Tag Archives: Community

Quick Review: Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures

I’ve read sections of Jayson Georges’ Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures since it came out about a year ago but didn’t finish it in its entirety until last week. This is a book I highly recommend even if you don’t serve or work in an honor-shame context and I’ll explain why.

First – this was a great primer on life and ministry in honor-shame contexts. This is the context I have been in especially the last five years in Manila, but even the five years prior in Asian-American ministry this was the primary cultural framework in which ministry took place. This simply should be required reading for anyone going to do any kind of ministry in the majority world, especially Asia. It would have been immensely helpful my first year in Asia.

The book covers theological and Biblical foundations through an honor and shame lens as well as really helpful discussions on how honor and shame impact areas like relationships, community, ethics, conversion, leadership, and other areas.  The chapter on relationships I believe is still free as a download on his website honorshame.com and was one of the resources I used for a recent seminar I did on honor, shame, and conflict. There may be some follow-up posts here as I’ve been reflecting a lot on his sections on community and ethics.

But here is why I think all people should read this – it simply is a fantastic way to help people expand their minds to understand the limits of their own theological and cultural systems. Part of why there is so much polarization theologically and otherwise is a lack of understanding and imagination as to how big the world is and how culture impacts everything and impacts deeply.

This book would add some humility to people, but I think in general most would be surprised at how much an honor-shame lens of areas like evangelism and ethics would really help people in the West as well.  This isn’t a book “for Asia” or the East. This is a book to help everybody expand their knowledge of Scripture, the Gospel, Community and Church, and Mission.

There’s no doubt this will be one of my top 5 books of 2018 so I’d highly encourage you to read it no matter where you are if you are a follower of Jesus.


Quick Review: Playing God

This month I worked my way through Andy Crouch’s Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power.  Really this year I’ve worked through what is a trilogy essentially from Andy Crouch with three books that all revolve around the central theme of what it means to be human as God intended, as God’s image bearer. The first book in this thematic series is Culture Making, which I reviewed a few months back and I’ll review the third book Strong and Weak, which was released this year, sometime next week.

All three of these books are highly worth reading and I recommend reading them sequentially and together because of the continuity of ideas, language, and frameworks offered.

While Culture Making focused on the themes of creating and cultivating as image bearers, Playing God focuses more specifically on the theme of power and authority – related to its original design and intentions and to its abuse.

In a refreshing statement, Crouch begins the book with a clear thesis that power is a gift. It has purposes for people and communities that glorify God and that are meant to serve and honor other people.  But we all know the world is full of people who use power for their own gains, so the gift of power gets corrupted into something much worse. Actually we all use power for our own gain – that’s the power of sin in our lives. We all need to learn how God wants to redeem power for his purposes.

Crouch makes mention in several books of the importance of developing a theology of image bearing around the whole of Scripture – with special attention to Gen 1-2 and Rev 21-22. He argues that these 4 chapters guard against the dualistic theology prevalent for so many generations – where the only concern is trying to save souls from sin (Gen 3 – Rev).  I think it’s a helpful reminder to really think deeply about the whole Biblical narrative and its implications for all of life.  That’s the power of developing a theology of image bearing, whether it involves creativity or power. A solid theology of image bearing should inform all of life – relationships, power and authority, calling, and community.  This is what I appreciate about what Crouch attempts to do in his books.

Some of the sections that I think Crouch really did a great job with are his treatment of the themes of idolatry related to power. The chapters on idolatry and icons are really helpful and I’ve already gone back to a couple of those chapters.  There are some very helpful sections that help someone evaluate their hearts as the source of their behavior and what they worship in practice.

Another strength of the book is a framing and his effort to articulate the dynamics and even provide some measure of a theology of privilege. Privilege is often used pejoratively as a label. I’ve seen it misused more often than not, which is why Crouch’s efforts are really valuable.  While there are problems and limitations with the word “privilege,” no one can deny that this points to a reality which is very much true. It’s not an American thing either. Privilege exists as a social reality across the world that impacts identity and communities. Crouch offers one of the more balanced efforts to explain the blessings (opportunities) and

Crouch offers one of the more balanced efforts to explain the blessings (opportunities) and the dark side of privilege in its impact on relationships and society. These are realities we must help people understand through a more complete theological lens – not just through the lenses of social activism and social justice. These issues point us back to a more comprehensive vision of shalom, of what human life and community is meant to be.   For much of the last century and beyond, t

For much of the last century and beyond, there has been a theological gap in bias and practice between social justice and evangelistic mission.  There continues to be a divide today, albeit with different influences and forces driving some of those divides and reactions. Crouch attempts to bridge some of this gap through a theology of image bearing and power.  It is not the focus of the book to provide a comprehensive theology of the church as it relates to social action, but nonetheless there are very helpful sections to help inform how we think about the church’s role in society as part of a Great Commission vision.

