rider are moving together, it means that we have to continually reengage both the rational side and the emotional side. Failure to reengage the emotional side can lead to it becoming distracted to chase after another idea, feeling or stimulus. Failure to reengage the rational side can lead to a perseverance toward a goal or toward a behavior or change that ends up hurting us with some unintended consequence. Within the setting of the church, the tendency to stubbornly stick to tradition is, in part, a result of the failure to reengage our rational side.

What we find with the church, all too often, is an over-emphasis in engaging the rational over the emotional or the emotional over the rational. Generally, traditional churches over-engage the rational side, while modern (contemporary) churches over-engage the emotional side. Over engaging of the emotional side causes us to lead with our hearts (which isn’t a bad thing) but it can lead us places we wouldn’t end up rationally. Similarly, over engaging the rational side leads us to embrace knowledge and see the world in the light of the things we know but it can bring us to a dismissal of emotion altogether, as well as, a lack of community and a failure to see people.

I’m over simplifying this discussion but I hope you can see the complexity of how we make decisions and make changes in our lives- especially long-term and lasting changes. Unless you are trying to get people to make a donation to the ASPCA, it is vital to understand how our rational and emotional sides work together and against each other in the decisions and changes we make within our lives.

The next time you watch a television commercial, listen to a speech, hear a sales presentation or participate in a church service, pay attention to what part of you is being engaged. Is it the elephant, the emotional side? Or is it the rider, the rational side? Is it both?

The next time you prepare a presentation, a project, a lesson, a sermon or a church service, be aware of what side you are attempting to engage. Are there aspects that engage the elephant and aspects that engage the rider? Additionally, how will you re-engage them, whether in a different way or at a different time in order to keep the elephant and rider moving in the same direction?

Bringing about change is a little more complicated than we tend to believe but if we actually think about the message we are giving and the means through which we are presenting that message, we can engage people to make long lasting changes in their lives and in the settings in which they find themselves.