Much of his work in Playing God gets elaborated on in Strong and Weak, in which he provides a helpful conceptual framework to illustrate how image bearing and power in community goes wrong….and right sometimes.

This book has very wide relevance and application so if you have not read it, I recommend getting all three of these books onto your reading list soon.




Quick Review: Community – The Structure of Belonging

I finished Peter Block’s Community: The Structure of Belonging last week and want to share some of his thoughts if it interests you. This book essentially is about community development and transformation. Block’s style is often theoretical and heady in its content and tone, yet there is a real commitment to organizing work and life around the dignity of human beings and the impact of relationships and organizing efforts on that dignity. This is one of the things I like about Block in his books.

What is helpful about this book is that it steers conversations in the process of community building away from victimization and learned helplessness and paternalism.  His focus is on building what he calls the social fabric – the quality of relating within a community.  He unpacks the ideas and patterns of modern society that are undermining true empowerment in society at large and argues for methods and community processes that both lead to the goal while also being the goal themselves.

Many want to build communities and build the social fabric, but they focus on the end result and meanwhile their methods and processes undermine the very relating and social fabric they want to achieve.  Block proposes a set of commitments and processes to help communities begin relating in empowering and accountable ways that increase the consistency and quality of the social fabric. He argues that the small group is the unit of transformation.

There’s a lot here – and it’s a big that needs a lot of reflection to make connections for the sake of integration and application. But Block does a great job building a process around question asking and safe spaces.  He argues that community transformation is driven by well-crafted questions that create the kind of anxiety and tension that drives people to get involved and commit.  He offers sets of questions for key conversations around ownership, dissent, gifts, and other key areas.  What is unique about Block is the methodology that seeks to bring the goal into the process.  This is some of how I’ve tried to teach strategic planning – that leaders don’t lead towards a goal or vision, but they must live out that vision through the whole process from day one. That affects actions and relationships.

He offers sets of questions for key conversations around ownership, dissent, gifts, and other key areas.  What is unique about Block is the methodology that seeks to bring the goal into the process.  This is some of how I’ve tried to teach strategic planning – that leaders don’t lead towards a goal or vision, but they must live out that vision through the whole process from day one. That affects actions and relationships.

In today’s society, you have many groups in many places blaming other groups for their situation and looking externally for solutions.  Block offers a methodology and community building approach that challenges all of us to take ownership of our communities and commit to something new together instead of engaging in the toxic cycles of blame and dependence.  It’s easier said than done, but there’s a lot here to inform how we try to bridge differences today in a culture that is often very divided.


Self-Leadership: The Adventure of Spoon Collecting

If your self-leadership development efforts were illustrated through spoons on a wall, what would it look like? Would you have many spoons…or two…or maybe just one?


My mom has always had a collection of spoons – those little souvenir spoons that you can find while you are traveling. She has spoons from most countries in Europe and other places she has visited in her lifetime and they have been on the wall of her living room since I can remember.

That’s what I think our self-leadership development should look like–having a lot of spoons on the wall. Those spoons to me symbolize various takeaways, wisdom, insights, and experiences from a variety of different places and people and times in our life. Looking at the collection, I can’t help but appreciate the diversity of the spoons as well as the personal stories behind them.

It’s so easy to fall into the mindset that your development should be provided to you from whoever is leading you or through your immediate context. Should your leaders be seeking to provide development for you and those they lead?    Absolutely.

Should you expect them to provide all, or even the majority, of your development or what you need to increase your leadership capacity and grow?    Absolutely not!

Waiting for someone who is supervising you to provide all of what would help you as a leader is foolish, passive, and can be at times even childlike. You’re putting your own development completely at the mercy of one other person’s strengths, limitations, motivation, and capacity to develop you. And you know what – they aren’t you! Chances are you need, and even want, different types of development than your leader because you are a different person and a different leader. Even the greatest leader can only give you so much.

So let’s own our development and continue our journeys towards learning, growing, changing, and increasing our capacity to serve and lead others. Here’s what I recommend:

Go get some spoons!


Go visit the people and places that have the spoons you want or you feel like you really need right now as a leader. My mom wouldn’t have all those spoons if she never went anywhere. Waiting for your leader to do all the work for your development is like waiting for a spoon to show up at your front door. That’s anti-adventure, anti-adult, and anti-leaderlike.


What’s the point in going somewhere or visiting someone for the sake of development and learning if you don’t actually take something away that can help you be a better person or leader or even help you execute your responsibilities better. So find spoons that help you refine your strengths and growth areas. Find spoons that help challenge your thinking and paradigms. Find spoons that will speak into your life, inspire you, help you dream big, gain new skills. Find spoons that help you in your personal and emotional life as well as in your personal and leadership relationships. There’s a lot of spoons out there that can help you grow into the person and leader you want to be. Don’t wait for people to drop them off at your door. GO GET ‘EM!


One of my chores growing up was polishing my mom’s spoons. It was fun to dip a spoon into a cleaning solution so half of the spoon was dirty and the other half was perfectly clean. When polishing a spoon, it would became so shiny that it was like I was seeing it the first time.

The task of polishing all the spoons also served the purpose of reminding me of all the places and types of spoons that my mom had collected. When they were hanging on the wall they were easily forgotten, but taking them down to polish them would evoke memories and a renewed appreciation for what they looked like along with the backstory behind it. You can go and get a lot of “spoons” over time, but if you forget those insights and takeaways
they won’t transform your leadership much over time. Find ways to remind yourself of those great insights and transformational experiences that you already have on your wall!

One of the best developmental “spoons” I’ve picked up over the years is that when it comes to your development as a leader, you have to own your leadership development LIKE a leader. That means it’s no one else’s job to make sure you have a good spoon collection. It’s your job, your calling, your journey. And spoon collecting should become a passion! I’ve picked up spoons from my leaders over the years, from seminary, from reading books, from friends, from my teams, from countries I’ve been in, from media, from church, from social media, from conferences, from blogs, and a host of other places and experiences too.

There’s a lot of spoons out there to be collected!

So figure out where you want more spoons, where you really need more spoons, and maybe check out what kind of spoons others around you have for ideas about what kind of spoons can best help you. It’s also good to remember that we don’t collect spoons like we collect data or information. We collect the spoons of leadership development for our own transformation and so we can serve others and ultimately help them learn how to start spoon collections on their own.

But whatever you do, don’t settle for a wall with one or two spoons on it. You just end up looking like you’ve not really visited that many places. The people we lead and influence deserve more than one or two spoon’s worth of leadership!

Where are you going to get your spoons? What advice do you have?

How are you managing to remember and consistently apply insights
and takeaways you’ve gained in the past? Any suggestions?


Originally Posted March 24, 2011

Quick Review: Mud and The Masterpiece

Not too long ago I was researching books to use for the Interpersonal Relationships class I teach and I picked up John Burke’s Mud and the Masterpiece.  I picked it up primarily because I remembered the author from his CCC/Cru staff days in Southern California.

There’s been a resurgence of books on identity and the image of God as it relates to ministry and discipleship to Christ in the last decade which I’ve appreciated.  There was a great need to restore integrating thinking and reflection about how a biblical theology of creation is crucial to healthy and fruitful ministry and community life.  This book addresses that general area for the Church, but explores in good measure the difference between grace and performance oriented systems of growth and discipleship.  This book reinforces the significance and power and even the necessity of the grace of God for life change and Christian discipleship.

Maybe a simple synopsis of what Burke is getting at is captured below as a summary of what he argues is truly needed for people to genuinely come to faith. It somewhat represents a post-modern ministry philosophy of sorts for evangelism and discipleship that I think is worth paying attention to.

In today’s post-Christian context, people often need the intersection of three elements in order to find faith and become the church:

  1. A friendship with someone who truly acts like Jesus—listening, caring, serving, and talking openly about faith in a non-pressuring way….
  2. Relationship with a “tribe” of four to five other Christians whom they enjoy hanging out with and who make them feel like they truly belong….
  3. A “come as you are” learning environment where they can learn, usually for six to eighteen months, about the Way of Jesus….

When all three of these elements intersect the lives of those far from God, it’s amazing how many people find the love and grace of God and bring their network of friends and family along with them.

John Burke, Mud and the Masterpiece: Seeing Yourself and Others through the Eyes of Jesus, loc. 2805. Kindle Edition

There’s some helpful insights, illustrations, and teaching related to being made in the image of God, the power of grace, the transformational potential of the body of Christ, and the dangers of legalism for spiritual formation and Christian ministry.  What’s also helpful is that he provides a model for what he and his church does in trying to live out a grace and community based environment for spiritual journeying towards Christ.


Quick Review: Leading Cross-Culturally

I recently was able to finish Sherwood G. Lingenfelter’s LEADING Cross-Culturally: Covenant Relationships for Effective Christian Leadership.  In short – I really loved it. Partly on its own terms, partly for timing reasons.

What I often bemoan in organizational ministry is that things often get so driven by organizational values and strategic objectives that the larger ontological reality of who we are – as believers, as part of the larger church.  Working in a parachurch, there’s sometimes great effort to be clearly defined as “not a church” that we don’t have a clear vision of what it means to be the body on mission, but not a local church.

We’re not a local church, but we’re still called to be the body.  Mission teams in many contexts also wrestle with this.  Team’s that are primarily focused on outreach and who they are trying to reach can forget that their outward efforts must flow from a central identity that can’t be taken for granted.  I think our vision of what it means to be the body sometimes is just really small, or it’s been domesticated by business concepts or perspectives. It needs to expand and deepen.

This is some of why this book felt so good to read.  It affirmed some of what I feel is often forgotten when ministry efforts are overly driven by strategy and goals.  The big wheels keep on turning usually organizationally speaking, meanwhile core kingdom values get steamrolled and most can’t stop long enough to even notice.  Maybe it’s combined with a over-focus on personal piety and not enough awareness of a Biblical corporate ethic. Regardless, nowhere is this more evident that in cross-cultural contexts and multi-ethnic efforts.

Strategic driven efforts that fail to be anchored in Kingdom identity will end up doing more damage than good.

This is what is awesome about Lingenfelter’s book.  He affirms of absolute importance Kingdom identity and what he calls covenant community.  He affirms the following elements as being essential to “covenant community”….

1.  Identity in Christ as God’s chosen people.
2. Presence of the Holy Spirit
3. Love one another
4. One body – serving in diversity
5. One body – working together in unity
6. Submitting to one another
7. Speaking graciously
8. Restoring mercifully

One thing I really loved was the author’s explicit statement that strategy and planning in multi-cultural relationships is almost worthless or pointless unless a solid enough foundation of covenant community and identity is established.  Couldn’t agree more.

Lingenfelter addresses what is essential to building trust in cross-cultural relationships and how that must be navigated across power relationships.  Most of the illustrations or examples used are international in nature, but I feel like he captured power dynamics so well and in such an integrated way that I think it really helps in the area of understanding that trust cannot be build cross-culturally on very deep levels without some awareness and recognition of how power in those relationships must be stewarded.   This typically is a massive blind spot for white, western ministry and church leaders.

What I’ve loved about my own ministry the last few years is feeling like I’ve been a part of an effort to really build a foundation of covenant community in the context of being on mission.  There’s a deeper identity and integrity to what we’ve done because it’s anchored in the bigger and Kingdom vision and reality of which we are all a part of.  It’s not always easy, but it’s powerful.

Many want covenant community and even more would say they really want to see fruit ministering cross-culturally, especially pragmatic evangelicals.  This book will not provide a manual or “how-to” because that would work against the desired outcome. It’s primarily a book that helps leaders think about how they think and how they approach leading and working with people who are different or who come from different paradigms.  It should cause healthy reflective thinking and promote good dialogue and conversations.

Unfortunately ethnocentric people could read this and think they are getting the message of the book and not really get it.  Because some context and some experience is needed to truly make the needed connections for fruitful cross-cultural relationships.  But people leading in contexts of multiple cultures need help with paradigms and with how to adjust their assumptions and presuppositions about what it means to build a foundation of trust in both community and on teams.

So this book was a very helpful resource to me helping affirm some crazy makers, providing some helpful structure and language, and bringing a clarity and simplicity to what is at the heart of effective and fruitful cross-cultural leadership. It’s worth the read in my opinion.




Quick Review: Vital Friends

How much have you thought about friendship?  Probably a lot actually.

Yet how often have you thought about it as it relates to the ways in which friendships influence and sustain all the other areas of your life?

I just finished Vital Friends by Tom Rath, which offers a lot of insights and recommendations about how to improve the overall quality of life through the development of the quality of your relationships.  The premise of the book is that much of leadership development or management studies either swings to the extremes of individualism (self-development) or macro-sociology (groups).  Rath argues that the greatest influence on your life as a whole may be in the area of one on one relationships.  I think there’s a balance of perspective needed between self, relationship, and group insights, but I agree that one on one relationships often gets neglected given its significance in life and the workplace.

The focus really is on relationship quality and how it affects personal quality of life, marriage, general social life, and the workplace. Rath offers some great research on the ways in which quality one on one relationships in one’s life dramatically impacts all of those areas. But the key insight is that research shows dramatic quality of life increases when you have at least 4 vital friends in your workplace.

Half of the book is an exploration of some research that narrowed down different categories of types of friends that offer different things through friendships.  The purpose being to help people assess their own capacity as a friend as well as identify who in our lives gives to us in different meaningful ways.  The types of friends are described as: Builder, Champion, Collaborator, Companion, Connector, Energizer, Mind Opener, and Navigator.  They are helpful labels that do describe the value that different people give to others at different times, but not very rigid or narrow in their essence.  We can function in different ways with different people at different times – but we likely have a bent.  I probably function most in my friendships as a Collaborator, Mind Opener, and Navigator.

There’s some good content that could serve in your role as a coach or developer of people as well as just for self-leadership in the area of relationships and friends.  I agree with the heart of the book in that we need to help develop people in the area of relationships because that is what life is built around – and not just equip people in terms of self-mastery.

For people in my organization familiar with the 4-R leadership model, this is a good resource as it relates to part of the first “R” – the relationships of a leader.

Self: The Most Pernicious Program of All

Here’s the second post of my re-release of this advent series.  This post was originally posted December 1st, 2010.

This is part two out of three of a mini-blog series on what I’m calling “collective fusion.”  This won’t make as much sense without part one so for part one click here.

In part one I mentioned I came across a random Star Trek Next Generation episode as a result of having an infant in my house who sleeps all day and parties at night.  This episode I watched was actually pretty fascinating as it relates to identity.  The crew finds a “lost” and young borg who, separated from the strength and constant messages and indoctrination of the collective, actually began to establish a separate sense of self.  He adopts a name and begins to enter into relationships.  Some crew members are intrigued.  Some are confused. Others are terrified.

The crew must figure out what to do.  Do they destroy this “enemy” that is showing signs of new life and identity?  Do they essentially program him with a virus to infect the collective in hopes of wiping out the Borg?  Do they keep him, which increases the threat that the collective will come looking for him?  This is the setting for the following excerpts of the crew’s dialogue.

“Does that seem right?  To help him become an individual and then take that away from him?”

-Lt. Cmdr. Geordi La Forge (Levar Burton)

“But perhaps in that short time before they purge his memory, the sense of individuality which he has gained with us might be transmitted through the entire  borg collective.  Every one of the borg being given the opportunity to experience the feeling of singularity.

Perhaps that’s the most pernicious program of all – the knowledge of self being spread throughout the collective in that brief moment might alter them forever. We leave his memory intact.”

– Capt. Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart)

I love that – the most pernicious program of all.  There’s perhaps no limit to how much a mature and well-defined self in terms of differentiated identity can impact an entire system.

Do you have that kind of perspective about the potential impact you can have as a mature and differentiated leader in your system (team, organization, family…)?

In case it wasn’t clear in part one, nurturing a mature and healthy sense of self does not speak to selfishness.   Mature identity formation involves nurturing both the capacity to be an individual, but also to be a healthy and connected person in relationships and community.  The Borg eliminate the individuality.  The other extreme (loners and others cut-off from community) eliminate interconnected relationships altogether.  Neither lead to ethical, effective, and empowering leadership influence.

As I write that, I just realized those are three “E’s” and I’m now adopting the three “E’s” as being the central building blocks of my leadership theory and paradigm.   Actually “The Three E’s” speaks to what this blog mostly is about so I’m glad to stumble upon such a concise way of explaining that!

Here’s a few questions to think about your own leadership context and your own leadership development in that context.  Give special attention today to the third question!

So where do you see the “Borg”?  Do you see forces of the collective at work on your team?  In your organization?  In your ministry?  In your family?

Have you surrendered your sense of self because you’ve bought into the lie that resistance is futile? How do you nurture your self in the context of your community or organization without totally going extreme in the other direction and cutting off emotionally completely?

Bad Blurbs, Diversity,&Conflict Resolution

Have you thought about the “right” way to handle conflict in your relationships lately?I’ve been thinking about conflict in the midst of cross-cultural dynamics lately as I’ve been privy to hear some people processing through some of the ways they’ve struggled to find a voice in the midst of conflict and tension because their preferred communication styles or other values end up taking a back seat to majority culture norms – most notably direct communication and I’ll add open expression of anger and other negative emotions.There’s a well known conflict resolution book that really is very, very good. But in recent versions of the book it has one of the most foolish book endorsements on the back I’ve ever seen. Not only does it reveal significant cultural ignorance, but it betrays such narrow and limited thinking and perspective. Here’s the gist of the endorsement. “This book is an amazing treatment of this topic that draws out what the Scriptures have to say. Nothing else ever needs to be written about this topic now that we have this book!”It’s a great book. I agree with that. But it doesn’t involve thorough discussions about conflict and culture. Those dynamics alone merit dozens more if not hundreds more books.I was reminded of the significance of this in my own team recently as we navigated some tension and I would say conflict – even though perhaps all of us ultimately shared similar values on things, there were things that were set in motion that upset the apple cart a bit.One of those things was authority. Have you ever thought about how power influences conflict resolution?One of those things was direct versus indirect communication? People can talk about what’s “biblical” all day long, but when you look at people who are literally silenced by overly direct or maybe even blunt communication then you might have to rethink your assumptions. I’m in the direct and often blunt category and it’s a challenge to work through some of this. But the question I have to come back to is – do I want my own voice more or do I want to draw out other voices for the sake of community and unity?Another thing is emotion. I’ve been thinking about this because when there is injustice, I have the mentality of a middle linebacker. I am somewhat phlegmatic by nature so I’m not going to physically get wild, but I can get intense and have no problem expressing anger – whether it’s for myself or on behalf of others who may not be able to do it for themselves. I do believe someone has to give voice to the injustice and I’ve got no problem doing that. I’ll get much more angry for others than I would for myself. However – not all people are empowered by someone getting fired up and expressing that kind of honest or raw emotion, even when it’s in the realm of holy discontent. It doesn’t mean I should be silent, but if I care about community that there is dialogue to enter into. Rather than taking the posture of Elijah and start calling down fire from heaven, maybe I take a more calculated approach to giving a voice to what is being experienced.I’m comfortable being fired up. I actually like it. It’s part of my wiring to feel alive when I advocate and fight for others or even to just fight unethical uses of power in general. But I saw first hand what happened when I expressed the passion within me to some people on my team and it might have qualified as a stumbling block in some ways because the emotion carried with in some power even though I wasn’t angry with anyone on my team or in a bad space personally. My emotions paralyzed others because of the strength and intensity in which I shared them. It felt good to me to fight for others, but it set things in motion that silenced others and we had to work through what happened. I’m thinking, “Why aren’t you all getting fired up too!” But that wasn’t the way some of them are wired to engage the issues on table.Being part of community means submitting preferences and styles at times to make sure others are learning to have their own voice. I appreciate having a team that I get to work with that have the kind of people that value that and create space for dialogue even though many of us function in very different ways. That’s true community in my mind.But if you have a “take” on conflict resolution or on Matthew 18 and think it’s black and white or you think there’s nothing more that needs to be taught but the things that you have learned or grown to like, then you’re walking in a myopic wonderland….and chances are you’re marginalizing people in ways and unintentionally silencing others while you’re at it.What thought do you have on this area? Have you had experiences that have helped you learn how to navigate some of these differences when conflict is in the air?